Hiking in the countryside last weekend I honestly can’t help but be jealous of people who can grow their own vegetables and live next to water. It makes my apartment feel like an empty shell.
Join me in envy.
Weekend: Nomikai, Karaoke, Nasi Lemak, Beetroot Damper (failed), True Blood, Dinner and drinks with the guys, Lemongrass Roast Pork Belly.
3:09 PM Jul 21st from web
Weekend: Sidecar motorbike tour, teaching my niece to swim, Beijing galleries and markets, BBQ with my family, terrace drinks at Two Rooms.
3:52 PM Jul 12th from web
Weekend: Jack Bauer, hot dogs + homemade pickles, outdoor izakaya beers, bike shops, beautiful furoshiki and Michael J Fox movies.
3:29 PM Jul 6th from web
I’m crazy about dumplings of any kind, and one of my favourite things to do on a rainy weekend is to make a whole bunch of dumplings of various flavours. They freeze extremely well and after a relaxing afternoon of dumpling making, you have a well-stocked freezer and the security of knowing that for the next few months you are just minutes away from a delicious homemade dumpling feast at any time. Dumpling Day should be a national holiday.
The secret to a good dumpling is the texture of the filling. The filling should be firm, consistent and springy. Too many homemade dumplings suffer from fillings that are separate and grainy, and which do not offer sufficient resistance to the teeth. To make a delicious, springy dumpling we need to look at a chemical process called thermogelling. In a nutshell, muscle fibres in meat and fish contain myofibrillary proteins known as actin and myosin. In solution, these proteins form a gel which, when heated, traps water, fat and starch creating a springy and tender texture. Creating a strong gel depends on a number of factors, including the concentration of these proteins, the temperature of the solution, its acidity and its salt content.
So how does this translate to Dumpling Day? It’s all about creating the right environment for the formation of the gel, and ensuring that your filling has the right amount of water, fat and starch to create the right texture.
First, we need start in the morning with a basic pork mixture. Take minced pork (I used about 1.5 kilos of medium fatty mince and ended up with more than 100 dumplings). The No.1 complaint with homemade dumplings is that they turn out grainy. This is usually due to the mince being too coarse. If you are buying mince, run it through a mincer once or twice more to make sure it is very fine, or if you don’t have a mincer just put it in a food processor and pulse it a few times. The mince should also have a good amount of fat through it. The fattier the mince the more tender the filling will be, but if the mince is too fatty then there will not be enough actual meat (muscle) to release its myosin for creating the gel that gives the filling the right springiness. Once the meat is the right texture, you can make a basic dumpling mix.
Add to the meat some white vinegar, finely chopped spring onion garlic and ginger, salt, white pepper, and cornstarch. Using your hands, mix everything together and knead the mixture very firmly for about 20 minutes. The kneading process is vital, as it releases the myofibrillary protein from its muscular organisation and allows the creation of the gelatinized network that gives you a springy filling. Set this aside in the fridge.
The dumpling mixture is fine as it is, but if you like you can flavour the plain dumpling mixture with anything else you like. Here’s some food for thought:
Separate your flavourings into separate bowls and add to them the basic pork mixture. Now take turns with each flavouring, transferring it to your big mixing bowl and kneading until the flavourings are all combined and the mixture becomes springy – around 5 minutes for each batch. Transfer all your bowls of mixture to the fridge and let it rest for a few hours to allow the gel network to form. The saltiness of the mixture and the acidity of the vinegar provide a suitable environment for this process. With the prawns, you have added additional myosin from the prawn meat, so you may notice this mixture becoming very springy, almost to the point of being ‘bouncy’.
After a few hours it’s time to make your dumplings. I won’t go into dumpling folding methods (maybe another time), but you can make wontons, jiaozi, pleated gyoza or simple dumplings for boiling… whatever takes your fancy. For me, I usually make these dumplings in broth so I use a very simple fold that looks fine in soup or boiled. If you wanted to make dumplings for frying (like gyoza) or steaming (like xiaolongbao/shourumpo), then you may prefer a slightly more attractive shape. You can even just leave them as half moons, like some Japanese or Korean dumplings.
Bought gow-gee wrappers are fine, but I prefer to make my own with a very simple boiling water dough. Take 4cups of plain flour and mix with 2 cups of boiling water. Bring the dough together with a spoon and then turn out onto the bench and knead for about 5 minutes until the dough is silky. Cover with plastic wrap and rest for about half an hour. Roll the dough out into long snakes and then pinch off into balls about half the size of a ping pong ball. Roll each ball out to a circle, rolling from the centre to the edge and turning the wrapper 90 degrees after every roll. It should be about 8 rolls until you have a perfectly round wrapper.
