Turning Japanese

We really liked the Japanese style food we had over the Christmas break, and we’ve been experimenting a bit here and there since.

I still haven’t tried rolling sushi, but it’s half-term next week and I might clear the decks and give it a go.

Mostly what we have been doing is having a bowl of plain boiled rice, topped with small portions of a variety of protein and vegetables, some hot, some cold, wet, dry, soft, crunchy. It’s been surprisingly filling, you can mix and match a whole range of tastes and textures so that each mouthful is a little surprise.

The toppings so far have been:

  • cold smoked fish – salmon, eel, trout, mackerel (Waitrose do one with honey and soy), and lumpfish roe
  • cold veg – avocado, cucumber, mooli / daikon radish, alfalfa or radish sprouts, shredded carrot, shredded nori
  • pickles – Chinese mustard pickles, seaweed, gherkins, sushi ginger
  • hot meat – variations on marinated grilled or stewed chicken, casseroled pork belly, steamed Chinese sausages
  • hot veg – stir-fried pak choi, steamed edamame beans, miso-stewed white baby aubergines
  • omelettes – made with mirin and egg, rolled, sliced, and served hot or cold – also cold quail eggs
  • also some sprinkle mix of chilli, sesame seeds, garlic and powdered orange peel, the odd dabs of wasabi

I have some crabsticks, smoked and marinated tofu, and kombu seaweed ready to try next. At a northern Chinese restaurant last week I had a starter of sliced cold pork belly, which had been plainly cooked in a clear broth and then dressed with chilli and garlic. I’ve been doing ours in mirin and soy with ginger and star anise, so it’s very dark and rich. This was a lighter and cleaner flavour, so I shall try that next time.

Also on the list for future experiments are:

  • hot fish – stewed squid, grilled salmon, mussels, tuna
  • more hot veg – green beans, aubergines with peanut sauce, something with candied sweet potato
  • hard boiled eggs – soaked in tea, or soy
  • lean red meat – venison liver, buffalo steak

And I want to try some of the mini-burger-type-things, meat and veggie, that are featured on the bento recipe sites.

Bento in a Big Way is beyond my energies at the minute. I could happily make a lunchbox along similar lines to the dinners, but the decorative stuff is so not happening. No colouring eggs, carving hot dogs,  or making little stars out of carrots and cucumbers. I’m up for arranging a box so that it looks appetising, but I’m not making a diorama out of it.

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Best kedgeree ever

I never thought of kedgeree as a budget supper dish before, but the astonishing cheapness of smoked hoki the other day persuaded me otherwise.

  • Cooked white rice
  • Smoked fish (boneless skinless smoked hoki fillet)
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Leftover peas from a roast dinner
  • Leftover kashmiri veggie curry (sweet and creamy with bananas – about half a takeaway portion)

I used a wok. Cut the fish into bite size pieces, and stir fried. Add the rice and peas, stir fry again until hot through. Add curry (or mild curry paste and sour cream if no spare leftover curry), some pepper, no salt as the fish and curry are salty enough. Stir in chopped hard boiled eggs. I would have put in a load of fresh chopped parsley, but John doesn't like it.

It was gorgeous. One fillet and three eggs made about four servings, and it was creamy, rich and very moreish. Didn't need any side dishes or extras, and you could stretch it easily with more rice and green veg.

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Restaurant Review – Sakushi

Yesterday four of us went for a late lunch to Sakushi, Sheffield's first sushi bar. Yum.

It is a very elegant space, almost opposite the Wig and Pen on Campo Lane. The conveyor belt travels in a loop from the kitchen, past the edges of a handful of white leather booths, around a stone water feature, and back along a bar where you can sit on a stool. Away from the belt is a normal seating area, where you can do pukka restaurant stuff if you don't fancy the belt.

We didn't get there till just after 2, and they close at 3. So there was a limited selection on the belt, but they were happy to make anything to order. The belt concentrates on sushi and side dishes such as gyoza, pickles, deep-fried bits of meat, salads. There were also a few desserts randomly scattered – chocolate fondant and a mousse thing. You can have sashimi, which is always cut fresh to order, and a selection of soup or fried ramen dishes. There's not a wide range of drinks, but there is Asahi beer, a large wine list, sake, juice and fizzy water. He's quite proud of having Asahi Black, which is apparently a bit rare round here.

We had two beginners with us, including a fisheating vegetarian, so we decided to go with what was on the belt and not get into the really exciting stuff on the menu. Although we did get four orders of sashimi – two salmon and two hamachi (yellow tail). The belt moved slowly enough to get stuff off it easily, but fast enough to provide an interesting show. The table was stocked with soy sauce and some excellent pickled ginger slices, and freshly-prepared wasabi arrived with the drinks.

I can't remember everything we had, but it included: California, Philadelphia and Ebi Ten Uramaki, Edamame Beans, Japanese Pickled Vegetables, Chicken Gyosa, Kushi-Age, Vegetable Croquettes, Spring Roll, Tonkatsu, random nigiri and maki, and some little fried nibbles that we couldn't identify. With a beer for John and soft drinks for the rest of us, it came to £20 per head.

Sushi is one of those things, especially with the belts, where you could go on grazing for ages nages, and we did rather overdo it on quantity. But it was great fun, if you took something and didn't like it there were three other people to take it off your hands. And we tried all sorts of new stuff.

