Thursday, May 20, 2010

Turning Japanese - Tsukiji Fish Market(Tokyo)

The Chocolate Bunny is going Japanese for a few weeks: Laurent and I have said “Good-bye to all of this,” and are currently in Tokyo! I lived here for a little under a year when I was 11. Obviously, it's changed a lot since then, but I'm so excited to have the chance to rediscover Japan!

I'm sure no one here will be surprised that the very first thing we did was check out the Tsukiji Fish Market. Well, no, actually, the very first thing we did was get 9 hours of sleep, after more than 24 hours in transit (from the time we headed for the Montreal airport to when we finally arrived at our hotel in Tokyo). And the second thing we did was find breakfast.

We had gotten up too early to enjoy the hotel breakfast (which had never, ever happened to me before), so we bought a couple of onigiri (riceballs) at the nearby combini (convenience store). I had actually never eaten these when I lived in Japan, and it was definitely something I needed to cross off my list.

The nori is separated from the rice with plastic film, so that it remains crunchy until you eat it. You can't tell from the pic, but my onigiri had a kombu filling. Yum!

With that out of the way, we headed on over to Tsukiji. I had my heart set on attending the infamous tuna auctions, but unfortunately those are currently closed to the public. Nevertheless, there was still plenty to see.

First thing: the fish market is a surprisingly scary place. Well, not scary, but stressful. The little carts pictured above are everywhere around the market, and even in some of the narrow alleys between the stalls. Unlike cars, they are very quick to turn and shift gears, and are therefore quite unpredictable. Not getting run over was a prime concern of mine, especially since I tend to space out easily – I'm already in danger whenever I step out in Montreal!

As you can see, there is little room to navigate between the stalls in the market itself. And, as in any popular market, there is a lot of action, a lot of comings and goings. Tourists are tolerated, but we definitely felt it important not to make a nuisance of ourselves, and not get in anyone's way. So usually, when one of us took pictures, the other stayed on the lookout for little carts, or fishmongers in a hurry.

Even though we had missed the tuna auctions, there were still a few lying around. They are as enormous as rumored (although these are actually not the biggest ones we saw).

It's quite the "before and after process," as you can see.

And, of course, there was every kind of fish and seafood possibly imaginable, most of which I couldn't even identify.

Someone had told me that, amazingly, the market doesn't reek of fish in the slightest. That is absolutely true. It smells like the sea, but there is no unpleasant odor whatsoever. I haven't been to a fish market in Montreal in a while, but Laurent confirms that the fish back home definitely smell a lot more.

We left Tsukiji around 9 a.m., just as it was starting to get more crowded. We did some other stuff during the rest of the morning (mostly browsing around Ginza, a high-density shopping area), but we came back to the market area for lunch. We went to Sushi Zenmai (the tourist guide book recommended it – yes, I am a tourist, why hide it?), where we were ushered in and loudly greeted by the entire staff. Throughout the meal, the waiters and chefs regularly yelled out orders, in addition to enthusiastically greeting and saying goodbye to any customer who walked through the door. I don't remember ever eating in such an animated restaurant back when I was living here – probably not, as noise was never my parents' thing. I loved it, though. And sitting at the counter, directly in front of the chefs, was quite a treat.

My Japanese is terrible, but good enough to more or less express needs and desires – and having a menu with pictures obviously helps. I had a sushi platter, which I completely forgot to photograph. Laurent had a chirashi-don, a bowl of rice topped with various slices of fish and seafood. Again, I had no idea what half the fish were. All I knew was that it was all super fresh, and delicious.

I can't wait to find out what the rest of the trip will bring.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Daring Cooks' May Challenge - Stacked Green Chile Enchilada

Our hosts this month, Barbara of Barbara Bakes and Bunnee of Anna+Food have chosen a delicious Stacked Green Chile & Grilled Chicken Enchilada recipe in celebration of Cinco de Mayo! The recipe, featuring a homemade enchilada sauce was found on and written by Robb Walsh.

I love Mexican and Tex-Mex food. One of our favourite meals around here is chicken fajitas, with guacamole, salsa, and sour cream. So I was thrilled to find that this month’s Daring Cooks’ challenge was something I had meant to try making for a while: enchiladas.

Traditionally, enchiladas are tortillas that are stuffed and rolled, like burritos, then covered with a chili sauce. Our challenge, however, was a slight variation on this: rather than roll our tortillas, we were to stack them, interspersed with layers of filling, sauce, and cheese, lasagna-style. The requirement was to make our own chili sauce, and we had the option of making our own tortillas.

The main ingredients in the sauce were Anaheim chiles and tomatillos – neither of which I was sure I would be able to find. Fortunately, while browsing in the ethnic section of my neighbourhood, I stumbled upon a Mexican store that carried all sorts of things, including canned tomatillos (I was told fresh ones weren’t in season, and that I had little chance of finding any). They also had stuff I’d been looking for for a long time, such as canned chipotle in adobo. I literally jumped for joy when I found that, because I’ve come across so many recipes that require it; I know how to make it from dehydrated chipotle peppers, but it’s a drag.

