Archive for ‘japanese home cooking’

April 18th, 2012

Breakfast in America

Could we have kippers for breakfast

Mummy dear, Mummy dear Supertramp may have inspired me to try kippers, but my husband’s love of deli breakfasts made it all possible…

You have no idea of my joy and excitement when I found out what kippers were and how frequently they were on the menu at local Jewish delis.  You see, I grew up eating kippers.  My mother cooks a really good kipper dish, which I always asks her to make when I go home to visit. In Japanese, kippers are called nishin.  My absolute favorite way to have it is by soaking dried kippers in water overnight, then cooking them in a soy sauce based broth until they’re tender.

When you travel to Japan, check the menu for migaki nishin.  It’s not as popular as sushi, still, I highly recommend that you try it. It’s usually served on warm soba noodles, but at home, I just eat it with rice.
“Boy, you are courageous”.  a veteran waitress told me when I ordered kippers at a Jewish deli in L.A..  I guess it’s not the most popular item for breakfast in America, but those like me, who do enjoy them, experience a delicious buttery, salty sensation.

My kippers were served alongside sauteed onions, potatoes, and eggs.   If they had come with a side of rice, I may had experienced the perfect breakfast.  Finally, it pays off to be married to a Jewish guy with an unhealthy obsession with breakfast.

January 26th, 2012

Fish bits

My husband doesn’t like seafood, but at least, he always tries.  He finds a few things here and there that he doesn’t mind , with ‘doesn’t mind’ meaning he wouldn’t go as far as saying he likes it nor would he order it by choice.

I noticed that most American fish dishes are fillets, so not only my husband, but also many of my sushi loving American friends are not big fans of seeing an entire fish on a plate, head and all! For Japanese people, ordering fish and receiving an actual, entire ‘swim ready’ fish is as normal as getting a pizza with pepperoni on it.I have news for you.  If you think an entire fish is disgusting, you ain’t seen nothing yet.  Let’s take a look at what I ate lately.
Mentaiko, spicy cod roe, is a Japanese favorite. As a matter of fact this is always on top of our “what do you want to eat with rice?” list.  It’s kind of like cod roe kimchi without the pungent smell, and it makes both a great pasta sauce and fantastic drinking food.We don’t discriminate when it comes to odd fish parts.  Besides eggs, we’ll gladly eat fish milt as well.  Even better is cod milt, shirako grilled on a bamboo leaf.  Its cheese-like, creamy texture melts in your mouth and can be better than foie gras.

Speaking of liver, this is ankimo, which is a monk fish liver, salted, steamed, cut and served in ponzu.  American sushi places started serving this over the last few years or so.  Believe it or not, it’s actually a seasonal thing and best between November and February when water is cold and livers gets fat.  Just like foie gras, it’s basically fat…creamy, delicious fat.

If my husband reads this, I think he’ll dislike seafood even more.  He’s barely past fish and chips.  Oh well, one step forward, ten steps back.

January 24th, 2012

Japanese comfort food

“Eat as much seafood as you can!”  That, and “I love you,” were my husband’s parting words, when I left for Tokyo. What thoughts led to his advice? At least one, but probably all of these: if she eats lots of seafood in the land of seafood,
1) she won’t come home craving more.
2) I don’t have to hear her say “Let’s go for Japanese tonight!”
3) I don’t have to see/smell strange fish products in the house like this;
4) While she’s eating all of her favorites, I’ll eat as much American food as possible!

He’s wrong on 1), 2) and 3), but after seeing a breakfast picture he sent, looks like he’s right on the money for 4).
We all enjoy our comfort foods, but what do you imagine when you hear ‘Japanese comfort food’? It may be ramen, curry rice or macaroni gratins (Google it! It’s the Japanese answer to mac & cheese). Contrary to what you might guess, not all Japanese foods are healthy and based around seafood. Japanese cuisine does include some heartier dishes that people grow up with, that are as delicious as their American counterparts. But today, when looking for my comfort food, I wanted salt, not heavy.  So what was on the menu?Here’s what my mother prepared: from bottom left-counterclockwise: a bowl of perfectly cooked white rice; miso soup with daikon; squid in salted fish guts; spicy cod roe; and Japanese pickles.  It doesn’t look like much, but it’s truly an art to cook rice perfectly. You don’t just throw grains into water and boil.  You have to start with good quality rice that’s washed carefully. Then, the quantity and quality of the water and the method you cook and steam it comes in to play. Granted, the last two parts depend largely on how good your rice cooker is, but I’ve never had rice half good as this in America.

