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Posts Tagged ‘mayonnaise’

The other night Yuki and I met up with a bunch of her ex-coworkers who have moved back to Tokyo. They got a table at a modern, hip Yakitori joint in the Hibiya neighborhood. If you want to buy a brand new Hermes bag, Hibiya is the place for you. It’s a very swanky area filled with great food. The place they met us at is called Yakitori Akira. It’s in the basement of a large office/shopping building along with a handful of other slightly upscale food joints.

When you walk in you take your shoes off and walk past the open counter where the chefs prepare the chow. The tables are sunken. I was a little nervous at first because the tables were floor level and my knees are terrible. But, the floor was recessed making them regular table height, something that is becoming more common in newer restaurants, sort of fusion if you will.

The first dish, after a cold draft beer of course,  was a salad of raw Nappa cabbage swimming in a mayonnaise-based dressing and topped with sliced kombu.

After that came some natto topped with sliced green onions and nori seaweed. Natto is a love-hate food. You either love it or you hate it. It’s a type of fermented soy bean and has a really pungent odor, like ripe armpits. It also has a very sticky texture. It’s commonly eaten with Chinese-style mustard to mask some of the smell. Yuki loves it, I don’t prefer it. Very few Westerners can tolerate it and, these days, not so many of the younger Japanese do either. But, I had to try it since they put it in my face. Needless to say, I took one bite and the quickly proceeded to chug some beer!

Then we had some chicken karage, Japanese-style chicken nuggets. Unlike your McDonald’s variety of processed crap, this is big juicy chunks of thigh meat. I have no idea what kind of sauce this one came with, but it sure was tasty!

This here is the dish I was most looking forward to…rare chicken meat! The meat from the neck was quickly seared, almost completely raw (the pink you see in the picture is indeed raw chicken), on a hot skillet and served with some yuzu kosho. Rare chicken is extremely controversial, for obvious reasons, but given the upscale atmosphere I was certain they were using fresh, high quality birds. Since I have yet to get diarrhea or vomit profusely, I’m pretty sure the meat was clean. Flavor-wise it tasted like chicken, oddly enough. The texture was a little chewy, chicken al dente. Honestly, it’s nothing really special, it’s just chicken meat.

Avocado sautéed in some sort of shoyu sauce came next. Coming from Chicago I’m used to Mexican preparations of avocado. This was a nice change to what my taste buds are used to. The sauce carmelized a little while the avocado stayed nice and soft.

After the Avocado we spiced things up a bit with some kimchi. It was served with some chopped green onion, julienned daikon, and a shiso leaf.

Next came what is probably my favorite snack of the night, deep-fried chicken skin. Japan’s answer to chicharones. Crispy, buttery, all-around chickeny goodness! I may have to make this a staple of my future diet.

What tour around the bird would complete without some chicken wings? These were deep-fried with either basil or shiso in the batter, I couldn’t really tell. With a squirt of lemon they were delicious.

The main course of the night was the table-top charcoal grill. Instead of eating yakitori style (chicken on skewers) we ate yakiniku style (grill yourself). The first pieces we grilled were breast meat wrapped in shiso leaf.

The other pieces of chicken we got were neck meat, 2 parts of the heart (heart skin and heart meat), meat that was dangling off a piece of cartilage (I think the breastplate), and skin. We also had a few pieces of okra to grill.

Once the meat was grilled we dipped the pieces into an onsen egg. Basically it’s just an egg that’s been barely soft-boiled to the point where the whites were just set and the yolk is still runny. To me, this is natures most perfect sauce.

After all of that chicken we decided to get a few cuts of pork for shits and giggles. We got shoulder, cheek, and side meat and grilled them all the same as the chicken.

As Yuki and I were leaving due to having Otis back at grandma and grandpa’s, everyone else ordered up some soup. I really have no idea what was in the soup, but I imagine it was miso. From the pic I took here as I left I can definitely tell you it was topped with nori and had a shtickle of wasabi.

All in all, I thought Akira was a great izakaya. They call themselves Yakitori Akira because the chef’s specialty is chicken, but to me it’s not a yakitori restaurant at all, even though they do serve yakitori. The menu is much too diverse to be called yakitori. Since they serve up numerous small plates and whatnot with a nice beer and sake list, its pure izakaya to me. That said, what’s in a name? An izakaya by any other name’s chicken would taste is sweet.

