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You may be surprised that, if you are given a chance to taste simply grilled eggplant prepared by the Japanese Yakinasu method, how delicious eggplant is. The texture is amazingly creamy; the flavor is a combination of smokiness, natural sweetness and hint of pleasant bitterness. Now we are in the midst of autumn. It is the very best time for you to discover the true flavor of eggplant!
I have posted three short videos related Yakinasu preparation techniques on Instagram (@hirokoshimbo). Please watch them before reading the below:
- Making a knife scoring on the skin of the eggplant; doing this makes peeling the skin after cooking the eggplant a piece-of-cake
- Grill the eggplant over an open gas fire on a wire mesh grill: a small American eggplant (about 8 ounces) takes only 6 to 8 minutes to cook; when the eggplant is fresher the cooking time is shorter. In addition to American eggplant I like to grill the ball-shaped round eggplant that is called Rosa Bianca; this is new discovery made a couple of years ago
- Peeling the eggplant: you must do this while the eggplant is rather hot for easy peeling; if you have skin sensitive to heat, wear plastic gloves; the tool to use is a bamboo skewer as you can see in the video, the skewer is simply inserted under the skin and moved along the length of the scored eggplant to peel off the skin
After peeling the eggplant, cut it into bite sized pieces. You can enjoy Yakinasu (grilled eggplant) in many ways.
- With grated ginger, drops of shoyu (soy sauce) and small flakes of katsuobushi (skipjack tuna flakes)
- With grated ginger and drops of sesame sauce (sesame paste, dashi, shoyu, mirin)
- Marinated in flavored dashi overnight (dashi, shoyu, mirin, pinch sea salt) and serve with ikura (cured salmon eggs)
- Drizzle olive oil and shoyu (a new way!)
- Drizzle your favorite dressing
What excites me about Chef Aaron Bludorn is that he comes to Union Square Market, NYC, four times each week and has been doing this for five years! No matter how late he leaves his restaurant the night before he heads to the market in the early morning. I have been a frequent shopper at the Union Square Market in the past 15 years. Early in the morning Aaron and I may have rubbed shoulders, and eyed the same produce or even stepped on each other’s feet. But we did not know each other until recently.
Thanks to Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg I was introduced to Executive Chef Aaron Bludorn of Café Boulud. And the most important news is that together we are going to do the collaborative dinner event at Café Boulud on Tuesday, October 17th. The event is called ‘Voyage to Japan’. We have created an exciting menu for this amazing and memorable dining experience. Please do join us if you can!
For Aaron the Green Market is like a candy store for kids. He spots certain produce with his wide open eyes, touches and feels them by hand, smells them and selects them for his operation. His creations at Café Boulud are absolutely Green Market-driven.
As fervent advocates of seasonal produce we are incorporating prime season vegetables here and there in our “Voyage to Japan” menu. Eggplant is one of them. Fall eggplant tastes best now, even better than those available in summer. The texture becomes creamier when it is cooked. One of our hors d’oeuvre is Agenasu no Nibitashi. We deep-fry thin, long and dark purple skinned Japanese eggplant, de-oil it and marinate it in a happo-dashi overnight. We will serve the eggplant garnished with little sauce and some ikura (salmon roe). The eggplant is heavenly creamy and naturally sweet.
There is another eggplant dish which I often prepare in the fall and I want to share it with you. It is grilled eggplant, Yakinasu. If you are accustomed to eat eggplant loaded with oil and cheese, Yakinasu will change your ideas on how to prepare and enjoy eggplant. No oil. No cheese. Your taste buds are totally immersed in the true taste of eggplant.
Watch the video on Instagram (@hirokoshimbo). I am going to post three Yakinasu technique videos this Thursday, 12th. On my next blog I will post the recipe.
Before ending this piece devoted to eggplant, let me share this eggplant story from Japan. I still remember my mother repeating it hundred times during the autumn season. This piece is an excerpt from my book The Japanese Kitchen.