I’ll tell you more about awful sounding fish dishes tomorrow.  Until then, have another bowl of rice!

PS: PS: Do you remember what Iron Chef Morimoto requested for his last supper on episode 15 of Top Chef All-Stars?   If Antonia cooked something like my mother prepared for me, she would have won the competition.

October 15th, 2011

Omerice (omelette + rice)

When I first realized that my husband REALLY didn’t like typical Japanese food, like grilled fish, root vegetables and everything in soy sauce, I was saddened.  I really wanted to be able to share the cuisine of my culture with him, but he just doesn’t enjoy it, and claims there’s some taste that’s in everything, that he dislikes.  Sushi?  Forget it… seafood is already a red flag with him, and wrapping it in seaweed is no selling point. But, whether out of luck or out of necessity, I came to realize that not all Japanese foods are seasoned with soy sauce and loaded with fish!!
Take Omerice, for example.  It’s pronounced “omu-raisu”, but don’t worry if you mispronounce it, as it’s a made up word.  Can you guess what two foods give it its name?  If you said omelette and rice, then you are not only a good guesser, but you’ve practically named the entire recipe.  This simple combo is hands-down, every Japanese kid’s favorite meal.  From the outside, it looks exactly like a regular omelette, but inside, you’ll find fried rice seasoned with ketchup!!   Intrigued?   My picky husband doesn’t like rice, but he does love eggs and ketchup, and since he eats like a kid, I thought I’d give it a try.  Would he like it?  Would omerice sneak through the picky filter?  Believe it or not, this was the first Japanese dish I cooked that he liked.

Generally speaking, you can divide Japanese food into two categories.  Washoku is a traditional Japanese style food with very little oil, but heavy on salt and soy sauce.  It contains virtually no butter or cream. Yoshoku, on the other hand, can be considered to be  western influenced Japanese food, and is often characterized by its heavy usage of butter, cream and gravy.  Yoshoku, came into being while cooking for westerners in Japan in the mid 19th century. Omerice, using rice as a filling for an omelette, is a typical family meal at a yoshoku restaurant in Tokyo.  Want to mix a little history in with your ketchup?  Eat omerice at the original restaurant that claims to have created this dish in Tokyo for a reasonable 15 dollars (1,300 yen).  I can tell you from personal experience that the restaurant truly has the feel of 1895 Japan, but with, unfortunately, modern day pricing.  Don’t have $15?  Well, you’re in luck, as you’ll find the recipe for omerice posted here.

 

July 30th, 2011

Chowder in a bread bowl

I love all kinds of chowders, clam, corn, potato…  I love them all.  My first introduction to chowder was in early 1980, when I went to Seattle to study English for the summer.  That was my very first trip to America, so naturally, it had lots of “firsts” in terms of American food.  Years later, when I returned to Boston for college, clam chowder became one of my favorite American foods.  Once I married my bread loving husband, our two passions met, and I was introduced to the idea of chowder in a bread bowl.  I had seen it at restaurants, but I was resisting because I had always been a chowder purist who didn’t even want to sully the flavor with crackers. With that in mind, why would I want to add bread to the mix?  If I’m going to invest my calories on a cream based soup, I want more soup, not more bread, right?

Clam chowder must be good, because even though it’s technically a seafood dish, my husband loves it.  Well, with really good sourdough we brought back from San Francisco sitting in our kitchen, it was finally time to trade the ceramic soup bowl for a carbohydrate laden one and experiment with something new. Despite my initial resistance, I actually found this dish pretty fun to eat.  First, you break up the “lid” and use the torn bread bits to scoop up the soup.  With every bite, the level of soup drops, giving you room to carefully tear pieces away from the rim of the bread bowl and slowly work your way down.   Yes, it can get messy, but it’s a lot of fun.  Do I prefer this over clam chowder in a real bowl?  Much to my husband’s dismay, no. I still prefer clam chowder in its pure form.  But with the simple addition of the bread bowl, the entertainment value rises greatly–which is one of the qualities of food that I really appreciate.