The Anaheim chiles, however, were a different matter. I have a relatively diversified produce store nearby, but, while they are very good at labelling their many varieties of salads, they are fairly clueless about chili peppers. The only one which is clearly identified is the japaleno, and I knew it would be too hot for this sauce. All the other kinds of chiles are usually labelled “Hot Chili Pepper,” and their presence on the shelves is far from reliable. On the day I went looking, the store only had these long, green chiles, and I have absolutely no idea what they are called. If anyone knows, I’d be grateful if you could enlighten me.

Anyways, I had too many tomatillos, so I made double the amount of sauce. The first step was roasting, then cleaning the chiles. I’ve done this with sweet bell peppers, and I’ve handled enough jalapenos to know to wash my hands carefully afterward, and not to touch my face during the process. However, I had never roasted hot peppers before, and hadn’t accounted for the fact that I would be handling them for so long: after all, I had almost two dozen roasted chiles to skin, seed, and chop. That went fine, but it wasn’t until after the sauce was done that I realized my hands felt funny…

They weren’t burning, exactly. They felt more like how your skin feels when you dip it in hot water, and then immediately in ice-cold water. It didn’t hurt, but it was unsettling. I washed my hands several times, but the sensation persisted. So I turned to the trusty Internet, and found that soaking in cold milk could help. I tried that, and it helped for a while, but then the sensation returned. Laurent came home around then (I’m grateful he didn’t find me marinating my hands in milk: I would never have heard the end of it), and suggested I try toothpaste. So I walked around with toothpaste on my hands for a while, but again, it failed to solve the problem permanently. Finally, we tried shaving cream. That one worked, but I couldn’t tell you if it was the shaving cream itself, or the cumulative effect of all the other remedies I’d tried, or if the capsaicin had simply worn off.

Anyways, after that ordeal, I continued the challenge the following day. The recipe suggested using grilled chicken, but I don’t have a barbecue, so I decided to braise some chicken thighs instead – and get some chicken stock out of it, while I was at it. I followed the rest of the recipe to the letter, but made individual portions, rather than one large casserole. I served it with a salad of corn, avocado, black beans, and cilantro. And it was good. Seriously yummy, with so many flavours I enjoy. I had really been afraid the sauce would be too spicy, but it was just perfect!

My only regret was that I hadn’t made my own tortillas. I had bought the masa harina and everything, but when the time came, I was just too tired and hungry to go to the trouble. However, a few days before the deadline, I found myself with some free time, and an overwhelming desire to use up the other leftover chili sauce I had frozen, so I decided to do the challenge again. This time, I made the tortillas and, while I would have liked them to be thinner, they were still good for their intended purpose, and actually really fun to make.

For my second attempt, I used a mixture of sautéed ground beef, scallions, and red bell pepper for my filling, with just a hint of cumin. And I made a large dish, this time. Again, it was really good: comforting, flavourful, and filling. And I am still in love with that sauce.

Barbara and Bunnee, I want to seriously thank you for this delicious and informative challenge! Thank you for organizing this!

Now, if you want to make yummy enchiladas of your own, head on over to The Daring Kitchen and check out the challenge recipe. Don’t forget to check out all the amazingly creative meals the other Daring Cooks have come up with!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day Sweetness - Dentelles de Bruges

Happy Mother’s Day!

My mother lives across the ocean, so it’s been a while since I’ve seen her in person on this day. I do call her, even though it can’t quite compare.

My mother has always fed me well, and for that I am very grateful. She always made healthy meals, introduced me to a variety of foods, and cooked for us nearly every evening – which, as I soon realized, was not the case for some of my friends’ moms. And now that I am interested (well, more than interested) in cooking myself, she shares with me all the advice and tips she has. I turn to her whenever I’m unsure about a dish, and she nearly always has the answer. So really, there is a lot of her on this blog, even when I don’t mention her.

Now, ideally, I would share one of my mom’s recipes with you today. Unfortunately, I don’t have any documented or photographed ones on hand at the moment. I can think of a bunch I would love to share, but when I do, I want to do it right. Don't worry, you'll get them.

So instead, I’m going to give you a recipe my grandmother taught me. I’m talking about my father’s mother. She… actually doesn’t have quite the same passion for cooking that my mother and I have, which may seem odd: it often seems like all of our grandmothers are goddesses in the kitchen. My grandmother is a passionate gardener, but cooking is not really her thing. Nevertheless, because she lived through a time where women prepared all the food, period, she did end up acquiring a knowledge of cooking. She taught me how to make mayonnaise from scratch. And she also taught me today’s recipe: dentelles de Bruges.

“Dentelle” means “lace” in French. And the Belgian city of Bruges is famous for its elaborate, delicate lace. These dentelles, however, are not of the thread variety. They are paper-thin crisps that are a sugary, buttery delight. They are extremely easy to make, and are great eaten on their own as a sweet treat, or as a garnish for a dessert or an ice cream.

So, for Mother’s Day, here’s a little sweetness.

Dentelles de Bruges

Yields about 7 dozen cookies

200g (1 cup, 7 oz) unsalted butter, softened
200g (1 cup, 7 oz) brown sugar (preferably non-refined cane sugar)
100g (3/4 cup, 3.5 oz ) flour

Preheat oven to 200ºC (400ºF).