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With Yuki’s dad back in Japan her mom wanted to make some home-style comfort food. Unsure of what to make I suggested Nikujaga. I’ve made Nikujaga before, and it turned out pretty tasty, but I wanted to try Tamiko’s since she has a lot more experience making it than I do.

The basics are the same…beef and potatoes simmered in dashi with soy sauce, sake, and mirin. I’m not sure what her ratio for the broth was, but it was perfect! For mine, I used yukon gold potatoes, she used fingerlings (only because that’s what we had in our kitchen). Also, she used snap peas instead of the edamame in mine. Otherwise, they were pretty similar (both had carrots, a staple in any Nikujaga), only hers was definitely more refined than mine.

For a side dish she had me grill some sawara steaks. Sawara is Spanish Mackerel and we found some really nice steaks at Tensuke Market. Tamiko simply sprinkled it with salt and pepper. All I did was throw it on the grill for about 6 minutes each side. For the sauce, she mixed yuzukosho with some mayonnaise. Yuzukosho is one of my new favorite things! It’s yuzu mixed with pepper making it a citrusy spice that keeps my taste buds begging for more!

She also made a simple miso soup with wakame and tofu. Being a Japanese comfort meal, white rice was also served.

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Last night Yuki and I went to Millenium Park for another one of their Made In Chicago: World Class Jazz shows. Besides listening to some killer guitar by Alfonso Ponticelli we ate some killer skirt steak sandwiches that I made earlier in the day, along with some potato salad.

For the steak I took a big handful of cilantro, 1/4 cup of sesame oil, 1/4 cup of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of ginger, and two cloves of garlic. I processed it all into a nice marinade along with some black pepper. I picked up a 1.5 pound skirt steak and cut it into 4 equal pieces. I laid the steak in a glass baking dish and covered it in the marinade. I wrapped it in plastic and put it in the fridge for about 3 hours. I took it out and let it come to room temperature for about a half hour before grilling it.

I brought my grill up to high heat and grilled the steak for about 7 minutes on each side. That made it somewhere between medium-rare and medium. I let it sit for a few hours to cool down in its own juices while I went back to my computer to do some work.

For the potato salad I defrosted about 1/3 cup of frozen organic peas and chopped up a bunch of green onions, a carrot, 4 radishes, and 7 yukon gold potatoes that were skinned before getting chopped up. For the dressing I mixed together a branch of rosemary from my back porch that I gave the once over with my knife, 2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar, 1/4 cup of mayonnaise, 3 tablespoons of mustard (my favorite brand of Boetje’s of course), and a pinch of salt and pepper.

In a pot of boiling water I dumped the skinned diced potatoes and let them cook for about 10 minutes until they were soft but held their shape (may take a little longer depending upon how big the chunks are). After 10 minutes I added the green onions, radishes, and carrot for about 2 minutes. I didn’t want to cook the vegetables, I just wanted to take away the sharpness and rawness of them while keeping the texture. Then I strained everything into a colander.

In a large glass bowl I put the peas and then strained vegetables and potatoes. While still warm I poured the dressing on top and stirred it all around. I like dressing it while still warm so that the potatoes absorb some of the dressing.

To put together the sandwiches I toasted some ciabatta rolls. On the bottom I laid some baby spinach and tomato slices. I sliced up two of the steak portions and laid them on top. I covered the steak with cilantro. On the top bun I spread some mustard and mayonnaise. It was outstanding!

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My buddy Nimah has been in town and finally made a little time to see Yuki and I Sunday night for dinner. His wife and brother were supposed to join us, but they both backed out. It’s nice to know where we stand on their totem pole (I’ll remember this Lora and Ramin!). At any rate, for the past couple of weeks all he’s been talking about was Smoque. “Yo Twig”. He’s been calling me Twig since high school. “How’s Smoque?” I just kept telling him that it’s hands down the best BBQ in Chicago, maybe even the best BBQ north of Mason-Dixon Line. It’s at least the best BBQ Brisket north of Texas. Honestly, I haven’t even eaten it’s equal in Texas, although I’ve only had a couple of BBQ Briskets there.

So he got there early, which is quite amazing. He’s notoriously late (no, he’s not pregnant, but he does have three testicles…all Iranians have three testicles, just ask him) and I’m notoriously punctual. We were supposed to meet at 7 and he got there at 6:40. I was just about to hop on the highway and he called. “Twig, there’s a friggin line down the street!”. That should have been a sign to him that I’m not the only one who thinks Smoque is the best. That worked well for us since he got to wait in line for us. When we showed up, it wasn’t too bad. They do a pretty good job of keeping the line moving.

