So I was talking to a Japanese chef friend named Rio Irie about clams, and he brought up something interesting. (Rio, who used to cook with my coauthor Tadashi Ono, is an amazing chef; his knowledge is deep, deep deep...). Cooking clams together with chicken in a liquid, Rio told me, creates a broth with a remarkable mouthwatering flavor synergy. When the umami compounds found in different foods mingle, he explained, the flavor burst is greater than the sum of the parts. Naturally, I wanted to try this. So how to prepare? Rio suggested udon hot pot -- great idea!
Rio suggested two options for the broth: Kansai style (Osaka and environs), using dashi, usukuchi soy sauce and mirin in a ratio of 12:1:1, or Kanto style (Tokyo and environs), using dashi, koikuchi soy sauce and mirin in a ration of 8:1:1. I decided to go with Kasai style 'cause udon's a Kansai noodle.
First I prepared a broth using 12 parts dashi, 1 part usukuchi soy sauce (a lighter-colored, saltier Kansai soy sauce) and 1 part mirin. I then cooked a couple of bricks of fresh-frozen udon, which are available at Japanese markets. (Follow package instructions.) After cooking, I drained, cooled in cold running water to stop the cooking, and set the noodles aside. Now I began assembling ingredients for the hot pot. Which ingredients? Whichever you want! That's the great thing about hot pots. I pulled out clams, chicken legs (boned), carrots, negi, oyster mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, "broiled" tofu and spinach. (Can you tell I went to the Japanese market the day before?). I cut all the ingredients that needed cutting into bite-sized pieces, and neatly arranged everything except the spinach and udon in a hot pot. I poured in the broth, covered, and started cooking. When the clams opened, I added the noodles and spinach, cooked for 2 minutes or so more, and presto! Hot pot was ready. I served it up and sprinkled schichimi togarashi (seven spice powder) to accent. Delicious. And yes, that broth was stratospherically out of this world...
Make the dashi, use whatever ingredients you have, and cook this hot pot. Just don't forget the chicken and clams. Thanks, Rio!!
Posted by Harris Salat in Hot Pot | Permalink | Comments (1) | Email this story
The first time I traveled to Japan it wasn't for the food, but for the pottery. Back when I was a TV news producer in Washington in the early nineties, I caught a number of phenomenal Japanese pottery shows at the Smithsonian's Sackler-Freer Galleries that simply blew me away. I loved the glazes, the natural forms, the tactile-ness of the vessels being displayed. Those clay pots spoke to me somehow, and I resolved to learn more about this artisan-slash-art form. A meandering path led to books, more shows, and ultimately, pottery villages and galleries in Japan. At one Tokyo gallery, I met a Karatsu potter named Kajiwara-san. Through a bilingual clerk I asked the potter if I could visit his workshop in Karatsu. I think he was a little shocked at the request, but graciously agreed, and we made a plan to meet at the Karatsu train station, six hours southwest of Tokyo. When I arrived at the tiny depot, he drove me out of town into the countryside.
We pulled up to workshop across the road from a series of neat, rectangular rice fields. The place was humming. Young men with towels tied on their heads like bandanas hauled long wooden planks lined with raw clay pots. Others brushed pots and plates with thick black glaze. A long, earthen wood-fired kiln stood beside the compound's one-story buildings, waiting. A rugged-looking man with a goatee stepped out the workshop and introduced himself: Jinenbo Nakagawa.
I stayed a number of days that first time in Karatsu, located in Saga Prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu. Jinenbo arranged for me to bunk at a local truck stop inn (where the keeper, an ancient woman who also raised beef cattle, challenged me to nightly beer drinking contests after feeding mountains of grilled meat), and through one of his apprentices, Katsu Kikuchi, now a great potter in his own right, who spoke a little English and a lot of Spanish (I speak some Spanish) we got to talking. Jinenbo told me how he dug clay from the nearby hillsides, how he burned rice stalks to make his rice-ash-glazes, and how he used hand-made tools to apply those glazes in rough, sweeping, breathtaking, strokes. He explained the origins of Karatsu pottery in Korea, and his devotion to "ko-karatsu"-- old Karatsu - pottery. He showed me his work, tea vessels and everyday functional ware, rugged and natural like the artist himself. ("Jinenbo" means "nature boy" in Japanese.) His work took my breath away.
Over the years I strived to visit Jinenbo every time I traveled to Japan. I watched him at work, wrote about him for Gourmet, shared laughs (the guy had a sense of humor), spent time with him and his family, and brought his pottery home with me to New York. I use Jinenbo's wares at home almost every day and have taken most of my food shots on this blog with his vessels; to me, his clay forms are living things imbued with his indomitable spirit. Over the years I got to know Jinenbo Nakagawa. And over the years I have had the distinct honor to call Jinenbo my friend.