My method is to take a gyoza wrapper, place about a teaspoon of dumpling filling in the centre. Dip your finger in a bowl of water and wet the top half edge of the wrapper and fold the bottom half up into a half-moon shape, making sure that the filling is centred, and that there is no air trapped in the wrapper. Then wet the very top of the half-moon and fold each end up to the centre. Store on a tray (making sure they don’t touch each other) and then when each batch is finished, transfer the tray to the freezer.
When they’re well frozen, transfer each batch to a large ziplock bag marked with the corresponding flavour and continue to store in the freezer.
To cook, you can boil the frozen dumplings in salted water or stock for about 10 minutes, or steam them for about 12-15, or even fry them (as for gyoza) or deep fry them. Bear in mind though that the difference between these and commercially frozen dumplings (aside from tasting much better and not containing any of the chemical additives) is that firstly, they don’t contain preservatives so they will not last as long in the freezer and secondly, the filling is not pre-cooked, so you need to make sure they are cooked all the way through.
Personally, I usually steam or boil them for a snack served with some chili oil and black vinegar, or add them to broth for a dumpling soup breakfast. There’s nothing quite like a homemade dumpling, so set aside a day of your weekend for the mental therapy of Dumpling Day.
Umeshu is often called “Plum Wine” in English, but in truth ume are not actually plums (more like an apricot), and the resulting liquor is more like an infused spirit (like a flavoured vodka or spiced rum) than a fermented wine.
The two main uses of ume are as a salted and dried condiment (umeboshi), or alternatively steeped in alcohol to make the popular umeshu. Around the umeshu bottling season, ume and the other ingredients are readily available all around Japan. Unfortunately, I think those of you in other countries might struggle a little to find what you need. If you can get ume, make sure to use the unripe green fruit, not the yellow fruit which is more commonly used for umeboshi.
The basic method for umeshu is very simple. You need the ingredients listed and a large glass container of around 5L in capacity. Again, in Japan umeshu jars are readily available but if you can’t find them a very large pickling jar would be fine.
The sugar should be rock sugar (or ‘ice sugar’ in Japan). It looks like solid white crystals the size of a coin. Normal sugar will not do, although as you see in the variations you can add a number of different sweeteners together with the rock sugar.
The spirit used also varies greatly. In Japan, people will use shochu or the commercial ‘White Spirit’ sold in liquor stores at around 35% alcohol by volume. Brandy and vodka are also relatively popular. I will definitely make this with rum one day (whether rum alone or blended with other spirits).
It really is that simple. I usually drunk this over ice or mixed with soda water for a very sweet and refreshing apertif or digestive.
I made the Cumquat and Honey version in 2007 and I am enjoying it immensely now, and the Black Sugar version last season in 2008. The Black Sugar version took a little longer to mellow in flavour, but after about 12 months was aged nicely.
This year I was unfortuantely out of the country for much of ume season so there is no 2009 vintage resting under my bench, but thankfully this infusion method works for all kinds fruits. I am still on the lookout for what try for 2009. The current front runners are strawberry and pepper, or lemon and red shiso, but I haven’t quite decided yet.
黒糖梅酒 – Black Sugar Umeshu
金橘と蜂蜜梅酒 – Cumquat and Honey Umeshu
A friend called me last night to invite me over to his house for lunch to play some records and discuss names for a new restaurant that he’s opening up here in Tokyo. I said I’d bring over some supplies, and in the end decided on roasting a chicken.
There are a lot of recipes for salt-crusted chicken that you see, but until today I’d never before tried any of them. In truth, my feeling was that if you were going to roast a chicken, why would you want to miss out on the delicious salty, crispy skin that everybody loves. I decided to try this anyway because it is so easy to transport, and now I am a total convert to the salt crust movement. I have honestly never had chicken that succulent and juicy before, and the flavour is achieved without eating the skin, or adding any butter or oil whatsoever. I don’t know if I’m kidding myself, but I think this is a pretty healthy recipe.
First you start with the dough. Mix together the flour and the rock salt on the bench, and then into a well in the centre add the egg whites and about half a cup of water. Draw the dough together and knead until it is all combined. Cover with a tea towel and set aside.
