Japanese cuisine is still a bit of a mystery to me. In my imagining of what Japanese food I always think of few ingredients, simple presentation, clean flavors and of course seafood. This is, I am sure, an oversimplification of a diverse cuisine. Recently I found myself at home with a free night. The kids and wife were away with the in-laws and I was free to try something that might or might not be up their alley. It also needed to be quick because I had a lot of chores to get through. That’s how I ended up playing around with some Japanese inspired flavors using pristine salmon, miso and sushi rice.
Elizabeth Andoh’s book Washoku is one of a few Japanese cookbooks I own but is one I reach for often for inspiration or a quick recipe. I love her approach and the recipe usually deliver wonderful dishes. I knew that I will be making rice for my meal of course and her recipe for “Rice with Mixed Grains” is a terrific method for preparing it. I washed the sushi rice until the water ran clear and then mixed it with a few tablespoons of the grains (I used buckwheat, sesame and some flax seeds). Andoh’s method for cooking the rice is very detailed and relies a lot on the sounds of the covered pot more than anything. That strikes me as very romantic and…Japanese. The end result is a perfectly cooked bowl of rice. I kept some of it warm and slightly cooled some of it for my sushi plate. The slightly cooled rice was mixed with a little Mirin and rice wine vinegar.
I love the flavor of miso and have used it in marinades and sauces. The sharp savory salty flavor works so well with all foods, from meats to vegetables. I borrowed another recipe from Andoh’s book for a citrus miso. This is just white miso flavored with citrus zest and juice (lime and lemon) and cooked with sake to a delicious thick sauce.
Slicing the fish for sushi is where practice -or lack of it- really shows. Sushi masters practice years to be considered proper sushi chefs worthy of slicing fish properly. If you have not seen Jiro Dreams of Sushi, stop reading right now and go check it out and you’ll see what I mean by perfection in making sushi. My fish slices were fine but lacked that proper angle and finesse that good sushi has. The flavor of those bites was fantastic though. I formed the rice into small mounds and dotted it with a bit of the miso sauce. The salmon went on top and got a garnish of grated daikon radish, finely sliced pickled ginger, sesame seeds and a pinch of hot pepper powder. I plated the sushi on top of thin cucumber slices to add another texture. This dish was excellent with the perfect textures and lovely fresh balanced flavors ranging from nutty to salty and savory with a hint of sweetness.
Chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa of the Nobu restaurant empire is probably one of the best known modern Japanese chefs. He does “fusion” well where the flavors of Japan mix with those of South America in a combination of classical and modern preparations. He was the first person I’ve seen pouring boiling hot oil over pieces of fish in order to barely cook them. He calls the oil “New Oil” in his book Nobu Now. It’s something he said he came up with to appeal to those squeamish about eating raw sashimi. So, I gave that a shot. I placed the sliced salmon on a plate and topped it with grated ginger and shopped scallions. Then I heated a few tablespoons of oil till smoking and drizzled that all over the fish.
I plated the fish on top of the rice in a bowl and served it with a few small spoons of the citrus miso sauce. The barely cooked fish had a nice texture and was gently warmed. It worked perfectly with the nutty rice and sharp sauce. It’s definitely a technique and dish that is easy to prepare and I will be exploring some more in different variations.
We first meet Llewyn Davis performing a nice folk song. We hear the whole thing in the dimly lit club and maybe assume that he has it made. He gets applause and pats on the back as he walks to the back of the club and promptly gets punched in the stomach! Davis does not have it made, he is basically homeless and lives with a series of friends and acquaintances. He gets no royalties from his record and his singing partner committed suicide. The film is not a feel good flick as we accompany Llewyn for a week or so of his life as he tries to make it. Like most Coen films, they manage to get the most out of their actors and characters. Oscar Isaac as Llewyn delivers a great performance as he stumbles through his life garnering pity, annoyance, revulsion and at times appreciation of his talent. This one is not a big bang in the Coen brothers canon but is a lovely movie none the less.
It’s possibly my least favorite of Anderson’s movies. It tells the story of three brothers on a train trip through India attempting to rekindle their relationship with each other and possibly their mother. It’s got some of the typical Anderson tropes and style but the thing is the film is a bit boring, lacks the humor and joy and with characters that are not very interesting.
They are turtles who are Ninjas in a very silly story. I used to watch the old cartoons on TV when I was a kid but I have no nostalgia about them and the film did not work for me. My kids though (especially the 8-year old) had a blast so it was fun taking them to the flick.
It’s a visually spectacular film with shocking, at times beautiful at times gruesome set pieces. The idea is that mankind set-off the new ice age and the sole survivors live on a long train that circles the globe named Snowpiercer. Of course, being humans, a class system exists between the tail end and first class lead by the “engine” and the malevolent Wilford. The folks in the tail section who live in horrible conditions, eat blocks of mystery protein and are treated like cattle want to revolt. The rebels are lead by Curtis (Chris Evans) and start a violent progress from one crazy carriage to carriage. Each one of those carriages seems like its own world complete with color, mood and characters. My favorite has to be the elementary school one.
