Thursday, 27 May 2010

"taste no 5” or “taste chicken tsukune”?

I’m a lot wondering since when early-summer gets full of festivals in Tokyo. Foreign cultural events have gradually been tempting the young lads, as Jamaica, Thai and Laos, these three festivals made a consecutive success at Yoyogi Park, followed by one of the most iconic Shinto festivals called “Sanja Matsuri” in downtown Asakusa. If you want endless cheers with decent beer, just stop by German-imported “Oktberfest” currently ongoing in the other urban oasis, Hibiya Park and more to come.

This time of year is hearty enough to offer sunshine days which are perfect for singing, dancing, eating and drinking outside. Perhaps, we need some alfresco rituals to expel the rainy blues on its way. Festival is better than the songs of birds in Japan? At least, Tokyo is like so.

Well, cooking inside... This recipe has been a regular dish of my family since I happened to find the original in “Lee” a Japanese women’s lifestyle magazine almost ten years ago. “Tsukune” is basically referred to as chicken “balls” in Japanese yakitori cuisine, however, a little change in shape and flavour gives more elegant impact at the table, especially when you have dinner guests around. Your mouth will be delighted with the contrasting texture between the tender meat and the crunchy rotus root. The recipe is also a good specimen to showcase that Japanese “kombu” (kelp) is usable not only to accompany boiled rice, but to season in cooking. Sweet, salty and something intensified in one dish... The taste is 100% guaranteed!


* To make 9 pieces
300g minced chicken
100g lotus root (available in an Asian grocery)
30g shredded shiofuki-kombu (salty kelp. Available in a Japanese grocery)
1-2 shiitake mushrooms, finely chopped
1 tbsp sake (or dry sherry)
1 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
25cm x 25cm non-stick baking paper

1. Peel the rotus root and soak in lightly-vinegered water for 10 minutes to stop colouring. Cut into a couple of chunks, and bash with a rolling pin in a freezer bag until they are teaspoonful bits. Some are totally crumbled, but it’s fine.

2. Using your hands, mix the minced chicken, root, shiitake, soy and sake together in a bowl until well-combined. Add the shiofuki-kombu, mix gently this time and leave for 10 minutes until the flavour is settled.

3. Shape the mixture into a large single square on baking paper to a thickness of 1.5cm. Love this labour...

4. Heat the sesame oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Carefully, lay the mixture on the pan, papered side up so that the baking paper can work like a lid to steam the whole mixture. In 5 minutes, remove the paper and turn the mixture over to cook until browned and just cooked through.

5. Remve it from the pan and cut into 9 squares. Serve hot, warm or even cold, so ideal for bento boxed lunch!

1. In the shaping process of #3, don’t make it thinner to avoid cracks when cooked.
2. Help yourself to season with shichimi togarashi at the table if you prefer a spicy kick.

FYI, “kombu” (kelp seaweed), dried or fresh, has been consumed daily in various cookery forms such as dashi (broth), nimono (stewed dish) and tsukemono (pickles), but my favourite is “shiofuki-kombu” (salty kelp) on the photo. It’s a sort of semi-dried “tsukudani”, which is kelp, vegetable, fish or shellfish boiled down in soy sauce for a long time. If you see the whole surface of shiofuki-kombu is covered with salt-like fine powder, that’s exactly what we mean by “umami”, the Japanese sea-born savouriness. Ah, one more thing to share: nibble shiofuki-kombu on its own when sipping sake. Tasty, plus, it’s said amino acids in the kelp break down the alcohol component. Delicious science.

Japanese even has a fusion pasta recipe with shiofuki-kombu to toss. Hey, you don’t have to buy “Taste No 5”!!

Sunday, 2 May 2010

quick "wasabi-mole"

We’re just in the middle of an almost-one-week national holiday, traditionally called “Golden Week”. Delighted!! The premier day kicked off on 28 April in honour of the birthday of the late Showa Emperor, the first couple of days in May follow up as consecutive public holidays. Now, let’s try a small brainwork... this year, adding 3 paid leaves and 2 weekends, we get a total of up to 12 days to be freed from our workaholic life!

In Japan, new life starts in April, and May is a month to grow it. As the hue of trees, woods and mountains is deepening day by day, I’m inspired to cook something green as if St Patrick’s Day were belated on my calendar...

Well, everybody loves Mexican green guacamole (real or Tex-Mexy) and I’d rather say “without guacamole, no Mexican foods”. According to my cookery mantra, guacamole even meets the “easy” trinity; 1.easy to cook, 2.easy to adapt and 3.easy to eat! It’s worth remembering Nigella Lawson once introduced “roquamole”, her gorgeous twist mixing avocado with Roquefort and sour cream. Take this shortcut if you’d missed the program:

Among many variations of guacamole in the world, then “wasabimole” is my little creation - super-speedy to prepare, yet healthier and more pungent with a hint of “wasabi” paste, an acclaimed Japanese condiment. Coupled with peppery watercress in place of the coriander, it brings an early-summer impact to your sharpening taste!


* Serves 2
1 ripe avocado, peeled and stone removed
2 tbsp watercress, roughly chopped
1/2-3/4 tsp wasabi paste
1 tsp soy sauce
Salt, to taste

Shichimi togarashi (available in a Japanese grocery)

1. Mash the avocado flesh with a fork, add all the other ingredients.
2. Put the mixture into a bowl and serve immediately, sprinkled with the shichimi.

1. You don’t need to use fresh wasabi. Indeed, the paste in tube (or powder diluted with water) works better for the recipe.

As well as classic guacamole, this goes delicious with anything floury like wheat tortillas, corn tortilla chips, and crunchy toasts. Fresh vegetable sticks and greens will do too. Today, I made a version of quesadilla folded with grated cheddar. Be warned, this is so yum.

FYI, “shichimi togarashi” (or simply “shichimi”) is a Japanese chilli-based condiment. As the word of “shichimi” means “seven tastes”, its blend includes several spices like red chilli pepper, black sansho pepper, dried mikan orange peel, black sesame seeds, poppy seeds, nori (dried seaweed) and hemp seeds. Being available at any grocery and supermarket, shichimi is used to spice up not only hot noodles, but yakitori and other savoury dishes. Also, it’s been a rising flavour for potato crisps/ rice crackers over recent years.
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