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Posts Tagged ‘miso’

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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Last night I made a simple burger out of ground pork and one of my usual marinades. To make it into a burger, I mixed the marinade into the meat for flavor and added some bread crumbs to help hold it together. Grilled up to perfection, these could also be pan-fried or even baked. But why when you can grill?

To make the burgers used about 1 inch of ginger grated, 3 garlic cloves grated, 3 green onions thinly sliced (white and pale green parts only), 1.25 lbs of ground pork, a few slices of bread ground into bread crumbs, 1.5 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon sake, 1/2 tablespoon of mirin, and 1/2 tablespoon of sesame oil.

I threw it all into a glass bowl and mixed it together, along with some black pepper, with a metal spoon until the flavors were evenly distributed throughout the meat. By using a metal spoon I avoided having the heat in my hands melt the fat. This helps keeps the burger juicy while it’s on the grill. Once mixed, I let the meat for about 10 minutes or so to let the flavors settle. Then, I formed 4 patties and set them aside, covered in the fridge, while I prepared the rest of dinner. To cook, I took them out about 20 minutes prior to grilling. I grilled them over medium high heat for about 8 minutes on each side. This allowed nice grill marks while keeping it juicy, yet cooked.

I made miso soup using 1/2 onion sliced, 3 shiitake sliced, 3 fingerling potatoes chopped, 7 leaves of nappa cabbage sliced, and 1.5 tablespoons of miso.

The other side I made was a simple veggie mix of 1/2 pound of snow peas, 5 small garlic cloves minced, 1/2 tablespoon of butter, a handful of bean sprouts, 1/2 orange bell pepper sliced, and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce.

I melted the butter in a skillet and then added the garlic. I let the garlic cook for about 30 seconds and then added the orange bell pepper. After the pepper had fried up a bit in the butter, about 5 minutes, I added the cabbage and let that cook down for another 5 minutes. In came the soy sauce with some black pepper. When the soy had cooked off, just a couple of minutes, I added the bean sprouts. The sprouts have enough water so that you don’t need to much soy. When it was all cooked down for a few more minutes it was ready.

Of course, we had white rice along for the ride.

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Yuki had requested beef for dinner last night. Who am I to argue with that kind of insightful reasoning? It was a nice night to grill before the brief storm hit, so I picked up my favorite piece of beef to grill…skirt steak. I made an Asian flavored dinner out of it with miso soup, white rice, and quick pickles.

I marinated a 1lb steak for about 1.5 hours at room temperature. The marinade made by mixing together 3 cloves garlic grated, 1 tablespoon ginger grated, 6 green onions thinly sliced, 1 tablespoon cracked black pepper, 1.5 tablespoons of sugar, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, and 1/2 cup of soy sauce. After mixing together the marinade, I let it sit for a few minutes to allow the flavors to meld before covering the steak in it. I covered everything in plastic wrap and then let it sit while I prepared the rest of dinner.

One of the pickles I made was a Korean-style daikon sangchae. Instead of using Korean chili I used Japanese shichimi togarashi instead though. I used about 8oz daikon cut into thin match-sticks, 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar, 1.5 teaspoons lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon shichimi togarashi, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 tablespoon sesame seeds, and 1/2 teaspoon sugar.

I mixed all of the ingredients together in a glass bowl and then stirred the daikon in. I covered the bowl with wrap and left it in the fridge until dinner time.

The other pickle I made was a Korean cucumber namul. I used 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 3 mini cucumbers thinly sliced on my mandolin, 1 green onion thinly sliced, 1 garlic clove minced, 1/2 tablespoon sesame seeds, 1 tablespoon canola oil.

I laid the cucumber slices in a colander, sprinkled them with salt, and let them sit for about 10 minutes. Then I gave them a good rinse and squeezed out the excess liquid.

In a hot skillet I poured in the canola oil and then quickly stir-fried the garlic, green onion, and cucumbers, only for about 45 seconds to a minute. I removed the skillet from the heat and then added the sesame oil and sesame seeds. I tossed to blend really well and then set the cucumber aside on a plate.

Then I made miso soup using about 3 cups of water, 5 shiitake sliced, 1/2 onion thinly sliced, a bunch of salted wakame rinsed and soaked in water for about 15 minutes or so, 3 fingerling potatoes chopped, and about 1.5 tablespoons of miso.

