Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Steam-fry Asparagus with Preserved Lemon

This is a quick donabe dish, looks pretty, and taste delicious. I sometimes make this dish for lunch to eat the whole thing myself, too. The asparagus stems are steam-roasted in tagine-style donabe, "Fukkura-san" for a short time. They become nicely crisp tender. The flavor of the preserved lemon and Parmesan cheese add the nice nuance. If you don't have preserved lemon, you can substitute with some shredded lemon rind and a sprinkle of salt.

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Here's the recipe.

Roasted Asparagus with Preserved Lemon
(Tagine-style donabe, "Fukkura-san")

Ingredients: (2-3 as part of a multi-course meal)
10 oz asparagus, hard bottom trimmed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 piece preserved lemon, minced (*each piece is 1/8 of medium-size lemon)
Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
Freshly ground black pepper

  1. Peel about 1/3 end of each asparagus by using a peeler.
  2. Place the asparagus in the skillet of "Fukkura-san" and add the olive oil. Toss the asparagus by hand so they are evenly coated with the oil, and arrange them in a single layer.
  3. Cover with lid and set over medium heat. Cook for about 7 minutes or until the asparagus is crisp tender. Meanwhile, turn the asparagus 1-2 times.
  4. Remove from the heat and uncover at the table. Garnish the asparagus with the preserved lemon and some Parmigiano Reggiano plus some pepper.
You can also find the recipe on toiro kitchen's website.

Happy donabe life.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Giant Octopus Rice ("Tako Meshi") in Donabe

Happy octopus...just boiled

I've been ordering wild caught whole octopus (from Spain) from Kai Gourmet, along with other fresh seafood frequently this summer. Each weighs about 3.5 - 4 pounds and is very high quality. It's already cleaned and pre-tenderized, so I just need to rinse it throughly before start cooking it.

To prepare an octopus, I do a classic Japanese way.  I think in Europe, it's typical to start with a fresh octopus in cold water, then bring to a simmer and simmer for almost one hour or longer. In a typical Japanese way, we normally boil water first, then add the octopus and simmer for a short time, about 20 minutes or so. We enjoy the bouncy texture of octopus. Only when we want to make very soft and tender braised octopus, we cook it for more than 1 hours (sometimes up to 3 hours).

So, here's how I prepare an octopus.

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First, rinse the octopus, then boil water in a large pot. Once the water is boiling, you can add a large bag of hojicha tea leaves to the water. It's totally optional, but I learned from my friend and great sushi chef, Mori-san (Morihiro Onodera), that by infusing the cooking water with hojicha, this will help the octopus resulting in nicer color and also makes the flavor better. No salt is added, but just some splashes of sake. According to Mori-san, adding salt would make the octopus meat tougher, so it's not necessary. Slowly, submerge the octopus from the legs. Once half of the legs are in the water, wait for about 10 seconds and lift again, so the legs are nicely curled. Then, submerge the octopus from the legs again and this time all the way to the head.

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Wait until the water is brought to a boil again, then reduced the heat to gentle simmer. Continue to simmer for 20 - 30 minutes (depending on the size of the octopus). Make sure the octopus is completely submerged in the water. Turn the octopus over once for more even cooking. After 20 minutes, by using a wooden skewer, check the doneness. If a skewer can pierce the thick part of a leg smoothly, it's ready. Turn off the heat and let it rest in the cooking water for 15 - 30 minutes, then transfer to a colander. Slice the octopus anyway you like for your cooking purposes. I like slicing a few legs for serving cold as sashimi, then the rest for other dishes. The boiled octopus can keep for a few days in a tightly-sealed container in the refrigerator.

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Here are some dishes I made from the same octopus. I made classic octopus and potato salad as an appetizer. With my soup & stew donabe, "Miso-shiru Nabe", I braised the octopus legs (cut in chunks) further in simple dashi-soy-sake-miring combination with gobo (burdock root) and ginger. Then, with my tagline-style donabe, "Fukkura-san", I sliced the rest of the octopus rather thinly and made steam-fry octopus, cabbage, and enoki mushrooms in soy-butter. All came out so delicious!

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Last month, on 4th of July, we hosted a BBQ dinner at home by inviting some friends. Jason and I were so busy prepping and cooking, so we didn't get to take any photos of all the dishes we prepared...

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Except, for the Tako Meshi (octopus rice)! This time, to feed our large group, I cooked it in my special giant size double-lid donabe rice cooker, "Kamado-san"! This Kamado-san cooks up to 10 rice cups, and it's really huge and gorgeous! It's, of course, handmade by Iga-yaki craftsmen at Nagatani-en in Iga, Japan. So, for this dish, I used an entire octopus to cook with the rice. It came out so delicious, and I was so happy that everybody enjoyed the dish so much! I will write the recipe (to cook in 3 rice-cup size Kamado-san) at the end of this post.

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Dessert was made by Yuko, who is a specially talented pastry chef. She made mille-feuille. We all had such a blast!

So, here's my octopus rice recipe.

Tako Meshi (octopus rice)
(3 rice-cup size donabe rice cooker, "Kamado-san)

Ingredients: (4 - 5 servings)
2 rice-cups (360 ml) short grain rice, rinsed and drained
1 1/3 cups (320 ml) dashi
2 tablespoons sake
2 tablespoons usukuchi shoyu (light-color soy sauce; can substitute with regular soy sauce)
1 rectangular abura-age (friend tofu pouch), blanched and cut into thin slices
1 knob ginger, finely julienned (about 2 tablespoons)
6 - 7 oz (180 - 200 g) boiled octopus, cut into bite-size pieces

  1. In Kamado-san, combine the rice with the dashi, sake, and usukuchi shoyu. Let the rice soak for 20 minutes.
  2. Spread the abura-age over the rice in an even layer, followed by the ginger and octopus. Cover with both lids and set over medium-high heat. Cook for 13-15 minutes. (Or wait for a couple of minutes after the steam starts puffing from the outer lid's hole.)
  3. Turn off the heat an let it rest, undisturbed, for 20 minutes.
  4. Uncover and fluff the contents gently. Serve into individual bowls.
So easy and so delicious.
Happy donabe life.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Summer in Japan...Elegant dinings

During my last short stay back in Japan, I still managed to go out for some really nice meals.

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In Omotesando, I met a girlfriend for a very elegant summer lunch.

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Full of summer flavors. I especially enjoyed the tempura of anago (sea eel), then once finish eating it and remove the lid, there was pork shabby shabby!

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My sister and I went back to Mikizo-san's place...he is just brilliant every time!

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These are only some of so many amazing dishes he created for us. His "hassun" course included 14 small dishes in a basket. Incredible!

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On my final night, we had dinner at a local French restaurant in Urawa. They had a special wine dinner by their new chef. It was really great.

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There were so many courses of dishes and wines. I had a great time.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Summer in Japan...Izakaya dinners

I was back in Japan last month for a little over a week.
Summer in Japan is very HOT and humid. It feels like it gets hotter and hotter every year.

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In Urawa, I was there in the weekend of the annual big festival. One night, we had sushi in a local place we go regularly. I enjoyed all the seasonal treats.

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Urawa is a fun old town to walk around at night, as there are many izakaya and bars. Tomoko (my sister) and I went to this tiny izakaya on another night. Their entrance has a tiny sliding door which you have to slouch to walk through.

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In Shinjuku, I met a friend at a very old school izakaya which has been there since 1972. We started with chunky "butsugiri" octopus, horse sashimi, and grilled duck (photo on top). Their sake list is great, too. I also enjoyed fried lotus root with chicken filling.

Feels like home.