Japanese Tag

Miso congee w/ crispy scallion oil and cream

”  It’s an agent of both calmness and arousal, a stimulating congee.  “

Around this time of the year with its cold crisp air, with it carrying a smell of memory that I can’t seem to grapple, I am loosened and adrift.  I feel like anchoring to a sleeved cup of coffee with both hands, and wander aimlessly on the street decorated with relentless sparkles.  Like an old lady who has lost something but couldn’t remember what.  My fingertips are toasty, the coffee sleeve too thin… I’m a child to be fetched.

This, of course, could be seasonal sentimentality talking.  But also possibly early, really early onset alzheimer.  Both equally dangerous.

I’ve been meaning to cook something that satisfies my overindulged melancholy, something to be eaten after I sing me a river to skate away on and stare out the window for no apparent reasons.  Something to part from the perception that congee or porridge – still in my mind, the perfect comfort food – is bland and monochromatic, but at the same time celebrates the fact that it is nourishing, consoling, and the food-equivalent of very expensive therapists.

I started with a very clean, water-based miso broth as the foundation of a soothing but flavorful congee, then dribbled on pockets of excitements from crispy scallions and garlic chips fried in olive oil, quick-pickled shallots and lightly whipped heavy cream.  The miso congee is thick, enwrapping, but appropriately lubricated by the luscious mouthfeel of the herbaceous olive oil and the cool sweetness of cream, with a cadence of brightness from the crisped scallions and garlic, tangy shallots and the occasional burst of pain from finely minced pickled bird’s eye chilis.  It’s an agent of both calmness and arousal, a stimulating congee.  Break a soft-boiled egg on top and it’s a legit meal.

It’s the kind of stuff I crave around this time.  And I suspect you, too.

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Japanese melty iceboox cheesecake

I’m sitting here, struggling with how best to explain to you all why this Japanese version of the burnt basque cheesecake is superior than the original in every single way possible, mentally auditioning all the angles I could cut into this subject that I think is going to change the way you think about cheesecakes in general.  How it’s possibly the easiest cheesecake your kitchen-incompetence will ever behold… how it has complexities in its flavors that reminds me of a caramel flan… how its play between temperature and texture is brilliant… how the outer layer is rich yet airy while the center remains creamy and gooey, melting almost instantly around the heat of my tongue…  A R-rated story on how cheesecake and  ice cream had a baby?  I considered that, too.

But it dawned on me that these are all just supporting facts, facts that you will witness, I’ve no doubt, as soon as you make one yourself in your kitchen.  What really stands in between you and making this cake is not the certainties, no.  It is the doubt, one single doubt really, the only elephant that needs to be removed first and swiftly before everything else could just fall into place.  Because I know what you’re all thinking.  Here, I’ll say it with you.

Isn’t this just an undercooked mistake?  

No, no it is not.  It is fucking not.

Is soft-boiled egg a mistake?

There.  I don’t know how much simpler I could put it.

Now, welcome to the only cheesecake you’ll ever bake for the rest of your life.

if cheesecake and ice cream had a baby.

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Book Bait: Squid Ink Ramen

“A bowl of slurpable crude oil, but in the most edible and delicious way. “

WHAT:  Welcome back my utterly self-serving recipe series I would like to call – The Book Bait, a shameless campaign to draw out all cookbook-hunters to our upcoming cookbook, The Art of Escapism Cooking – A Survival Story.  These are brand new recipes that are not in the cookbook but however, in order to make them, you will need one or more essential component from the book to complete which, yes, is yet to be published on October 15, 2019.  And yes, I am still doing that to you to sell books.

WHY:  It isn’t without brag when I say that there is an entire chapter in our cookbook enshrined to the universal religion of noodle-slurping and ten of which are full-blown, no bullshit, the milky broth, the umami, the toppings, the thick and the deep, the sacred and the indecent, the full spectrum of the unapologetic and delicious absurdity that is, Japanese-style ramen.  Yes, I went there, the whole nine yards.  And I feel that I could still go further.  Because in Japan’s traditionally defined food culture, this rare and liberal, democratic even, arena of ramen creation has proven itself unbound by conventions and time and time again, reinvents itself in the most surprisingly pleasurable way.  So no, there’s no such thing as too many ramen recipes.  But too many ramen recipes in a cookbook that is not all about ramen?  Okay, that’s a thing.  So think of this as an extension to my cookbook ramen spree.