Then to the chicken. I used a Nagoya Cochin, a Japanese chicken that was first bred in the 1800s as a cross between the native Nagoyan chicken and the black-boned cochin chickens from China. The meat is tender and the flavour strong and sweet. The Chinese breed is also supposed to have curative properties, if you believe in that kind of thing. If you can’t get Nagoya Cochin (and 99% of people reading this probably can’t), I would recommend spending a little extra on a great quality free-range bird; the taste of battery-farmed birds is so weak it is cannot be compared to the real thing. Quality matters with any ingredient, but with chicken more so than any other meat, commercial farming has sacrificed quality for yield and we are all the poorer for it. (Other contenders for the title of “Common Food Most Ruined by Commercial Production” are tomatoes, milk, sausages and bread – but that’s just my opinion.)
Wash and dry the bird and trim any visible fat, and the neck and feet (with many organic birds the neck is left on and the feet are trimmed at the ankle rather than at the drumstick joint. With the Nagoya Cochin the ankle is a deep black colour). Rub the skin with the paprika and then add half the herbs, zest and garlic to the cavity, grinding in a generous amount of black pepper. In a Jamie Oliver recipe I saw for this once he added the entire lemon to the cavity. I have always found that this creates an overpoweringly wet and acidic lemon flavour from the juice that drowns out the delicacy of a good bird. In my opinion, it’s best to stick to the zest only.
Roll out the dough to slightly thicker than 0.5cm and make sure it’s large enough to wrap the entire bird. Place the bird breast down in the centre of the dough and then stack the rest of the herbs, zest and garlic on top (i.e. the wing side that is facing up). Fold the dough around to totally enclose the bird and pinch together any holes.
Lightly oil your baking try and turn the package folds down, so that the breast is now facing up. Glaze the top of the dough with the reserved egg yolks and put into a pre-heated 220C oven for 1.5 hours. The glaze will give a nice even browning and shine to the dough for presentation. Relax and tidy up your mess.
That is honestly how easy it is. When everything was done I threw the entire case into a bag (lined with a little newspaper just in case of any leaks) and headed off to my friend’s house with some raw asparagus, a bottle of Veuve Cliquot and a six pack of Heineken in a cooler bag. We served the chicken with chargrilled asparagus (white, green and purple asparagus just salted and chargrilled with organic lemon wedges on the side, some salads my friend had made and some beautiful sourdough another friend brought. We also had a quiche, and sweets from a local patisserie rounding out the meal.
To serve the chicken, use a serrated bread knife to open a “lid” in the dough. Do this at the table to really appreciate the aroma that’s released. Then just carve the chicken as usual and discard the dough (don’t eat this, please). It was almost an hour and a half from the oven to when we were eating, but insulated by the dough case the meat was still warm and tender.
A few bottles of nice red wine later (Montes NapaAngel) later and we were all very full and satisfied. I need more afternoons like this.
Salt Crust Nagoya Cochin
1 Nagoya Cochin (or other good quality free range chicken), about 1.5kgs
A good handful each of fresh rosemary, thyme and marjoram
Zest of 1 lemon, taken with a peeler
1 tsp paprika
6 cloves of garlic, skin on
For the crust:
1kg plain flour
4 eggs (separated)
500g rock salt
This started out as I just corning a brisket in preparation for a traditional Irish Boiled Dinner, but then over the course of the week that it took to cure, I started having some ideas. This is the end result.
Boiled meats generally gets a pretty bad rap, but those that complain about boiled meats have never seen encountered the king of all meat dishes, the Bollito Misto.
Bollito Misto is a traditional Italian feast of boiled meats served with a selection of sauces and sides – and when I say a feast I mean A FEAST. Whole chickens, tongue, calves’ heads, veal, cotechino sausage etc. but unless your butcher is a miracle worker, you’re probably going to find most of that hard to find. This dish is a far less extravagant version that can be scaled for 1 or 10. It also allows you to take a selection of your favourite meats and build your own spread.
I wanted a lighter meat selection that wouldn’t make me feel that I just killed an entire eco-system just to make lunch, and so I chose an Irish Corned Beef, English Poached Chicken (I chose tenderloin), Bavarian Weisswurst and German Bockwurst. I would have preferred to find cotechino, but I live in Japan and so pending a snap freeze in hell, I’ll work with what I’ve got.
First to the corned beef. This is the only thing that requires preparation really. About a week in advance, in a large saucepan on low heat, make a brine from a cup of coarse salt, a cup of sugar, about 1.5 litres of water, a tablespoon of fennel seeds, 6 bay leaves, a teaspoon of cloves and a teaspoon of peppercorns. Heat until the salt and sugar are dissolved and, after the brine cools, placed a beef brisket of appropriate size (for my purposes, 1kg) in a large ziplock bag and pour over the brine. Squeeze out the remaining air and seal the bag. I don’t use saltpeter for the beef because I don’t think it’s necessary. Saltpeter is a chemical preservative that helps prevent spoilage and keeps the meat pink. I don’t think it’s necessary and frankly, the less preservatives the better, right?
