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Posts Tagged ‘bonito’

Osechi-ryori is the Japanese style of traditional foods eaten on New Years Day. It typically consists of many different small dishes that are served in stacked jubako (fine lacquer boxes similar to bento). To purchase a ready-made Osechi can set you back well into the hundreds of dollars. Or, you can spend all of that money on an airplane ticket to Japan and let your mother-in-law cook all of the food and arrange the jubako for you, Kawabata family style. Now, I’m not completely sure of all of the ingredients that were used, but I’ll sure do my best to fill you in on what filled my belly.

First and foremost was a delicious bottle of sake. My father-in-law always gets a really nice bottle when I come to visit. This is a bottle of Junmai Daiginjo from Aomori (Aomori is the farthest north area of Honshu and I once hitchhiked from central Tokyo all the way up there, but that’s a story for another time) called Denshu. It’s one of the best bottles in Japan and you won’t find it anywhere in the States. Junmai Daiginjo is sake that is made from pure rice without any added alcohol or sugar, rice that is polished at least 50%, and cold brewed at less than 5 degrees celsius. While you can find some Junmai Daiginjo in the States, you won’t find any as nice as this. It’s smooth as a baby’s ass! Even if you don’t love a baby’s ass, you’ll certainly love this bottle of sake.

In this box there was some simple steamed pea pods, shiitake simmered in shoyu (Japanese soy sauce), boiled satoimo potatoes, simmered lotus root, simmered carrots, and koya tofu (freeze-dried tofu, something I’ve never eaten before but really like the texture).

Here we have braised beef wrapped gobo (burdock root), salmon wrapped in kombu, sweet-pickled daikon and carrot, and sweet shoyu glazed yellow tail.

This level of jubako contained dried herring roe, white and pink fish cakes, ikura (salmon roe), mashed sweet potato, soy-glazed dried anchovies, Cool Breeze Amongst Pine Trees (Uichiro’s name for his famous meatloaf, don’t ask me how he came up with that name, some things are probably better unknown), and ham.

Next to the jubako was a plate with some grilled red snapper. I’m always disappointed when I order red snapper in Chicago. I’m never disappointed with I eat it here in Japan. Tamiko got the skin nice and crisp while keeping the flesh moist and juicy. Extremely fresh fish.

Then, she brought out bowls of soup. A clear broth made from kombu and katsuo-bushi (bonito flakes) filled with mitsuba greens, fish cakes with good fortune written in the middle, mochi (an absolute necesity at the Japanese new years table), shiitake, and slices of yuzu peel.

Last, but surely not least, she served up some red snapper sashimi that was cured in kombu. A touch of wasabi was all it needed.

Dessert was simply fresh strawberries and green tea. Strawberries are extremely expensive here in Japan so they’re always a treat.

To wipe our mouths we used “Year of the Dragon” napkins since 2012 is the year of the dragon. I was born in a year of the dragon as well.

Happy new years everyone!

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Sorry I haven’t put a post up in a while, been kind of busy the past week with my beautiful baby boy, Otis. Yeah, I know, badass name. He is a handsome little badass though, so it fits.

At any rate, Yuki’s parents came in from Japan a week ago to help us out. They’ve done all of the cooking and I absolutely love it! I do want to cook, and will in a day or two, but I am definitely enjoying their Japanese homestyle food. The other night they made this classic dish for us, Chikuzen Ni. Chikuzen is the old name for Kyushu, one of Japans main islands. Ni means simmered. It’s basically a simmered dish that comes from Kyushu. Tough to figure that one out, eh?

I don’t know exact measurements because I was busy changing diapers while they cooked. What they did was make a bonito dashi and added soy sauce, sake, mirin, and a touch of sugar. In that they simmered some chopped up skinless chicken thighs, carrots, gobo (burdock root, a root vegetable native to Japan and other countries in that region), lotus root, bamboo shoot, haricots vert, and konnyaku. It is absolutely heartwarming deliciousness!

To go with the Chikuzen Ni they made some pan-fried tofu. After pressing the water out of some silken tofu they chopped it up and fried it in my big skillet with some vegetable oil. After they took it out they poured in a mixture of bonito dashi, soy sauce, sake, mirin, sugar, and potato starch. Basically, it’s the same as the broth for the Chikuzen Ni. The added starch gives it a nice gelatinous texture. On top they put a little fresh grated ginger.

White rice was on the side and a cold beer was in hand.

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In order to solidify my role as a good Japanese housewife I decided to make another classic comfort dish from the Land of the Rising Sun. I haven’t made anything with squid in a long time and came across this recipe from a Japanese cook book that I have. Since I had a piece of daikon in my fridge that I needed to use, it all just seemed too perfect. And yes, I am perfect!

