Zaru Soba

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Cool and refreshing zaru soba!

Summer is nigh upon us and as the weather heats up it’s natural to crave foods that are cooling, refreshing, healthy, and light. Sometimes when the sun’s beating down and the humidity is creeping up I crave Zaru Soba, a classic Japanese dish of chilled noodles with a cooling dipping sauce on the side. It’s pretty simple to make, very healthy for you, and it’ll definitely refresh you on a sultry day.

The dish is made from soba noodles that have been boiled for three minutes and then drained and washed in cold water to stop the cooking process. They should be a little toothsome, but perhaps not as chewy as Italian pastas cooked classically al dente. The soba should be refrigerated for at least an hour before serving. The most widely available soba noodles are made from a combination of buckwheat flour and wheat flour, but for this version of Zaru Soba I used cha soba, noodles that have been made with powdered green tea, which gives them a lovely emerald hue and an elegance that the more rustic soba lacks. If you have a good Japanese market near you look for the green tea noodles — they are fantastic!

Also, if you have access to a decent Japanese market ask for a zaru, which is a sieve-like bamboo mat that chilled soba is traditionally served on. Although you’re supposed to dip the noodles into the cold men-tsuyu sauce on the side, I’ve seen people pour the sauce over the noodles on the zaru; the gaps between the bamboo slats allows for excess sauce to drip off into the plate below, allowing you to have just enough of the dipping sauce clinging to your noodles. It’s simple and quite ingenious.

Men-tsuyu is a simple sauce made from dashi, soy, and mirin and it’s served chilled. I recommend that you start with your own homemade dashi broth (check out my link below) but you can use the instant powdered variety (Hon-dashi from Ajinomoto is one brand I’ve used). Or save even more time and buy the dip pre-made and ready-to-go; you’ll find it in bottles on the shelf at your local Japanese market. It’s not quite as fresh and tasty as the stuff you make from scratch, but it will do in a pinch, especially if this is your first attempt. I really hope you have access to a decent Asian market, but if your neighborhood doesn’t have one try online at asianfoodgrocer.com, which should have everything you need.

The noodles are topped with lots of sliced scallions and shredded nori (dried pressed seaweed — ya know, the kind you wrap up sushi rolls with). In addition I added a sprinkle of black sesame seeds, a few daikon sprouts, and some little bits of crunchy toasted brown rice (genmai), which is typically tossed into green tea for a rich, roasty flavor but which I like to add to the noodles for a little textural zip.

The men-tsuyu should be served in a bowl on the side, with wasabi as a option to mix into it. A little grated fresh ginger might be a nice substitute if you’d like. Sometimes I’ll also add a little shake of ichimi togarashi, a lovely Japanese chili powder, for a bit of extra heat to the dipping sauce. I used fresh wasabi root grated on a sharkskin-lined paddle designed for that sole purpose, but both fresh wasabi root (and the sharkskin grater) are rare and expensive. Use prepared wasabi in a tube or a paste of wasabi prepared from powder.

Men-tsuyu noodle dipping sauce:

  • 2 cups ichiban dashi (made from kombu and katsuobushi)
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup mirin (Japanese cooking wine)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Notes on the noodles:

  • cook in rapidly boiling water for three minutes (if it foams turn heat down)
  • drain and rinse immediately under cold running water
  • drain well again and chill for about an hour (or more)
  • put noodles on the zaru (or in a shallow bowl)
  • top with nori, scallions, daikon sprouts, sesame seeds, and/or crunchy genmai
  • serve with wasabi on the side
  • eat up!

Use the recipe for ichiban dashi is my miso soup post: https://spencerhgray.wordpress.com/2012/02/25/miso-hungry/

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Don’t these chilled noodles look yummy?

Misoyaki Wild Salmon

Me so hungry for miso salmon.

Me so hungry for miso salmon.