Cure the beef in the fridge for a week, flipping it around every couple of days. After a week, take out the brisket and rinse it well in cold water, picking out any peppercorns, fennel seeds or cloves that have gotten stuck in the fat. Place the brisket in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a simmer and simmer for about 4 hours, skimming off any rendered fat or other residues.
While the beef is cooking, you can make the sauces. The traditional sauces for Bollito Misto are things like Pearà (bread and pepper sauce), Cren (ground horseradish) Mustard Fruits and Salsa Verde, but I opted for something a little different. The freshness and acidity of each of these unique accompaniments really lightened and complemented the boiled meats.
Cipolline en Agrodolce di Vino Rosso – Cipolline are actually small hyacinth bulbs but the almost universally accepted substitute are small pearl onions. In a saucepan, mix together about a cup of red wine and half a cup of balsamic vinegar. Add in 1.5 tablespoons of sugar, a teaspoon of salt and some pepper. Peel the onions and add to the mixture. Boil for about half an hour until the sauce is reduced and the onions are tender, but still holding together.
Red and Yellow Pepper Salsa – This couldn’t be more simple. Finely mince some raw red and yellow peppers (keeping each separate for presentation). Squeeze out any liquid in a muslin cloth and dress with apple vinegar, fruity olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper.
Salsa Verde: This is simple and traditional. Italian parsley, capers, anchovies, pepper, mustard, white wine vinegar. Pulse them all together in a food processor and then add olive oil a little at a time to emulsify.
After the corned beef was cooked I removed it to rest for 15 minutes and then used the stock to boil the 2 kinds of sausage (7 minutes) and the chicken tenderloin (3 minutes plus resting).
When all the meat is rested, you can serve it whole with the sauces (as would be more traditional), or you can carve them and plate it up as I did.
Yuzu is a wonderful citrus fruit that is virtually unknown outside of Japan and China. I certainly had never heard of it until I came to Japan; a fact that irritates me more than you can imagine. The flavour and fragrance of yuzu is complex, with musky, spicy and herbaceous notes (similar to clove or thyme) matching a flowery citrus aroma. It is this complexity that allows yuzu to simultaneously deepen and lighten earthy winter dishes.
In Japan it’s used in many ways: as a fragrant citrus note in clear winter soups; to add depth of flavour to winter sushi; as an ingredient in tea or fruit liquers; or even throwing the whole fruit in to perfume to a hot bath. However, through all of these my favourite use of yuzu is to make yuzu kosho, a condiment so simple and amazing that I find it hard to believe that it is not more popular worldwide.
This dish showcases yuzu kosho by teaming it with simple grilled meats. The soft texture and sweet flavour of each of these meats is a perfect match for the salty, complex astrigency of the yuzu kosho. It’s also great served with Japanese beef.
To make the yuzu kosho, take a large handful or two of green chillies. Split them lengthways. deseed them with the back of your thumbnail and remove the stem. The heat of your yuzu kosho will depend on the heat of your chillies, so choose them with this in mind. Yuzu kosho is not usually too hot, but however hot you want to make it is at your discretion.
With a peeler take all of the zest from the yuzu and finely mince it with a knife. Add the chillies and yuzu to a mortar with 1-2 tablespoons of very good quality mineral salt, and pound it all together. I like to leave it a little chunky, but it is also often heavily pounded to a very smooth paste. Remove it all to a clean jar and let the flavours come together for at least an hour or so but preferably overnight. The yuzu kocho will keep for weeks, so you can make it well in advance.
If you don’t have yuzu there is no real substitute, however, you might be able to recreate something similar using the zest of half a lime and half an orange, with a pinch of fresh thyme leaves. I haven’t tried this but I’m just hypothesising that the flavour might be at least remotely similar.
Scallops, pork and chicken all go beautifully well with yuzu kosho so to make the dish pictured, you just need to grill them. You can use slightly less salt in your seasoning because the yuzu kosho is very, very salty. I’ve serverd this with an assortment of Japanese pickles.
I was playing around with this dish on the weekend and I’m actually really happy with the way this turned out, as it demonstrates to me the everything cooking and eating is about. On the cooking side, this means good, seasonal ingredients treated simply and with respect, and on the eating side it’s people coming together and eat great food without having to get all wanky about it.
Basically, this is an steamed vegetable dish to serve at a winter dinner party as a first course or together with main in place of ordinary vegetables or a salad. The concept of the dish was really something that could be both simple and spectacular at the same time.
To start, prepare the condiments.
