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

Cold Somen with Sesame-Miso Dipping Sauce

Cold Somen with Sesame-Miso Dipping Sauce

 

Here's my antidote to August swelter: refreshing cold somen with an unbelievable sesame-miso dipping sauce. I wrote about somen last summer, too. These wheat noodles are thin like angel hair pasta, and take all of two minutes to prepare. And the dipping sauce is a function of mixing, not cooking -- so perfect for summer. The key is the suribachi, or a traditional Japanese-style mortar and pestle. I highly recommend you own one. The mortar is an earthenware bowl lined with grinding ridges, while the pestle is made from wood (the finest pestles are made from sansho pepper tree wood, which imparts its own delicate essence). The suribachi is ideal for grinding sesame seeds, the first step in the recipe; in fact, you can prepare the entire sauce in this one bowl (so fewer things to wash, another summer treat!). I topped my somen with needle-cut cucumber and sliced scallions, but you can use thin-sliced myoga or shiso, too (or both). Also, before you serve the noodles, place a few ice cubes on the plate you're using first. The ice cubes keep the somen cool, and also keep the noodles from sticking to each other. Light, vegetarian, hot-weather fare, this somen and miso sauce is so good, we've been eating it almost every week this summer. I adapted this version from the Sendai miso website (I love Sendai miso)...

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Making Soba

Making Soba

 

I love soba, but I never actually made it myself. That changed at 7am one morning last week, incredibly, in a shed behind the house of Akira Kobayashi, a soba master in Seki City, Gifu Prefecture. We had stopped at his shop the day before. I figured it was just an ordinary soba joint where we could grab a quick lunch. It soon became apparent there was nothing ordinary about his place. It was a small, elegant restaurant with a half dozen seats along a dining counter, open kitchen on the other side, and a couple more tables. As we waited for our soba and tempura, my friend Yuko noticed an issue of Dansyu, a leading food magazine, sitting on the counter. She opened it find his place rated one of the "top 25" soba restaurants in the country. Hmm, here in Seki?

We watched the master boil our soba is cauldron of water, plunge into an icy bath, and serve it to us. Unforgettable. Our tempura followed soon after. Ditto, unforgettable. I'm not sure how to describe why the soba was so good; it just tasted like this is what this food is about, period. The tempura was all beautiful vegetables -- green beans, pepper, kabocha, squash, eggplant, shiitake, cherry tomato, and shiso leaf. The natural flavor of these ingredients, grown by local farmers, was just amazing. The master's tempura technique was equally astonishing -- so light and delicate, with the batter adding another heavenly sensibility to the veggies, but never overwhelming them. Everything was deep fried in pure, raw sesame oil in a traditional copper tempura pot. We ate our tempura with a little salt, that's all. The master was a friendly man and started talking to us, curious to know why we were in Seki. When we told him how much we loved his food, he invited me into his kitchen to watch him make tempura. As we got ready to leave, still swooning over our spectacular lunch, the master asked us if we wanted to meet him in the morning to see him make soba. But, of course.

The next morning we met at his work shed behind his house, where he grinds whole buckwheat into soba flour, and conjures the flour into noodles. We watched as he mixed the soba flour with water in a special bowl, which he said was the most important part of soba-making. As he pulled the ingredients together to form a dough, the flour released an incredible nutty fragrance that reminded me of peanuts and almonds. He kneaded the dough and shaped it into a cone. He then shifted it to a large table and stretched it with long rolling poles to transform it into 1/2 inch-thick sheet. As he rolled out the dough, he repeated the mantra, "strong but gentle, speedy but slow" to describe the process. We watched him cut the sheet into perfectly even strands.

After he finished he turned to me. "Do you want to try?" As he took off his apron to hand to me, I attempted to beg off. The idea of me making soba, an art that takes years to master, was rather preposterous. But the master gently insisted, and in the end, I'm glad he did. Feeling how the soba flour comes together in the bowl, how to roll the dough out (with "cat hands" on the poles), how to cut the sheets with the heavy knife, helped me understand, theoretically at least, the magical transformation from flour to food. Once I finished cutting -- I have to admit my soba looked more like fettuccine than soba -- the master invited us into his lovely home to taste it for breakfast. My soba was... unforgettable. I'm kidding. It was too thick and too chewy, among many other problems, but the soba flour I used was so fresh it tasted fine. Actually it was unforgettable, but in a different way. Here are some pictures. (Kobayashi Soba-ya in Seki: (0575) 22-2526).

