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Saturday, July 21, 2007

A Simple Summer Classic

Grilled Corn with Soy/Butter Glaze
Butter is not native to Japanese cooking (neither is corn for that matter), but both have been embraced and celebrated by modern Japanese cooks. The combination of soy sauce and butter has a wonderful nutty/fermented/dairy flavor that reminds me of parmigiano reggiano. For this dish, make the glaze by melting some butter and then adding soy sauce to taste. Use a good quality Japanese soy sauce like Kikkoman or Eden. I'm sure that there are some fine Chinese soy sauces out there, but most of what you get in the U.S. and Europe is just brown salt water. Shuck the corn and brush with the glaze, then grill over a medium hot fire, turning every few minutes and basting with the glaze until the corn is "golden brown and delicious". You can also use a butter/soy sauce mix to flavor popcorn. For seasoning popcorn, the ratio of soy sauce to butter is very important. It should be mainly butter and look like an emulsion. If you add too much soy sauce it will be too watery and the popcorn will get soggy.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

First Cook on New Viking

Just finished a minor kitchen makeover. Swapped out our Viking 5 burner electric cooktop for a 6 burner gas model. While I had the island ripped apart, I took the opportunity to add a tin ceiling to the area above the island (the painted ceiling was impossible to clean, and the heat and steam from cooking made the paint peel).

Following my phone call to Tony Bourdain I had Takoyaki on the mind so I searched around, found my special pan and whipped up a batch for breakfast today. I couldn't get octopus, so I substituted squid (legs only), which I boiled and chopped into bite size pieces. For the batter, I combined one egg, 3/4 cup of flour, 3/4 tsp baking soda and 1/2 cup dashi (the batter was a little too thick so next time I will try equal parts dashi and flour).

While the pan preheated, I assembled my mise en place, which consisted of the chopped squid legs, finely diced ginger and thinly sliced scallions.

To cook the takoyaki, I filled each recess in the takoyaki pan halfway with the batter, then placed several chunks of squid legs in the batter, sprinkled with ginger and scallion and topped with more batter.

Using a wooden barbecue skewer, I loosened each takoyaki ball from their individual compartments and then turned them over to cook the other side.

To serve, I arranged the balls on a plate, drizzled with Japanese Worcester sauce (see our first post for info on this ingredient), and sprinkled with bonito flakes. Eat with chopsticks or by stabbing a ball with a toothpick and popping it in your mouth!

I'm still trying to find a way to make this dish without the special takoyaki pan. One thought is to make the batter thicker and drop it on to a griddle in silver dollar pancake size, then top with the rest of the ingredients, pressing them down into the batter before it sets. You will end up with a flatter pancake like product instead of the characteristic ball shape, but the flavor will be the same. I was also wondering if I could make this in small ring molds, placed on a hot griddle.... Gotta play with that idea.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Quick Bite with Tony Bourdain

I switched on my Sirius radio this afternoon and to my delight Tony Bourdain was a guest on the Martha Stewart channel taking calls. I couldn't resist calling in because in addition to loving Kitchen Confidential, I really enjoyed his No Reservations episode about Osaka in which he ate basically nothing but street food. I talked about my time in Japan and my love for "real" Japanese food, and the host asked me what was my favorite Osaka street food. I debated about a milisecond and replied Takoyaki.

Straight translation, "Cooked Octopus"

Takoyaki is basically a savory donut filled with octopus. It shares some similarities with the okonomiyaki described in our first post, but the batter is thinner and instead of being mainly cabbage, the star of the show in this dish is the octopus itself. In order to make takoyaki, a special pan is required which looks like a cast iron egg crate.

Wikipedia has a pretty good description of takoyaki:

Hardcore fans can search the internet and find a takoyaki pan, but it would probably be what Alton Brown calls a "unitasker". Chiko and I are playing around with ideas for a takoyaki-like recipe without the need for special equipment. Stay tuned for an update.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sentences rarely spoken…We spent a great culinary weekend in Indiana.

Our annual family reunion always includes fantastic food, but how could I tie it into our campaign for good Japanese food? And then it appeared…. neatly arrayed on it’s disposable tray, all brightly colored and geometrically organized with it’s little cup of piped out faux wasabi. The bane of our existence….. supermarket sushi. Purchased by a well intentioned cousin, this was not just any supermarket sushi. This was Costco sushi! And it wasn’t just Costco sushi, this was Indiana Costco sushi (and it was a day old to boot). Chiko cast her discriminating eye on the oddly square rolls, filled with imitation crab meat and surrounded by a gelatinous white starchy substance from which it would be impossible to distinguish an actual individual grain of rice. In her always straight forward way of speaking, she simply said “Yuck, I’m not eating that!”

It’s probably not a good idea to serve
bad sushi to a Japanese fishmonger.