Though it is available year-round in Japan, Japanese eggplant tastes the best in autumn, when the flesh becomes even less seedy, much creamier, and milder in flavor. There is an old saying in Japan, “Do not treat your daughter-in-law to delicious autumn eggplant (Aki nasu wa yome ni kuwasuna!)”. Some people say this shows the ill nature of mothers-in-laws, who think that autumn eggplant is too good for their daughters-in-law. Another, less harsh interpretation is that giving a daughter-in-law a seedless eggplant is bad luck – it might keep her from getting pregnant. Oh, well…times have changed even in Japan; I wonder how many mothers are handing down this story to their daughters? hirokoshimbo
You don’t need to fly; you don’t need to take a boat; the destination is 20 East 76th Street at Cafe Boulud. Join us for a very special, delicious experience!
The Shiogama , salt encrusted, technique is used for the remaining filleted blue fish described in my previous blog and it produced a gorgeous and delicious result.
French do it. Chinese do it. And also Japanese do it. Legend has it that this particular cooking technique in Japan is said to have been developed during the civil war era of the 16th century. Before leaving for the battlefield, a prominent warrior sent his mother a whole gorgeous sea bream cooked in a solid salt crust. The salt crust held in the natural juices and made the cooked fish moist, juicy and fragrant. And the salt crust allowed the cooked fish to travel a long distance without spoilage from the warrior to his mother. What a beautiful ‘oya-koko’ – parent and child – story showing great respect by the warrior for his mother.
The recipe for shiogama cooking techniques uses sea salt and egg white to prepare the salt crust. I have some small doubt about this beautiful warrior-mother story because eggs were not eaten until 17th century in Japan. Well, anyone who holds power like the warrior in the story can do what he wishes, so the use of egg white was perhaps possible even back in the 16th century Or, maybe the chef might have used a different ingredient instead of egg white to bind the salt. The real answer is unknown. Please read the insider story in my book, The Sushi Experience: ‘How the Chicken Came to Japan (page 67)’.
I learned Shiogama technique from Chef Jiro Iida. He was the executive chef at Aburiya Kinnosuke in New York several years ago. He showed me this technique at a Culinary Institute of America (CIA) Conference held in the early 2000s. I helped him to mix the egg white and sea salt. There was no recipe. He added salt to the egg white until the texture felt correct to him. I kept stirring it in a large bowl to catch his grin when he was satisfied with the mixture. I didn’t have a recipe either, so I did what we all do – searched online. Everyone seems to be using this recipe: 1kg (2.2 pounds) salt and 3 egg white.
- Observe the texture of mixed salt and egg white in the photo shown here. Also check out my video on my Instagram (hirokoshimbo). The correct texture of the mixture should feel fluffy, lightly firm and like marshmallow.
- When you are using already cut pieces of fish wrap them up in broad green leaves so that the fish does not have direct contact with the salt.
- Cook the fish in the oven at 400 F; cooking time varies depending on the size of the fish.
- Try this technique with other protein.
- Have fun and enjoy!
No to butter. No to olive oil or any other cooking oil. Blue fish enjoys a Japanese treatment. The fish shines in the traditional Yuan-yaki style of grilling producing a dish that is moist, juicy and flavorful. The ‘Yuan-yaki’ grilling method is timeless. See my Instagram Yuan-yaki grilling video. Here you see the photos in which fish was prepared in ‘Yuan-yaki’ grilling and takikomi gohan.
Blue fish from the Atlantic waters was a bit of a disappointing “oily” fish when I first encountered it in New York City more than a decade ago and remained so until my recent cooking discovery. I was expecting blue fish to display the similar rich, oily and heavenly delicious flavor that is typically found in other “oily” fish such as mackerel (saba), sardine (iwashi), Pacific pike (sannma) and herring (nishin). I have eaten blue fish many times since my first cooking try and it is always sautéed in cooking oil or butter in the skillet and has been a bit disappointing. Well, that’s how I cooked, for me, ‘foreign’ blue fish in my kitchen until now.