This is a version of that ubiquitous sushi joint staple, misoyaki black cod, popularized with a vengeance at Matsuhisa restaurant here in LA (and at over thirty other affiliated restaurants internationally) by famed Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa. It’s Nobu’s signature dish, and the impact of his influence is felt in nearly every sushi bar in American, where some version of miso-marinated broiled fish is on virtually every menu. And for good reason as it’s damn good — sweet, salty, tender, and rich. It can feel fancy or it can be served very simply, almost rustically. It makes a great lunchtime or dinnertime main course, or it can go alongside other Asian dishes for a larger spread.

I love to make it with black cod, of course, or butterfish or ling cod or Chilean seabass or pretty much any other fish that is either delicate or has a decent fat content. I was initially going to make this with black cod, but I found some beautiful and very fresh wild salmon and decided to go with that instead.

I deviate from Nobu’s original recipe by adding a bit more flavoring to the marinade; if you know me you know that I can’t resist tinkering with classics in the hopes of finding greater complexity and depth of flavor — hence the addition of ginger and garlic and salt and pepper. I recommend marinating the fish for at least six hours, so make the marinade in the morning and drop the fish in. By dinnertime you’ll be good to go. If you really want to plan ahead you could marinate the salmon overnight, although I wouldn’t go for two days as the sodium in the marinade could dry out the fish and make the miso flavor too assertive.

Serve this with steamed white rice and maybe some stir-fried bok choy or other Asian greens. I also recommend having on the side a little soy sauce and something spicy like sambal oelek or sriracha.

What you need:

  • 1 pound wild salmon filet, skinned with pin-bones removed
  • 3 tablespoons mirin
  • 3 tablespoons sake
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup shiro miso paste (very pale yellow “white” miso)
  • 2 teaspoons finely minced ginger
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 2/3 cups of chopped scallions (as a garnish)

What you gotta do:

First cut the salmon filets into four evenly-sized pieces. Place the filets in a flat plastic container with a lid or a glass pan that you can cover with plastic wrap; use anything except a metal container that could be potentially reactive (i.e. aluminum). Also, choose your container wisely; you want the fish to be snug in whatever container you choose so that the fish is nestled in and covered fully by the marinade. Refrigerate fish while you make the marinade.

In a small pot mix the mirin, sake, and water. Heat over medium-high heat until boiling and add the sugar, whisking until it dissolves. Turn off the heat and whisk in the miso, ginger, garlic, salt, and white pepper. Transfer the marinade to a bowl and allow it come to room temperature. Pour marinade over the fish and turn pieces to fully coat with the miso. Cover and refrigerate.

Now wait patiently a few hours. To cook turn on your broiler and set the oven rack about six inches away from the heating element, be it flame or electric coil. Remove the fish from the marinade and place on a sheet pain that been very slightly oiled. Any excess marinade you can pour into a small pot and bring quickly to a boil. Turn off heat. Now you can use the marinade to baste the fish.

Put pan with salmon into the oven and broil for about three minutes. Remove fish from oven and, using a pastry brush, baste fish with more marinade. Return the fish to the oven and broil for another two or three minutes, approximately. You want the edges slightly charred, so when that occurs remove the salmon and prod it to check for doneness. I like it cooked through but very tender and a bit rare. Touch it with your finger — the flesh should have some softness to it. If you suspect it’s not cooked enough to your taste, turn the oven off and return the fish to oven. Allow it to cook with the oven’s residual heat until it’s firmer and more to your liking.

Transfer fish to a platter and serve dinner!

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Super-succulent salmon served for supper. Say that five times fast!

Stir-fried Pork and Asparagus with Garlic Black Bean Sauce

Cheap and

A quick and tasty stir-fry!

What with my wife Regina being of Chinese descent and me being half Vietnamese it’s hardly surprising that we cook a lot of Asian (and Asian-inspired) food at home. I whipped up this little stir-fry a few days ago. It was very quick, very easy to make, and absolutely delicious over a bowl of steamed rice with a dose of spicy sambal oeleck, that awesome chili paste of Indonesian origin popularized by Huy Fong Foods here in the U.S. With a little planning you can have this dish made in about 20 minutes (of actual work).

