Monday, December 26, 2011

Home Spaghetti Naporitan Part 2 - Gyoniku Sausage. Oyakodon Revenge Redo

My Holiday break home cooking continues. Had another round of Japanese Spaghetti Naporitan because I enjoyed my last so much.(!) I also tend to like to prepare the same meal multiple times in a row until I feel I mastered it, or at least would feel comfortable making it for guests. I tend to cut down on waste that way, using up whatever specific ingredients I may had to buy, and you get yourself a merit badge sort of speak for the dish. But anyway I've talked about the quirky Naporitan on the blog time to time but in case you missed, it's a specific Japanese adapted dish of pan-fried spaghetti noodles flavored mainly with tomato ketchup.

Like any dish there are many Napo variations and styles. Many are 'wetter' and therefore much more ketchupy (like the example introduced on youtube Cooking with Dog's version of the recipe). In the end, really comes to a matter of preference but I always enjoyed more the dryer, hard pan/wok-fried style. My portable Iwatani propane burner seems to output higher heat than my natural gas stove so that's been helping out some, but eventually I'll be purchasing a true high BTU setup.

So while I may have used the word "sear" a little too often on my last post, it was my way of stressing its importance with at least this style of Napo that I prefer. Ones where the tomato based condiment (with an interesting history itself) is caramelized in the wok with high heat in a little oil and butter. While there still will be a subtle sweet edge, the heat transforms most of the sharp "ketchupy" flavor to something rounder and actually quite tasty... With a good disclaimer here that I have grown up with the dish, ha. But I did always feel the spirit of the Napo had closer ties to the Yakisoba if it helps put things in perspective.

Having said this I actually wouldn't freely recommend the particular version here to most only because it uses the Gyoniku "fish meat" sausage I mentioned last. The play-doh pink all-fish sausage has the fine texture of dense Kamaboko but seasoned and colored to resemble a hot dog wiener. The resulting Napo however is in a league of elite humbleness and exclusivity.(!?) So without further ado, let's get the party started.

[The Gyoniku Sausage. No jokes please.]

Gyoniku fish sausage is not entirely my most favorite thing in the world but it does ring some early nostalgic childhood memories. One of suspended shorts, high socks, scabbed knees and rubber soccer ball that goes *poiink* when kicked. Like most luncheon meats, not all that bad when cooked. [See first disclaimer...] It may in fact never come up again in my future posts but gosh darn it, the lunch did turn out quite good while also hitting a nice sentimental note which I can't say I'm not a sucker for.

Other ingredients were same as last. Piiman bell pepper, onions and Shimeji mushrooms. If you've noticed the thicker Spaghetti noodles I had to look around for it. Eventually found an organic private label at Whole Foods that was 2.2mm (dry). Was the closest to the thicker 2.1mm used at Naporitan mecca Shinbashi, legendary Pont Neuf (ポンヌフ) cafe. One of these days I shall visit.(!)

Next day was a redo of the Aburi Chicken Oyakodon with Gobo. I still had another good three feet of both the Gobo and Naga Negi to use up. My last tasted great, it just looked pretty dreary, so this was more a visual execution exercise for my sake. The egg-centric dish made for a nice brunch on top.

You don't have to have one of these Oyako-Nabe's but it's helpful, especially in the plating when making tamago-toji style egg-sealed donburi bowls, the rice evenly blanketed with a quick snap of the wrist. Mine is a fancy copper one (because I'm a wannabe) but inexpensive aluminum ones which are as good can be purchased at most Japanese markets, sometimes even at bargain $1.99 shops. The chicken's skin has already been grilled which is part of this Oyakodon recipe.

Btw, I completely forgot to mention previously but the technique for an evenly soft tamago-toji finish is to divide the egg pouring into two separate sets. When ready (chicken pieces cooked through), slowly pour the first half of the lightly scrambled egg starting from the inside toward the out of the pan. Cover for a moment on low to help set then add the yolkier last half to finish. Cook the eggs to desired doness, mine is always a wiggly medium rare as it should be.

