Edited by Harris Salat

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Beef & Potatoes -- Inspired by the Samurai

Chawanmushi or Savory Egg Custard

Nira Tamago, or Simmered Garlic Chives with Eggs

Japanese-Style Fried Chicken

Wafu Dressing

Baby Gen's Japanese Dinner Party

Beef & Potatoes -- Inspired by the Samurai

Beef & Potatoes -- Inspired by the Samurai

 

One of my favorite things to do in Japan is to browse the cookbook racks at a local bookstore. Unlike ours in America, most Japanese cookbooks resemble a cross between a magazine and book ("mook" as they're called). They're not dense tomes like typical American cookbooks, and I assume much less expensive to produce, so you can find a staggering number of cooking titles in any decent Japanese bookstore. But less expensive doesn't mean lower quality -- the photography and food styling in these books are incredible. And the process shots and structure of the recipes are also amazing. And don't forget, I'm saying this as a complete illiterate in Japanese! Just looking at the images in these books helps me understand Japanese cooking better. I always lug a ton of Japanese cookbooks home from every trip to Japan. Of course, reading the text can have, uh, certain advantages, so with the help of a super-sharp Japanese student here in NY, I'm finally digging deeper into my books.

The dish in the picture above came from a book I have called "Table of the Bushi" (Bushi meaning warrior or samurai.) The book talks about traditional values in Japanese cooking, things like eating according to the season, and the importance of the origin, taste, shape and color of foods. But I thought it was strange for a book on food from the samurai era to feature such contemporary ingredients -- beef was not part of the Japanese diet until after the samurai era, and red peppers and potatoes are Western foods. The author, though, says that potatoes arrived in Japan in the 16th century and became a popular, nutritious food that spread through the country. So maybe the samurai actually ate potatoes! (Would have made my grandmother happy; the woman loved potatoes.) In any case, this dish was delicious and easy to prepare and versatile, too; you can easily substitute the potatoes and pepper for green beans, broccoli, or as my wife Momo suggested to me, asparagus. Momo also thought that grated ginger would work well in this dish, too. Totally agree. Here's the recipe:

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Chawanmushi or Savory Egg Custard

Chawanmushi or Savory Egg Custard

 

Chawan mushi is one of those Japanese dishes I've enjoyed in restaurants for years but always thought would be too hard to make at home. A steamed savory custard served in an cup, chawan mushi is made from eggs, dashi and soy sauce, usually with tasty tidbits added like ginko nuts, shrimp, chicken or thin slices of reconstituted dried shiitake mushrooms. When wife Momo decided to make chawan mushi, sans the tidbits, for baby Gen -- who basically loves every food that hits his lips -- I realized that this dish was totally doable in a home kitchen; easy, in fact. But, surprise, surprise, baby Gen didn't like Momo's chawan mushi! I did, though, and resolved to make it myself a few days later to understand the method. The keys are passing the egg mixture through a sieve and steaming for just the right amount of time. Here's the recipe, with chicken, shrimp and dried shiitake. Give it a shot!

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Nira Tamago, or Simmered Garlic Chives with Eggs

Nira Tamago, or Simmered Garlic Chives with Eggs

 

Tonight we enjoyed a beautiful Japanese dinner at home that reminded me why I love this cuisine so much: grilled shiosaba (Boston mackerel salted for a few days), freshly steamed rice and nira tamago, or garlic chives with eggs. Simple, delicious, profoundly satisfying -- and fast. The mackerel I bought already salted at the local Japanese market (the salting tempers and concentrates the flavorful flesh); all you do is grill it under the broiler for 4-5 minutes and serve with grated daikon and soy sauce on the side. The bright green, super fresh nira we picked up at a new mega-Asian market in Flushing, Queens, called Sky Foods. We heard about the recently opened Sky, which boasts 36,000 square feet of sales floor jammed with all manner of pan-Asian cuisine goodness, and had to check it out. The place was unbelievable -- just the live fish section, like a block long, was worth the trip. (And also dinner afterwards nearby at Prince Noodles, an incredible Chinese joint with grandma in the front hand-rolling noodles, dumplings and scallion pancakes, was ridiculously amazing.)

Okay, so mackerel. Check. Rice. Check. Frosty cans of Sapporo beer. Check. What about the nira tamago? Here's the recipe. E-a-s-y. Nira tamago makes a great, versatile side dish, or you can try it for breakfast just with white rice. (Find nira at any Asian market, just make sure to buy the green variety.) Check it out:

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Posted by Harris Salat in Vegetables | Permalink | Comments (5) | Email this story

 

Japanese-Style Fried Chicken

Japanese-Style Fried Chicken

 

Sorry Paula Dean, but nothing beats Japanese-style fried chicken. (To Mary in Austin and all my friends down south who make amazing fried chicken: Don't kill me! :) ). The secret is the marinade. Before the bird hits the hot oil in Japan, it wallows in a savory, soy sauce-and-garlic marinade bursting with mouthwatering umami goodness. After that treatment, it's quickly dusted with potato starch and tossed into the bubbling fat vat. The upshot is tender, juicy, intensely flavorful chicken with a super crispy yet light crust. Unbeatable. I've been jonsing for kara-age ("kara-ageh"), as it's called in Japan, so made it last night, and served it with just a bowl of steaming white Japanese rice and a tomato-cucumber salad on the side. Simple and satisfying, what can I say? The following recipe is a version I learned from the inimitable Nobuko, which I think is perfect. But I've also seen variations with ginger, beaten egg and other ingredients in the marinade. If you have a favorite way to make kara-age, lemme know in the comments! Oh, and this fried chicken is wonderful cold, too, so perfect for picnics (apple picking season upon us here in New York, so take along a kara-age snack), or school lunches (also upon us, of course). Herewith, the recipe:

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Wafu Dressing

Wafu Dressing

 

Here is my all-purpose salad dressing which I use to dress leafy greens as well as raw veggies like the tomato and cucumber salad in the picture, garnished with finely sliced shiso leaves for a nice, herby accent. "Wafu" means Japanese-style, and indeed this dressing is an aromatic, incredibly flavorful combination of classic ingredients -- yet it's still a simple, easy dressing that takes about a minute to whip up. Here's the recipe, based on the one in Tadashi's and my grill book: whisk together in a bowl a 1/2 cup Japanese rice vinegar, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and 2 tablespoons ground sesame seeds (I love anything sesame). You can also add to this versatile dressing karashi mustard (2 tablespoons), or garlic (1 clove finely chopped), or grated ginger (1 teaspoon). I keep wafu dressing handy in the fridge, always.

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Baby Gen's Japanese Dinner Party

Baby Gen's Japanese Dinner Party

 

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.

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