HOW:  This particular recipe is inspired and adapted from a tiny ramen shop in Hong Kong called Ramen Nagi.  Its version of squid ink ramen, of which they call the Black King, is a missile of maximized flavors and color, a thick jet black pool of black things on top of, well, more black things, a bowl of slurpable crude oil but in the most edible and delicious way.  But the intensity, both of color and flavors, comes predominantly from black sesame paste that, even though an effective sensational booster, is quite overpowering for the elusiveness and subtleness of squid ink to come through.  So here I have opted to remove the black sesame paste entirely, replaced by the milder toasted sesame oil in a squid ink paste that uses the mighty porkiness of Italian guanciale as a foundation.  Then the indisputable presence of pork belly roll they call charsiu, simmered in a soy sauce bath warmed with star anise and cinnamon, and the jam-like egg yolk, the fried garlic powder, the toasted seaweed, the quintessential spanker of a house-blend chili powder, they are all here.

But no amount of supporting role could deliver a bowl of ramen without the core, the mother, the matriarch that is the emulsified thus milky bone broth to bind them all in a harmonious lagoon, as well as a ramen reasoning that conjures all the harvestable umami from natural ingredients this sweet mother of earth has to give, to bring a bowl of ramen to life.  Well, that, you know where to find them.

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Japanese fried chicken (karaage) w/ salmon caviar (ikura)

”  Ikura’s intensity lies in its sticky and viscous brininess that liquifies and oozes around the tongue after each pops.  When you think about it, a sauce, almost.  “

We came home from a long weekend in Kyoto and, if I may, I want to talk about me and karaage for a bit.

For those who aren’t familiar, karaage, aka Japanese fried chicken, is and should be regarded as a league of its own, standing far apart from the classic American fried chickens or the recently popularized Korea-style fried chickens.  It is none of those.  Karaage is boneless, cut into medium to large-size chunks, without sauce, and almost always, as gods intended, uses dark meats only.  Flavor-wise, due to its mildly sweetened brine, its juice runs almost nectar-like, secreting from its firm and bouncy muscles following the crunch of karaage’s trademark white-speckled crusts.  Served simply with lemon wedges and Japanese-style mayonnaise called Kewpie — also a distinction from American/European mayonnaise but that’s another story — such formula has become an establishment in the Japanese diet, celebrated everywhere from restaurants, department stores, convenience stores and even train stations.  Clearly as popular opinions suggest, there’s nothing wrong with it for sure.

I used to adore karaage.  I still do, I guess, but in a different way now.  Our relationship, which used to demand an intimate reunion whenever opportunity presents itself, had taken a shift since last weekend.

During this trip in Kyoto, strangely stalled in front of the frequent offerings of impeccably fried karaage behind spotless glass windows, I was feeling a general lagging enthusiasm which, unregrettingly, led to zero purchases.  What’s wrong with me?  I used to love karaage!  I should want this stuff, right?  I should not be able to get enough of it, no?  It’s a great piece of fried chicken for god’s sake so how do I explain myself?  I bit into an onigiri over-filled with mentaiko on my returning flight, aching over my betrayal.

I came home plunged into an intense couple-therapy session between me and karaage.  We shut the door, we shouted, we whispered, we cried, we left nothing unsaid and nothing unfelt we even skyped Kewpie.  After boxes of Kleenex tissues, we walked slowly out of the room, hand in hand, and are ready to make a public statement.  It isn’t easy.  Possibly appalling.  But we’ve both decided that at this specific juncture, what is best for our relationship to move forward with is — a threesome.

Look, karaage, on its own, is good.  But over time, I find karaage’s sweetness and garlicky undertone somewhat binding and tiresome.  It needs a sharp piercing beyond the general zing of lemon or mustard.  It needs a spanking.  Somewhere between reasons and insanity and Momofuku, ikura comes to mind.

Ikura is Japanese cured salmon roe, much like Russian caviar, but seasoned with soy sauce, sweet rice wine and dashi.  Its intensity lies in its sticky and viscous brininess that liquifies and oozes around the tongue after each jewel-like pops.  When you think about it, a sauce, almost.  If you think that the idea of pairing a vehemently briny fish eggs with fried chicken is strange, you’r not wrong, but in a way that feels very right, if that makes sense.  The faintly fishy saltiness does not protrude and speaks over everyone else, as it only flows through the ambience like strings of vividly played jazz, infusing vitality into the conversation, especially with its edge smoothed around by the creaminess of Kewpie mayonnaise.  It doesn’t change karaage.  It just makes it fun.

Sometimes a relationship needs a third party.

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HOMEMADE INSTANT NOODLE MIX SERIES: Instant cheesy Japanese curry udon/noodle mix

 

THE UNFAILING WONDER OF AMERICAN SINGLES THAT MELTS INTO THE MOST VISCOUS INTENTION TO BRING OUT A BIT OF CHILDISHNESS IN ALL OF US

WHAT:  Using Japanese curry cubes – another one of their culinary ingenuities – as a building foundation for an even more complex, cocoa-y and cheesy curry paste that will bring instant late-night slurping to a new height.