Not surprisingly, I noticed that I was eating most of the clams while my husband was tearing huge chunks of bread from the bowl.  In between mouthfuls, he asked me if they had clam chowder in Japan. The answer is yes, but sadly, it’s not very good.  Most of time it’s not as hearty as you would expect.  It’s probably one of the few dishes where the American canned version beats the Japanese restaurant version.  Why the big difference?  Well,  traditionally, we make miso and clear soup with clams.  Being more watery, these soups aren’t exactly ‘chowders’, but our enjoyment comes from the flavor of the soup infused with clam essence, as clams, still in their shells, give flavor to the broth.  Traditionally, clear soup with clams is served on Girls’ Day (March 3).  Why this dish?  The idea is to celebrate harmony in marriage and the virtue inherent in girls. The clam symbolizes this, because only the inborn pair of clam shells fits perfectly, as opposed to two mismatched shells.

I love both the American and Japanese versions of these soups as they both serve very different purposes.  Clam chowder fills you up while hiding its clams among a hearty cream and lots of vegetables.  Japanese clam soup looks like consomme, but focuses on the flavor and freshness of the clam.  Either way, it will probably be quite a while before we see soup served in a bread bowl in Japan–but don’t tell my husband!

July 16th, 2011

Salmon belly

By now, we’ve all heard of pork belly, and if you are a sushi enthusiast, you may have even tried yellowtail belly and tuna belly.  Bellies are fatty delicious meat.   As long as they’re not ours, bellies are great.
Last month, I took a cooking class and learned to fillet a salmon.  The instructor was busily removing the fins, head, and bones when something horrifying happened.  He said, “Cut off the belly meat and discard it.” He did exactly that.  Right then and there, I felt like leaving the kitchen.  Throwing away salmon belly?!  I suffer through ridiculous traffic just to drive across town just to buy it.

If you have a Japanese neighbor, you’ve probably experienced the smell of grilled fish wafting in through your window. I can admit it–it’s not pleasant. It’s different from smelling a burger or a steak being grilled.  When you smell that grilled beef aroma, you’re already mentally debating the pros and cons of each local steakhouse. But smelling grilled fish?  It just stinks.  It must be horrible for my  seafood loathing American husband.  I try to be strategic, waiting until he leaves for work before I cook it, but no luck–even after a breezy afternoon with the windows open, he can smell that fish.  So I made a change; I started grilling using the BBQ grill in our backyard. I figured, if the grilling is the worst part, let my neighbors suffer. See, I’m half considerate, half selfish especially when cooking salmon belly; since it’s VERY fatty, there’ll be extra smoke coming out of the grill.

Just like pork belly, which  was only available at Asian grocery stores 10 years ago, salmon belly too, has not hit the American grocery scene.  But if you want to try this amazing dish, venture to your nearest Asian grocery store, then wash the bellies, soak them in salt water overnight, and grill them.  When fish is fresh enough, you really don’t need much preparation.  I usually put a little bit of ponzu sauce (a citrus based soy sauce) over the grilled belly.  If ponzu isn’t available, squeeze a bit of lemon and you are really in for a treat!  I suggest grilling the belly until it’s well done.  Because some parts are pure fat, it tastes better when it’s crispier.

Grilled salmon belly is an essential component to my perfect Japanese breakfast, along with rice, tofu with ginger and soy sauce, and miso soup.  You can’t tell from this picture, but my husband is next to me, eating his bagel, saying “I’ve got the better breakfast.” My simple reply?  “You’re wrong”.   This argument happens a lot at our breakfast table.

 

July 14th, 2011

Bento

I’m glad the concept of “bento” has made it to the non Japanese speaking world.  For those who still wonder what I’m talking about, a bento box is a single portion of a meal (usually lunch) in a container, hence “box”, for easy transport, that contains the elements of a balanced meal.  In it, there is usually rice, one or two vegetable dishes, and a protein.  You can make it home or easier option: buy it at stores (convenience stores, department stores, bento specialized stores) for between $5 and $12, or at restaurant for $10 and up in Japan or here in America at Japanese grocery stores near you.  My local favorite in Los Angeles is Nijiya Market, they often use organic and better ingredients.