I boiled everything together except for the wakame and miso for about 15 minutes. Then I mixed in the miso. I laid the wakame in the bowls and ladled the soup right on top.

All that was left for me to do was to grill up that skirt steak. My grill does skirt steak really well on high heat with the steak on the top rack for about 7-8 minutes per side. That gives the steak nice carmelization and grill marks while keeping the meat nice and juicy. I let it rest for about 7 minutes before slicing it up. Time to chow down!

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We had some salmon that needed to be used up, 2 servings worth, so I decided to make this simple recipe last night. The beauty of a pepper sauce like this one is that you can do almost anything with it. I used red bell pepper, but you could use any kind of pepper you like…poblano, green bell pepper, jalapeno, etc. You can also use any kind of green. For example, yellow bell pepper with cilantro (you could even add some ginger) would be great with shrimp. Red bell pepper with basil would be great for Italian flavor. The possibilities are endless once you know learn this simple technique.

On to this wonderful technique. I used 2/3 cup of milk, 1 red bell pepper, 2 cloves of garlic skinned, 1 tablespoon of flour, and a handful of watercress roughly chopped.

Over a burner on my range I roasted the pepper on all sides, until the skin was black and blistered. This takes about 1o minutes or so and can be done on a grill or under a broiler as well. I prefer the grill because it adds a nice smokey flavor, but we saw a bit of rain yesterday so I kept it inside.

Once the pepper was roasted I put it in a glass bowl and covered it with plastic wrap. I let it steam in its own juices for about 15-20 minutes, until it was cool enough to handle. Then I peeled off the skin, seeded it, and gave it a rough chop.

While the pepper was steaming I roasted the garlic on a dry pan for a few minutes on each side. This brings out some of the sweetness of the garlic and mellows the punch.

Then I put the pepper, garlic, milk, and flour into a blender, along with some salt and pepper, and pureed it up into a smooth liquid. I let it blend until there were no chunks left. Then I poured it into a pan, added the watercress, and simmered it for about 10 minutes constantly stirring it. This thickens the sauce up nicely because of the flour. If the sauce gets a little too thick just add a little more milk.

I made a simple miso soup to go with dinner. I made it my usual way using 2 shiitake sliced, 3 small fingerling potatoes chopped, 2 green onions cut up, and 1 tablespoon of miso. I also rinsed off some salted wakame, but didn’t remember to get that out until after I took this photo.

My other side, besides white rice, was some corn. I cleaned off one ear, broke it in half, and boiled it for about 10 minutes. I used some of the sauce on the plate to flavor the corn.

Finally, for the salmon I simply drizzled it with olive oil, salt, and pepper. I put it into a 375 degree oven for about 10 minutes. When I took it out I topped it with the sauce and we ate.

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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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So, yesterday one of Yuki’s supervisors decided to take her crew out to dinner at Gyu-Kaku, a yakiniku joint downtown. That left me by myself to eat, drink, whatever. My plan was to meet up with a buddy of mine from the Playboy Pilot at Five Star for a couple of drinks, then pick Yuki up around 7 or so and grab a jumbo char dog from Portillo’s on the way home to absorb the alcohol in my stomach. Things didn’t work out as planned. About 7 I got a text that they JUST got to Gyu-Kaku! What? How long would I have to wait for a friggin char dog! Hungry, I took a couple of Chinese Steam Buns out of the freezer to tide me over for a couple of hours. Shortly thereafter I got a text asking me if I wanted to join them. Absolutely! So I cruised on down and got there as they were about to order dessert. Oh well, that didn’t stop me from eating some beef.

Since they were already drunk and I was a little drunk I didn’t really care what I ate. Doug, one of two white guys in Yuki’s group, ordered one of the Kalbi’s for me along with a beer. They’re having a Sakura Festival (Cherry Blossoms) special with $3 beer and 50% off harami skirt steak so I’m sure that’s what I got. All I know is that a dish with some beautifully marbled beef covered in sesame seeds showed up alongside a nice cold draft beer.

Then, the waitress showed up with some white rice, red leaf lettuce, and red miso so that I could eat the beef properly.

Since I was too busy helping Doug make fun of Eric, the other white guy in the group, Yuki grilled my meat for me. That’s how you know you got a good one…when she grills your beef so you can drink and have a laugh.