This make it sound like a violent video game but it really is not quiet as simple as that. The film does have more nuance, satire, plenty of good performances, and at least one crazy good monologue by Tilda Swinton. It does kind of stumble in the last act, has a silly “grand plan” and it suffers from too much on-the-nose exposition while at times not giving us enough depth for characters (what was up with that dude who never seemed to die?).
I travel a lot for work typically for a project in one city that could take anywhere from a few weeks to over a year. Travelling every week for a few days to the same city can be weary. The upside to this latest particular engagement is that it is in the lovely city of Portland, Oregon. The weather is just perfect for me, the scenery is beautiful and the food is brilliant. I honestly have not had a bad meal in this city. One of the places that I had on my list to visit in a city full of good eats is Andy Ricker’s Thai place, Pok Pok. I’ve eaten several fantastic meals over there so far so getting the book and trying a few of the dishes at home was of course to be expected.
We’ve enjoyed several meals from the book and all have been very good. The papaya salad I tried first was pretty much identical to what I had at Pok Pok. The stir fried rice noodles with pork, Chinese broccoli and soy sauce (Phat si ew) was an excellent one dish meal. So, I was very pleased when Nathan chose a few recipes from Pok Pok for our Friday dinner. The recipes are pretty simple but involve a lot of chopping and prep work. The fried rice, like all stir fries, really needs all the ingredients ready to go in order into the very hot wok or else you end up stressed and the your stir fry crappy!
Pok Pok refers to the sound cooks make when using the mortar and pestle. That’s where many of the “salads” are prepared like this cucumber salad. Strictly speaking this is my version of Ricker’s cucumber salad (Tam taeng kwaa). I simplified it a bit and removed the noodles he serves with it since we are already having rice. I prepared it like I do the papaya salad in the granite mortar by mashing some garlic, limes, palm sugar and salt together. Then the sliced cucumber goes in and gets a bit bruised along with cherry tomatoes before being seasoned with more lime juice and fish sauce. I garnished the salad with crushed peanuts for texture and because they taste wonderful with the cukes and the rest of the menu.
Laap is another dish that in typical Thai menus in the US is referred to as a “salad”. I’m not sure why that’s the case honestly, but really these are mixtures of minced meat (pork, chicken, fish or game) that are cooked fairly quickly with lots of traditional Thai aromatics. This version is labeled as Isaan minced duck salad (Laap pet Isaan) and is a bit more complex than previous versions I’ve cooked. Typically Laap is flavored with lime juice, shallots, lemongrass and some herbs with a sprinkling of toasted rice powder for crunch. This Isaan version adds more spice in the form of a galangal-garlic-shallot paste. I first broiled the sliced galangal along with the shallots and garlic then wrapped them in foil and let them bake and soften. These were then pounded in the mortar to form the paste.
I still had boneless skinless wild duck in my freezer from my hunt in the fall. It made perfect sense to use those in place of store-bought ducks. The wild duck’s gamy flavor worked great in this heavily spiced and fragrant dish. I used my cleaver to slice and mince the duck meat to maintain a nice texture and it’s quiet relaxing really. It took maybe 10 minutes to reduce the duck from breasts to minced meat.
The duck is cooked with the paste and sliced shallots until just cooked through then flavored with sliced lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, green onions, dried chilies, lime juice and fish sauce. Before serving I tossed in plenty of herbs (Thai basil, basil, mint) and toasted sticky rice powder. It’s a very exotically flavored delicious dish with more toasted rice powder sprinkled on top for more crunch.
The Thai fried rice is really simple, but like I said before it works much better if you prepare all the ingredients and have them ready to go into the wok (or large skillet). The whole cooking process takes maybe 6 or 8 minutes and you do not want t be chopping shallots in the middle of that. I’ve really been enjoying using my outdoor propane burner (a.k.a turkey fryer rig even though I’ve never fried a turkey) for stir-frying in my large carbon steel wok. I use that same rig to brew beer and whenever I deep fry anything. Using the wok on it though is such an exciting way to cook and feels like playing with fire! I get all my ingredients on the outdoor table next to my wok and start tossing them in one after the other sizzling and charring where needed before getting the sauce in to bring everything together. It’s quiet the rush! For this recipe first goes the shallot oil, then the egg followed by shallots and garlic. Everything gets tossed with pork…stir…toss (up in the air if you feel like it) until the meat is cooked through. In goes the rice and gets fried for a minute then a sauce goes in made from soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar and some lime. Done and delicious with fish sauce marinated chilies.