Archive for ‘seafood’

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.

August 27th, 2011

The day I hosted my first taco party

All I needed was an excuse.  For what, you ask?  To make fish tacos as good as the ones that my fish-phobic husband ate multiple times a day during our trip to Hawaii.  Sure, the beautiful sunset probably had something to do with it, but when there’s any kind of momentum in the ongoing quest to turn my husband into a seafood lover, I’m going to do what I can.  Anything to help achieve my dream of enjoying seafood (and Asian food) with him everyday (I can already sense his fear as he reads this post).

How did I get fish back on his plate on the mainland?  Having our niece and nephew in town from Florida was the perfect excuse for a family meal.  I volunteered to cook as my menu was already planned out in my head–fish tacos.  Of course, I was going to make beef and chicken options as well, but if I could duplicate the taste of the fish tacos he ate on the big island, it would be easier to introduce more seafood into his diet later.  Now you have to understand, a taco ‘party’ is a pretty ambitious move for a girl who just discovered soft tacos in the first place, but when it comes to cooking, I have no fear.  Sure I had rookie questions, like: ‘Do I heat up the store bought tortillas first?’ but I wasn’t going to let those deter me from completing my quest.  As far as toppings go, my plan was to make regular tomato salsa, mother-in-law’s green sauce, and a spicy mayo just for the fish.  Once the actual cooking began, the chicken and steak were the easiest to prepare; just marinate and grill. Preparing the perfect fish taco, however, would require a bit more effort, starting with the shopping!

Finding the perfect kind of fresh fish would be a battle.  Mahi mahi is the ideal choice, as it’s a meaty white fish, whose texture is similar to that of swordfish, but where could I find it?  I have lots of childhood memories of my mother buying fish, and I could hear her advice in the back of my mind.  She NEVER bought fish from the supermarket, but rather, preferred the fish market.  Her philosophy was, “The fewer the middlemen, the fresher the product.”  But I don’t live in Tokyo anymore… This is Los Angeles, where there aren’t fish markets in every neighborhood.  Where could I find fresh mahi mahi without having to wake up at 4am and drive down to the docks?  Luckily, I happened to remember
Santa Monica Seafood, one of the few places in this town where you can find a good variety of fresh fish.

With fresh fish, spicy salsas and warm tortillas, everything was in place.  How did it go?  Well, if the reaction of picky teenagers is any indication, it went pretty well, as I saw them return more than once to assemble seconds, thirds and even fourths!  But the big test was watching my husband as he carefully looked over his three meat choices.  Would he go for the tried and true options of chicken and steak, or would he continue to expand his horizons?  He chose the fish!  Mission accomplished! As you can imagine, there is no one happier than I am…with the exception of you, with whom I’m now going to share the recipe.  And yes, if you’re wondering…you should heat the tortillas before serving.

August 12th, 2011

When LudoBites 007 bites

One of the inspirations for this blog is the continuing food complaint adventure I share daily, with my husband.  When we got married, I knew going in, that my husband and I had VERY different tastes in food.  Now, as a married couple, we would be eating virtually every meal together till death do us part.  How is that even possible when I like every kind of Asian food that he consistently hates?  I love fresh seafood dishes that he wouldn’t come near unless they were fried to oblivion.  I love complex European dishes while he describes them as pretentious, small-portioned foods, encircled by sauce, served with too many forks. If menu planning were up to him, we’d be eating American comfort food and Mexican food, seven days a week, which would be perfect for me, except for the fact that I hate heavy foods prepared with too much cheese, butter, cream or oil.
With that in mind, how do you think our dinner at Ludo Bites 007 went?  First of all, what is Ludo Bites?  LudoBites 007 is the seventh installment of the ever-trendy pop-up restaurant by Chef Ludovic Lefebvre.  Instead of having a permanent, fixed address location, a pop-up restaurant like Ludo Bites runs for weeks at a time using various restaurants around  town, chosen by the chef.  These days, reservations for LudoBites have been some of the most difficult to get in all of Los Angeles, so when I actually secured a spot for dinner for the two of us, I should have been excited, right?   Well, I was and I wasn’t.  My mind instantly flashed back to that time when I brought home fried chicken from Ludo’s famous food truck, and anxiously awaited my husband’s opinion.  His response after one bite?   “Not worth it.”  I was speechless.  For him not to finish a piece of fried chicken is really something.  The problem is basically that my husband likes less complicated food, while Chef Ludo’s is known for its layering of exotic, international flavors.  I had to cross my fingers as I could only imagine what might appear on the menu.