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Nagoya Soul

Nagoya Soul

 

Gimme this down-home joint any day over some fancified restaurant. When I arrived in Nagoya last week, my fried Yuko reserved a couple of seats at Ichii, an izakaya (eating pub) set along a narrow alley in the center of the city. I knew it was my kind of place the minute we walked in the door. Coolers held dozens of kinds of sake. Cooks worked in an open kitchen. Large ceramic bowls filled with one homey food after the other beckoned on the dining counter. Groups of salarymen and couples packed the place, eating, drinking, laughing. As we sat down, Yuko told me that the taisho (owner) wanted to retire a couple of years ago, but hundreds of people signed a petition begging him to stay in business. I quickly understood why. The food was the kind of honest Japanese grub that I love, love, love: simmered new potatoes, simmered eggplant, tofu and green beans in dashi, mottsu (intestine) stew, braised fish, and tebasaki -- Nagoya's signature deep-fried chicken wings. Wow. As we ate, the taisho stopped by, happy to see us enjoying ourselves. How could we not? Here are some pictures from this fantastic joint. (Ichii in Nagoya: (052) 201-6222)

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The Ultimate Unagi

The Ultimate Unagi

 

Happy Fourth of July everyone! I'm in Japan now for a quick trip, and when I rolled into Gifu Prefecture yesterday, I asked the usual question -- what should I eat? Simple: Grilled unagi, the river eel this region is famous for, which is in peak season right now. In fact, one unagi joint after the other dotted the main road into the town of Seki, my destination. My host here directed me to place called Shigeyoshi, on a side street. "It's where the locals go," he assured me. A crowd milled outside the restaurant when we arrived. Walking towards the door, I was instantly intoxicated by an unbelievable caramel-y, roast-y aroma from smoke billowing from the grill inside. Oh my god. As I waited for a table, I watched the grill cook as he laid unagi fillets over glowing charcoals, the eels skewered, bloody and glistening fresh, and deftly roasted them to perfection. Just before he pulled them off the fire, he dipped the fillets into an earthenware vat filled with inky black tare, the restaurant's secret sauce, and quickly finished them on the coals. We were seated forty minutes later. We ordered and awaited salvation: At last, the glorious grilled unagi arrived, resting on a bed of rice. What can I say? The skin was perfectly smoky and toasty, the flesh tender, fatty and delicate. The tare added a caramelized, savory sweetness, but totally subtle and complementary. As I dug into the rice, I discovered another layer of eel hiding inside. The ultimate unagi, simple as that. Some pictures follow. (Phone 0575-22-9566 in Seki.)

Posted by Harris Salat in Japan | Permalink | Comments (2) | Email this story

 

Grilling Videos: Steak, Scallops, Chicken and Veggies

Grilling Videos: Steak, Scallops, Chicken and Veggies

 

Here are more videos Tadashi and I shot for last week's Japan Society presentation of our book, The Japanese Grill. Check out how to make amazing steaks, scallops, chicken, veggies, using marinades and rubs with garlic-soy sauce, miso, yuzu kosho, sansho and more... so don't delay: Fire up the Weber and get grilling right away!





Posted by Harris Salat in Grilling | Permalink | Email this story

 

Videos: Breaking a Chicken, Yakitori, and Yaki Onigiri

Videos: Breaking a Chicken, Yakitori, and Yaki Onigiri

 

Last night my coauthor Tadashi and I gave a talk and demo on Japanese grilling at the Japan Society in New York. But how do you demo grilling in auditorium where you can't grill? With videos, of course! So Tadashi and I shot six videos demonstrating techniques and dishes from The Japanese Grill. Here are the first three: How to cut up and skewer a chicken; how to grill yakitori; and how to grill onigiri. Enjoy!





Posted by Harris Salat in Chicken | Permalink | Email this story