With a whisk of a fork, combine the brown sugar and the butter. Incorporate the flour, until you obtain a mealy mixture.

Take teaspoonfuls of the dough, and place them on a baking sheet, making sure to leave enough space between them, as they will spread. Put the baking sheet in the oven.

Keep an eye on the cookies, as things will be happening very fast. The dough will melt and spread, then begin to bubble. When the cookies start to brown at the edges, remove the baking sheet from the oven.

Let the cookies cool until they have hardened, and remove them from the sheet with a spatula.
Repeat this process as often as necessary, until you run out of dough (use several baking sheets if you want). Store the cookies in an airtight container.

NOTE: If you prefer your dentelles to be a little less brittle, add a bit more flour, until you obtain a texture to your liking.

Monday, May 3, 2010

When reality draws from fiction - Oishinbo-style Ramen

I think I’ve mentioned Oishinbo on this blog before, but never got around to elaborate on it.

Some of you may know that I read manga (Japanese comics) for a living. Sort of. I’m doing a PhD on Japanese popular culture, so I get to do a lot of fun stuff during the day (read comics, play games, watch anime) and pass it off as work. Of course, there’s a more serious aspect to this, too (such as reading phenomenological theory – which sometimes doesn’t come close to being fun), but all in all, I feel pretty blessed.

Honestly, the only way I could be happier was if I was writing my thesis specifically on food manga. Because there is a lot of food manga out there! Now, it’s a little too late to change my thesis topic, but it doesn’t mean I can’t read every culinary manga I can get my hands on!

One of my very favourite series is Oishinbo, written by Tetsu Kariya and drawn by Akira Hanasaki. It’s actually a very long-running series (in fact, it is exactly as old as I am), but recently, best-of anthologies have been translated into English.

Oishinbo is all about Japanese cuisine. It revolves around a journalist, who happens to be a very knowledgeable gourmet, and who is tasked with creating the Ultimate Japanese Menu – a process which ends up taking many, many years. So, throughout the story, he travels around Japan, trying out different dishes, and figuring out what makes them work.

Now, his father also happens to be a renowned gourmet – but they don’t get along very well at all. Inevitably, they run into each other, get into an argument about food, and… decide to settle it with a contest! They’ve done this with a wide array of Japanese dishes: sashimi, ramen, gyoza, onigiri, miso soup… you name it, they’ve battled about it. You can see why this appeals to the self-confessed food geek that I am. I mean, they’re getting all excited about food! And the suspense is always hilarious, going somewhere along these lines:

Taster: Ooooh, this rice is exquisite! It is so fluffy and light! It caresses the tongue! It is perfect! *he tastes the second batch of rice* Wait a minute! I was so wrong! I thought the first rice was good, but now I see that, compared to this one, it was nothing!

All joking aside, though, this series is hugely informative. It really teaches you the basics of Japanese cuisine, such as how to store rice, how to tell is a sake is legit, and how to make dashi (clear broth) from scratch. Also, each volume features one or two recipes, complete with quantities and instructions.

I want to share one of these recipes with you today. It’s a miso-flavoured pork ramen, that has the particularity of being made with katsuobushi dashi (katsuobushi is dried bonito, or skipjack tuna). Surprisingly, the smoky fishiness of the dashi works really well with the pork.

We love making this ramen at home. I’ve adapted the quantities a little, to make it a full meal.

Oishinbo-Style Miso Ramen
Adapted from the Oishinbo manga series (Ramen and Gyoza volume)

Serves 2

4-6 large shiitake mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed and minced
120 ml (1/2 cup) katsuobushi flakes (tightly packed)
1 litre (4 cups) water
4 tbsp soy sauce
200- 230 g (7-8 oz) fresh ramen (or substitute with dried ramen, or Chinese egg noodles)
3 tbsp hatcho miso (or substitute with red miso)
3 tbsp sake
1 1/2 tbsp sesame oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 large shallot, minced
150g (5 oz) lean ground pork
3 scallions, minced
Chinese chives, for garnish (optional)

Bring the 4 cups of water to a boil in a pan. Put in the katsuobushi flakes, turn off the heat, and let stand for 2 minutes, or until the flakes fall to the bottom of the pan. Strain the dashi through a sieve lined with cheesecloth (or paper towels). Stir in the soy sauce, and return the pot to medium heat to keep warm (the soup should be steaming).

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Dilute the miso with the sake. Reserve.

Heat the sesame oil over high heat in a wok, and fry the garlic for 30 seconds, or until it begins to release its aroma. Add the shallot and the pork, and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add the scallions and mushrooms to the pork mixture, and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the miso and continue cooking until the liquid has almost completely evaporated, but the mixture is still somewhat moist. Keep warm over low heat, and reserve.

Cook the ramen in the boiling water for 2-3 minutes. If using dried noodles, follow the packaging instructions. Drain and divide into bowls.

Pour the dashi into the bowls. Top with the pork mixture. Garnish with chopped Chinese chives if desired (or regular chives). Serve immediately.