For the Jasmine Tea Salt, grind a small amount of dry jasmine tea leaves and flowers in a mortar and pestle. Then add in a very good quality mineral salt and combine with the pestle. Done.
For the Spiced Mayonnaise, take about 2 tablespoons of good quality prepared mayonnaise and mix through half a teaspoon of turmeric, and about a quarter teaspoon each of cayenne pepper, ground cumin and smoked paprika. Set aside for at least half an hour for the colour and flavour to develop.
For the Black Butter, first toast some black sesame seeds in a dry pan until fragrant. Add 2/3 of the sesame seeds to a small food processor (reserving the rest for serving) and add in softened butter, Fortnam & Mason’s Anchovy Alchemy (this is a delicious condiment, or substitute anchovy fillets to taste), capers, Caramel Sauce, a little garlic, a squeeze of lemon and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Process until combined.
Then it’s time for the vegetables.
Any winter vegetables will do, but I have used here (grouped in order of cooking time): New Potatoes, Sweet Potato, Jerusalem Artichoke, (around 12 minutes) Baby Corn, Parsnip, Baby Carrot, Baby Cabbage (I don’t think I know what this is, it was like a Brussel Sprout but looked exactly like a tiny cabbage), Cauliflower (both white and purple), Broccoli, Romanesco (the extraordinary fractal shaped vegetable similar to broccoli that you can see hiding behind the carrot)(all around 5 minutes), Goubo (burdock root), Radish, Red Chicory, and Snow Peas (1-2 minutes). Plus Ginko Nuts for presentation.
OK, I probably went overboard with the selection here, but this is supposed to be a celebration of winter vegetables.
Scrub them well but leave the skins on everything. As a harvest dish the skins give the dish the earthy quality it needs. I’m very fond of the Jerusalem Artichoke and Goubo for that particular characteristic in this dish.
If using the fresh Ginko Nuts like I did, you need to prepare this by cracking them out of their shells (the handle of the knife brought down on the seam of the nut will do this well, without squashing the nut). Put the nuts in a bowl, pour over boiling water and sit for 10 minutes to loosen the inner skin. Peel the nuts and then simmer in more water for 20-30 minutes to cook. These are the only thing that was cooked separately. The rest were done in the steamer. And that’s the fun part.
Cut all the vegetables to the size you like and lay them out on a cutting board in order of cooking time. Set a countdown timer and add the vegetables in reverse cooking time order, so that they are all ready at the same time. The vegetables should still be quite firm and “al dente”.
While the vegetables are cooking, plate up the condiments as shown in the picture. As soon as the vegetables are done, arrange them in the steamer how you would like them to be presented and get them straight to the table. Steamed vegetables go cold very quickly so I suggest improvising some kind of steam warmer for the table. I did this with the antique wooden dish I bought at a market with a deep plate inside it filled with the steaming water, with the steamer placed on top of the whole thing.
The dish itself looks quite spectacular when it’s brought to the table, but it’s not fussy or contrived at all. When everyone just dives in with their hands and attacks the condiments on shared dishes, it’s as casual an experience as you could ask for.
While of course any of the condiments can go with any of the vegetables, I was blown away by the combination of the parsnip with the Jasmine Tea Salt and the potatoes with the Black Butter. The sweetness of the parsnip matched perfectly with the aroma of the jasmine, and the texture of the sesame and saltiness of the anchovy was amazing with the warm potato.
Good food. Good company. Perfect.
Christmas is approaching and here in Japan there is always a little bit of concern around what to eat on the big day. I don’t really feel inclined to roast a whole turkey and invite 10 people over (seating is always an issue), I don’t want to spend $80 on badly catered turkey from one of the American restaurants here, I’m not a member of the Tokyo American Club so I can’t get their $200 whole turkey and sides thing, and I’m certainly not going to go full native and order KFC. This is my only alternative.
This dish is more of a Japanese interpretation of a Christmas turkey. I’ve used two of my favourite ingredients – shiso, a minty peppery Japanese herb, and ito-tougarashi a long, dried Korean chili that looks amazing.
Japanese Christmas Turkey
Some friends and I were heading off to the river for a bit of a BBQ so I decided to knock up some lamb. All I did for this was blend all the ingredients together into a paste, spread it over the lamb and left it in a ziplock bag in the fridge overnight.
The photo is the 1.5 kilo shoulder roast I did on the BBQ. It looks a bit burned in the photo because the coals were a little hot to start, but trust me when I tell you that it really was beautifully pink, tender and delicious on the inside (honestly). The sausage was a marjoram pork sausage tornade I secured with the leftover rosemary skewers after I’d used the leaves for the lamb marinade.