The first thing I need to do was make 3.75 cups of dashi. We don’t have any bonito flakes in our fridge, but we do have dried anchovy in our freezer that are also used for various types of dashi. In a soup pot I poured in a little more than 3.75 cups of water knowing that some would evaporate and added about 1/3 cup of the dried anchovy. I brought it to a boil, covered it, lowered the heat to med-low, and let it simmer for about 3o minutes. Then I strained out the fish and had a really nice flavorful dashi.

The rest of my ingredients for this dish included 4 tablespoons of soy sauce, 3 tablespoons of sake, 2 tablespoons of mirin, some lime zest, about 2 pounds of daikon, 1 pound of squid (body and tentacles), and 1 tablespoon of sugar.

I cut the daikon into chunks about 1.25 inches thick and rounded the edges with a pairing knife. I’m not sure why they round the edges, maybe it allows the daikon to cook more evenly or maybe it’s just an aesthetics thing, but you probably don’t need to do it if you don’t want. Being the good Japanese housewife that I am, I went all out. I put the cut daikon into cold water then drained it just before cooking. That helps keep the texture firm. I sliced the squid bodies into 1/2 inch strips and cut the tentacles in half.

I put the daikon and squid into a heavy pot and poured the dashi in. I brought it to a boil and let it cook for about 5 minutes. Every 30 seconds or so I had to skim the surface to keep the dashi nice and clear. It’s amazing that 1 pound of squid seems to have more muck than a 3 pound chicken when boiling. So you really need to skim a lot.

Once the dashi cleared up I turned the heat to low and added the soy sauce, sake, mirin, and sugar. I covered the pan and let it simmer for about 45 minutes or so. Every few minutes I gave the pot a good shake to make sure the flavors of the dashi were well mixed.

While the squid and daikon were simmering I made some hijiki-carrot rice. After rinsing 2 cups of rice and measuring out the liquid I added a tablespoon or so of dried hijiki and 1 chopped carrot. I let it sit for a half hour and then started the rice cooker. Actually, I had this ready to go before starting the squid and daikon. But I didn’t hit the start button until the simmering started for timing purposes.

For a side dish to get more vegetables in the meal I made a simple stir-fry. I cut up 1 head of broccoli, had a couple of ounces of bean sprouts, 3 diced garlic cloves, and 1 inch of diced ginger.

I heated a skillet and added 1 tablespoon of sesame oil then added the garlic and ginger. After about 30 seconds I tossed in the broccoli and let it go for about 5 minutes before adding the bean sprouts. About 2 minutes later and it was ready to eat, just a sprinkle of salt and pepper was needed.

For serving I put some of the squid and daikon in bowls with some of the dashi. Then I grated some of the lime zest on top. Yes, as you can see in the picture I do have the hairiest arms you’ll ever see on a Japanese housewife…I hope. In Japan they’d use yuzu instead of lime, but I couldn’t find any yuzu at the store. The lime worked really well though. And the squid, oh brother the squid! It was so soft and tender it literally melted in our mouths. I haven’t had squid that good since we were in Nara, Japan over a year ago during squid season. And if you’ve never eaten daikon simmered in a soy-dashi broth you’re missing out on one of life’s finer flavors. This was the best meal I’ve cooked in a while. OIISHII!!!

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I’m just not as young as I used to be. I can tell that I was at an izakaya last night because all of that sake floating around my liver is taking its toll. However, slow-moving Saturdays usually mean fun Friday nights.

A group of Yuki’s co-workers got together last night for food and drinks at Chizakaya, a newly opened izakaya here in Chicago. Actually, it’s probably the only real izakaya in town. While there are a few places claiming to be izakayas, they’re really just sushi places. Chizakaya doesn’t serve any sushi at all. I first heard of Chizakaya a few months ago when my mom sent me an article in the Huffington Post about the very fact that there aren’t any real izakaya’s in Chicago, until now. It also mentioned that the group that opened Chizakaya came from L2O, arguably Chicago’s finest seafood restaurant. Naturally, it made the list of places I wanted to go. With Yuki’s group meeting there last night I took the opportunity and ran with it.

I got there before the rest of the group, except for the two white guys in her work team (everyone else is Japanese). We sat at the bar and had a glass of sake while waiting for everyone else. I will say that the bartender knows his sake! It’s not a huge sake list, but a very well put together one with a good variety at all price points. He also gave us each a sample of sweet potato shochu, something none of us have ever had. It’s actually quite good.

