Archive | July, 2011

chawanmushi: savory japanese custard

25 Jul

My Chinese grandma always made delicate, silky, steamed egg custard in a large ramen bowl that she would swirl a spoonful of oyster sauce over before serving. We’d scoop a jiggly portion onto our rice to eat alongside our meal.

The Japanese have their own version called chawanmushi, which is served in individual lidded cups at the conclusion of a meal. Traditionally, each cup of custard contains a piece of shrimp, chicken, ginko nut, and vegetable such as mushroom or snow pea.

Recently, J and I decided to try our hand at a mushroom chawanmushi as part of our Shabu Sunday ritual. Since we were boiling a large pot of water for our shabu shabu, we steamed the chawanmushi in the same pot beforehand.

Unlike the Chinese-style steamed custard, chawanmushi uses dashi stock and sake instead of chicken broth, plus a little soy sauce and sugar.

The secret to making any great custard is proper cooking. For steamed eggs, you want to put your heatproof dish in at a high boil, then a couple minutes later, turn it down to low—or completely turn it off, as my grandma does—and let it slowly cook for the majority of the cooking time.

Traditionalists will also tell you to gently whisk the eggs with a pair of chopsticks in a figure-8 pattern for an hour, so no bubbles form, but I tend to believe a quick pour through a fine mesh sieve and a skim with a spoon does just as well. When you add mushrooms as we did, you can hardly tell where any bubbles form on the surface.

Our first time around, our chawanmushi came our flawlessly. Silky, delicate heavenly spoonfuls of custard and perfectly plump mushrooms. Like sunshine in a cup!
chawanmushi: savory japanese custard
sunshine in a cup

* 3 eggs
* 2 cup dashi soup stock
* 1/2 tsp salt
* 1 tsp soy sauce
* 1 tsp sugar
* 1 tsp sake
* 1/2 cup enoki mushrooms or 4 shiitake mushrooms, stem removed and thinly sliced

Lightly beat eggs in a large bowl. Try not to bubble the eggs. Mix cool dashi soup stock, soy sauce, salt, sake, and sugar in another bowl. Add the dashi mixture in the egg mixture gradually. Strain the egg mixture.

Put mushrooms in four chawanmushi cups. Fill each cup to 3/4 full with the egg mixture. Cover the cups.

Preheat a steamer on high heat. Carefully place cups in the steamer and steam on high heat for three minutes. Turn down the heat to low and steam for about 10-15 minutes or until custard is set. Serves 4.

Advertisements

mom’s spicy gobo

18 Jul

One of my favorite questions to ask: “If you had to eat one cuisine for the rest of your life, what would it be?”

I’ve heard a range of answers, but most Asians, including myself, agree the only logical answer is Japanese food: sushi, ramen, izakaya, bento boxes, yakitori, donburi, chawanmushi, shabu shabu, curry, mochi, green tea ice cream… the variety is immense and the favors range from homey to refined.

Of the many Japanese munchies I love, spicy gobo (also known as burdock root), is a toothsome side dish–perfectly salty, a little crunchy and spicy to boot. I love it as a vegetable side for any Japanese-inspired meal.

Gobo is a fibrous root vegetable that tastes like a very earthy potato. You’ll find it in the grocery store in 1-2 foot lengths with a brown hairy exterior. You need peel it and slice it into matchsticks for this stir-fried recipe. You can also cut it into thicker diagonal disks for cooking in stews like Kabocha, Pork & Gobo Stew. Either way, gobo is delicious, healthy, and Japanese(!), so you should try it.

mom’s spicy gobo
root-toot-toot!

