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Thank you, Mayukh Sen, at Food52, for writing a beautiful piece. In our life we experience unexpected and extraordinary encounters. For me meeting and working with Judith Jones was one of them. Life is blessing. Thank you for Janis Donnaud connecting us together.
I am no longer mourning her departure. She will be well taken care of by Evan and other angels up in the heaven. Her down-to-the earth, energetic spirit is in me and she will continue guiding me to the direction where I should be.
Love and Respect to Judith
If you read my previous blog post – Have Fun With ….Tofu, you have to find the answer to the GOOD mirin substitute question.
I had several unused bottles of a similar specialty product in my kitchen pantry for a couple of years. All of them came as gifts. I do not make pancakes or French toast, so the bottles were left unopened. Recently I visited Vermont and tasted some of the best products there. Then, my unused bottles came to mind. I promised myself to start using them after I returned to New York. First I sweetened the morning cereal with it. I poured it over buttered toast. Then I ventured to use it as a substitute for mirin. This idea worked perfectly. You now can guess what I am talking about. It is maple syrup. Today, maple syrup is playing the role of mirin in many of my Japanese preparations.
Here is a very quick-to-prepare, clean and tasty miso sauce made with maple syrup. This sauce is great to be used with grilled sweet corn, grilled onigiri rice ball, sautéed vegetables, baked chicken,…or as a marinade for a summer meat barbecue. There are more ideas in my book “Hiroko’s American Kitchen” (http://hirokoskitchen.com/shop/hirokos-american-kitchen/)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 to 3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon brown miso (my choice is Miso Master Miso brand – real miso*)
Italian chile flakes or yuzu kosho
Add lemon juice and maple syrup in a small saucepan, and cook until it reduces to half the volume of the original. Turn off the heat, add the miso and chile flakes, and mix thoroughly. This recipe is for a small batch, so please increase each ingredient for a larger batch.
*Are you looking for real, good, authentic miso? This is it. It is made in America by a Japanese miso master using traditional methods. It is organic, non-GMO, gluten free, Kosher and has great flavor. See http://zesterdaily.com/cooking/traditional-japanese-miso-north-carolina/
Do you always pass by tofu at the market, glance it but never pick her up? Do you eat tofu only because it is vegetarian/vegan, but not because of its taste? Tofu will weep if this is how you treat it. .
Here is a great way for you to begin with a real, tasty tofu dish and the ability to enjoy it in so many ways. This quick & easy tofu dressing makes a great sandwich filling by itself or with other sandwich ingredients, a delicious pasta sauce and is wonderful on a traditional Japanese or American salad. Delicious, healthy, filling …who needs more? It is also perfect to offer to your family or friends as part of a varied dietary choice.
The dressing is called Shira-ae. It is a traditional Japanese tofu dressing in which sesame seeds are ground to oily, pasted consistency; tofu is added and ground together with the sesame seeds until becoming a rather fine pasty material. I like it in a slightly coarse version. It is then flavored with some dashi, shoyu (soy sauce), mirin, sugar and salt.
Here is my own very delicious walnut Shira-ae recipe. Walnuts are a replacement for sesame seeds. I first roast chopped walnuts (nuts should be well warmed up, so that they produce oil and lovely fragrance). Add them to a suribachi mortar and grind them with a surigoki pestle (read about suribachi and surikogi in my previous blog: http://hirokoskitchen.com/2017/07/suribachi-is-powerful/ ). When the ground nuts begin to acquire an oily texture, I add firm tofu, which has already been squeezed in a cloth to remove excess water and has been roughly mashed by my hands. Grind all the ingredients together until tofu achieves my favorite texture – not a fine pasty one, but a rather coarser texture. Flavor this with shoyu (soy sauce), mirin (I will tell you my recent recovery – the Best Mirin Substitute in my next blog) and salt and continue to grind. Then, adjust the texture by adding little dashi (Japanese stock). Adding dashi does two things – 1) Make the dressing softer, 2) Add additional umami to the dressing. But, I warn you that adding too much dashi will dilute your dressing and causes a disaster in the dish that you are preparing. When I use Shira-ae for my sandwich filling I do not add dashi. For pasta sauce the pasta water replaces dashi. So, you can make your own decision about the added liquid. By the way for my Shira-ae pasta sauce I add additional flavors such as garlic, olive oil, spices and always little additional salt.