If you want to try this dish at home you’ll need (approximately):

  • 3/4 pound of pork shoulder
  • 2 tablespoons minced ginger, divided
  • 2 tablespoons xao xing (Chinese cooking wine, although sherry is a fair substitute), divided
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper, plus more later
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more later
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 5 medium-thick asparagus spears
  • 6 fresh shiitake mushrooms (or dried mushrooms reconstituted in warm water)
  • 3 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons garlic black bean sauce (Lee Kum Kee brand, if possible)
  • 2 tablespoons chicken broth
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped scallions

Now do this:

Cut the pork into rough cubes about 3/4 of inch on a side (don’t take this measurement too seriously). Put the pork into a non-reactive bowl and add 1 tablespoon of ginger, 1 tablespoon xao xing, minced garlic, corn starch, vegetable oil, white pepper, kosher salt, and soy sauce. Mix all the ingredients until the pork is very well coated in the marinade. Marinate the pork a minimum of 30 minutes; I get better results if I marinate it a couple of hours.

While the pork is marinating, prep your veggies. Snap off the woody ends of the asparagus and discard. Cut the asparagus at an angle into pieces oh, let’s say an inch-and-a-half in length. Stem the mushrooms and cut into quarters.

When you’re ready to cook, heat a wok (or a very large skillet) over high heat. When the wok just starts smoking swirl 2 tablespoons of the peanut oil into the bottom and add the pork. Stir-fry pork about three minutes until lightly browned all over. Remove cooked pork to a bowl and pour off (and discard) any excess oil. Wipe wok clean with paper towels and place over high heat again. When the wok starts smoking again add the remaining peanut oil. Add the asparagus and stir-fry about one minute. Add the mushrooms and stir-fry another 30 seconds. Add remaining ginger and stir it into the veggies. Add the cooked pork back into your wok. Get the wok super-hot again and add the remaining cooking wine. Stir-fry another 10 seconds and then add the black bean sauce and the chicken broth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the chopped scallions and turn off the heat.

Remove the stir-fry from the wok and place into a serving bowl. Serve with steamed rice and maybe some slices of fresh cucumber. Top with hot sauce of your choice (sambal oeleck is my preference for this dish) and soy sauce.

Enjoy!

Ad-hoc Asian Salad

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Today’s salad is a simple (yet miraculous) combination of leftover cold ramen noodles (the fresh kind, not the fry-dried variety), cold grilled skirt steak cut into thin strips, napa cabbage, iceberg lettuce, radishes, cucumbers, carrots, watercress, scallions, crispy garlic, crispy wontons, and a simple sesame-miso dressing (canola oil, shiro miso paste, sesame oil, rice vinegar, Chinese mustard, salt and pepper). It was yummy!

Get Your Greens!

Get Your Greens!

Gailan (Chinese Broccoli) is tender, tasty, and highly nutritious.

My body tells me when I need veggies. And I listen to my body. Certainly for my work I try to have an understanding of basic nutrition; ya know, the simple stuff like what vitamins and minerals are present in common vegetables and grains and meats. For the people I cater to I need to have a modicum of nutritional understanding to help create balanced diets and meals and not sound like a fool while I do. But in my own life I try to have a sensible and more intuitive approach to eating.

I really try to pay attention to my body’s needs, at least when it comes to the basics. Sometimes I crave fish and I think maybe that implies low levels of fatty acids and good cholesterol. Likewise when I get a hankering for oysters maybe I need a dose of magnesium. Sometimes I feel an urge for hot chicken broth or broccoli or salad or artichokes or spinach and I try to identify the need. I’m not sure what specifically my body requires when I crave gailan (Chinese broccoli) but it’s rich in all kinds of things vital to life — iron, dietary fiber, vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamin B6, vitamin A, folic acid, zinc, magnesium, and calcium. Not only that but it tastes great — like broccoli but more so: richer, deeper, slightly more bitter, and sweeter. It’s an all-around winner for taste and nutrients.