I'd give it a B, B-, but this definitely looks a lot nicer than last. I feel better now, haha.

Stems of the Mitsuba (Japanese parsley) had been finely minced and sprinkled on top which gives some additional texture. The shredded Kizami Nori is optional. But I can't recommend more the grilling of the chicken's skin prior to. This Oyakodon is really great.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Home Japanese Spaghetti Naporitan

Made a Japanese Spaghetti Naporitan for fun with it's red, white and green festive colors.(?) Despite the name, the Naporitan is a specifically Japanese adapted dish of seared spaghetti noodles seasoned mainly with a little tomato ketchup. Yup. Odd what things you start to crave when you grow up with certain foods but I feel recently the dish has been having a small comeback with adults rediscovering Japanese retro-nostalgia cuisine. If it sounds confusing that's quite alright. Despite the sounding though, the searing process (with a little help of butter) transforms the seemingly sharp ketchupy flavor to something much rounder and surprisingly palatable (at least imho). I always felt the pan-seared Napo with its accessible ingredients made the dish much closer in spirit to the Yakisoba than anything else.

Although I've seen "upscale" Napo's include shrimp and additionally fortified with demi glace, even scratch made chicken & beef tendon bouillon, I feel in its natural state the more simple the ingredients the better. Typical are thinly sliced onions, bell peppers, sometimes mushrooms (often canned), a high in flavor inexpensive protein such as deli ham (sliced into strips), wieners, occasionally bacon. I did think of using the suspiciously pink all-fish gyoniku sausage to send the dish into an even yet super-elite category and league of frugality, but that would be for another post.

I ended up using, deli ham, onions, Japanese Piiman bell peppers and Shimeji mushrooms. Piiman are the thin-walled Japanese bell peppers. I've successfully substituted Green Pasilla Chile Peppers in the past in a few recipes that call for it if you don't mind ending up with something with a little heat (but the texture is surprisingly similar). Otherwise you can save yourself some trouble and just use regular bell peppers.

Have your spaghetti precooked past its al-dente state (important) awaiting in a strainer. I discovered noodles done al dente actually become a little too toothy after being pan-fried. The softer cooked will regain much of its texture in the sear, a classic high-heat stir-frying so have everything ready and at arm's reach. The entire process isn't going to take very long.

- With oil of choice (I used garlic oil) sear your sliced ingredients in high heat (best in a wok).
- In a minute or two at the ingredients' par-cooked state, add the spaghetti, lightly S&P. Continue to sear and toss to further incorporate.
- Before seasoning with ketchup, add a drizzle of white wine or in my case Japanese Sake. I love how the Sake infuses a subtle Wa-fu note to the dish. Sizzle toss a few more times.
- Now add some ketchup! Not a whole lot, about 2~3-tbsp depending on the quantity of noodles but I prefer a dryer end product. For once I'm not recommending Heinz brand here (and maybe not Hunts either) but instead Del Monte which isn't as on the sweet side. If you like, the ketchup can be cut with some tomato sauce/paste or even demi glace for something richer flavored. Here I kept it only ketchup. Make sure to sear well as this caramelization with the oil/butter is what transforms the ketchup's flavor.
- After you achieve a good color the second most vital part is too add a pad of (real) butter to finish things off in the end. Toss some more to unite flavors and it's done.

Tobasco and grated green tube Parmesan are common condiments but I prefer my Napo plain. I probably really don't expect anyone to make this but man was it good! ;)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Aburi Chicken Oyakodon

Been wanting to make this Oyakodon recipe for a while (the youtube clip is in Japanese). The twist is that the chicken (boneless thigh portion) is quick aburi grilled on the skin side so to give the dish that subtle char flavor component. A good trick to know when you've become bored of the traditional all-simmered taste.

I only flipped the chicken over in the photo below just to show. The chicken is still completely raw and is cut up into an inch or so smaller pieces. Easier to slice skin side down and the crackly sound it made as I cut through was so awesome. Unfortunately this wonderful texture will be gone in the eventual simmer but the smokey flavor will remain which is what we're after.