Once everyone showed up they took us to the back room at one of the two big tables. I like it much better back there because the kitchen is open and the atmosphere is a little more izakaya-like.

Our waitress was also well-trained in the art of sake flavors as well as their menu. True to being an izakaya, the menu is based on small plates and nibbles to go along with drinking. We ordered a bunch of things and just grabbed and ate as we went, along with numerous bottles of sake. Since I’m drinking for 3, I’m struggling to keep my eyes focused as I write this.

As we sat they brought out little bowls of miso soup. Really good miso, they got the ratio of miso-to-dashi right. Instead of wakame which is typically put in miso soup they used hijiki.

Japanese sweet potato fries with spiced mayo.

Puffed pig ears with togarashi soy dipping sauce. Move over potato chips, these little cracklins are fantastic!

Crispy pork with a slow poached egg.

Pork shoulder gyoza. The gyoza could have been a little bit crispier, but the braised pork shoulder filling more than made up for that shortcoming.

Oysters with bacon and shishito. I don’t know if the bacon was over smoked or if they added a little liquid smoke, but there was a bit too much smokiness to this one. The natural sweetness of the beautiful little oysters was lost. Cut back on the smoke and this one is a winner.

Grilled ika togarashi with a yuzu vinaigrette. This was some of the most tender squid I’ve had in Chicago.

This was one of the night’s specials, duck liver karaage with scallions. Little deep-fried nuggets of ducky deliciousness!

Home-made basket tofu with bonito flakes, scallions, ginger, and soy sauce. You haven’t had tofu until you’ve had a really good home-made tofu. This was a really good home-made tofu. Totally different beast than the store-bought packaged tofu. Very clean, very light, very tasty.

Crispy-braised lamb belly with chopped edamame. This one was another of the night’s specials and quite honestly, one of the most special dishes I’ve ever eaten! I’ve never had lamb belly before and after eating it am wondering why. You see pork belly everywhere as it’s one of the more trendy cuts of meat these days. As much as I love pork belly, and I do love pork belly, I’d drop it in a heartbeat to sink my teeth into some lamb belly. That layer of belly fat may be the most lamby of all lamb flavors that animal has. I absolutely luz it! The only thing that would have made this dish better would be to puree the edamame into a thick sauce instead of leaving it chunky. Otherwise it was perfect.

Now, I’ll show you all of the kushi-yaki (grilled skewers of meat) that we had.

Chicken skin, mother of schmaltz how I love thee!

Chicken meatballs.

Chicken gizzards, next to liver and sweetbreads my favorite offal.

Beef heart, surprisingly tender and juicy for such a hard-working and lean muscle.

Beets with shiso, both red and golden.

We also ordered a the ramen and oden. Both of which were, quite honestly, very disappointing.

The ramen came with braised pork, fish balls, a slow poached egg, radish, bamboo shoot, shredded scallions, and some nori. The ingredients were all top-notch, but the noodles were overcooked and soft while the broth wasn’t quite were it needed to be. With everything else so high quality I wonder why they’re using regular old store-bought quality noodles. This bowl of ramen just wasn’t up to standards. If it’s ramen you want, head over to Arami instead.

The oden wasn’t even close to what oden is. Oden should be a dashi broth filled with various fish cakes, potato, hard-boiled eggs, konyakku, etc. It’s something that we make at home a couple of times every winter. This was nowhere near oden. This was a soy-based dashi with overcooked soba noodles, a few spinach leaves, a couple of pieces of potato, some slices of radish, and a few adzuki beans. It wasn’t a terrible noodle soup, but they shouldn’t call it oden and they should be more careful with the noodles.

Now, on to desserts, which were all very creative and well-prepared.

Yuzu cake with green tea ice cream.

Tofu cheese cake with kuro mitsu (black honey) and adzuki bean sorbet. Usually you see adzuki bean ice cream, making it a sorbet was a nice touch.

Chocolate ganache with puffed barley and black sesame ice cream.

I will say, that all three desserts are among the best desserts I’ve ever had at a Japanese restaurant.

Overall, Chizakaya is a fun atmosphere with great food. There were a couple of lows, oversmoked bacon and poor noodle soups, but the rest of the food was outstanding. Don’t come here expecting a substantial sit-down meal. Come here expecting a great list of sake, beer, and cocktails with delicious small plates and skewers to match. In that sense, this is a true izakaya. They also use top quality ingredients from local sustainable farms, and you can taste the difference. I will definitely go back, I just have to be more mindful of the amount of sake that I guzzle.

