Monday, January 31, 2011

Kasu-zuke : My Latest Foray Into Japanese Cuisine

I have to admit that out of the popular Asian cuisines, I know the least about Japanese.  I've got the basics ok, but there is so much intricacy and nuance to the finer dishes that I think I need more exposure. 

The following is a basic dish that I've seen time and time again and I'm rather intrigued by it.  It's fish marinated in sake lees with a bit of sugar, salt, and sake at least overnight, and up to a week.  Typically, a fatty fish such as black cod (butterfish) or salmon is used.  I was reading that due to the alcohol, salt and sugar, it's technically a pickle...  After marinating for ever, you wipe off the excess paste and either grill or broil to perfection.
I tried it first with a steelhead fillet, and I have a steak of black cod marinating right now.  After trying the finished product, I really like the texture that the fish develops after a light cure.

Kasu-zuke Marinade 

Combine the following:
1# sake lees (kasu)
1.25 c sugar
0.5 c sake
1 T salt + extra for salting the fish

Salt your fish lightly and let rest for one hour.  Blot the fish dry and rub heavily with the kasu-zuke.  Allow to marinate for at least one day in the refrigerator, the wipe off the excess and broil or grill to your liking.

One pound of lees will make a lot of marinade.  It will keep for a long time in the cooler. 

And, thanks to Mark for sharing his recipe!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Best Breakfast Ever

Ok, so what defines the best breakfast food is completely subjective.  Some people like savory, some sweet.  Some go for things like pancakes or waffles covered in syrup or a lumberjack special.  In some parts of the country, an egg and sausage burrito the size of my head is the standard way to get going in the morning.  Other parts of the world start with soup, rice, or simply a croissant and cup of coffee.  This is my pick for the ideal way to start the day.
To most people, this dish is most recognizable as congee, the Chinese staple consisting of leftover rice simmered for hours on end to make a creamy porridge.  Versions exist in every rice based country in Asia; they all have their own names, but are variations on the same thing: simmered rice.  In Thailand, this is what we ate each morning before hitting the beach, and it's still what we choose at home before a busy day.
Jook (also johk or chuk)

yield 3-4 servings

1/2 c jasmine rice, leftover or raw
5 c water or stock of your choice
fish sauce
1/2 T sugar

Garnishes (pick your favorites):
sliced green onion
fried, raw, or poached egg
fried garlic
fried shallots
sliced thai chilies
dried shrimp
finely shredded ginger
ground chicken or pork
fish sauce
fresh lime wedges

In a medium saucepan, place the rice and cooking liquid.  Bring to a simmer, and add the sugar and some fish sauce.  Stir in the meat, if using.  Cook over low heat until the mixture is thick and creamy, adding more liquid as needed to keep the consistency fluid.  This takes a minimum of 40 minutes, just keep cooking until the texture you want is achieved.  I like mine to be creamy and soft, but still with discernible grains of rice.

Dish out the porridge into warmed bowls, and let everyone dress up the congee the way they want.  Just make sure not to skimp on the fish sauce and lime juice.  The combination is completely seductive.

Leftover jook can be stored in the refrigerator and revived with a bit of boiling water for future breakfasts.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Leek Bread Pudding

This is my adaptation of Thomas Keller's Leek Bread Pudding from Ad Hoc at Home.  As crazy as it was working for him, one has to admit, that man can cook!  I recently made this recipe for one of my favorite clients, she heated it the morning after the party for their breakfast.

Leek Bread Pudding
yield: 1 9x13" pan

3 large leeks, cleaned and sliced 1/2" wide (white and light green parts only)
2 T unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the dish
12 cups foccacia, cubed
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
1/4 t herbs d'provance
3 large eggs
3 cups whole milk
3 cups heavy cream
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup shredded Emmentaler

Preheat the oven to 350F and butter a 9x13 baking dish.

In a medium saute pan, melt the butter.  Add the leeks, thyme, herbs d'provance, and a pinch each of salt and pepper.  Saute gently until very tender, about 30 minutes.

In the meantime, toast the bread cubes for about 20 minutes until dry and golden, then let cool.  For the custard: in a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, milk and nutmeg. 

Lay half of the bread down in the baking dish, top with half of the leeks, and half of the cheese.  Top with the remaining bread and leeks, followed by the custard mixture.  Press lightly to make sure all of the bread gets some moisture, and then top with the rest of the cheese.  Let the pudding stand for 15 minutes then bake for an hour and a half.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Perfection in Eight Ingredients

Every quarter I eagerly await my issue of Art Culinaire.  It's a hardbound publication focusing on fine dining and trendy food all around the world, and as they say on the cover, it's "the international magazine in good taste."  It's about $50 per year and worth every penny if you're into food porn.

