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Posts Tagged ‘seafood’

Alright, so I don’t just cook for Uichiro when he’s here, I also cook for Tamiko. She’s a huge fan of Italian food as well as seafood. That said, I thought a nice pasta with clams would be just the trick. With Uichiro back in Japan already, this dish would also make him a little jealous since he’s probably eating a take-home bento box right now. Sorry Uichiro.

I wanted to get all of the sand and grit out of the clams so the first thing I did was purge them. To do that all I did was rinse them real well in cold water and then let them sit in cold salt water with some cornmeal for about 2 hours. What this does is trick them into thinking that the cornmeal is sand so it cycles it through spitting out any real sand in the process. Just before cooking I rinsed them again in fresh cold water. Since I was cooking for 3 I used 15 clams. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Iris Tsai (Ming’s mom) it’s that 5 is a good number for a plate of food.

One of my side dishes was a simple bruschetta. I prepared that ahead of time so that come dinner all I had to do was toast the bread and top it. I used some fresh basil chopped up, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 3 tablespoons of grated parmesan, 3 tomatoes diced, 1 garlic clove peeled, 1.5 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, a some ciabatta.

In a glass bowl I whisked together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and parmesan along with some salt and pepper until it was emulsified. Then I added the tomatoes and basil and mixed it thoroughly. I wrapped it up and put it in the fridge until dinner time. That way, all I had to do was toast the bread, rub the garlic over the toast, and then top it with the tomato-basil mix.

I also made a simple Italian bean and vegetable soup. I used one carrot cut into half moons, 14oz can of cannellini beans, 1 cup chicken stock, 1/2 onion diced, 1 garlic clove minced, and a large handful of baby spinach.

I threw everything except for the beans into a pot and brought it up to a boil. I covered the pot, turned the heat down to med-low, and let it simmer for about 20 minutes. Then I added the beans and let it simmer for another 3 minutes. Since the beans were canned I had no need to cook them, just heat them through. A little salt and pepper and that’s all she wrote for this one.

My final side dish was simple roast asparagus. I cleaned up 15 spears and drizzled them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and parmesan. They went into a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

Finally, the main event! For the pasta I used 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley, 1/4 cup of white wine, a pinch of red pepper flakes, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 6oz capellini (I didn’t actually use spaghetti because I already had some capellini open in my cupboard), 1 garlic clove thinly sliced, and my clams.

In a large pot of boiling salt water I cooked the pasta until about 2 minutes before al dente. I reserved a ladle of the pasta water and drained the noodles and set them aside.

While that was going on I heated up my large pan and poured in the olive oil. I added the garlic and let it sautee until it turned a light golden brown, then I added the red pepper flakes. I swirled that all around for about 15 seconds to make sure the flavors mixed into all of the oil. Then I poured in the wine, added the clams, covered the pan, and let the clams cook for about 6 minutes or so until they were all opened up. If any clams don’t open then throw them away, they’re dead. Fortunately, all 15 of these were alive and well…that is until I killed them in my spicy garlicky wine sauce!

Once the clams were open I set them aside in a bowl and poured the reserved pasta water into the pan. Once it came to a boil I added the noodles and let them cook in the wine sauce for about 2 minutes. Then I added the clams back, along with any juices that accumulated in the bottom of the bowl, as well as the parsley. I tossed it all around and then served everything up, Buon Appetito!

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Alright, back to the Land of the Rising Sun. Better known as Japan. Yuki was at a gathering with a bunch of her friends one of the Saturday nights we were there last November. Instead of hanging out with her parents, whom I love to spend time with, I met up with an ex-coworker of hers that I am also friends with, Reiko-chan, who moved back to Tokyo. We decided to meet up at the Ebisu train station and then head to one of the many Izakaya in that neighborhood. Izakaya are Japanese-style bars. Much different from what we’re used to they usually have a great chef that focuses on creative small bites that match with different types of alcohol. I had done some research and found this great little Izakaya called Ippo that focused on seafood and sake, my drink of choice.

