I love grabbing a drink in Japan, because it's never just about the booze -- there's always some kind of food involved. At its most elemental, that grub is tsumami, savory finger-snacks to whet the palate, to make you wanna knock one (or more) back. Some of the best tsumami I've tasted are crunchy deep-fried eel bones, karasumi (pickled mullet roe), shiokara (fermented squid or fish guts) and all manner of kinpira, a technique for sautéing root veggies in a sweet-savory reduction. A bite of tsumami and a sip of beer, sake or shochu -- that, my friends, is satisfaction guaranteed. The recipe that follows is for kinpira made with one of my favorite root veggies, earthy, elemental gobo (burdock root). But you can also use this technique with carrots, lotus root (peel and thinly slice), or a combination of roots (you can even make it with hijiki seaweed.) Here I shave-cut the gobo (sasagaki) but you can also cut it like matchsticks and sauté. Keep in mind, too, that kinpira is not just a bar snack; it's an easy side dish that you can also eat the next day cold (like I did for lunch in my office today!). Here's the recipe... enjoy:
1 gobo (burdock)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon sake
2 teaspoons sesame oil
Sesame seeds, optional
Shichimi togarashi (seven spice mixture), optional
Clean the gobo by scrubbing the surface lightly under cold running water. I use a kitchen scouring pad. The key here is lightly. (I've seen recipes that instruct to scrape gobo with the back of a knife. Don't do that. The flavor is in the surface. In fact, a Kyoto chef friend told me he doesn't believe in scrubbing at all, he just rinses the gobo off -- but in America, at least, I think you need to do a light scrubbing.) Once the gobo has been cleans, cut it sasagaki-style: Score the root lengthwise several times, then with a sharp knife, whittle the end like your sharpening a pencil (does anyone still remember how to sharpen a pencil?!?) to produce shavings. (I have to do a video of this, I promise.) Place the shavings in a bowl of cold water and set aside.
Combine the seasonings to create the chomirio -- seasoning mixture. Set aside.
Add the sesame oil to a skillet and place over high heat. When the oil is hot (about smoking), drain the water from the gobo, and add the gobo to the skillet. Cook and stir for about 5 minutes until the gobo is cooked through and begins to look translucent. Add the chomirio and cook for about 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally, until the liquid disappears. Serve hot or cold, garnishing with optional sesame seeds or ground sesame seeds and/or shichimi togarashi.