Too bad baby Gen can only eat mashed rice: The chefs of the fabulous Kajitsu and their wives came over to our place in Brooklyn the other night for an impromptu Japanese dinner party, and I wish Gen could have tasted the amazing spread. (Well, I guess there's still time, he's only eight months old!) While chef Masato and everyone played with baby Gen, my pal chef Atsushi and I headed to the kitchen, where I watched Atsushi knock out a bunch of simple dishes, and made one myself. I'm going to describe what we cooked, so you can try it at home. These aren't recipes, per se, but techniques and approaches. Use them as a point of departure, and experiment! Here are the dishes, with photos at the end:
Sake-steamed mussels. Atsushi washed the mussels, then steamed them in a pot with about a cup of sake and a piece of kombu on the bottom. The sake should come up about half-way to the top of the mussels. Cover and steam over high heat until all the mussels open up, then serve with the broth, which is delicious.
Daikon-cabbage-cod soup. Atsushi made a dashi, or stock, by simmering two big pieces of kombu and scraps from trimming the cabbage and daikon in water, cooking over low heat for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile, he cut cabbage, daikon, and large scallion into bite-sized pieces. When the dashi cooked, he removed the kombu and scraps, then added the vegetables to the liquid, cooking for another 30 minutes or until the daikon was tender. Atsushi added salt and usukuchi soy sauce, to taste (and do taste). At the very end, he layered slices of cod on top of the soup and simmered until they were just cooked through. "A very pure cabbage soup," Atsushi called it. Amen. And the fish was lovely. Baby Gen actually tried the tender cod -- his first time tasting fish!
Somen with dipping sauce. I can't get enough of somen in the summer. To make the dipping sauce, Atsushi used a 4-1-1 ratio of dashi to mirin to soy sauce. First he brought the dashi to a boil, then added the mirin. When the liquid boiled again, he added the soy sauce. When the liquid again returned to a boil, the dipping sauce was done. He cooled it in an ice bath and then the fridge. I cooked the somen for about 2 minutes, strained it and cooled it under cold running water, topping with a few ice cubes. You can also serve this somen with thinly sliced shiso leaves and wasabi, if you'd lke. And pan-fry any leftover somen with soy sauce and aonori (powdered nori) -- delicious!
Sautéed summer vegetables. Atsushi cut okra, wax beans, zucchini and tomatoes into bite sized pieces, then sautéed everything except the tomato in butter and olive oil, until the veggies were cooked through but still crispy. He plated the veggies, then sautéed the tomatoes lightly before adding them to the dish. He topped the veggies with katsuobushi (dried shaved bonito). Let me add a variation to this: Add a little soy sauce to the veggies as they're sautéing, if you like. Soy sauce and butter is one of the most unbelievably delicious flavor combinations in the universe, and you can use it to sauté any veggie or mushroom.
Pan-sautéed chicken with yakitori sauce. A couple of weeks ago I whipped up a mean Chinese-style "red-cooked chicken" but using Japanese ingredients (chicken poached in soy sauce, sugar, sake, basically). The cooking stock was too good to just trash, so I added roasted chicken bones and brown sugar and reduced it into an amazing yakitori sauce (see page 23 of my grill book for a classic yakitori sauce recipe). To prepare the chicken, I pan-sautéed boneless chicken legs until half-done, then brushed on the yakitori sauce, turning and sautéing until the chicken was ready.