The second twist to the recipe is that it calls for Gobo burdock root. Negi (welsh onion, sometimes called Japanese leeks) are also added but the ubiquitous sliced yellow onions are not used. The Gobo is "shaved" sasagaki style with the tip of your knife. Kinda like how you'd sharpen a stick (for battle with vampires??) but with much less effort needed. The shaved Gobo rests in cold water to extract some of the unwanted aku. Strain well before using.

The golden ratio for Don-tsuyu simmer broth is 4:1:1. Four parts dashi stock, 1 part Soy Sauce and 1 part Mirin Japanese cooking wine. When I'm super duper lazy I sometimes use soba tsuyu from the bottle. The flavor will be slightly different but close enough and does the job when in desperation.
The Gobo goes in first since the root takes a little longer to cook than the rest of the ingredients. I won't go into detaills the rest of the cooking process but you can search "oyakodon" in youtube and get a ton of hits. I particularly enjoy the "Cooking with Dog" series (which is in English). Mitsuba (Japanese parsley?) sprinkled at the end, stems and all.

One home oyakodon post, done!

[Update: Since did a revenge redo that turned out a lot better!]

I ♥ Detroit - A Detroit Coney Dog @ National Coney Island (DTW)

Yay, a Detroit Coney. The last I had was too many years ago, long before starting the blog or regularly taking photos of my meals. I somehow thought the first I had was at Lafayette (the name had rung a close note) but after some quick searching doesn't seem likely. I remember it being a larger chain and so may in fact have been another National Coney Island elsewhere.

There are at least three in the Detroit Metro Airport but the one I visited was the sit down in Concourse A. My blogger friend Kaszeta of Offbeat Eats does a great job explaining the somewhat confusing nomenclature of "Coney Island." The name to most is commonly familiar as that peninsula in New York with the famous amusement park (that by definition any hot dog served there is technically a 'Coney Island Hot Dog'...).

In other cities in the country however such as Detroit, it's synonymous to a type of regional hot dog served with beanless chili, yellow mustard and onions. Cincinnati has their own variant called the Cheese Coney that is smaller in size and served with their own indigenous Cinnamon spiked meat chili and mound of finely shredded cheese (that I experienced in spaghetti form at Skyline in Cleveland).

National seems to use their own self name branded all-beef natural casing dog (that I've read are similar to Koegel's used elsewhere in the city). The steamed buns were perfectly soft and the all important chili made often with lean heart meat that is seasoned and spiced just so. I'm convinced that once people taste these, they'd feel the ones served at mega-chains (particularly the one that rhymes with Wonder-schnitzel) seem like a cruel joke. My only regret the day was that I didn't order two.

National Coney Island (DTW), 1 Detroit Metro Airport Detroit, MI 48242

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Giant Stuffed Napa Cabbage

A giant stuffed Napa (Hakusai) cabbage that I learned on a Japanese cooking show some time ago. The recipe was easy enough to remember without having to write most things down.

Had to first go find a smaller Napa that would fit my Le Creuset Tomato (or use more the inner leaves of a larger). I used about nine leaves but it all depends how massive of one you're willing to create I guess. These leaves get a quick blanch in boiling water then are set aside in a strainer to cool.

The meat stuffing is very easy but I'm planning to experiment more next time. You end up with a nice simple dish but I wouldn't have minded a little more interest in flavor and texture. I did end up underseasoning it a little so maybe that was it, but anyway it called for ground pork with only Panko bread crumbs moistened with some milk, S&P.
Knead everything very well. With this lesser amount of moisture you'll end up with something with a lot of adhesion (sticky) which is what you need for it to stick well to the cabbage leaves and not separate during cooking.
Construction first begins by making a core with two leaves stuffed resembling a clamshell. The alternating consecutive layers, the leaves are spread with 1/4~3/8" of the kneaded pork. Continue like you're reassembling the cabbage back to its original form. When you think you reached the desired size (or run out of ingredients), tie snugly with butcher's twine.

Drop a bouillon cube of choice (I used half because it was a larger cube). A tomato cut into quarters (cherry tomatoes are a good substitute). I drizzled a bit of extra virgin olive oil though it wasn't mentioned. You don't need a lot of water, only an inch or so up. After it reaches a boil, lid and lower heat to a medium simmer. Mine took a total of 25 mins, turning it over around the half way mark and basting semi regularly.

Slice into thick portions and dress with some of the simmer liquid. I love coarse ground pepper on pretty much everything. As with most stewed dishes will taste even better the next day. Again, will probably play around with the stuffing mixture next time. Maybe add finely minced onions, even experiment with a partial beef blend. Still was pretty good though.

Canine Cologne of Pink Candles at Ridgemont High was kind enough to invite me on a South Bay taco crawl yesterday along with Cathy of Mmm-Yoso and Carol of Cab Cooks. They all had gifts and I felt lame not having any! The Pulla (Finnish Cardamon Coffee Bread) was from Cathy which she baked herself. Festive cookies in the cellophane bag was from Carol (also homemade), and whole bunch of goodies from CC including pomegranate molasses, garlic spice blend from Gilroy and even an purple ube cake. Thanks guys and Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Hawaiian Plate Lunch Tribute To Mr. OkiHwn

I'm having a hard time remembering when I first found Nate's Hwn Pake in Okinawa blog, but back then he was still actually stationed on the island and I quickly became a regular reader. At the time I hadn't been back home for eight plus years and I was giddy in having found this wondrous portal of being able to vicariously view, envy and nostalgically reminisce over meals that I had grown up with. All to a large extent of regretfully having taken them for granted of course.

[Photo: Hwn Pake In Okinawa]

There are a wide array of food blogs out there that range from travelog based, some focused around recipes, others on reviews, and everything in between. As much as I enjoy them all, the style I tend to love the most are the ones like OkiHwn's that generously opens their everyday meal consuming lives for any all to enjoy, free of preconceptions or fear of judgment. So much so I wished more around the globe would follow suit.

[Photos: Hwn Pake In Okinawa]

One day it would be a seemingly basic bento package from a neighborhood stand (but with distinctive local flare details such as bitter melon stir-fries and fried pork luncheon meat). Other times an Okinawan Tebichi Soba from a favorite shop with stewed pig's feet that had been long simmered to literal fall-off-bone consistency (years later I would visit). In the last year or so he had been re-stationed back in Hawaii but still kept the blog going.

Well after not having heard from him in a few months, I got word from blogger friend Kat that OkiHwn had in fact passed away. Kirk, Cathy and Carol made it to Homestyle Hawaiian today for a small plate lunch tribute. (Thanks for making the time in short notice guys!)

This was our spread above. Carol and Cathy got the Korean Chicken plate which is crispy breaded chicken pieces with I think a sugar/soy sauce type dressing. I got the Lava Chicken which was a nice Chicken Katsu, the meat surprisingly juicy tender with a sweet/savory/spicy dressing. Photographed it in the typical bird's-eye meteorological style of OkiHwn's. It was pretty Ono!

But I have to say I envied Kirk's plate the most. A combo Roast Pork and Katsu smothered in brown gravy.(!!) I'll have to get that next time when in need of my gravy fix...

Thanks for sharing a part of your life with us Nate. You will be missed.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I ♥ Atlanta - Fried Chicken Dinner @ Paschal's (ATL Terminal C)

Had a stopover in Atlanta Airport recently and wanted to share my dinner that turned out decent (for airport food anyway). Hartsfield-Jackson now has two Paschal's outlets and sounded like a good plan to check one of them out. According to Chowhounder maestrette, "the original Paschal's restaurant is an Atlanta institution in business since 1947. It was the site of many strategy meetings held by Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders during the 1960s."

I ended up at the casual sit down location in Terminal C. The one in Terminal A is an express counter. Although I took the time to carefully look over the menu on the official online site, the offerings at the airport unfortunately seemed to have been watered down considerably. I'm guessing to cater to the majority indifferent transient crowd (Nachos anyone?). But lucky for me they did manage to save the fried chicken plate that I was set on. The roast chicken and meatloaf with special gravy were also enticing though.

I'm not sure how close this airport rendition of Paschal's famous recipe Southern fried chicken compares to the brick and mortar original's but thought it was pretty decently executed for one that was most probably done in a deep fryer (a cast iron skillet would be my preferred way). The seasoning seemed a bit light and maybe young with the buttermilk brine (if it were done the way), but was a nice large and juicy quarter leg portion with a relatively lighter crust. White meat is optional of course.

The two side choices were Mac and Cheese and candied yams. Switched out the small green salad to instead a third side of steamed cabbage cause I like to keep it real which made it a more classic Meat and Three plate. The candied yams were awesome, very cinnamony and reminded me of Christmas to come. The cabbage was only ok, tasting a little stringent and thought it could've been cooked in a little more lube, either in butter or classic pork fat form. The Mac and Cheese was actually better than I thought it would be with some nice caramelized bits from the edges of the pan. A reminder here that these country kitchen M&C's are not your fancy triple cheese concoction that may have won an online recipe contest or two. This is Mac and Cheese made for those that eat it often. Good, simple, and comforting.

Atlanta International Airport - Terminal C, 6000 N Terminal Pkwy, Atlanta, GA 30320

Monday, December 12, 2011

Retort Reports: A Mabo Curry And Another From MUJI. Izakaya Sakura Update

Happy Monday. I'm five days away from my Winter Vacation, woot. Tonight sharing a couple more Retort Pouch Curries and an Izakaya Sakura update.

I'm not sure for how long but Bandai Namco Games has been collaborating with House Foods in promoting the Sony PS3 RPG game Tales of... series with a special edition Mabo Curry packaging. I think the meal comes up in side stories within the game (how clever) but anyway the boxes below were purchased beginning of the year and is from Tales of Graces F. I had this final second stash end of November which was another episode of consuming a pantry item edging uncomfortably close to its expiration date. Oo la laa.

Love child of spicy Mapo Doufu and the familiar stewy Japanese Curry, I couldn't tell you who invented the Mabo Curry and when but House Foods has got it covered. With cubed soft tofu and conservative amount of ground meats, partially tasty Mabo and partially tasty Curry, sounds almost ingeniously clever and would've liked to have said a match made in heaven but somehow managed to not satisfy either of my cravings. This was pretty high in the junk food flavor-o-meter that I felt more in tune with taste palates of the ever evolving fast food tech-urbanite Akihabara culture and Japanese Gen-Z preteens maybe.(?)

My second sampling, I knew the product was somewhat lacking in complexity so had sprinkled some Japanese Sansho pepper for a little woodsy lemony spice. (Sansho, a relative to the Szechuan pepper corn doesn't have the intense spicy numbing effect but more an aromatic that goes well with grilled unagi and Japanese Mabo). I definitely wouldn't go as far as considering the meal bad but can safely say a one time experiment with me. Next...

My first MUJI retort pouch curry I posted on their spicy Thai Green Curry. Since I had professed my love for all things MUJI there I'll refrain from doing so again here. This day I had the Butter Chicken Curry (aka murgh makhani) at a ticklish Two Muji Red Chili Pepper spice rating. According to an unofficial MUJI Curry popularity chart, said to be one of their best sellers.

Switched plating plans last minute sorry, ha. Anyway this was a nice mellow Butter Chicken that wasn't too heavy on the butta and cream/yogurt but guilty enough. The subtle flavors of ginger, garlic and acidity from sweet tomato puree offset things well with also the leaner but tender chicken breast pieces complementing.

As Kirk of Mmm-Yoso had mentioned in this post, Izakaya Sakura has been closed since the Hooka lounge next door had a small fire mishap and caused some smoke damage to neighboring shops. As a long time regular it's been strange seeing Sakura closed as I often walk over to rent Japanese television programs couple doors down. Unbeknownst to many they were a 365-day, year round operation open for lunch and dinner on all holidays including Thanksgiving, Christmas and even New Years Day. I got the impression they won't be operating any time in the immediate future (probably at least to early next year) since it seems they've taken the opportunity to do some interior renovating. Great for them.

[Sakura's hybrid yoshoku Hayashi Omurice plate ($9)]

These days when in the area have been getting my Japanese fix mostly at trusty (Wa Dining) Okan while I still have a slew of lunches documented mid year at their sister restaurant Oton (that I've been meaning to share for a while). Haven't had the chance to revisit Hinotez since my last longer opening month post but did notice an advert in one of the free Japanese publications that refills of rice and miso soup were now free during breakfast.(!) Must go, but I've even been back to Chopstix (both locations) after recently making personal amends as well. Despite a few meal disappointments in the past at Tajima, I still feel they're a decent stand by while it's also been too long since I visited Ramen Yakyudori for no real valid reason except for being busy blogging other lunch spots. Can't forget about Sushi Yaro (former Sammy Sushi) too with many more to list here but thanks to Cathy, of team Mmm-Yoso, I even found a new Japanese restaurant in the La Mesa area - Shizuoka that I'm looking forward in posting on in the near future. Love these cozy mom and pop places!

When I get a more firm date on when Sakura may be back operating I'd be sure to report.

Izakaya Sakura, 3904 Convoy St #121, San Diego, CA 92111

Saturday, December 3, 2011

I ♥ Nashville - Bolton's Spicy Chicken & Fish

Another episode on one of Nashville's indigenous specialties, the venerable devilish demigod of eats, the Hot Chicken. My first experience of Hot Chicken was at Prince's earlier this year. The memory, a conflicting one of pain and pleasure but somehow I find myself back for another bout. The night only half past 8PM felt much later how quiet the strip Bolton's is located on was. With the cold light drizzle out I couldn't wait to step in.

While Prince's still had a feeling of a small restaurant, Bolton's was indeed a tiny cinder block shack, the interior no bigger than a cozy bedroom (with pink walls).

I debated to go Medium (as was the conclusion for future hot chicken after my experience at Prince's), but last minute switched to Hot, quarter-leg portion (dark meat). You order through the tiny sliding window with sound of muffled Blues music blaring out back. Things are based on a trust system here where you pay after you're done with your meal, tapping again on the same window you ordered through. I get to witness the single large cast iron skillet twice. :)

The chicken came out in a good ten minutes or so. These Hot Chicken have a mysterious unidentifiable sweet aroma to them, my guess from all the caramelized spices that survived the fry. Paprika or maybe the powdered cayenne does it but in any case it is a misdirected tease of what your taste buds are about to embark. The few pickle coins on top are a tradition.

This was good Southern Fried Chicken, if not overall on the greasier side. The two slices of spongy Wonder Bread were performing to its full potential. A nice crust, fried slowly both sides in the skillet to a darker medium brown (though the spices make it red). The heat I actually surprisingly managed. The Scoville level probably hovering at Medium if at Prince's. It was still pretty darn spicy, just not tingly involuntary facial tick inducing as my first. The meat is tender and moist but have to say the crusty spiced skin is the prize.

A place with a "Fried Chicken Shrine" painted on the side, you'd be sure that they take their fried birds seriously. Not that this is a Geno's Vs. Pat's comparison but I still have to give one up to Prince's for their flawless perfected execution, at least the one I experienced my first visit.

Bolton's is also known for their Hot Fish, an also Nashville specific cousin to the Hot Chicken. It's hard to see myself finishing a giant fried whiting, spicy or not without copious use of tartar sauce, but I think my next visit I may have to give it a try.

Bolton's Spicy Chicken & Fish, 624 Main St, Nashville, TN 37206