We arrived to a trendy and energetic scene.  When handed the menu, I was excited to see such savory dishes as “Squid, Ash, Chorizo”, “Egg, Sea Urchin, Caviar, Champagne Beurre Blanc”.   Many of the offerings had some kind of interesting Asian twist like “Foie Gras “French Dim Sum Crispy Kimchi, Sake-Black Truffle Cream”.  While I was excited and impressed, my husband wasn’t, which was obvious from his expression, that if could talk, would’ve undoubtedly asked, “How late is In ‘N’ Out Burger open on a weeknight?

We both had trouble selecting dishes, but for the complete opposite reason.  I had a hard time choosing from the amazing selection of seafood plates, while he had a difficult time finding something on the menu that was not a delicious sounding, exotic seafood plate.  He had to resort to doing something he calls ‘ordering by default’ which he describes as ordering something that you have to, rather than something you want to.  After a few minutes of debate, I picked the seafood dishes: Machkerel Escabeche and Egg, Sea Urchin; while my husband chose Roasted Beef, Horseradish Cream and Epoisse Cheese Risotto from the few non-seafood selections.

I loved the sea urchin and roast beef most.  The sea urchin was very rich and creamy, but not heavy, with a  texture resembling polenta.  This was definitely one of the most creative and delicious sea urchin dishes I’ve encountered.  I found the beef to be perfectly roasted, with a delicious horseradish cream balancing its flavor.  The cream itself was light on the horseradish, and had a potato-like flavor.  If these were the only two selections on the menu, I would have still been satisfied. But was that feeling shared by my spouse, across the table?

Well, I feared the worst, and I wasn’t disappointed.  My husband didn’t like one thing. Not a huge surprise.  What was a big shock, was that out of all the dishes, he took TWO bites of the sea urchin, instead of the one bite he gave everything else. While I hoped it was because he was beginning to develop a taste for sea urchin, his two bites were more likely due to the fact that the server had brought all the seafood dishes first, leaving him, sitting across from me with no choice but to hungrily watch me savor my food.

I enjoyed virtually everything, with the exception of the risotto.  I just don’t have the taste for the pungent epoisse
cheese.

For dessert, we ordered the Smoked Vanilla Bacon Creme Brulee, which came with Melon Gazpacho.  As we all know, everything is better with bacon, right?  Well, most of the time.  While it wasn’t the greatest bacon dish, it was very interesting, to say the least.  It was very, very bacon-y, with a nice balance of savory and sweet.  If you can imagine eating a smooth bacon cream for dessert, you’re almost there.  (FYI, there was no bacon bits in it)  While my husband finished his half (for the first time that evening), I know deep down, he would have preferred a tall piece of chocolate cake.  Alongside the Bacon Creme Brulee, was Melon Gaspacho.  I found the pairing to be confusing as, in my opinion, it didn’t go well with creme brulee, and was, in general, a little too acidic for my taste in dessert.

So while I enjoyed the adventure that was dining at Ludo Bites, I felt bad that my husband didn’t.  I find myself in this predicament fairly often, because he’s VERY picky.  I always tell him that he eats with his brain instead of with his taste buds, convincing himself he’s not going to like something like tongue, no matter how tasty it might be, purely on the basis of it being called tongue.  While he likes his comfort foods, and could eat the same egg breakfast 365 a year, I’m more adventurous and am always open to new flavors and combinations.  Do you have any suggestions for a restaurant we BOTH might like?  I’m serious, as they’re few and far between.  When we try something new or exotic, he usually sits in misery while I try to savor the experience, but it’s hard to, knowing your companion would rather be somewhere else. Why can’t he just enjoy the fact that he’s taken me somewhere where I’ve really enjoyed my meal?  Maybe it has to do with the fact that he’s about to leave the restaurant penniless and hungry with the arrival of the over-sized check for the undersized portions he took two bites of.

There’s a long, winding culinary road ahead of us.  Thanks for keeping us company.