This quarter, one of the spotlight chefs is Charles Phan, of Slanted Door fame.  I've heard great things about his restaurants, but haven't had the chance to go to them.  After trying this recipe, I might have to make a pilgrimage. 

Dungeness Crab with Cellophane Noodles
yield: 4 servings

2 T canola oil
8 oz Dungeness crab meat, picked (if you live in the PNW, you have no excuse for this not to be fresh!!)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
4 oz cellophane noodles (also called mung bean noodles or bean threads), soaked in hot water until tender, then drained
2 T oyster sauce
1.5 T fish sauce (I like "Squid" brand the best)
4 green onions, green parts thinly sliced
.5 T sesame oil

Heat your wok with the canola oil until screaming hot.  Add the crab and garlic, tossing constantly for 30 seconds.  Add the drained noodles and stir together, then add the fish and oyster sauces.  Toss until everything is evenly coated, then add the green onions and sesame oil.  Mix well, remove from the heat, and serve immediately. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Making Yogurt At Home

I've made yogurt at home quite a few times, with varying equipment and varying results.  I hope that someday soon I will have an electric yogurt maker to help ease the process.  But, in the meantime, I'll share my method with you, just in case you're in a similar situation...

A friend of mine recently came into a ridiculous amount of raw milk.  She gets more every week than she can use, so I am the lucky recipient of the overflow...  I mean, it's real milk, from a real cow.  Not from a factory, from a cow and it's only a few hours old by the time it makes it's way into my kitchen.  How awesome is that?  Not that I grew up on a farm or anything, but it tastes the way milk used to taste (you know, that one time we took a field trip and I got to milk a cow).  It's not homogenized, which means I can skim the cream off the top, and it's not pasteurized, which means I can make some awesome cheese with it.

For those unfamiliar with the pasteurization and homogenization of milk, the homogenization alters the state of the milk so that the fat particles cannot separate from the rest of the product so you always have an even percentage of fat, from the first glass to the last.  Pasteurization sterilizes the milk at a very low temperature, to make it "safe" to use, but wonder of wonders, both of these processes just happen to increase the shelf life of milk to disturbing lengths.  Out-of-the-cow milk tastes funny and gets chunky after about a week.  Yum!

So, anyway, back to the topic at hand...

yield: 1 quart

4 c milk of your choice
1 T honey (optional)
1/3 c yogurt (either left over from your last homemade batch, or from plain store bought)
1-2 T powdered milk

Heat the milk and honey, if using, over medium heat to180F, and keep at this temperature for about five minutes.  This helps the proteins set later in the process and also kills any errant bacteria.  Cool in an ice bath to 115F.  Add the yogurt and the powdered milk.  The powdered milk helps the yogurt set to a firmer texture.  Pour this mixture into a sterile container; I use a mason jar, but if you have a nice crock that would be even better.

Create a water bath in a large stockpot on your stove.  Bring the water to 115F.  Place a towel or potholder in the bottom of the pot, turn off the heat, and place your yogurt in the bath, being careful that the water comes at most 3/4 of the way up the vessel.  You don't want any water getting in the yogurt.  Cover the stockpot - if the container holding the yogurt is too tall, invert a large bowl over the pot.  Using boiling water, adjust the water temperature to keep it at 115F for 6-8 hours (could take as long as 12 hours, so start in the morning).  Try not to disturb the container for the full time.  And that's all there is to it.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Tort Man Pla - Thai Style Fish Cakes

I like fish cakes.  After a trip to Thailand a couple of years ago, I'm actually a bit obsessed.

Following is my favorite recipe.  I started out with the one in David Thompson's Thai Food and changed it until they tasted like what I had in Bangkok.  I highly recommend the book if you're interested in the food of Thailand beyond pad thai.  Some of the ingredients are a little obscure but most of the recipes you can build at one of the local asian markets.

Tort Man Pla

12 oz white fish fillets (rockfish, catfish, cod, etc...), coarsely diced
1 T red or green curry paste
1 egg
1 shy T fish sauce
1 t sugar
3 kaffir lime leaves, center ribs removed and finely sliced
3/4 c yard-long beans, cut into 1/4" rounds
2 thai chilies, sliced thinly into rounds
oil for frying

In the bowl of a food processor, place the fish, curry, egg, fish sauce, and sugar.  Pulse until you achieve a rough paste.  Transfer to a bowl and mix vigorously until the paste becomes sticky.  Trust me, this is important!  You're agitating the proteins to help them bind, and adding air so the cakes are puffy after frying.  Fold in the lime leaves, chilies and beans.  Form into 2" round cakes, about 1/3" thick, and fry immediately.  As soon as you take them out of the oil, blot dry and eat right away.  They get tough if allowed to cool.  I like to serve them with lime wedges and fish sauce laced with chilies.