Bad sushi aside, this was a much needed break for the both of us. Chiko had worked eight straight days at Whole Foods, closing most nights (including July 4th). Because we had a 3:30PM flight out of Hartford, she requested the opening shift on the 5th (5:00am to 1:30) and I would need to wake up with her at 4 to drive her to work. Eight fish slinging hours later I picked her up and we headed straight to the airport. Knowing that we had a long afternoon of air travel with little opportunity for good food ahead of us, I brought along one of my homemade multigrain baguettes, some prosciutto and a soft brie like cheese from Iceland that I grabbed in WFM while waiting for Chiko to finish her shift. We boarded our flight and the pilot proceeded to pull away from the gate and then made that announcement we all hate to hear. Bad weather over Pennsylvania meant we would be delayed while air traffic controllers tried to find an alternate route and oh by the way, unfortunately the air conditioning wasn’t working and it would be very uncomfortable in the 90 plus degree weather. While all around us nerves frayed, experienced frequent fliers that we are, Chiko broke out the baguette, brie and prosciutto and we ate. Silently munching away I wondered what our plane mates were thinking about our impromptu meal (or if they even noticed).

After several more delays we arrived in Indiana, headed to my uncle's farm and hit the sack for some much needed sleep. Friday broke clear and warm, and following breakfast, my cousin Dan and I hit the road to start working on dinner. Lunch time arrived and we were still out shopping so Dan proposed a true American classic, burgers from the drive through at White Castle. We grabbed a sack of Jalapeno/Cheese Sliders, onion rings and two "medium sized" Diet Coke's that were so huge they didn't fit into the cup holders on my rental car. A local resident walked past proud as a peacock with his mullet and Nascar t-shirt with the sleeves cut off and Dan commented "Check out that redneck!" (as we sat in a Walmart parking lot eating our little mini burgers and each drinking from our own Methuselah of Diet Coke). Tonight's dinner would be my "Texas" Pot Roast (slow smoked chuck underblade roast, dry rubbed with spices and sliced brisket style).

Rubbed and ready to go

In the smoker

Six hours later

Because the theme for this year's reunion was Sicily, we would be serving pasta, eggplant parmigiana and I would incorporate some morrocan spices, pine nuts and raisins into the sauce for the meat. For dessert I made individual cups of panna cotta, in a choice of three flavors (almond, coffee and vanilla). Rather than using my Aunt's small farmhouse kitchen, we cooked everything outside either in the smoker or on the BBQ grill. We even used it for the eggplant parm and for baking bread.

Grilled eggplant slices

Dress with a little homemade sauce

Cheese and fresh herbs

Back on the warming rack of the grill till cooked through

Homemade whole wheat Ciabatta baked on the BBQ grill
(indirect heat, 500 degrees for 30 minutes)

Saturday's dinner would be roast pork, grilled chicken, sausages, brats etc. Aunt Carol had already done all the shopping for this, so all I had to do was cook. A couple of picnic shoulders got rubbed and put in the smoker first thing in the morning, and then I was free until two hours before dinner when I would need to start grilling the rest of the meat.

Pork in the smoker

This left time for a couple games of Whiffle Ball. When we started this family reunion, I was 19 and the youngest of 13 cousins. As the years progressed, a few of my cousins had kids and we would accommodate the little ones into our ball games, letting them try to bat and run the bases. We grown ups intentionally dropped simple pop flies, threw wildly past the cutoff man and the ball sailed into the neighbors corn field as a four year-old stumbled around the bases. In fact every child's at bat remarkably resulted in an inside the park home run, although we never let them know that their runs didn't count. As I approached the ball field I saw these kids (now 13 or 14) performing the same antics for their younger cousins and I thought how nice it is to have family.

Whiffle ball on Frankie and Bobbie Memorial Field

After Whiffle Ball and a dip in the pool, time to check on the pork and start getting the grill ready. For pulled pork I would use Boston Butt and take it to an internal temp of 195 degrees, but since we were going to slice this I took it off at 175 and got to work on the grill.

Cooked to perfection

Sliced and ready to serve

I par-cooked the chicken in the smoker for about an hour then finished it on the grill alongside with sausages. Sweet corn, fresh from the field, was boiled and dinner was ready.

Whose gonna ring the dinner bell?

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Morning Living on Sirius Radio

I've been calling in regularly to the morning show on Martha Stewart's Satellite Radio station to discuss Japanese cooking among other things. They've dubbed me their official "Japanophile", which is clearly feeding my ego. The show is on from 7 to 10 eastern time on Sirius 112, and they have many chef's and organic gardeners on as guests. Today they were talking about salads, and I called in to talk about a great ingredient called Yuzu Kosho. It's a paste of Chile pepper and Yuzu (Japanese citrus) which is sold in some Asian markets, and is great as a flavoring in salad dressings or rubbed on fish before grilling. Wikipedia has this page on Yuzu:

If you can find this ingredient give it a try.


Tuesday, July 3, 2007

More Than Sushi

We are Sachiko (a.k.a. Chiko) and Jon, a Japanese/American couple and self-proclaimed foodies. Chiko was born in Osaka, raised in Tokyo and came to the U.S. as a college student to study at the University of Washington in Seattle. Jon grew up in an Italian American family in Northern New Jersey (right down the street from the strip club used for exterior shots of "Bada-Bing" in The Sopranos), and lived in Osaka, Japan as a high school exchange student. After returning to our respective countries and entering the work force, we met in New Orleans during a conference and were soon a couple. We have been married for eight years and have traveled extensively in Europe, Asia and the U.S.