I had lunch at BreadBar in Century City the other day and was happy to see Bentoboard on the menu.  Instead of a box, though, all the food came on a heavy cheese board.  Soup, two sliders, a cob salad and bread pudding for dessert for $17.  Looked very cute, and was VERY filling.  Every woman would order it, if this menu was found in the business district in Japan, but with one notable exception–the portion would be probably half the size, while the price, of course, stays the same.Typically, Japanese bento are either washoku, Japanese style with grilled fish, tempura, and cooked root vegetable, or Japanese interpretation of “western” food, youshoku style, with hamburg (similar to salisbury steak) with demi glace sauce, pasta, egg, potato.  Either way, bento usually come with white rice.  We also eat sandwiches (no crust) as bento.When mothers ask children what they want in their bento, Japanese children usually request youshoku style.  My husband doesn’t like rice, so when I make a bento box for him, it’s usually some kind of pasta dish which is actually easier to make than a Japanese style bento.  With bento, the key is that there should be at least one main protein and a few side dishes–Coming up with a variety each day is hard to keep up with!  I’m little relieved I don’t live in Japan anymore.  The idea behind the Bento Box is nice.  It reflects the wife/mother’s dedication to her husband/child, so there’s also a pride and ego factor reflected in it.  I’m not a lazy person, but if I was expected to make these kind of bento lunches everyday, I would be overwhelmed.  But making a big batch of pasta, and dividing it into a few Tupperware containers is something I can handle!

June 12th, 2011

My pork belly is better than yours

Pork belly; it seems to be the “in” food these days.  Today, you can get it at Whole Foods, sold as if it were some kind of fancy meat, but 10 years ago, it had the opposite reputation; I had to go Chinatown just to find it!  I’ve been enjoying telling everybody “my pork belly is better” every time we’d see it on the menu.  Then a few years ago, I was humbled by David Chang‘s pork bun, and completely knocked out by April Bloomfield‘s pork belly dish.  Let’s talk about how I lost the battle of the pork belly to these great chefs some other time.  Instead, let me give you my recipe, before another humbling experience comes my way.

All you need is pork belly and these:1) Sake, soy sauce, brown sugar, and honey.  Optional: Green onion and/or ginger and/or garlic.  These are to lessen the dish’s ‘porkiness’.  First, wash the pork belly in cold water, then put it in a deep pot, cover it with water and throw in the green onion (or ginger or garlic).2) Cook until tender (45 minutes+ in the pressure cooker; 90 minutes or more in a regular pot with a lid on; high-low med heat), next, take the pork out, discard boiled water and green onion, and when the pork belly is cool enough to touch, cut it 2-3 inches wide.  Give the pot a quick wash.

3) Put the pork belly back into the pot with 2 cups of sake, 2 cups of soy sauce, 1 1/2 (cups) of sugar, 1 cup of water, and a half cup of honey.  The liquid should reach top of the pork belly.  Feel free to change the proportions depending on your taste preference;  if you prefer saltier, more soy sauce (or tiny bit of sea salt); if you prefer milder, more sake (or plum wine is a great alternative to give it more sweetness).4) Cook at med/low heat for 30 min with the pressure cooker or an hour or more in a regular pot with a parchment paper lid.  The longer you put on the heat, the more tender it gets, and the more the flavor intensifies.  So if you are planning on leaving it heated longer,remember to adjust the seasoning prior to cooking.

This is called Kakuni in Japanese.  It’s a staple at Japanese tapas places (izaka ya), great with beer with a bit of Japanese mustard on it, or with udon noodles with little bit of chopped green scallion.  You can slice it thinner and make a little sandwich adding a slice of cucumber and Sriracha, a la David Chang; chopped and put them in fried rice, ramen topping, etc…  My all time favorite is adding it to a bowl of white rice, with a soft boiled egg.  It’s pretty damn good!