Preparing Shira-ae dressing with Japanese tools requires less than 10 minutes fun time in the kitchen. For those who do not have a suribachi and surikogi, use a food processor.
Here is my recipe. If you come up with some other very good variation of Shira-ae, please send the recipe to me I will post it and share it with the Japanese food lovers.
½ cup broken walnuts, toasted
7 ounces firm tofu
2 tablespoons walnuts butter
2 teaspoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon shoyu (soy sauce)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Preparation: please find it in the main text.
Judith Jones was fascinated when she for the first time in her life saw the real green rhizome.
- Grated wasabi is not for clearing your sinuses, but has antiseptic properties which are why it became associated with sushi. Chef adds a dab of wasabi between the sliced fish and sushi rice when he makes Watch the chef closely and you will see how it is done. For this reason it is not necessary to add wasabi to the dipping sauce.
- Mackerel, horse mackerel and sardine (strongly flavored fish) are always served with grated ginger, but not
- No matter whether you may like it or not, omakase-style sushi restaurants have become the norm in big cities such as here in New York. Here you get the menu that the chef serves with no choice. These places won’t work for those who WANT to order favorite nigirizushi piece by piece one at a time in a la carte fashion. But, Omakase places do ensure that the chefs’ chosen pieces are the best of the day. Any high-end sushi restaurants in Tokyo do only omakase, so diners relax and enjoy the best available selections.
- Well-trained sushi chefs do not present simply-cut, raw fish on top of sushi rice. They often cure fish in many different ways (called Edo-mae), according to the type of the fish. To acquire and polish techniques for these preparations takes years.
- Japanese do not eat sushi and sashimi every day. Sushi and sashimi, unless eaten at conveyor belt type, chain or inexpensive sushi restaurants are expensive. Fish served at chain and inexpensive restaurants are all farmed fish and sometimes are intentionally incorrectly labeled by substituting a cheaper fish for what is advertised.
- Department store food courts in Japan sell sashimi and sushi for shoppers to take home. The high quality of these products is not available in American take-out shops. One should be wary of take-out sushi sold in ordinary markets and convenience stores in the US.
- Yes, bad sushi is possible in Japan. A nigirizushi at small sushi restaurant in the northern-most small town of Abashiri, along the Sea of Okhotsk, Hokkaido, was so bad that I nearly wept. Mushy, pasty, intolerable sushi rice.
- According to a sushi chef at the highly regarded Fukusuke in Ginza, Tokyo, he finds that many of today’s diners from abroad know more about the proper way to enjoy nigirizushi than most of the Japanese population……! Congratulations to everyone!
- A copy of my book, “The Sushi Experience” with Judith Jones: https://hirokoskitchen.com/shop/the-sushi-experience/
‘The Sushi Experience’, the sushi book, which I wrote with Judith Jones at Alfred Knopf as editor, was published in the year of 2006. To make sure of my own skill, before writing the manuscript I went to Japan to be trained as a sushi chef. The purpose of the book was to offer the American audience, both avocational and vocational community, a work about authentic sushi, not just preparations, but also about the varieties of fish used in the Japanese sushi kitchen and sushi dining etiquette. The book also presents the fascinating history and culture of sushi in Japan. It contains much information about what constitutes good nigirizushi and how to eat it without messing it up. Judith Jones were an avid learner of the art of this new cuisine and a master editor for my book. The book stimulated other authors to begin to write on the same subject, and as you know these days sushi has world-wide appeal
Since the publication, sushi diners here in America have learned so much about nigirizushi. Here is a review of some of the important points in the book which Judith polished, and some interesting sushi news from Japan. Since there are many bullet points items, I cut them in half. The remaining half will be posted very soon.
- Sitting at the sushi counter bar offers sushi diners the maximum enjoyment for a nigirizushi At the counter bar we can study and check the fish in the refrigerated sushi case, and can have a delightful conversation with sushi chefs who stands on the other side of the sushi bar counter to prepare our meal. Most chefs are delighted to talk about the specialties of the day, the seasonal fish on display and recommended preparations. You can learn a lot and have fun bantering with the chef.