Some people eat to live but we truly live to eat. A perfect day in our lives involves a trip to a winery, brewery or farmer's market, followed by cooking a great meal together and sharing it with friends. While we anticipate a number of blogs, this one is focused on the food we both ate at home in Japan. Japanese restaurants in the U.S. are great, and they are ubiquitous, and yet they are not what the average Japanese person eats at home.

Let's get one thing straight, sushi is a special occasion treat.... wedding food if you will. The average Japanese person eats sushi only a few times a year, but what do they eat the rest of the time? Perhaps they go to a hibachi restaurant and sit in front of an enormous grill while a red-toqued chef screams and throws food at them.... Let's get real.

Japan is to Asia what Italy is to Europe. It is a long skinny country with water on both sides and mountains in the middle. Japan has access to great seafood and vegetables. Cows take up a lot of space, which is one resource that is scarce in a skinny little country with lots of mountains. Kobe beef (like Chianina in Tuscany) is a luxury that very few people can find or afford. Pigs and chickens are a little easier to raise, so those are the meats most often eaten. The Japanese cooking style is minimalistic and focused on the quality of the raw ingredients with simple seasonings.

As You Like It:

What better recipe to start with than Okonomiyaki? Okonomiyaki is the Japanese version of New York's "dirty water dog". It is served in train stations, diners and from push carts across Japan, but is particularly popular in Osaka and Hiroshima. Literally translated, it means "The stuff you like; fried!" Yaki means grilled or fried and is seen in the names of many Japanese dishes (teriyaki, sukiyaki, etc.). Okonomi literally means "as you like it" but is often mis-translated in sushi-speak as "a la carte" (which of course in French simply means "off the menu").

Okonomiyaki is sometimes called Japanese pizza, but is more closely related to the omelet and the crepe. For the Japanese working mom, Okonomiyaki is the equivalent of a refrigerator clean out meal. Start with a crepe batter, then add cabbage and "whatever you like". Traditional items include bacon and squid (calamari), but you can put in whatever you want (or whatever is lying around in the fridge). Left over sausage? Last night's steamed carrots? If it tastes good sauteed, it probably tastes good in okonomiyaki. The technique is simple:


2 eggs
1 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup dashi (bonito stock) or water
1/4 lb squid rough chopped into bite size pieces
2 cups green cabbage shredded into coleslaw sized strips (use a hard cabbage not Asian or Napa cabbage which is too delicate and watery)
1/4 cup rough chopped scallions
1/4 cup julienned beni-shoga (Japanese red pickled ginger)
1/4 lb bacon strips, cut in half


Japanese Worcester Sauce (we like Bulldog brand, or you can make your own by mixing tomato ketchup and worcestershire sauce to your own taste)
Bonito Flakes

Required Equipment:

Electric Griddle or Large Non-stick Fry Pan
Two Pancake Spatulas


If using the electric griddle, place it in the center of the table and have your family/friends gather round, usually with a glass of beer or mugicha (unsweetened iced barley tea). If you don't have a griddle, have everyone grab a beverage and come into the kitchen to watch you do this in a frying pan at the range. (This is community cooking after all!) In a large mixing bowl, lightly beat the egg, then add the flour, dashi or water and stir a few times to combine. Mix in the rest of the ingredients for the batter, it will be very thick and chunky from all the vegetables. Lightly oil the griddle or frying pan, it is essential that you have a well lubricated surface or the pancake will stick. Cook half the bacon over medium high heat till brown on both sides, try to keep the bacon relatively flat. Mound half the batter on top of the bacon and flatten it with the back of a pancake spatula to about an inch thick and roughly eight inches in diameter. The wet part of the batter will start to spread out from the pancake, using the tip of the spatula, go around the pancake pushing the batter back toward the center of the pancake until it sets up. Cook about seven to eight minutes, or until a nice golden brown crust has formed on the bottom and the outer edge of the pancake is fully set. Now comes the tricky part (and the thing that will impress your guests if you do it right!) Take a pancake spatula in each hand, and work them under the pancake from opposite sides. Lift and flip the pancake in one fluid motion to the delight and amazement of your guests. If the pancake breaks apart don't worry, just push the pieces back together with the spatulas and uncooked portion of the batter will stick together as it continues to cook. Cook about five to six minutes more until golden brown and delicious on both sides. Remember that this pancake is thick and needs to cook through. Use a spatula to cut into the top and take a peek. It should be moist in the center but cooked. The cabbage will be 'al dente' when it is done. Move the pancake to a serving plate and repeat these steps with the remaining ingredients to make a second pancake. The nice thing about cooking at the table is that you can eat the first pancake while the second one is cooking. To serve, spread a layer of mayonnaise on top of the pancake, then sprinkle on the worcester sauce and dried bonito flakes. Using the tip of the spatula, cut straight down into the pancake and portion it out in wedges like a pizza. Serve on small plates with chop sticks.

Cooking at the table means the cook gets to join the party!