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Posts Tagged ‘napa cabbage’

Ah yes, horse, the other red meat. You know, I’ve never understood why horse meat was off-limits in America. I mean, it’s an animal not all that dissimilar to deer or elk and we certainly have no problems eating them. Is it because we ride horses? Would you eat a cow if you rode it? I don’t know. I do know that many other places in the world do eat horse, and Japan is one of them. While it’s not a prominent animal in the extremely large, diverse, and interesting encyclopedia of animals consumed by the Japanese, it is featured in various areas where other meats might not be as readily available. As such, in places like Tokyo, there are restaurants dedicated to serving this animal on a platter rather than saddling it up for a gallop. The other night I finally got my first opportunity to enjoy the succulence of these animals when a friend of mine asked me if he could take me out for a horse. Not only is that the first time another man had ever asked me that questions, but that was a proposition I was only too happy to jump on. So, we headed out to the Ebisu district of Tokyo and headed to a place called Uma Yakiniku Takeshi. Uma is horse in Japanese, yakiniku is the style of grilling meat at your table, and Takeshi is the name of the proprietor of this establishment, he also happens to be a well-known Japanese comedian. Before I get to the food, one thing I love about Ebisu is that there are numerous interesting little izakaya’s serving up weird and exotic cuisine that you would never find unless you stumbled upon them. We ended up walking around for about 15 minutes before finding our destination.

When we sat down we were greeted with a cold glass of draft beer and some lightly pickled cucumbers with salted kombu. I’m not a big pickle or cucumber guy by any stretch of the imagination, but honestly, this wasn’t too bad at all. I even think my younger brother, he who has even stronger negative feelings toward pickled cucumbers than me, would eat this. At least he would if he was hungry enough to eat a horse.

We started off with horse tataki. Rolled in black pepper and lightly seared on all sides, this piece of meat (what part of the animal is still up for debate, but I think it’s the tenderloin) was covered with in thinly sliced onion and chopped scallions.

After a quick dip in ponzu (the horse meat, not me) here I am about to have my first taste in equestrian delights. MMMMMMMMMMMM! Honestly, it reminded me of kosher pastrami. I could throw this on some rye bread, slather on the mustard, and wash it down with a Dr Browns and be a happy man. Very delicious and surprisingly familiar to me. I had heard that horse tasted quite a bit like beef, but I think it’s a little more like bison as the muscles don’t have as much fat as cow does.

Next up was horse sashimi. Just think of this as beef carpaccio, except that it went nay instead of moo. A bit of fresh grated ginger and garlic, a splash in some tamari, and down the hatch. A little sweeter than beef, and much more tender than I expected. I can’t recall ever eating a beef carpaccio that I enjoyed as much.

Then we got the yakiniku going. The first plate had some napa cabbage, eggplant, the green part of the scallion, and, of course, some horse meat. This part of the animal comes from the belly/rib area. Think of it as thinly sliced ribeye.

Here’s our tabletop grill in full effect. I didn’t get a pic of it, but we each had a dish with three different dipping options for the grilled meat. There as a ponzu-based sauce that was my favorite, some sea salt, and some rice vinegar.

For the next cut of horse to be grilled my friend thought he’d throw me curveball, something I’d be hesitant to shove down my throat. He was wrong as it turned out to be one of the most delicious pieces of meat I’ve ever grilled yakiniku-style…the heart! I’m telling you, this was so tender and sweet, with a bit of black pepper it was heavenly! I’d jump a fence to get me some of this.

So good, the heart was (that’s my Yoda speak), that we had to get more on our next plate. Besides the heart and horse food (vegetables) this dish also had blood pipes. I don’t know if they were arteries or veins, but they were also delicious. A little rubbery, but after a few chews the clean flavor of the animal really came through. It was almost like eating thick intestines, but clean intestines. Very good indeed.

We put the grill aside after that and got a plate of horse weiner. No, not that kind of weiner, I don’t have that big of an appetite. This was a plate of weiner-style sausages. Again, a little sweet, but a very deep, rich flavor. It was also very juicy.

Our final dish was horse fried rice. With a little scrambled egg and some scallions this was a very typical fried rice, but with horse meat.

I have to say, Americans are a weird bunch. We shun so many different food items that the rest of the world consumes. As I write this blog it becomes clear to me that the reason we’ve not been exposed to things like horse as an edible creature is solely because of politics. If the beef lobby wasn’t so powerful I think we’d be eating all sorts of other animals…guinnea pig, various insects, horse, etc. It really is a delicious animal, and one that doesn’t contribute nearly as much to Climate Change as cows do. If we open our minds as well as our mouths, there’s a lot of tasty things out there we could enjoy. Mr Ed, sorry, but you are one delicious creature!