- Properly prepared sushi rice is firm in texture and slightly warm in temperature.
- Very fresh quality sushi fish tend to have firm texture and as time goes by the texture becomes tender and umami (savory flavor) develops
- Tender texture does not mean that fish is old or spoiled; but if it is soft to the state of being mushy and smelly…that’s totally unacceptable.
- Pick up nigirizushi with you hand, don’t struggle with chopsticks. You will likely drop it using chop sticks. Sushi is and always has been finger food! When I see sushi dinners struggling with chop sticks to pick up nigirizushi and sushi rolls, I want to say, “No, no”, but I am too polite to do so and usually I remain silent.
- This is HOW: grab a piece of sushi with your thumb and middle finger on either side, place your index finger lightly on top of the sliced fish, flip it over and lightly dip the very end part of fish topping, not the rice into the shoyu (soy sauce) dipping sauce. Flip it back over gently and quickly, and pop the whole piece into your mouth; don’t bite it in half. Close your eyes and enjoy the texture and temperature difference between the fish and sushi rice while you are chewing them together.
- There is no rule for the order in which sushi is to be eaten. This is not a rule, but diners often first enjoy some assorted sashimi (sometimes called ‘otsukuri’) before ordering nigirizushi. You may choose to start your nigirizushi with strongly flavored fish such as aji (horse mackerel: so delicious!), saba (mackerel: yay! – one of my favorites; usually cured), iwashi (sardine: equally delicious!) or kohada (Japanese gizzard shad; always cured) and then move on to the yellowtail family zone such as buri & hamachi and shima-aji (striped jack). From there many move into non-oily white flesh fish or shellfish such as suzuki (sea bass), tai (sea bream), hirame (fluke), tako (octopus), hotate (scallop), ika (squid) and various clams. At the climax you may want to enjoy anago (conger eel), uni (sea urchin) or ikura (salmon roe).
- I did not intentionally mention two (2) very popular sushi fish here in America in the above list. They are not my choice. You can probably name them.
Bullet points continues to next blog posting.
The Sushi Experience:
I wrote and sent a letter to you on July 28th, 2017. Iris Weinstein, a friend of mine, told me that you are sick up in Vermont house and spending time with your close family. At the end of the letter I wrote: See you this fall in New York City. Now I know that it won’t happen.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/judith-jones-cookbook-author-who-brought-julia-child-and-others-to-the-table-dies-at-93/2017/08/02/611b527c-7781-11e7-8f39-eeb7d3a2d304_story.html?utm_term=.e2b0f7ce2f5eJudith Jones, cookbook editor who brought Julia Child and others to the table, dies at 93
This is one of the saddest days in my life. Working with you for The Sushi Experience was unexpected, blessing and true pleasure. I miss every minute of conversation with you.
With love and respect,
Sign up the Essentials of Japanese Cuisine – August 21-25 – at International Culinary Center, New York City http://www.internationalculinarycenter.com/new-york-campus/amateur-classes-ny/essentials-of-japanese-cuisine-with-hiroko-shimbo/. You will learn how to prepare this yummy Japanese summer time eggplant dish, and find out why I pour boiling water over just-deep-fried eggplant.
The dish is called Nasu no Age-ni. It is one of the most popular eggplant dishes in Japan, in which eggplant is cut into pieces, deep-fried, then, quickly simmered in flavored broth and chilled. The resulting eggplant, which retains deep purple color, is flavorful, creamy and cooling our body.
If you want everyone to enjoy ramen noodles in the best possible way you can help me by spreading this information and following this advice yourself. It is all about the best way to enjoy this Japanese noodle dish now sweeping America. Here is my plea: Eat your ramen noodles in its still hot broth quickly while the noodles are al dente in texture and the best in in flavor. This request may be a bit late in the US because I observe that here in America many dinners have become accustomed to eating their ramen very slowly over a period of 20 – 30 minutes or more when the dish has long since degraded in flavor and quality. But I encourage you to push this back on this trend for your own enjoyment of this wonderful dish and implore you to educate your friends on how to best enjoy a steaming bowl of ramen.