 

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 29th, 2011

Fish out of water

Why did it take getting married for a Japanese girl to learn about Japanese culture?  What did I learn?  Well, for starters, our diet depends heavily on fish.  We eat fish for breakfast, bring fish to work for lunch, and, you guessed it, fish for dinner.  We use fish stock and eat fish raw, grilled, dried, fried, and even fermented.  If that weren’t enough, we even eat fish as snacks.  IWith that in mind, imagine my fish-phobic American husband’s horror when my father offered him a fish snack the very first time when they met.  My husband understands the honor code of Japan, if you are offered something, you take it and (pretend to) enjoy it.  Since that first meeting, my husband has tried many varieties of fish,  and has even found a few fish items that he likes tolerates (still not including fish snacks).Hawaii, as you know, is a beautiful island.  And, Hawaiians too, eat a lot of fish.  We spent our honeymoon there, and maybe as an act of love, my husband started to eat fish at least once per day while we are there. That’s quite an effort for a guy who needs to be forced to eat fish one or two times a year.  His reasoning?  On an island, the fish has to be fresh, which means, none of that annoying fishy smell.  Unfortunately, I agree with my husband on the smelly part, as many of the dishes at seafood restaurants in America do indeed smell.

We have a simple deal.  If the fish isn’t fresh tasting, I will resist my urge to make him try it.  So when I think there’s a chance of finding the freshest stuff, of course, we have to try it.  This was the case on our recent vacation to the Big Island, where we were thrilled to find a well-reviewed a food truck hat served only the freshest stuff.  Although it’s a truck, it is permanently parked on a lot next to a small fish market (which doesn’t smell) and seating was simply a few patio tables and chairs under a blue plastic tarp.  Imagine the exact opposite of a chain restaurant, complete with a vintage looking handwritten menu on the truck.  To order, you simply choose a fish and the way you want it prepared, and the owner herself, Dee Dee, cooks it right there for you.We picked Mahi Mahi, popular Hawaiian fish, known for its flaky meat like texture.  As I hoped, the fish was very fresh and tasty, which I could have told you without tasting a bite.  How?  My husband actually finished his first and to confirm its freshness, asked Dee Dee how long ago his meal was actually swimming in the ocean.  This morning,” she replied with a straight face.  Even though the dish was simply prepared (lightly breaded and fried), I would have a hard time duplicating it as I’d have to
1) move to Hawaii;
2) go to a dock to buy fish or
3) go fishing myself.
As I have no plan of moving to Hawaii, or waking up at 4AM, the only option I have left is to visit Hawaii as much as possible in attempt to convert my husband into a regular fish eater.  Who knows, with any luck, one day, he’ll be munching on fish snacks with my dad.

 

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 9th, 2011

The good, the bad and the ugly of Huntington Beach

The bike lanes along the pacific ocean are gorgeous.  Today, my husband and I visited his sister in Huntington Beach, and went for a nice bike ride.The only thing I ate today before leaving the house, was a couple of celery sticks with peanut butter, so, as you can imagine, I was starving after a 20 mile bike ride, and barely hung on as we waited for a table at a restaurant for over 30 minutes.  We went to Sandy’s Beach Grill, a new addition to the Duke’s restaurant group.  The atmosphere was nice with the 10 of us getting a table with an ocean view. The niceness stopped there though, and the storm clouds arrived.  First, no bread for the table.  I’m not usually a bread person, but like I said, after the bike ride, I was starved!  I was excited when the food came, as I was looking forward to the Crispy Skin Barramundi I ordered, which came with shrimp tempura and risotto, but sadly, the only thing to be found that was crispy, was in the title.  To make matters worse, the fish wasn’t seasoned.  That should have made me angry, but I was way too hungry to argue with anybody.  Besides, after a nice day at the beach with family why would I want to ruin an evening complaining about food?

If only that were the only problem…  My husband never got his steak!!  His sister ordered the same dish, and she got her food along with the other nine people in our party.  When I got my plate, I heard the waiter mention that his steak was overcooked, so he’d bring a new one in a few minutes.  25 minutes later, his food arrived.  Unfortunately, by that time, everybody was done eating.

I’m not a restaurant manager or waiter, but if I were entertaining friends’ at my house and there was a problem, I’d try to keep my guests from starving by feeding them chips or something light, and definitely update them on the ETA of their meal.  There was none of that courtesy from this restaurant.  Our waiter left us with the impression that his dish would come out soon, and he never came back until he finally brought my husband’s dish.