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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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Just saying Yuki’s Sukiyaki is almost as much fun as eating it. Sukiyaki is a traditional family style one-pot meal in Japan. Vegetables are simmered in a sweet soy-based broth.

Then the pot is brought to the table and, over a table-top burner, thin slices of beef are swished around (similar to shabu-shabu) and cooked in the pot. Each individual has their own dish to put the beef and veggies in. It usually is mixed with a raw egg, but raw eggs aren’t good for prego so we omitted that.

Ingredients for Yakiniku aren’t set in stone, what we used are pretty typical for the most part. I chopped up a carrot, quartered 1/2 onion, cleaned up 1 packet of enoki mushrooms, rinsed and cut up 1 packaged of konnyaku shirataki noodles, 2 large shiitake halved, 1/4 head of napa cabbage chopped, a little more than 1/2 pound of thinly sliced beef, almost 1 block of silken tofu large diced (I had previously used about 1/8th of it for miso soup, use as much as you like), about 5 tablespoons of soy sauce, 2 tablespoons mirin, 3 tablespoons sake, and 1-2 tablespoons of sugar.

In our large pan Yuki poured in the soy, mirin, and sake along with about 1/4 cup of water. She added the sugar and brought it up to a simmer. The onion and carrot had the longest cooking time so they went in for about 5 minutes, covered.

Then she added the rest of the ingredients minus the beef and let them cook for another 5 minutes or so. After that we moved the pan to our table-top burner and swished the beef in the boiling liquid. White rice on the side and cold beer in hand.

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We journeyed up to Arlington Heights this weekend to stock up on Japanese ingredients, something we do at least once a month. At the Tensuke Market we saw this absolutely gorgeous salmon. They have the best seafood in town, hands down. This salmon was marbled like a real Kobe Ribeye, just made our mouths water. So, that was dinner last night.

We picked up a package of 3 quarter pound slices of filet (Yuki got lunch today, I didn’t get to enjoy that beautiful fish again). I made a quick marinade consisting of 1/2 tablespoon mirin, 1 tablespoon sake, and 1.5 tablespoons soy sauce. In a glass baking dish I let the salmon sit in the marinade while I got everything else ready.

For my veggies I used 1/2 onion sliced, 3 garlic cloves minced, 7 cherry tomatoes halved, 2/3 carton of shiitake sliced, 2 small yellow bell peppers sliced, and about 1/8 of a medium napa cabbage cut into chunks.

In a heated pan I melted about 1/2 tablespoon of butter and poured in 1 tablespoon of sesame oil. Once the butter was melted I added the onion and let it saute for about 5 minutes. Then, I added the garlic, shiitake, and bell pepper. About 5 more minutes and I poured in about 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and let that coat all of the veggies. Just before the soy was completely boiled off, about a minute or so, I added the napa cabbage. I let that wilt down a little for about 5 minutes, seasoned with a little black pepper, turned the heat to low just to keep everything warm, covered it, and let it sit while I cooked the salmon.

Oh, and during this time I had the tomatoes in the oven roasting at about 375 degrees, I did that for about 25 minutes. I also decided, at the last minute, to make a simple miso soup with some wakame and tofu. I just boiled some water with a little dashi seasoned soy, stirred in some miso, and added the tofu and wakame. That only takes a few minutes.

For the salmon I heated up my large skillet and melted a little dab of butter, just enough to lightly coat the surface of the pan. The salmon had enough fat that I didn’t want to add to much more, but I also didn’t want it to stick. So, a tiny amount of butter. I seasoned the salmon with some crushed white pepper and then seared one side for about 3 minutes. Then I flipped it all over and poured the marinade all over it. I let it cook for about 3 more minutes and then pur the salmon on a plate and served everything up, with white rice of course. I garnished with a piece of parsley (only because I have some in my fridge).

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The other night I made one of Yuki’s favorites, a dish she usually makes. She, like most Japanese absolutely love nabe in the winter time and it’s hard to blame her. You just can’t beat a good table-top soup filled with meat, veggies, and a good broth. I think chicken meatballs rolled in cabbage is her favorite and one she’s made quite a few times for me, so this time I made it for her.

First thing I did was get the meatballs wrapped and ready to go. I used chicken stock as my base for the broth so I used 2 cups of it to soak a heaping tablespoon of dried hijiki seaweed for about 30 minutes before I could do much else. When the hijike was rehydrated I strained the broth into a soup pot. The rest of my meatball ingredients were 1/2 red onion, 2 garlic cloves, 1/2 inch of ginger, 1 pound of ground chicken thigh, and a small head of napa cabbage.

To make the cabbage more pliable I dropped it into some salted boiling water and let it boil for about 2 minutes. Then I took it out and shocked it in ice water. The boiling water softened it making it easier to roll while shocking it in ice water helps it retain its color.