1/2 lb. gobo root (peeled, silvered and soaked in water for 15 mins)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon dried shrimp, soaked to soften then drained
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
dash of black pepper
1 large carrot, julienned (optional)

Sauté shrimp in oil on high heat in a large skillet.
Drain the gobo and add to pan with shrimp. Stir fry for about two minutes, then add all other ingredients and cook over medium heat until the liquid is absorbed. Test gobo — it should be firm, but comfortably chewable. Serve as a side dish for two.

momofuku’s tomato tofu caprese salad

16 Jul

I love eating garnishes. Growing up, we often ate dinner at Zippy’s—a popular diner chain in Hawaii. Typically, I’d order the “Broasted Chicken” kid’s plate (don’t ask my why they call it ‘Broasted,’ it’s just fried) and my grandparents would order spaghetti or a mushroom burger upgraded to the “complete meal,” which included a drink and Jello or pudding.

I coveted the adult “complete meal,” especially for its grown-up adornments – a dark green curly-leafed parsley bush accenting each plate or pickle spear and black olive duo tossed wayside a burger. In my most annoying kid voice, I’d shriek, “can I have that?!”

As an adult dining at high-end sushi joints, I adore sashimi of mild, white fish nestled on a delicate shiso leaf. Unlike the plastic grass comb in a cheap bento box, shiso leaves are a prized garnish – thin like tissue, but intense in flavor. This bright green leaf with a jagged edge is sold for upwards of $0.50 per leaf at specialty grocery stores like Berkeley Bowl. The Japanese use it namely to garnish sashimi and sushi, though also pickled with ume. Shiso’s tomato-meets-mint flavor is uniquely pungent, and somewhat of an acquired taste.

Recently, I went to see Momofuku’s David Chang at the launch party of his new food magazine published by the McSweeney’s gang. Lucky Peach is a wonderful ode to literarily inclined rebel chefs turned author/tv personalities. In a transcribed conversation between Chang, Anthony Bourdain, and Wiley Du Fray, the three ridicule the non-talent of simplistic, local-ingredient focused menus—an assertation they can back up with their own cuisine successes.

For example, Momofuku’s Tofu, Tomato, and Shiso Salad—an Asian twist on Capri’s famed tomato, mozzarella and Basil combination. Brilliant! I don’t need much of a reason to go buy shiso in the first place, so this recipe was the perfect excuse. Instead of cherry tomatoes, I used sweet heirlooms and the very best locally-made medium-firm tofu. The result? An airy salad, sweet, salty and acidic with the soy vinaigrette. Perfect for a summer meal.

momofuku’s tomato tofu caprese salad
a salad that meets my high garnishing standards

One 12-ounce block silken tofu, drained
2 pints (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds) mixed cherry tomatoes (I opted for normal heirlooms)
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon usukuchi (light soy sauce – I used regular)
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
1/2 cup grapeseed oil or other neutral oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
6 shiso leaves, stacked atop one another, rolled into a tight cigar, and thinly sliced crosswise

I didn’t bother to cut the tofu nicely, but if you want to:
With your knife blade parallel to the cutting board, cut the block of tofu in half. Using a 2- to 2 1/2-inch ring mold (or a narrow straight-sided glass), cut cylinders of tofu out of each slab. Carefully turn each cylinder on its side and slice in half, yielding 8 rounds of tofu. Save the tofu scraps for another use.

I also skipped skinning the tomatoes, but if you want to:
Bring a large saucepan of salted water into a boil. Prepare an ice batch in a large mixing bowl. Cut a tiny X or slash into the bottom of about two-thirds of the tomatoes. Drop them, in batches, into the boiling water, and after 10 seconds, remove them with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the ice bath to cool. Slip the skin off the blanched tomatoes, put them in a bowl, and refrigerate for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the remaining cherry tomatoes in half.

Stir together the vinegar, soy sauce and sesame and grapeseed oils in a large mixing bowl. Add all the tomatoes and toss to coat.

To serve, place 2 slices of tofu in each of four shallow serving bowls, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Top each portion with about a cup of dressed tomatoes, season with a pinch of salt and a few turns of freshly ground black pepper, and garnish, generously with the shiso chiffonade. I went the stacked route (see pic). Serves 4.