Thursday, October 2, 2008


Long time gone. Needed to cook. Set in the middle of the May 2008 Gourmet Magazine was an invitingly delicious article, photos and menu for a multi-course Japanese dinner party. Perfect, considering how much time I had just spent working around Austin, Texas. I'd had my fill of amazing barbecue, but I definitely didn't want to see anymore red meat in the near future. I can't say that I remember ever having tried recreating an entire menu from a magazine, so this was an interesting proposition. I have a fairly in-depth love and understanding of Japanese cooking and I've come especially to admire the simplicity, beauty and subtle flavors of Japanese home cooking. Because, it's home cooking, it's designed with that attitude in mind; using the freshest available produce in combination with preserved / pickled ingredients as the base of the meal and then having a bit of protein to round it out. Basically, the reverse of the normal American meal.

I intended to do the menu verbatim, but after reading it over a few times I felt I needed to make a couple changes. Based on the recipes I did make from the article, I'm sure everything I excluded or substituted would have been equally delicious. I substituted one of the salads for a rice dish to give the dinner a bit more substance. I also used a different way of preparing the cod (needs to marinate in a miso sauce for 3 days) for the fish dish and added a bit of oshinko (japanese pickle) in the form of daikon radish pickled in rice bran for a digestif after the meal. The dinner was served in courses, all dishes on their own individual plates. Everything was paired with Japanese beer and cold sake (I served my favorite sake, Kariho Namahage "Devil's Mask").

THE COURSES: (all recipes can be found here or posted below)
Shrimp and Daikon Salad with Ume-Shiso Dressing
Cucumbers with Wasabi and Rice Vinegar
Spicy Glazed Eggplant
Soboro Rice
Avocado and Watercress Salad
Black Cod with Mushrooms and Sansho Pepper
Elderflower Jelly with Honeydew Melon (note: I used
Pickled Daikon Radish Slice

For the Elderflower Jelly I substituted Agar-Agar for the gelatin for a more authentic Japanese texture. Agar-Agar is a natural form of gelatin derived from seaweed. It sets up much firmer than gelatin. For the cod, I utilized the mushroom / sauce recipe from the magazine, but I used Nobu Matsuhisa's method for cooking Black Cod. It's really worth the trouble to cook the cod in his manner, it makes an incredible difference. You'll never cook it any other way after doing it. You need to plan ahead, because it requires 3 days of marinating. Many of the sauces can be made ahead to help save time. I will say that this menu was fairly time consuming in preparation and serving everything on individual plates is an extra step probably not worth undertaking. Everything would be equally great served family style.

adapted from Japanese Cooking, A Simple Art, by Shizuo Tsuji
1/2 lb. ground organic free-range chicken
4 Tbsps sake
1 Tbsp tamari (all soybean soy sauce)
1 Tbsp agave nectar or sugar
1 tsp fresh ginger juice
4 organic free-range eggs, beaten
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp sake
1 Tbsp light soy sauce
1 Tbsp agave nectar or sugar
1 cup dashi
4 Tbsps tamari
1/2 Tbsp agave nectar or sugar
8 cups hot cooked sushi rice
julienned nori sheet for garnish

wash the rice 1 hour before cooking and drain in a colander. Use enough water to cover the rice by 1 inch in a pot with a tight fitting lid, or use a rice cooker. (usually 1 cup water to 1 cup washed rice) Cook with the lid on over med-high heat just till a boil. Turn heat up to high and boil vigorously till the starchy liquid stops bubbling from under the lid. Reduce heat to low and cook until all the water is absorbed by the rice. Don't lift the lid and peek. You'll have a pretty good idea as to when it's done. Turn off the heat and let the rice rest for 20 minutes in the pot before you fluff the rice.
Cook ground chicken, sake, tamari, and agave syrup in a frying pan over high heat. Stir constantly and keep the chicken crumbled like loose sausage. When the chicken has turned whitish, mix in the ginger juice. Drain in a colander and let cool.
Beat the eggs with the salt, sake, light soy sauce and agave syrup. Scramble the eggs in a frying pan till somewhat dry and crumbled in texture like the chicken.
Mix the dashi, tamari, and agave syrup in a small saucepan over high heat. Remove from the heat when it starts to boil.
Mix the eggs and chicken together. Put the rice into bowls and drizzle some of the sauce over each bowl. Top with the chicken egg mixture and garnish with the nori strips.

Adapted from Gourmet Magazine May 2008 and Nobu Matsuhisa
1 cup water
6 Tbsps reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsps mirin
1/8 tsp ground sansho pepper, plus additional for sprinkling
1/8 tsp ground sichuan peppercorns
2 shallots, sliced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced, divided
2 tsps canola oil
7 oz fresh enoki mushrooms, cut into 3-inch lengths and spongy base discarded
5 oz fresh shimeji mushrooms, spongy base discarded
6 (7-oz) pieces black cod fillets with skin, about 1 1/2 inches thick
3 Tbsps mirin
4 Tbsps sake
1/2 cup white miso paste
1/3 cup sugar
vegetable oil for grilling
pickled ginger

Bring water, soy sauce, mirin, sansho pepper, sichuan pepper, shallots, and one third of garlic to a boil in a 1- to 2-quart heavy saucepan, then simmer 5 minutes. Take broth off heat and let stand for 10 minutes.
Cook remaining garlic in oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring, until just golden. Add all mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 3 minutes.
Strain broth through a fine-mesh sieve or cheesecloth into mushroom mixture, and simmer 1 minute. Discard the solids. Set aside and keep warm and covered.
Mix sake and mirin in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Whisk the miso paste into the liquid until dissolved. Add the sugar and cook over med-high heat, stirring till dissolved. Rinse the fillets and pat dry with paper towels. Coat the fish well with the miso marinade. Put in a baking dish large enough to hold the fish (you can do the fish in a couple layers) along with any remaining marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 3 days. Remove fish from refrigerator while preheating oven to 400 degrees. Also, preheat grill or grill pan. Scrape the marinade off of the fillets. Grill the fillets over high heat for about 2 minutes, until browned. Take the fish off the grill and put on a heavy baking sheet and roast in oven for 10 minutes, until flaky.
Transfer fish to shallow bowls. Reheat the mushrooms and broth and divide among bowls, then sprinkle very lightly with more sansho pepper. Garnish with pickled ginger slices.