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I had some angel hair pasta that I wanted to use up last night. Combine that with all of the Japanese ingredients I had in my fridge that needed to be eaten I whipped up a bolognese sauce with Japanese flavors. Note, I usually cook for 4 so that we have lunch the next day, but since it was Friday and we don’t need to take a lunch anywhere on Saturday this recipe was for 2.

My ingredient list for the bolognese was a package of enoki mushrooms, 1 negi thinly sliced (I had two but decided only to use one), some ginger and garlic minced, 1/2 carrot cut into quarter moon slices, 1 rib of celery cut down the middle lengthwise and then sliced, 10 cherry tomatoes halved, some wakame seaweed, 1/4 pound of ground beef, and 1/4 pound ground pork. What I didn’t get in the photo was some cooking sake, mirin, and soy sauce.

In my pot I heated up about 2 tablespoons of soy oil and 1 tablespoon of sesame oil and then let the garlic and ginger go for about a minute. Then I tossed in the carrot, negi, and celery for about 5 minutes until they just started to soften a little. After that I added the ground meats. They took about 5 minutes or so to cook and break up, I added just a touch of salt (not too much since I was about to add some soy sauce) and some black pepper. Once the meat was broken down I poured in about 3 tablespoons of sake and let that boil off for a couple of minutes before adding about 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of mirin. Once all the liquid was almost completely boiled off, about 2 more minutes, I added the cherry tomatoes and enoki. A couple of minutes later I mixed in the wakame and then turned off the heat. The wakame doesn’t need to be cooked, so I just wanted its flavor to incorporate into the meat.

While that was all going on I cooked some angel hair pasta and drained it thoroughly.

To serve, I piled the pasta on the plate and then topped it with the bolognese. On top of that I put some katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes). Some Asahi to wash it all down and we were good for the night.

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Last night we made Okonomiyaki for dinner. Well, Yuki made it, I was her sous chef. She also made a Korean spiced soup to get more vegetables into the meal. That and she loves soup.

To start off she cooked thin slices of Kurobuta Pork that we got at Mitsuwa in a little sesame oil. Any pork will do as long as it’s thinly sliced. You can also bacon or any bacon-like substance. Or, no meat at all.

Then, she poured the batter on top to make a pancake. I’m not real sure what kind of flour she used, we have a few different kinds on our pantry, but all-purpose will do, about a cup. She mixed it with about 3/4 cup water and a couple of eggs. Then she mixed in a bunch of thinly sliced green onions and a cup of thinly sliced Napa Cabbage.

Instead of making 4 smaller ones, we made two big ones. I had to use a plate to get that thing flipped over when it was time to cook the other side. It’s ready to flip when the bottom is a nice golden brown color.

While the bottom is cooking you pour the on top. First pour on Bulldog Sauce. A popular sauce in Japan commonly used on Tonkatsu, fried pork cutlet. Then squeeze on some mayonnaise.

Feel free to paint your okonomiyaki with the sauces.

Then top it with a bunch of katsuo-bushi, dried bonito flakes.

Finally, top it off with some ao-nori, ground seaweed.

For the soup, Yuki started by boiling some light dashi broth. She added some green onions, thinly sliced carrot, enoki mushrooms, aburage, broccoli, komatsuna (Japanese Mustard Spinach), and small diced tofu. Once everything was cooked  she swirled in a couple of tablespoons of tobanjan paste (Korean hot chili paste). It was that simple.

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Alright, here’s Uichiro’s famous Kawabata-style Okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is Japan’s version of a pancake of sorts. It’s base ingredients are eggs, flour, and shredded cabbage. Not entirely sure if Uichiro uses water or dashi, or what else he puts in his mix (highly guarded secret but I’m sure there are green onions in it) but it sure is tasty.

You start off by getting out the old table-top griddle. Once its hot add a little oil and pour some of the batter to form a pancake. Next to it lay out some sliced pork and start cooking it a little.

Once the batter starts to cook lay the pork slices on top.

While the okonomiyaki cooks grill various veggies. We had eggplant, green peppers, onion rings with quail eggs, kabocha, matsutake mushrooms, and various mochi cakes. Once the bottom is done you carefully flip the okonomiyaki to cook the other side.

Once it’s fully cooked spoon on top some bull dog sauce (a semi-sweet vegetable and fruit sauce), mayonnaise, shredded ao nori, bonito flakes, and pickled ginger on the side. Since it’s family-style you just cook and grab as you go. It’s a ton of fun and extremely tasty.

And if you aren’t full yet, don’t worry as yakisoba is up next. Once the batter is finished cook up the rest of the pork and veggies, add some bean sprouts and noodles, then eat it up.

Please, no dessert.

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