In a glass bowl I grated the onion, garlic, and ginger into the chicken meat, added the hijiki, seasoned it with salt and pepper, and mixed it thoroughly. Then I rolled walnut-sized meatballs in the cabbage and secured them with toothpicks.

The rest of my ingredients for the nabe were 6 green onions chopped, 2 small carrots chopped, 1 small daikon chopped, 7 fingerling potatoes halved, 8 shiitake halved, a package of fried tofu sliced, and 1 Honey 1 Rib (yes, I am finding creative ways to finish up those ribs since I over-ordered).

I put the rib in the chicken stock that had already soaked the hijiki and added 2 cups of water. I brought that to a boil and let the rib simmer in the broth for about 15 minutes. Then I strained the broth into our nabe (clay pot). The rib added some nice smokey depth to the broth. It also gave me some moist tender meat to nosh on while finishing up the cooking.

Then I brought the broth back to a slow boil and added the chicken-cabbage rolls. I let them cook for about 15 minutes to make sure they cooked all the way through. Once they were cooked I took them out and set them aside.

I kept the broth at a low boil and added all of the veggies. I let them all cook for about 10 minutes.

Once all of the veggies were cooked I added the chicken-cabbage rolls back and took the nabe to our table-top propane burner.

 To serve, I poured about a tablespoon of ponzu in each of our bowls. We helped ourselves by adding broth, meatballs, and vegetables along with a dash of togarashi. I had white rice topped with ground sesame seeds along with it.

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Last Friday night I made this soup for dinner. It is getting really cold here in Chicago, tis the season, and I thought a nice warm soup with tasty goodness and a little spice would hit the spot. This one is real easy and can accommodate almost any vegetables you have on hand. Since it was Friday night this recipe is only for 2 portions.

I used only about 1/3 pound of ground beef, 3 shiitake sliced, 1 clove of garlic diced, 1/2 inch of ginger slivered, 1/2  zucchini quartered and sliced, 1 carrot cut into chunks, 2 yukon gold potatoes skinned and chopped, 4 green onions cut in 1 inch lengths, 5 napa cabbage leaves chopped, 1 heaping tablespoon of Toban Djan, and 1 tablespoon of sesame oil.

In a small bowl I cut the garlic, Toban Djan, and sesame oil into the ground beef with a spoon. By doing this the beef will break apart nicely once you throw it into the soup.

I boiled 4 cups of water and tossed in the shiitake, carrot, potatoes, and green onions in. I let them simmer for about 10 minutes and then added the beef mixture. While beef was cooking I decided to pour in about 3 tablespoons of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of sake to add a little depth to the broth. I let that simmer for about 5 minutes before adding the ginger, zucchini, and cabbage. About 5 more minutes simmering and the soup was ready.

I served it with some white rice that I sprinkled some mazekomi wakame shirasu, which is dried seaweed and little sardines. It adds some saltiness, crunch, flavor, and nutrients to rice. It’s usually used for onigiri, but I like to add to it plain rice sometimes.

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The other day we were at the Tensuke Market in Elk Grove Village, arguably the best fish market in the Chicagoland area. We were out of rice and they usually have the best deals on high quality Japanese (even though it’s all from California) rice. Sure enough, they had a great deal on some new crop. While we were there we found a package of nabe-ready seafood. Nabe is simply one-pot stew or soup cooking. Usually prepared on the stove top then brought to a table-top burner to keep warm while eating it. So, we had seafood nabe.

Yuki started by making the broth. She simply boiled about 1/4 cup of dried anchovies in about 5 or 6 cups of water for 30 minutes or so. That allows enough time for the water to take on all of that nice seafood flavor without any added oils or salts.

While the broth was boiling away I prepared the veggies. Besides the seafood package (slices of fluke, octopus, scallops, shrimp, sea bass, and salmon) I chopped up 1/4 pound of napa cabbage, 6 green onions, 1 carrot, 1 package of enoki mushrooms, 3/4 pound daikon, and 6 shiitake. There are also fish cakes in the picture, but we decided not to use them. Instead, we used 1 package of shirataki noodles which aren’t in the picture.

When the broth was ready I strained it into our earthenware clay pot and discarded the anchovies. I brought it up to a low boil and Yuki added the daikon and carrot. She let that boil for about 5 minutes or so and then added the shiitake, green onions, and cabbage. About 5 minutes later she added the rest of the ingredients.

When the stew was ready, about 5 more minutes after adding the fish, we brought it over to our table and put it on our table-top burner over low heat. We poured about 2 tablespoons of ponzu into our bowls, then ladled some broth in and started eating. We had white rice on the side.

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