In Japan at a ramen restaurant upon receiving our piping hot noodle bowl in front of us we stop our conversation for a little while and tackle the pleasurable task of finishing the bowl while the noodles, broth and other toppings are at their the most delicious state– al dente noodles, hot broth, warm chashu pork, crisp toppings and full flavor in the dish. By the way it is OK to leave some broth behind in the bowl. It is fatty and salty.
In America I observe that lively conversations over the meal at ramen restaurants often prevents diners from consuming ramen noodles quickly as we do in Japan. Thus, I often spot not-yet-finished noodles sitting sadly, limply and idly in the once hot, but now lukewarm ramen broth for some time. In this situation ramen noodles definitely become soggy and mushy.
Ramen restaurants in the US have, however, made changes in the traditional noodle formulation to address this problem. The solution has been to add of starch to the wheat flour used to make the noodles. This addition does somewhat prevent mushy noodles even if they are left in the broth for a long time. But this new version disturbs me. The starch addition causes the ramen noodles to lose their traditional authentic pleasantly chewy texture. The dish becomes more like eating Italian pasta noodles in ramen broth.
Am I the only person who is noticing this and complaining about it? Anyway, please help me to preserve authentic ramen noodles in America. Eat your bowl of ramen quickly while it is hot and flavorful and the noodles are in top condition. That is the way ramen is meant to be.
As for eating tradition of slurping your noodles or the more “polite” Western way with no-slurping? That is your choice, not a rule.
Leftover ramen in a doggy bag – I saw this just two nights ago. Unheard of in Japan, but anything is possible in America. But I cannot at all vouch for the noodle and toppings’ quality for the next day’s breakfast or lunch, and I warn you it is certainly not the way the ramen gods intend this delightful dish to be consumed.
Do you have home-made shio-koji in your refrigerator? If not, summer is the time to make it, and enjoy using it to pickle summer vegetables. Here is the link to the shio-koji recipe. https://hirokoskitchen.com/2012/06/shio-koji-recipe/
Recently I have added Korean Gochugaru in my shio-koji pickling base. Gochugaru is hot pepper flakes. It is not just hot. Gochugaru comes with sweet and fruity taste. The pair produces exciting pickles which I cannot stop snacking on.
I made another version with the addition of miso. This was a great hit for the gathering. The miso which I use is made in America. It is Miso Master brand: Non-GMO, gluten-free, organic, kosher. My shio-koji pickling venture continues.
This obsolete Japanese kitchen tools, Suribachi & Surikogi, which requires manual labor, have been used in Japan for over 300 years. I sometimes choose them over food processor because of several reasons. Here I made avocado dressed with tofu dressing with them.
Mortar & Pestle is ubiquitous culinary tools in the world kitchens. The best guacamole is made in molcajete. To achieve the best texture and flavor of nam prik all necessary herbs, chiles and spices are pound in a heavy stone krok. To enjoy the best aroma and texture of pureed sesame or walnuts dressing I use Suribachi & Surikogi. Simple.
Suribachi is a ceramic bowl with a rough, combed pattern in its unglazed interior; the size of the bowl varies from 5 to 12 inches in diameter. Surikogi is a wooden pestle about 10-inches in length. Most Surikogi pestles are made of Japanese cypress wood. My Surikogi is a bit different. This one, which is easily recognized by its bumpy, bark-covered upper surface, is made of the sansho pepper tree, whose edible berries and young leaves are treasured for their pungent (a sort of numbing sensation), delicious flavor and fragrant aroma. At the time of the purchase I was convinced by the store staff that a pestle made from this tree imparts some flavor to the ground materials. My own experience indicates that such flavor enhancement, if it exists at all, is quite negligible. After 20 years of using it there is no trace of it. (Excerpt from The Japanese Kitchen.)
What is good about Suribachi & Surikogi?
- It does not require electricity
- No high-pitched electric noise in the kitchen
- Fun and therapeutic process
- Produce better flavor and texture of the prepared items than the ones made by food processor
- Easy to control the texture of the dressing which we are creating – creamy, rough, crunchy,…
- Easy cleaning up