WHY:  It’s creamy.  It’s delicious.  And if you need more than that then slap on nostalgic as well.  Because Japanese curry, or shall I say kare, is a deep-rooted comfort in just about every Asian’s dietary habit.  And if done right, it will withhold the same standing in your life as well.

HOW:  Japanese curry cube, on its own, can be a bit sweet and lacking of intensity, born out of this culture’s rounder and more reserved disposition on tastes as well as, I suspect, philosophy.  In the effort to deviate from its original path, I have been for years adding my own “defectors” to bring it just where I like it, more curry powder for spiciness, cocoa powder for complexity, instant coffee for a touch of bitterness and fragrance, and a kiss of Dijon mustard for acidity.  Then last but not least, the junky yet unfailing wonder of American singles that melts into the most viscous intention to bring out a bit of childishness in all of us.

This versatile paste can be used to create, instantly if I may stress, an array of noodle-companions ranging from a milder and drinkable broth for a Japanese staple called kare udon, to a more powerful and creamy gravy to dress any noodles “dry-style” (my favorite), all the way to possibly being used as an instant mix for this fried rice.  A soft-boiled egg, an extra single, or even a nub of cold butter, hell let’s put a few McNuggets on top.  There’s really no possible way to go overboard with it.  And even if there is, it won’t judge.

 

Instant cheesy Japanese curry udon/noodle mix

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 10 cloves of garlics, roughly chopped
  • 3 tbsp onion powder
  • 6 cups (1400 ml) low sodium beef or chicken broth
  • 1 regular box (230~250 grams) Japanese curry cubes, such as this one (see note *)
  • 5 slices of American cheese, torn into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup (30 grams) grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 4 tbsp curry powder
  • 2 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp ground cayenne, plus or minus to your liking
  • 2 1/2 tsp instant coffee
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard

Instructions

  1. In a large, wide and deep skillet (the wide diameter creates more surface area and speeds up the reduction process), cook canola oil, onion, garlics and onion powder over high heat, until the edges of the onions are slightly browned. Add low sodium beef or chicken stock, continuing to boil over high heat, until the mixture is reduced down by 2/3, about 20 minutes.
  2. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into another smaller pot, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as you can then discard the solids. You should have about 1 1/2 cup of liquid left (it can be slightly under but not more). Now add the curry cubes, American cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, curry powder, cocoa powder, fish sauce, cayenne, instant coffee and Dijon mustard. Cook and stir over medium heat, until all the ingredients are fully melted and evenly incorporated into a thick paste.
  3. Transfer into an air-tight jar and keep chilled in the fridge until needed. Can be kept for up to 1.5 (estimate) months in the fridge, or 3 months in the freezer.
  4. TO USE THE MIX: You can use the mix to make a lighter drinkable curry broth, or a stronger gravy-like sauce. To make a curry broth, bring 1 cup of water to a simmer and whisk in 3~4 tbsp of instant curry mix, and let simmer for a couple minutes. Add udon noodles or other noodles of your choice. To make a gravy-like sauce, cook udon or other noodles of your choice in boiling water according to instructions. Remove the noodles and set inside a serving bowl. Mix a few tbsp of the cooking water with curry mix until it reaches your desired consistency and intensity, then mix it evenly with the noodles. As a general finishing touch, torch a slice of American cheese on top until melty, and serve immediately.

Notes

* Japanese curry cubes, or curry sauce mix, can be easily found in all major Asian supermarkets and/or online. This recipe calls for one regular box, which ranges from 230~250 grams depending on the brands (but they do come in smaller packaging sometimes so make sure you check the package). And they also come in "mild", "medium", and "hot". Here I'm using "hot".

https://ladyandpups.com/2018/06/04/homemade-instant-noodle-mix-series-instant-cheesy-japanese-curry-udon-noodle-mix/

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BEEF TARTARE WITH SEA URCHIN FROM THE NEIGHBORHOOD

IT HAD ME AT HELLO

Oh geez, in between life in general and an unexpectedly eventful visit to my OBGYN which involved an adorably named chocolate cyst, I’m going to quickly leave you with, nonetheless, a recipe for my favorite thing to eat these days.  This is a dish inspired by a restaurant called Neighborhood in Hong Kong’s central district, which serves predominantly French bistro-style dishes with a spritz of Japanese infusion, and in this case, classic beef tartare served with fresh sea urchin roe on top.  For the record, I have NOT had this particular dish at the restaurant.  It wasn’t offered on the menu by the time I visited, and so I created my own rendition at home.  The major difference is that their standard beef tartare is mixed with chopped raw oysters, which I omitted because fresh oysters just isn’t something that Hong Kong markets excel at, and for the many times that I’ve pushed my luck, I wish I hand’t, so.