It is with great sadness that I must report the passing of Jinenbo Nakagawa, a life force and one of Japan's preeminent potters.
Here are some photos of Jinenbo and his work:
Posted by Harris Salat in Pottery | Permalink | Comments (5) | Email this story
Yuzu kosho is one of my absolute favorite Japanese ingredients. A salt-cured condiment made with yuzu citrus peel and chilies, it's at once intensely fragrant, hot and alive, a zesty accent that plants a big, fat palate-popping kiss to any dish. Yuzu kosho hails from the southern Japanese main island of Kyushu, an area that has traded with Korea and Southeast Asia for centuries, a connection that naturally produced some interesting cross-cultural influences. One of these is shochu. Another is yuzu kosho.
A few weeks ago, when I received an amazing box of fresh yuzu citrus that were grown here in New York, I thought, okay, now's my chance -- for the first time I'm going to try to make my own yuzu kosho. I did some research online and started experimenting, but nothing I did seemed right. Then I thought: Gotta call Chef Abe! The executive chef of EN Japanese Brasserie, Abe-san is a native of Fukuoka, the largest city in Kyushu, one of my favorite places in Japan. "When I was growing up in Fukuoka," Abe-san told me, "yuzu kosho was like ketchup is here in America --you can always find it on the dining table." How did his family use it? With grilled chicken and fish, hot pots, sashimi, buta jiru, you name it, he said. "In fact," added Abe-san, "my father spiked everything he ate with yuzu kosho."
In Japan, they make yuzu kosho with a chili that resembles Bird's Eye chili, which is common in Southeast Asia (I'm sure that's no accident). I had the New York State yuzu but couldn't find fresh Japanese chilies anywhere. What to do? Use jalapeños, Abe-san advised, a lovely bag of which I picked up at my farmers market in Brooklyn. (So not only is my yuzu kosho going to be for-real, it's also going to be locally sourced -- farm-to-table, baby! :)) Armed with jalapeños and yuzu peel, I headed to the EN kitchen to meet Abe-san before service, and learn how to make yuzu kosho. Here's his method, with photos:
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Posted by Harris Salat in Curing | Permalink | Comments (12) | Email this story
Ah, Japanese mixed rice. There are so many variations, and they're all so tasty and easy to prepare. So why isn't this dish a standard in every American home? It should be. I've talked about Japanese mixed rice before (here, here and here), but just came across a number of great variations on the fantastic Shiro Gohan website, so let me share another one -- this time with hijiki, abura age (deep fried tofu) and carrots. Hijiki is a jet-black seaweed that grows in thin strands. Besides being delicious, it's full of iron and minerals, and, according to Japanese folk medicine, is supposed to promote thick, healthy hair. (I love hijiki but still remain rather hair challenged -- I wonder why the hijiki gods didn't bless my mane (or what little is left of it)? :) ) At my local Japanese market here in New York, I found this super cool, extra-long hijiki, which I used in the recipe; I think it makes the dish look more interesting. Here's my adapted recipe, great any time of the year (and great for amazing rice balls, too):
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Posted by Harris Salat in Rice | Permalink | Comments (8) | Email this story
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:
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Posted by Harris Salat in Vegetables | Permalink | Comments (3) | Email this story
Tadasuke Tomita is the force behind an incredible Japanese-language website called Shiro Gohan ("white rice"). A self-described food enthusiast and now cookbook author, he writes that he created the site "to help people recognize the deliciousness of washoku" (traditional Japanese food). Go, Tomita-san! His website has dozens and dozens of great recipes; I can't wait to get a hold of his book the next time I travel to Japan. I've been perusing Tomita-san's recipes lately with the help of a researcher. His recipes rock, and what I really like is that he gets into the "how and why" of the cuisine, helping us understand the thinking behind the cooking. I've now started to cook through some of his dishes. Here's an adaptation of his version of Ton Jiru, a hearty miso soup with pork and root vegetables, a Japanese cooking winter classic. I shared a Ton Jiru recipe from Chef Abe before, but this one is another variation. Both are great, take your pick! I'm listing the ingredients in metric and weight measurements (as I've urged before, every home cook needs a decent digital scale, which costs about $30 bucks, best kitchen investment you'll make). I'm also adding grated ginger to the recipe, which I think gives a nice flavor layer, especially with the pork. Finally, this is really country cooking, so don't sweat the quantities, you can add more or less of anything. Here's the recipe for 4 servings, let me know how it turns out:
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Posted by Harris Salat in Miso | Permalink | Comments (3) | Email this story