Ippo is an extremely hard place to find. We walked all over the neighborhood for about 30 minutes trying to find it. Since Reiko is Japanese, and being Japanese speaks Japanese, I left it to her to ask various retail stores for directions. No one seemed to know exactly where it was even though we had an address. About to give up and go to a different Izakaya, I turned around and noticed the big Fugu hanging in front of the door. Finally! I needed some sake!

When we sat down the bartender handed us each a couple of little starters. One was a cold pork and green bean salad, the other was a macaroni salad in a mayonnaise dressing. Nice little starters, good with either a beer or sake.

Speaking of sake, their list was over fifty long, all written in Japanese. I had no idea where to start. Luckily, one of the bartenders lived in Las Angeles for a while and spoke fluent English. He also knew that sake list off the back of his hand. There were all varieties of sake from brewers both large and small as well as from every region of Japan that produces it. I honestly can’t remember what all I drank, but throughout the night I ended up putting back 4 cups of different sake, all delicious in their own way. Some more floral, some herbal, some sweeter, all fantastic selections. When I say 4 cups I don’t mean those little sake cups we’re used to getting at sushi joints, I mean 4 12oz cups filled to the rim! Love it!

We started off with a plate of sashimi. I don’t know all of the different types, some of the communication was lost in translation, but there were two kinds of tuna and three different kinds of hamachi. I do remember that they were all fresh as can be (they get their fish every morning from the Tsukiji Market) and cut by a chef who knows how to cut a piece of fish. You can’t get sashimi that good here in Chicago.

After the sashimi we got a plate of the house specialty, Namero. It’s basically a tartare of mackerel in miso, ginger, and scallions. Mackerel is a strong-tasting fish with a lot of natural oil, but this was incredible! The miso and ginger masked the strong fishy smell and fit the flavors perfectly. I can see why this is a house specialty as it was probably the best match with sake I’ve ever had.

Then we got the Daigaku Imo, candied sweet potatoes. These were prepared different than normal though. They’re usually deep fried and then coated in a sweetened soy sauce with black sesame seeds. Here, they lightly coated them in batter that had black seseame seeds mixed in before frying, basically tempura style. The were sweet enough that they didn’t need any added sugar. Served only with some grated daikon they were a great snack to eat at a bar.

Kaki was next up. Some of the biggest, juiciest oysters I’ve ever seen on a plate! Removed from the shells and grilled all the chef did was add some herbs to them. With a squeeze of lemon they’re ready to go. If you’re a fan of oysters, you’d love these. If you hate oysters, you’d still probably love these.

After the Kaki we ordered up some Ankimo. Steamed monkfish liver served with grated daikon, ponzu, and green onions this is one of the great delicacies of Japanese cuisine. It’s called the foie gras of the sea, but in all honesty, I think foie gras should be called the ankimo of the land. It’s so soft and creamy. If not for the next dish I’d call it Japan’s greatest contribution to the world of food.

Here it is, one of the greatest things in the world. An item that will make most Americans sick to their stomach but makes my mouth water…Shirako. The king of seafood. Meaning “white children” in Japanese, shirako is the soft roe of male fish, usually monkfish, cod, or fugu (pufferfish). Basically, it’s the male fish’s genitalia. You read that right, it’s a fish sperm sack! You may be wincing at the thought of eating that, but think about it, you eat caviar don’t you? Well, this is the male counterpart to caviar. It’s extremely soft and delicate with a slightly sweet briny taste that literally melts in your mouth (and it’s not sticky!). Ippo serves it raw with ponzu, scallions, and sesame seeds. It can also be steamed. Any way you look at it, I luz me some fish balls!

My experience at Ippo really makes me sad that we have nothing like this in Chicago, or really anywhere in America for that matter. Sure, there are a handful of Izakaya-style bars throughout the country (mostly on the west coast), but nothing quite like Ippo. Just a long bar in a hidden space that serves up some of the best quality seafood and sake one could ever ask for. Why are we stuck with bars that serve nothing but big greasy burgers (not that there’s anything wrong with that), frozen wings, and chicken fingers? Let’s get some creativity into the American bar scene! Great chefs don’t need to be in a white cloth atmosphere to shine. We’d all be better off for it there were Izakayas scattered throughout the country.

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