But, having said that, you’ve got to try this.  I would want to sell you on how the creamy sweetness and foie gras-like richness of the sea urchin blend almost biblically beautiful with the irony savoriness of the beef tartare, and how the infusion of the two, including the cold and silky touches it feels on your taste buds, comes to a marvelous clash with the warm crunches of the toasted baguette. And I could go on.

But the truth is, if you’re my kinda people, it had us at hello.

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THE PLAIN GENIUS OF MENCHI KATSU SANDO

IT HITS JUST THE RIGHT SPOT, ONE OF THE FEW LEFT IN OUR HYPER-STIMULATED MINDS THESE DAYS, WHERE IT STILL ACCEPTS OR EVEN CRAVES PURITY

As we know that there are plenty for the taking, but this is perhaps – as far as I know and hopefully true – Jason’s most obsessed of all perverse Japanese creations, the menchi katsu.

Menchi, meaning “minced”, and katsu, is anything “breaded and fried”.

It exists in many different forms and spirits, each and one of them equally bizarre to the conventional wisdoms of the west, but one in particular, the menchi katsu sando / fried ground pork patty sandwich, will send many scratching their heads inside a Japanese convenience store.  That is because its pure genius can only be realized upon one fateful encounter – one that reflects truly on its seemly simple but in fact, delicate preparations, and the childish yet complex satisfaction it plays on your tastebuds – which, unfortunately, can be a rare occurrence outside of Japan.  Actually, outside of Japan, this idea sounds more desperate than anything else.  Why do we want to fry a disk of ground pork – by the way, an almost comically massive disk of ground pork – then leave it with nothing else, and I mean absolutely nothing else, but just some tangy brown sauce in between two pieces of flimsy, flappy white breads?  You’ll question its painful simplicity, whether is from desperation, or, by choice.  Why not add something else to it?  Tomato?  Bacon?  Cheese?  Fried egg?  Jalapeno?  Two hotdogs and a jug of Bloody Mary with a mini umbrella?  Come on, anything, anything to satisfy this North American instinct to pile shit up.

But no.

I can’t explain it to you.  You’ll have to experience it.

But I can’t take you to Japan.  I can only bring the recipe home.

This recipe is my very controlled but slightly adapted, and perhaps,, in my opinion, enhanced version of the original.  And when I say that, I’m mostly referring to the katsu sauce.  Slight variations on this sauce are applied to a vast number of different dishes in Japan, like okonomiyaki and takoyaki to name a few.  But most of the recipe in English that I found online is, well, lacking, if not insulting.  Ketchup plus worchestire sauce, basically, with some soy sauce and sugar?  Please.  The sauce is much more complex and deserving of our respect than that, which requires several different angles of acidity and sweetness that adds up to be more than the sum of its parts.  There is a depth that, I feel, cannot be achieve with the conventional balance between vinegar and sugar, which is where “fruitiness” comes in aid.  Prunes.  Blended into the sauce, they built volume and flavours into the back-note, then pounded and added as a thin film in between the sandwich, they added textures and subtle sweetness.  This sauce plays brilliantly with the fatty richness – 35% fat if I failed to mention – of the menchi katsu, and brought both a voluptuous sort of moisture and adhesiveness to all parties.

You’ll realize why you don’t want to do anything else to it.  It hits juuust the right spot, one of the few left within our hyper-stimulated minds these days, where still accepts or even craves purity.

This is not just a slapped-on emergency sustenance.  There are thoughts and wisdoms, upon many generations, that evolved and stripped it down to its now, brilliant plainness.  If you are going to make it into a Big Mac, at least call it something else.

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HOW TO WRAP ONIGIRI LIKE JAPANESE CONVENIENCE STORE


  

change the video setting to HD for better details

Hi, here’s a random video on how to wrap onigiri, aka rice balls, like those Japanese convenience stores.  The easy-to-pull-away wrapper separates the rice and the seaweed, keeping the seaweed crispy until serving.  This technique will make beautifully wrapped onigiri, perfect for your next picnic, work lunch, or as a gift!  A few notes on how to do it right:

  1. Use freshly cooked rice, never day-old, but wait until it’s completely cooled (so the steam doesn’t make the seaweed soggy).
  2. Use triangle-moulds to make the onigiri.
  3. Cut the seaweed and allow enough width to cover the sides of the onigiri.
  4. Cut a piece of parchment that is at least 2X the width of the seaweed.
  5. The parchment in the video didn’t actually cover the entire inner surface of the seaweed because it wasn’t wide enough.  Don’t make the same mistake.
  6. Label the onigiri and they’re going to be your newest edible gift.

NOW THAT’S A WRAP.

  
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