To cook it I first wash it well and dry it. I cut off the leafy top halves and I shave off some of the exterior of the dense, thicker bottom halves with a veggie peeler. I like to stir-fry it with garlic and ginger and finish it with Chinese oyster sauce (sub with hoisin sauce or black bean sauce to make it vegan). Of course this is my favorite method, but you can do lots of things with it; just treat it as you would regular broccoli.

For the gailan in this pic I used about a half pound, which I cleaned as described above. I sliced two large cloves of garlic and minced fresh ginger until I had about one big rounded tablespoon. I heated up some veggie oil in a very hot wok (over high heat) until it was just barely smoking. I threw in the garlic and ginger and stirred it around. I tossed in the gailan and added some cracked black pepper and a large pinch of kosher salt. I stir-fried the veggie for about 2 minutes, moving it around frequently. I added two tablespoons of xao xing (Chinese cooking wine, although cheap sherry or white wine will do) and let that steam the veggie. When the liquid was nearly evaporated I added a big dollop (maybe one and a half tablespoons) of Lee Kum Kee brand Oyster Sauce. I killed the heat and stirred to make sure the gailan was fully coated with the sauce. I checked for seasoning and added a bit more pepper. It was perfect!

I served it with some steamed broken jasmine rice and some hoisin-glazed roasted salmon. After dinner my body felt rejuvenated, like I’d given it a big boost of nutrients. And it was delicious. And way better than a multi-vitamin.

Chef Baby Chow

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Chef babies eat very well! For an early lunch Vivian had a lovely soup I knocked together from a variety of tasty leftovers.

Leftover pho broth, steamed broken jasmine rice, Savoy cabbage, gailan (Chinese broccoli), baby arugula, cilantro, scallions, and Japanese flowering fern. She loved it!

For dessert the Viv had fresh strawberries and some very sweet red grapes.

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Today’s Brekkie: Fried Egg, Fried Broken Rice, Peppered Bacon

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Yummy!

This is admittedly not much of a post, but since I’ve hardly had a free moment to post in the past two months (!), I figured I’d better start getting some content out there. Work, travel, and children have seriously cut into my writing time, but I’m back! I promise more posts this week, and hopefully I’ll be able to get OMNIVOROUS back into a nice groove.

I had some leftover “broken” rice, which is fractured grains of Jasmine rice common to Vietnamese cuisine. I love the stuff for its flavor and its very specific mouthfeel. For breakfast today I fried the rice with garlic, ginger, and green onions. First I heated a couple of tablespoons of peanut oil in a very hot wok and threw in about a teaspoon each of minced ginger and minced garlic. I quickly added about a tablespoon of thinly cut scallions (white part) and stirred it around. I added about a cup and half of the cooked broken rice and tossed it all together with a bamboo spatula. I added a generous pinch of kosher salt, a half-teaspoon of granulated sugar, and nice pinch of ground white pepper. I wokked the rice until it was super-fragrant, totally warmed through, and a bit crispy in some areas. I killed the heat and stirred in about a tablespoon of the sliced scallion greens and a little minced cilantro. As a final touch I sprinkled the rice with some furikake, that Japanese seasoning shake that can contain all kinds of things from dried seaweed to sesame seeds to tiny bits of dried egg yolk to minced dried Japanese chili. This particular furikake had black sesame seeds, bits of nori, ground dried shiso leaf, and minced bonito flakes (katsuobushi for those in the know).

I piled a little rice on the plate and added a couple of slices of this excellent peppered bacon smoked with hickory (sorry I forgot to note the brand). I fried the egg in a combination of bacon fat and butter and laid it atop the rice. The liquid yolk immediately burst out and ran into the rice and flooded the plate. Totally YUM!