He kept asking me what to order, and I kept telling him to get the sliced brisket sandwich. Honestly, that’s all I’ve ever gotten there other than the chili made with their brisket. I have to imagine that their ribs are pretty damn good too, but I’ve never had them. Always skeptical he asked one of the guys who works there. Of course, he said, “Get the brisket”. Just goes to show that I’m always right.

After about a half hour wait, not too bad, we ordered our food and got our seats. Besides sliced brisket they also do a chopped brisket. Yuki and I decided to try the chopped, so we got one of each and split them. I have to say, I think the chopped may even be better! You get more of the charred outside, and that has a ton of flavor. But, the sliced has more of the fat. You really can’t go wrong either way. All sandwiches come with a side of slaw. Theirs is nice because it’s just vinegar, no mayonnaise. That helps keep it light and helps you digest all of the delicious smoked carcass. I’m a mac’n’cheese guy, so I usually get that for my side. They have a great mac’n’cheese. Yuki got the fries. They cut their own potatoes and they keep the oil hot enough to cook them properly. Nimah got the baked beans. Simple BBQ beans, but their sauce makes them stand above the rest.

Oh, I should back up a bit in the story. While we were waiting for our food to be called at our seats one of the owners brought the people next to us some fresh made ginger cookies. I didn’t know why at the time (turns out they wanted some cobbler but Smoque was out, so they brought them some complimentary cookies) but anyone who knows me knows that I’m not shy. I said to the owner, “We have some problems with our food too, do we get cookies?” I was completely joking because we haven’t gotten our food yet. He said, “Sure, I’ll get you some cookies”. I told him I was just kidding, but he said they had more and it was no problem. Moral of that story, it pays to be an obnoxious extrovert with no shame!

Wanting to try their pulled pork, but only having one stomach each, Yuki and I brought a couple of sandwiches home for lunch today. Beautiful! Absolutely lovely. Every bit the brisket’s equal. Well, I think I’d still get the chopped brisket over the pulled pork, but there isn’t a better tasting pig-which in town! The cornbread also held up to a night in the fridge. It was relatively moist all things considered.

All in all, if you haven’t made it to Smoque yet then you really need to. That is unless you’re a vegetarian or vegan. In which case you and I must have a sit down. Vegetarian meals are important, but only on Meatless Monday. Every other day of the week Smoque makes a tasty and inexpensive option to fill your guts.

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Alright, so I’ve been working on perfecting a hamburger that tastes like a bowl of Pho for a while now so that I could enter it into a contest that has a nice payout for the winner (wish me luck everyone!). I think I finally nailed it Saturday night. Here’s how it all goes down.

Instead of using regular old ground chuck I picked up a 2 pound brisket. Pho commonly uses brisket or rump, so I wanted to get that type of beefy flavor for these burgers. You could have your butcher grind it up for you, but what’s the fun in that? I don’t have a meat grinder (anyone seeking to get me a gift for whatever reason take note, I would gladly accept a meat grinder) but that didn’t stop me from giving it a go.

First thing I did was cut the brisket up into 1 inch cubes. I threw all of the meat into my food processor and pulsed it until it turned in the consistency I was looking for. I had to be careful not to over process it as that would start to melt the fat and ruin the texture. Then I put the meat in a bowl and prepared all of the seasonings.

The spice mix included ground cloves, cardamom, ground cinnamon, star anise, and coriander seeds.

With my pestle and mortar I first had to grind up the whole seeds. I took enough seeds out of the star anise to measure about 1/4 teaspoon (cracking out the seeds is a pain!). Then I cracked open enough cardamom pods to get me 1/4 teaspoon of its seeds. I also measured about 3/4 teaspoon of coriander seeds. I ground those up into a fine powder and then added 1/2 teaspoon each of the ground cinnamon and ground cloves. I also mixed in there 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper and 1 teaspoon of pure cane sugar.

Once my dry spices were mixed together I zested a lime to get about 1 tablespoon, and I minced up 1 tablespoon of ginger and 1 tablespoon of garlic.

I also sliced up 4 green onions, just the white and pale green parts.

I put all of my seasonings in the bowl with the meat and then added 2 tablespoons each of fish sauce and sesame oil. With a metal spoon I mixed it all together until the flavors were evenly distributed. It’s important to use a metal spoon when mixing things into burger meat. When you use your hands the body heat can melt the fat, you don’t want that. You want the fat to mix in just like the other ingredients so that it melts properly when cooking keeping the meat nice and juicy.