I'd definitely go again – you could do it a lot cheaper if you were careful what you had, or you could really splash out for a special occasion. There were a few things I spotted on the menu that I'd really like to try, as well …

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Sardine Stuffed Peppers

Waitrose do little red cherry peppers stuffed with a sardine mush as part of the Delicatezze range, and they're gorgeous but very expensive. So when I saw packs of baby orange bell peppers in LIDL the other day, I took them home and did things.

  • 6 baby bell peppers
  • 2 tins sardines (boneless, skinless, in oil)
  • Big handful organic stoned dates
  • Balsamic glaze (the vinegar reduced until it's a thick syrup)
  • Lemon juice
  • Teaspoon chopped roast garlic
  • Pine nuts

Steam the peppers whole for 20 minutes (which made them very soft, a shorter time would have worked). Cool.

Pour off some of the oil from the sardines, not too much because you need the moistness. Mash the sardines. Process the dates with the garlic, some balsamic and lemon until it's a thick slurry. Mix into the sardines, add the pine nuts and set aside to mature for a couple of hours.

Cut the stem ends off the peppers, clean inside if necessary, and stuff with the sardine mixture.

There was enough filling to do at least another 6 peppers, it was great as a spread on bread and just wet enough to be a dip for tortilla chips.

Next time: could do with a bit of salt. Additions could include chopped herbs, anchovies for the salt, shredded lemon peel. We ate them straight away, you could put them in a shallow bowl and dress with an oil and lemon dressing and leave for a bit. Room temperature is probably better than fridge cold. Raisins would do instead of dates, and might be a bit sweeter – they are what is in the Waitrose ones.

EDITED: whoops, forgot the garlic.

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Crabstick and Cucumber Rolls

Another recipe from Sainsbury's magazine, June 1999. For 6 portions.

  • 18 crab sticks
  • 3" piece cucumber
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tsps vegetable oil
  • 1 level teaspoon finely grated ginger (or some wasabi paste)

Dipping sauce:

  • 120 mls sake
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 small red chilli, finely diced
  • 1 tsp finely grated ginger
  • salt

Mix the eggs and soy sauce, heat the oil in a 7" pan and make 6 thin omelette wrappers, cooked on both sides. Cool.

Quarter the crabsticks lengthways, cut the cucumber into pieces the same size and shape as the crabsticks, discarding the seeds but leaving the skin on. There should be some spare cucumber.

Trim the top and bottom edges of the omelettes, to about 5" across. Make rolls with the crabsticks and cucumber pieces (crabsticks to the outside, 2 pieces of cucumber in the middle) and a dab of ginger or wasabi. Keep them firmly rolled, but don't tear the omelettes. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for about an hour.

Make the dipping sauce, incorporating any spare cucumber, finely diced.

Let the rolls come to room temperature for about half an hour, and just before serving, trim the ends with a sharp knife to tidy them up and cut each one into 6 pieces. Serve with the dipping sauce.

(Not too unhealthy, it works out at half an egg per portion – although it's only really a starter. You could use Splenda instead of the sugar, and rice vinegar instead of most of the sake in the sauce. Could be a nice little lunch with some salad?)

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Crusader Salmon

An old idea, and I've usually followed the Glynn Christian version for a whole salmon. But there were only three of us, so I changed it a bit. Well, quite a lot, actually.

Start with 5 – 6 indiividual fillet boneless portions of salmon, skin off, and lay on a foil-covered baking tray, that's been drizzled with a little olive oil. Heat the oven to Gas Mark 5, and the grill to high.

Take:

  • 3 knobs of stem ginger in syrup
  • 2 tbsps the ginger syrup
  • 2 tbsps lemon juice
  • half a lemon, peel shredded
  • 50 gms shelled pistachios
  • 1 onion that's been baked slowly for a long time
  • ground cinnamon, allspice, paprika, salt, pepper, and garlic puree

Whizz in a processor the first three ingredients, to a rough mix. Tip out and mix with the peel, grind the pistachios coarsely and add. Whizz the onion to a coarse paste (this happens really fast, watch it), and stir in with the spices, tasting as you go. You want sharp, sweet, slightly hot. It will be v. wet. Add salt-and-sugar-free muesli, sprinkling on a bit at a time until it feels like porridge and looks like it will hold together well. If you're using a muesli base, you probably need some raisins or sultanas.

Spread the topping on the fillets to make a crust. Cook 10 -12 mins in the oven, then under the grill to crisp the topping and make it nice and brown. This took 5 – 7 minutes. We had a mix of thick but narrow pieces, and wide flat ones. The thick ones had less topping per portion, but the salmon was done about right. The wide ones were surplus to requirements, and are in the fridge.

Served with plain boiled rice and some fresh green beans stir-fried in a garlic and chicken stock sauce, with toasted flaked almonds.

Didn't really need a sauce as the topping was so moist inside, but maybe a wetter vegetable dish to go with it? or a more pilau style of rice.

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Sample Christmas Menu

Christmas menu from local catering college:
 
Cream of potato and watercress soup
Smoked salmon terrine served with crayfish tails and tartare dressing
 
Paupiette of plaice and spinach duglere (which research assures me is a white fish sauce incorporating crushed tomatoes)
Cheese fritters served on peperonata
 
Roast turkey
Game pie
Char-grilled sirloin steak bearnaise
Parsnip, chestnut and cranberry strudel served with forest mushroom and red wine reduction
 
Roast and creamed potatoes
Brussels sprouts
Puree of carrots and swede
 
Christmas pudding with rum sauce
Pecan truffle stuffed pear served with vanilla ice-cream and maple syrup sauce
Old English sherry trifle with syllabub sauce

 
The strudel could run the risk of being sweet, and is deffo v carby. The pecan pear sounds good, though …

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