I took the lettuce, smeared some miso on it, topped it with the beef, and chowed down! Oiishii!!! No offense to Koreans, but the quality of the meat is so much better than anything I’ve had at a Korean BBQ. Tender and juicy, the way a good cow should be. I do have a groupon for Gyu-Kaku that I can’t wait to use so that I can eat other cuts of beef along with different animals, both with legs and with gills. Oh, some veggies too. Yuki told me that their ramen was pretty good too.

At any rate, the dessert they ordered were a bunch of different doriyaki ice creams. Bowls of ice cream with red bean paste served with pancakes and mochi that you grill. Good ice cream, but they burnt the mochi. (No Eric, it didn’t taste like shwag, it just tasted burnt)

As we were getting ready to leave another co-worker of theirs who wasn’t part of this group sent over two little bottles of sake for us. Between Doug, Eric, and myself it didn’t take long to polish those babies off. Mmmmm, sake!

The best part about Gyu-Kaku is that they use really strong down-draft ventilation systems for each grill. Those things suck that smoke right down. Unlike Korean BBQ’s what have over-table hoods, you don’t have to hop in the shower and wash your clothes immediately when you get home to rid yourself of the smoke. If you have a Jewfro sponge on your head like me, your hair will definitely appreciate that!

I do have a back story regarding Gyu-Kaku. It’s a chain that started in Japan and there’s one off of the train stop near Yuki’s parent’s house. A few of years ago Yuki and I had dinner there with her sister and brother-in-law. I remember the basil marinated chicken to be fabulous. I thought that this would do really well here in Chicago because all we had were Korean BBQ joints up on the northwest side of town. There wasn’t anything downtown. So, I went to their website and saw that they’ve already hit the west coast, that really got my hopes up that I could bring them here to Chitown. I sent them a nice long e-mail letting them know about the niche they could fill here, yada yada yada. I hear nothing back from them at all. A couple of years go by and Yuki texts me, “Gyu-Kaku is coming to Chicago”. Eh? Those bastards cut me out of the deal! That’s my idea! I felt like Kramer with his ocean cologne. The least they could do is feed me for free for life since coming here was my idea from the start. Oh well, what can you do. The food is good so I will definitely go back, especially since I’ve already paid for a groupon.

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So, this recipe is loosely based on a Charlie Trotter. The sauce is his, and the overall flavor concept is his, but I added some of my own touches and served the quinoa mixture in lettuce cups. Honestly, I think he’d prefer that I use his recipe for inspiration rather than to have me follow it to the teaspoon.

First thing I did was make the apricot-curry sauce. I took 3/4 teaspoon of curry powder, 1/4 cup of rice vinegar, 3/4 cup dried apricots, and 1/2 cup of water and blended it all together in my small food processor until all of the little apricot chunks were hacked up to a pulp.

Then I strained it while pressing it through with the back of a wooden spoon. I covered it in plastic and put in the fridge while I cooked everything else.

For the quinoa I used a handful of fresh chopped parsley, some red leaf lettuce leaves, 1 clove of garlic minced, 1/2 inch of ginger minced, 5 green onions chopped, 1/2 red bell pepper diced, a handful of dried apricots diced, 1/2 cup of quinoa rinsed, and 1/2 lb of skinless boneless chicken thighs chopped up.

In a hot pot I poured in about 2 tablespoons of canola oil and added the garlic and ginger. I let them sizzle for about 30 seconds and then added the bell pepper and green onions. After about 5 minutes I added the quinoa and let it sort of toast in the hot oil for a few minutes. This brings out its nutty flavors.

Then I added the chicken and let it just start to cook. I poured in about 1 cup of water, seasoned with a little salt and pepper, let it come to a boil, covered the pot, turned the heat to med-low, and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. Then, I turned off the heat but kept it covered for another 15 minutes. After that I took off the lid, added the parsley, and fluffed it up with a fork. I tasted for seasoning and that’s about all there was to it.

To serve, I simply laid some of the lettuce leaves down, spooned on some of the quinoa, then topped with the curry sauce.

I served some white rice and miso soup along side.

For this miso soup I used miso, 3 shiitake sliced, 3 green onions sliced, 1 block of fried tofu diced, and some wakame. I used my typical miso soup making method.

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