After the meat was mixed nicely I let it rest for about 10 minutes to let the flavors settle in. Then, I wetted my hands and formed 6 patties.

I heated the grill up to a medium-high heat, brushed it off, and oiled it. Just before putting the burgers on I lightly salted both sides of the patties. With the fish sauce there’s no need for a lot of salt, but sprinkling a little on just before grilling helps get a nice crust on the outside of the meat. I let the cook for about 6 minutes or so on each side.

When the burgers were cooked to my liking I put some sesame seed buns on the grill to lightly toast them. That only took a minute.

To assemble the burgers I placed one grilled patty on each bottom bun and squeezed one wedge of lime on each patty. On top of each patty placed 1 ounce bean sprouts, then 3 basil leaves and 3 cilantro sprigs. 1 tablespoon of Sriracha got squeezed on the underside of each top half of bun and they were ready to go.

For the side Yuki wanted to make Japanese-style potato salad. She skinned and diced two large russet potatoes and then tossed them into boiling water. She let them boil for about 15 minutes until they were cooked through. Then she mashed them up with enough mayonnaise to keep them nice and moist and a little mustard for flavor. She mixed in a cucumber that she skinned and chopped up, a carrot that she also chopped up, and some black forest ham that she cut into short slivers. That all got mixed together well and provided a nice cool counterpoint to the spicy burgers.

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Yesterday Yuki and I made a trip up to the Mitsuwa market, something we do once or twice a month. Neither of us really felt like cooking dinner so we decided to take advantage of the Bento boxes they prepare fresh every day. I got the Bento Du Jour which centered around a minced cutlet.

Going clockwise starting with the cutlet, you see it was served on top of white rice. The cutlet itself was simply a mix of ground beef, ground pork, and some small diced onion. They coated it in panko and deep-fried it. It was absolutely delicious!

In the next section was a piece if fish cake, a piece of tamagoyaki, two pieces of simmered eggplant, a deep-fried shrimp coated in bread crumbs, broccoli, and a piece of white fish wrapped in squid that was deep-fried. This was all on top of some lettuce.

In the upper left section was a small macaroni salad. It had a very typical mayonnaise sauce with small diced carrot and ham.

Next to that was some gobo and some kuromame. These were both a bit sweeter, especially the kuromame. The simmering liquid for each contained sugar and mirin. I treated the kuromame like dessert.

All of this for only $6.75!!! Good luck finding a meal as well-rounded and delicious as this for that price. The only way I can think of pulling that off is to cook for yourself.

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Okaka mayo, a really fun sauce to say. It’s also a delicious, very Japanese, sauce that’s easy to make. This is a dish that Yuki made the other night.

To start, Yuki steamed some vegetables. Once the steamer got going she put in a couple of baby bok choy, a carrot cut into match sticks, and a handful of green beans.

A few minutes later she threw in some bean sprouts and some fresh shiitake caps. She let everything steam for about 5 minutes or so, just so that the veggies are al dente.

While the veggies were steaming she mixed up the okaka mayo. Okaka is a sauce that is often used for onigiri. It’s simply a mixture of soy sauce and bonito flakes (available at most grocers these days in the Asian section). To that, she squirted in some mayonnaise and mixed it all up in a bowl large enough to hold all of the vegetables. I have no idea what the measurements were. Just taste it and adjust according to your preference.

Then, she got the sea bass going. In a saute pan she melted some butter and added some sliced garlic. She let the garlic cook a little in order for its flavor to absorb into the butter. The sea bass was seasoned with salt, pepper, and dried basil. She cooked it skin-side down first in order to get a nice crisp skin. After a few minutes she flipped it over to cook the top. In total, the fish only needs about 8-10 minutes of cooking. Sea bass stays moist, but you still don’t want to overcook it. It will continue to cook for a few minutes inside after you take it off the heat.

While the fish was cooking she tossed the steamed vegetables in the okaka mayo.

While she was doing all of that, I was charged with the difficult task of potatoes. I melted some butter in a large skillet and let it get ridiculously hot. Then I added thin sliced purple potatoes in a single layer. The hot butter gave it a really nice crust. After about 3 or 4 minutes I turned each slice over and turned the heat down to medium. This allowed the inside to cook while also crisping up the bottom of each slice. While that was going on I sprinkled a little salt and pepper on top of everything.

Everything was served with white rice. It was extremely tasty!

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