Recently I bought a locally caught blue fish from our farmers’ market fish monger, Blue Moon (best in he area!!). And I wanted to say to everyone, “Blue fish season is here!” The whole fish I purchased weighed over two pounds. During the usual scaling, cleaning and filleting of the blue fish in my kitchen, the idea of cooking it using two distinctive Japanese preparation methods jumped into my mind. The first I already mentioned and I told the blue fish that you will be Yuan-yaki grilled. The second is salt encrusted shiogama baking. The blue fish seemed very pleased with these ideas. And I must admit that the scaling, cleaning and filleting process the whole fish is rather messy, but by doing this not so pleasant task, I can get the freshest and best fish fillets in the world. But in your kitchen use previously prepared filets if you wish or don’t have the time and inclination to challenge a whole fish
The yuan-yaki grilling method is said to have been developed by the tea master Yuan Kitamura (16th -17th Century). In this method the fish is marinated in “Yuan-ji” marinade and traditionally grilled over a very hot bincho-tan charcoal fire. Slices of yuzu citrus fruit in the marinade are important because the yuzu cuts the fishy flavor, and at the same time add slight fragrance and flavor to the grilled fish. Fish cooked in this way tastes marvelous even at room temperature.
Here is how you can challenge Yuan-yaki grilling. For grilling I use the salamander in my kitchen. You may use the oven broiler. Please see the Instagram video
- Prepare Yuan-ji marinade by mixing equal volumes of mirin, sake and usukuchi (light color) shoyu. Add sliced yuzu or other citrus fruit. Marinate the fish in the marinade for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Remove the fish fillets from the marinade and put them on a thin steel skewer. Cook the fish under the broiler heat for about 4 minutes until the skin becomes lightly crisp.
- Remove the fish from the broiler and paint the skin with the remaining yuan-ji marinade. Place the fish back under the broiler heat for 30 seconds or until the skin becomes dry. Be careful not to burn the skin. Repeat this basting process additional two times.
- Turn the fish over and paint the other side of the fish with the marinade. Put the fish back under the broiler heat for 30 seconds. Repeat the process additional two times. At the end of cooking the fish will be fully flavored, plump, and cooked through with crisp skin.
By the way, some sushi chefs in New York City have begun serving fresh local blue fish sushi and sashimi. Cheers to the blue fish!
Stand by for salt crusted Shiogama blue fish techniques. Coming soon. Hirokoshimbo
High-end sushi restaurant serve a type of egg-sponge cake like dish at the conclusion of the meal – kind of a “pre-dessert”. Acclaimed sushi chef, Kimura, served me one of the best sushi tamago on my visit to the restaurant several years ago. Check out: Sublime – Fish That Tastes Better with Age (he served me 90 days cured fish!) http://zesterdaily.com/world/cuisine/sublime-sushi-fish-that-tastes-better-with-age/
This is an excerpt from my sushi book, The Sushi Experience:
“When I talked with Hiroaki Sasaki, an owner chef at the venerable sushi restaurant Sasaki in Tokyo, he told me, ‘tamago-yaki’ was adopted into sushi restaurants from the sobaya, a buckwheat noodle restaurant. Soba restaurants traditionally made their own noodles from scratch several times a day on the premises. So the customers sometimes had to wait a while until the soba dough was kneaded, rolled out, cut into strips, cooked, and finally served. But they were willing to wait because no soba tasted better than when the noodles have been just made and immediately cooked. In order to keep these hungry waiting customers happy, the sobaya developed a tradition of serving collections of simple appetizers and a flask of sake, rice wine. And the dashimaki tamago has long been one of the most popular such appetizers. It was a natural move for the chef, since the soba kitchen was always stocked with copious quantities of daily-made high quality dashi and eggs, both of which are prime ingredients.”
Do you remember one episode in the famous film “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”? Apprentice Chef Daisuke Nakazawa (now at the very high-end Nakazawa Sushi in New York) is making egg sponge cake-like tamago https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFP5xD2l3ro? He tells how after making 200 tamago, Master Chef Jiro told him that he had have finally succeeded to make an excellent egg sponge cake-like tamago. Jiro congratulated Daisuke calling him ‘shokunin’, master.
Here is another excerpt from The Sushi Experience:
“Egg-sponge cake like tamagoyaki was a natural development in the sushi kitchen, where there was always leftover fish and shrimp. Pureed, these seafood scraps were mixed with eggs and made into an egg cake. You feel as if you are eating a moist and slightly dense pound cake.”
I made egg sponge cake-like sushi tamago many times while testing recipes for The Sushi Experience. “Many”, in my case means only 12 times. I used the oven to cook it. Well, life is too short for everyone to challenge this special tamago 200 times. hirokoshimbo
For the first time I made a true dashimaki tamago from the point of ingredients in my kitchen. This is quite different from the tamagoyaki I have been making for years. I am from Tokyo, the heart of the Kanto region, and recently have become quite curious about making Kyoto style dashimaki tamago. I swear that up to this day I had never made it in my kitchen, and now I have.
Tamagoyaki, rolled egg omelet, has many associated stories for me. In my early years at elementary school, my mother prepared tamagoyaki, cut it into slices and packed them in my sisters’ and my lunch boxes. Bright yellow, sweet and juicy tamagoyaki, even though cold when I ate it at lunch, cheered me up every day. Tamagoyaki is still everyone’s favorite item and nearly always a part of casual and more formal obento boxes. This includes the lunch box that you can purchase at train station for enjoyment on a long distance train ride. Tamagoyaki also plays an important role at sushi restaurants. At casual sushi restaurants if you order “tamago” – egg – you will likely be given a piece of tamagoyaki. In contrast if you order “tamago” at a high-end sushi restaurant you will receive a different dish, an egg sponge cake-like version of ‘tamago’.
For more about the delicious egg sponge cake-like ‘tamago’ please see page 70 of my book The Sushi Experience for the story and the recipe.
If you learned how to make tamagoyaki from chefs working in the Kanto area (greater Tokyo area), your recipe has less dashi stock and more sugar than is found in the Kyoto style of the same dish. In Kanto you use koikuchi shoyu (regular shoyu) and in Kyoto, usukuchi shoyu (light color shoyu). For Kanto style tamagoyaki you may prepare it lightly golden on the outside, but Kyoto style tamagoyaki cannot have even the slightest smudge of color on it.
To confuse everyone even more, Kyoto style tamagoyaki is made with slightly different technique and has a different name. It is called dashimaki tamago. It literally means dashi and egg rolled omelet.The resulting omelet is so moist with dashi stock that oozes out from the rolled omelet.
Here is the recipe that I used:
4 medium eggs
½ teaspoon potato starch mixed with 1/2 teaspoon water
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon usukuchi shoyu
Preparation instructions – Kanto style technique – are found in both of my books, The Japanese Kitchen and The Sushi Experience
Here is a taste and texture comparison between tamagoyaki and dashimaki tamago:
- Tokyo style tamagoyaki is sweet and has rich flavor because of the use of stronger flavored koikuchi shoyu and sugar. Caramelized flavor also adds to the richness. The texture is soft, but on the firmer side.
- Kyoto style dashimaki tamago is very juicy and tender-soft in texture. The use of more dashi stock, no sugar and mildly flavored usukuchi shoyu in the dish provides a big difference in flavor – more refined and more spiked with umami than its Kanto cousin.
Tokyo style tamagoyaki suits the palate of diners whose taste buds are trained for years with punching bold flavors – more typically Americans. Would you like to experience a fun project? Prepare and enjoy Kyoto style dashimaki tamago once every week, and train your palate to its more subtle properties. Nothing will happen overnight, but you will come to appreciate the natural flavor of each ingredient in this quite special omelet. hirokoshimbo
“Don’t call me ‘fish flakes’, Don’t call me ‘bonito flakes’. Please understand me better! Please shave me into flakes from a solid block of katsuobushi and taste the true flavor of me.”
Well, if I were katsuobushi, I would be screaming at you like that.
Recently my friend Chef David, brought to my kitchen a katsuobushi (block of dried and smoked skipjack tuna). David obtained it 3 months ago on his trip to Makurazaki-town – the town famous for katsuobushi in Kagoshima Prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu, Japan. David also brought with him the tools to shave katsuobushi into flakes – a shaver and wooden hammer.
When I was a child I remember my mother shaving katsuobushi every day for dashi stock. She used the dashi to make our daily miso soups, simmered dishes and many other necessary preparations that appeared on our table. I remember the extremely fragrant aroma and rhythmical sounds of shaving the hard, wood-like katsuobushi permeating and echoing in the kitchen.
When we obtained real katsuobushi, the product was sure to have gone through steaming, drying, smoking and mold treatment stages for about half a year. The final block looks like dried hard-wood, which is covered with a thin layer of black mold.
The first thing that David and I did with his katsuobushi was to wipe away the black coating with a dry – don’t use wet or moist one – kitchen cloth.
We then fixed the blade of the Katsuobushi kezuri, a tool which works like a carpenter’s plane to make the shavings. The blade is set at an angle sticking out of a rectangular box. When used, the shaved flakes go down into the box. The bottom of the box is like a drawer that can be pulled from the end of the box in order to remove the flakes. The ideal extension of the blade to shave the katsuobushi is said to be 0.1mm, probably a little less than the extension of the blade in a carpenter’s plane!
After several trials and error attempts we produced perfectly shaved katsuobushi. The very familiar aroma and the sound of shaving that I enjoyed in my mother’s kitchen and missed for such a long time (oh, I have been so lazy!) came back to my kitchen. David made the dashi stock with excellent Rishiri Island kombu, reputedly the best in Japan, and freshly shaved katsuobushi. The taste of the dashi stock was exceptional – with lots of umami and a very fragrant aroma.
Anyone who wants to experience a real katsuobushi adventure with me in Japan can do so. I am taking you and a small group of others to Makurazaki in Kyushu, next fall, 2018. Come with me and see and learn about the real katsuobushi. She will be so happy. Hiroko Shimbo
On Day 2 of The Essentials of Japanese Cooking Course at International Culinary Center ( http://www.internationalculinarycenter.com/new-york-campus/amateur-classes-ny/essentials-of-japanese-cuisine-with-hiroko-shimbo/ ) we marinated cod and salmon in miso marinade. Today, Day4, we removed the fish from the miso marinade and cooked them. Rich flavor of miso marinated fish was great. In order to serve this Yakimono (grilled fish) properly we made red radish chrysanthemum flower pickles. Watch how to do it on Instagram (hirokoshimbo). You can see the results in this photo. The crispy, sweet-sour pickled red radishes are not just a mouth refresher after eating the richly flavored fish. The pickles also entertain our eyes and tactile sensations. Try it or join the next The Essentials of Japanese Cooking Course. Cooking is fun and rewarding. Hiroko Shimbo
Did you watch my hands rolling cucumbers on Instagram scant video? Instagram: hirokoshimbo
Technique tip: Don’t roll your eyes; let’s roll cucumber! Cucumber has rather thick skin whose taste is a sort of ‘too green’ and rather unpleasant. This is why, I think, I see most cucumbers served in America are peeled in prepared dishes. In order to tackle this problems this is what we do in Japan.
Sprinkle some sea salt over the cucumber and with both of your hands, roll them vigorously on a chopping board until you find your palm is covered with a bit of grainy, green liquid. Then, rinse the cucumber under cold tap water.
The process offers 3 benefits;
- By damaging the surface of the skin, it becomes tender. This means that when you dress cucumber with sauce or dressing, they adhere to the surface of the skin much better than the one that is not rolled
- Removes the ‘too green’ and rather unpleasant flavor from the skin
- Make the green color of the skin even greener and more attractive
After treating the cucumber with this technique, I slice it, toss the slices with 2% salt by the weight of the cucumber, massage them gently and leave them 10 minutes. Briefly rinse them with fresh running tap water. Drain and squeeze water out of cucumber. I then flavor them with a little bit of vinegar, maple syrup, sea salt and chile pepper powder. Add a dash of sesame oil if you have it. A quick, cooling, refreshing cucumber salad is a wonderful addition to any meal.