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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Christmas preparations

I keep thinking there's too much space in the fridge, but that's because the ham is in the oven and the goose crown is still in the freezer.

I've got the Ginger / Wasabi salmon on Day 2. The ham is lightly wrapped in foil, on a bed of fresh bay leaves, coriander and mustard seed, and allspice berries, in a Gas Mark 4 oven. It should come out around 7:30, which gives me plenty of time to decide what to glaze / crust it with.

We went to Beanies this morning and bought several sackfuls of veg, also to Fresh Asia in Broomhill to get some interesting things for the Japanese Experiment on Christmas Eve.

My thoughts so far are:

Tonight – venison liver, parsnip rosti, redcurrant jelly, cauliflower
Tuesday – main meal out at lunchtime in town, which could be anything. If we're hungry when we come home, individual baked baby camemberts with crusty ground hazelnut topping and bread and pear wedges to dunk.
Wednesday – last minute supermarket shopping, main meal in the evening of cured salmon, braised belly pork, miso-marinated grilled chicken, fresh pickled vegetables, carrot and sesame salad, cold green tea noodles, possibly some hand-rolled sushi, maybe some steamed aubergine with peanut sauce. There are some Sekrit Treats to go with this, and some bizarre pickled substances I bought this morning.
Thursday – roast goose, roast potatoes, parsnips, baby baby sprouts, braised red cabbage and chestnuts, cornbread sage dressing, gravy, ginger sauce, pickled pears – Christmas pudding
Friday – Ham, pork pie, salad, cheese, fruit, Christmas cake
Saturday – something fresh and spicy, maybe a set of veggie curries
Sunday – I have a joint of spiced cured beef, I may do something with that
After that we're into leftovers. 

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Ginger Wasabi Cured Salmon

In the past we’ve made this, which is wonderful, but I’ve had in the back of my mind a more oriental version that would go well with sushi-type things rather than the traditional blinis and cream. So, today I have taken:

  • 2 fillets lovely dark pink wild alaska salmon, the same size and shape and weighing about 500 gms total
  • 3 heaped tablespoons caster sugar
  • 2 heaped tablespoons coarse crystal salt
  • 1 teaspoon wasabi powder (freshly opened)
  • 1 big hand fresh ginger, very coarsely grated but not peeled.

I put one piece of salmon skin-side down on some clingfilm, mixed up the cure ingredients, and spread them on top. Whacked the other bit of salmon on to complete the sandwich (skin-side up), wrapped the package up tightly. I’ve put it in a deep oval dish in the fridge, with a plate and the Christmas gammon on top to weight it. Today’s the 21st, I shall turn it and look after it every day, with a view to serving it for supper on Christmas Eve. I’ll wipe the cure off and cut it in slices, like a thick cut smoked salmon.

Purist Japanese foodies can look away now, but I’m going to do a variety of beginner dishes from Just Hungry, with what I can easily get locally, and have a munchie buffet.

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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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Discoveries – Spring 08

My grandfather didn't smoke and didn't drink (until after his militantly temperance wife died), but had his own ideas about what constituted an illicit treat. He and my dad used to let me stay up late with them watching old films on the telly – Bogart, Greenstreet, Lorre -  raiding the pantry for snacks of strong cheese and crunchy pickled onions.  People now can't understand why that was such a treat, the spread of the Ploughman's Lunch and supermarket Snack Box has created a terrible acceptance of plastic cheese and bland pickles. We put that right yesterday with a crusty brown loaf, a wedge of Collier's cheddar and some Barry Norman Pickled Onions. The cheese has that slightly gritty mouthfeel, strong and salty flavour, and not too crumbly but definitely not plasticine texture. The onions are magnificent, the closest to home-made I think I've bought (in a regular store, anyway). Dark brown, spicy, crunchy, those little green flecks that look like some poisonous metallic deposit. Brilliant. Just the thing to eat with a classic movie. Barry Norman understands.

Champagne Marmite – not sure about this. The Guinness one is yummy, quite sweet. This one is sourer, and sharper, like dry white wine left open for a day or two. Pleasant enough, but not one to search out.

The iron_trash community over on LiveJournal.

Konnyaku noodles, little bundles with appendages, boingy and springy.

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Apologies – reboot

I've been very bad about posting here. Some of that is to do with not being interested in food a lot pretty much since Christmas, some of it is sheer laziness. I want to get back into the habit, so I'm going to post regularly as much as I can. Which may mean a few posts will look at bit make-weight, but it's all in a good cause.

So, where are we?

Back on the DrGourmet plan mostly, in fact I had an email from them the other day saying that because I'm in some discussion groups and forums and mailing lists and suchlike, I can beta test a more interactive customised plan. I've sent off the data on us (height, weight, targets, dislikes) and we'll see what happens. Our major slippage, which is still a temptation, and we fell for it again this week, is to buy picnic lunches for the weekends. French crusty bread, real butter, pates, cheeses, salami, creamy dressed salads, especially coleslaw. We are better at it than we used to be, we eat less I think, but a lot of it is high in fat and salt. I try to buy fruit to go with it – apples, grapes, cherries, soft summer fruit, but it's very much an afterthought. And of course we don't finish it all in one go, so you end up buying top-ups and having it again.

In product news, our Waitrose has started stocking a whole new section of Japanese foods, with different brands and a wider range than they had before. No wasabi paste anymore, but they do have the powder, even if it is one of the cheaper ones that's cut with horseradish. Lower sodium soy sauce, which is one of the DrGourmet ingredients I haven't been able to get before. Some seaweeds, umeboshi puree, things like that. The Thai range looks a lot better too, I didn't go poking around in any detail.

For tea tonight we have four each large scallops with the roe, which I intend poaching in some white wine with herbs, and serving with some white bread and plain sliced pan-fried courgettes with a squeeze of lemon. It should be this – Scallops with Herbed Butter – but that's a lot of faff for a very similar result.

That's enough for today, I can feel more words dribbling out of my fingers and I want to save them for later.

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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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