I felt helpless.  I wanted to share my meal, but we have a rule: “If the fish isn’t great, don’t share,”  Bottom-line, if I want my meat and potatoes husband to start liking fish, I better not give him anything that might turn him off.  I’m an optimist and a hopeless romantic and I truly believe that if I keep giving him a bite of fish here and there, he may start to enjoy it.  Actually, there have been a few successful experiments in the past.  He liked the fresh fish tacos we accidentally found in Maui– so much so, we went back to eat there 3 nights in a row!  So, the dilemma was clear: do I offer him a piece of bad fish and ruin my dream, or do I watch him starve in agony?  Although I hated to see the empty table space in front of him, I didn’t insist on him sharing my plate.  He starved in agony.

July 6th, 2011

Service

In Japan, where I grew up, there is no tipping system. Servers are trained to provide good service because that’s simply their job. Imagine growing  up in that world.  Would you have a problem tipping when the service is missing?  Yes, I do… but no matter what, I tip anyway.  My theory: I’d rather pay and move on with my life than deal with strangers that I’ll never see again. Does this make me an enabler? My husband is actually a very good tipper but for different reasons.  Being Jewish, he says he “needs to help break the stereotype” of his people.

A good tip is a reflection of good food and good service.  I have no problem with the idea of tipping when I know the restaurant is about to serve me my favorite meal; a lobster roll.  Eating a good lobster roll can make the darkest day brighter.  Unfortunately, it has the opposite effect on my husband who doesn’t care for the texture of crustaceans.  Even when dining at one of the best sushi bars in Tokyo, I had to translate his “it’s not you, it’s me,” speech to the chef, as he apologized for not eating from the mountain of crab in front of him.  So while my husband may not be the best person to compare one lobster roll from another, you can trust me when I tell you that  Ed’s Lobster Bar definitely offers one of the better lobster rolls in town. A generous portion of lobster sits majestically on a buttered roll.  It comes with fries, which is always great, but not unusual. What separates Ed’s from the rest is that bit of house made pickle on the side. Little efforts like these make customers happy while making the restaurant distinctive.When it comes to eating out, there is one item brought to the table that no one enjoys–the bill.  At least Ed’s made the experience sweeter with another nice touch. These cute lobster shaped chocolates arrived with the check and were just enough to satisfy my craving for dessert.  More than that, these two chocolates showed that the management cared about my brief stay in their establishment. That is an experience worth tipping for–even in Japan!

 

June 3rd, 2011

Ahi tuna

Ahi tuna (aka. yellowfin tuna) is a household name in America these days.  You can get it at Costco as well as find it at your local grocery store.  It’s a safer and cheaper alternative to bluefin.  I think one of the reason Ahi is preferred in the States is its leaner taste.  Bluefin is rather rich and its texture is fattier.  It’s kind of like comparing beer-fed fatty Japanese (such as Kobe) beef to lean American steak.  Both are great cuts of meat–it just comes down to your preference.

I think Japanese sushi chefs are trained and proud to present traditional, “proper” sushi & sashimi, so they tend to avoid creating a fusion, although that tendency is changing with likes of Nobu Matsuhisa (Nobu) or Masaharu Morimoto (Morimoto).  Still, they leave fusion to western chefs.   I had this Ahi Tuna Stack at Bleecker Street restaurant in Los Angeles.  Since Alfred Portale perfected beautiful plating, every restaurant tries hard to copy it; this being an example.  I wasn’t going to order the imitation, but as soon as I heard the waitress say those magic words,  “On  a bed of rice,” I changed my mind.  It’s fun to have raw fish with chips and such sometime, but I prefer my raw fish with rice.  From the top, there are radish sprouts, mango & papaya salsa, ahi and jasmine rice, and sweet soy sauce (which didn’t taste like soy sauce at all).

It’s interesting to see that leaner meat such as ahi, is popular here in the states, considering how much Japanese tourists mention that “American food is too big and fattening,” which is surprising, considering that Japanese meats sometimes fit this description. For example, I had a dinner at Korean BBQ restaurant in Tokyo with my parents and my husband, who found some of Japanese meats so fatty, he only ate a few small pieces, then needed a rest, whereas my mother, who is super skinny and in her late 60s, kept eating.

Tags: