Wednesday, May 16, 2007
A trip to Japan
With Uncle Boogie as our Asian grub correspondent, we've recently been to Korea, Vietnam. This last week he introduced us to Japan, a country with simple, fresh cuisines. Perhaps it was the simplicity in their preparations that Boogie wanted to demonstrate this week.
Miso soup - Fried tofu with dipping sauces - Wonton-wrapped shrimp with dipping sauce - Eel donburi - Green tea ice cream.
Miso soup is an easy peasy broth made by dissolving miso (fermented soy bean paste) in 'dashi', a stock made from dried fish (sardine or tuna) kelp or mushroom. It's a traditional Japanese soup eaten mainly for breakfast with some rice in it, although everybody in Japan eats miso soup at least once a day at some point. I suspect our boy used instant miso soup which is only sold outside Japan. It has all the elements in powder form and one simply adds hot water to form the soup. We gulped ours from his posh Japanese bowls, chewing on the nori garnish. A traditional start to the meal then.
The tofu was rolled in panko and it hit the hot oil with a splatter. Jason did have serious issues keeping the breadcrumbs on the tofu. We discussed the possibility of rolling it in seasoned flour, whipped egg and then the panko, but he took a short cut. It came out OK, but the lack of seasoning made it bland. About as bland as tofu can get. Personally, unless it gets some proper treatment, I hate the stuff. Luckily, he had an industrial size jar of duck sauce on hand and we swiped each silky nugget through it to add some much needed flavour.
Next up, and for me the best course, were his handmade shrimp wontons. He blitzed the shrimp with green onion and seasonings and then spooned the mixture into a moist wonton wrapper. The edges are dotted with egg to make a seal. These hit the hot oil too. Perhaps it was too hot, and the little triangles crisped up faster than you can say Tonkatsu. I don't mind a good black or golden brown surface on anything, the Maillard reaction adds flavour. I will willingly eat burned toast. These wontons were great, black at the edges with morsels of moist shrimp and onion inside. Good job.
Next up, the eel donburi. I like this stuff a lot. Donburi means 'rice bowl dish' in Japanese. This one consisted of eel grilled with a sweet sauce. The eels had already been 'spatchcocked' or halved and spread flat. With a paintbrush and a Tony Hart glint in his eye, he painted the fishy canvas with sweet sauce. A dab here. A dab there. Et voila! Under the grill they went for some heat treatment. He made some rice and sliced some cucumber and we were good to go. I knew what to expect. Eel donburi features regularly in my lunch options. I work near 'Little Japan' on Manhattan's 41st Street and the mighty Zaiya do a great version. Boogie's was pretty good too.
Green tea ice cream? You're having a laugh. Well first off, why put something 'healthy' with something so 'unhealthy'. I know balance is important, but this is getting silly. Secondly, he just bought a tub of it. I'd have been impressed had he made some from scratch and no doubt I'd have pretended to enjoy it. I think it's quite possibly the worst flavour in the world. Ice cream should be fruity or sweet, surely? I do have a certain respect for those Japanese pioneers on FujiTV's 'Iron Chef', who make ice cream out of practically anything. Wasabi. Fish. And I'm sure you've seen Food Network's 'Iron Chef America' advert, where using the secret ingredient, trout, Morimoto suggests he can make "trout ice cream, with eyeball." A fucking eyeball. Testament to the brave Japanese palate. Mine is just not ready for these exotic variations yet. Gimme time. I'm certain I'll come round.