Unagi-don (鰻丼), Japanese Style Grilled Freshwater Eel on rice

Unagi-don (鰻丼)

24514408287_d990f9943b_o.jpg

Unagi, or Anguilla japonica (日本鰻 ), is the name of the Japanese freshwater eel thats grilled over a charcoal fire whilst being coated in sweet soy sauce glaze, a style known as kabayaki (蒲焼). It’s always been one of my personal favourite dishes and it’s what I’d usually order in a restaurant when I feel like having something soulful. Seeing how expensive a bowl of Unagi with rice usually costs, I wanted to see if it where possible to make yourself and this post explores that. Other than it’s usual preparation method, Unagi is sometimes grilled with salt alone and served with wasabi, a style known as shioyaki (塩焼き).

Today, Unagi is not only eaten all year round, but also throughout the entire world, so much that it has become a staple dish that one expects in any Japanese restaurant outside of Japan. This in return, has caused a decline in freshwater eel stocks to almost endangered levels. To counter the problem, the Unagi industry has switched to commercial farming of freshwater eel to meet the demand of various restaurants around the world. This solution however has not stemmed the problem of declining wild stocks as the current eel breeding technology is in it’s primitive stages and thus eel farming requires baby eels to be caught from the wild before being raised in captivity. While Unagi live their whole adult life in freshwater, they actually return to the sea to spawn and lay eggs.

Historically, Unagi used to be eaten on the midsummer day of the Ox (土用の丑の日), which falls on the 12th day before the start of autumn, as the protein and vitamin rich Unagi was said to provide strength and energy to workers for the coming year. Lake Hamana in Hamamatsu city, Shizuoka prefecture, is said to be where the best freshwater eel in Japan as the eel here is said to have superior flavour. As almost all of the eel eaten in Japan today is farmed, some farmers are trying to farm eel in a way that mimics wild in as close as possible as wild eel is suppose to have superior flavour due to its fat composition. Unagi naturally feel on plankton during the summer on order to grow as quickly as possible, before slowing down during the autumn in order to start storing fat. In the winter, these eels start to hibernate. These farmers try to mimic the seasons as close as possible in their farming ponds, even going the extra mile to store the Unagi in barrels which are placed in ice cold streams during the winter months to facilitate hibernation. This process is repeated over several seasonal cycles before the eels are harvested.

39349936542_b73752713f_o.jpg

Unagi itself has an intrinsically rich and strong flavour, which is why the kabayaki style by which it is traditional prepared is so suitable for it as the mixture of caramelised sweet sauce pairs very well with it. The methods for preparing Unagi is so ingrained in Japanese culture that the recipe for making the sweet sauce is kept secret from restaurant to restaurant. While the base of the sauce is said to be made from a mixture of soy sauce, sake, mirin and sugar, the exact proportions vary from restaurant to restaurant, with the head of the restaurant only passing down the secret recipe through the family line. These particular restaurants specialize only in the preparation of Unagi alone and the pot of sauce bubbling away in the kitchen is their most prized possession. This is because the pot of sauce in each restaurant is never allowed to run dry, but is constantly topped up everyday when it starts running low. This causes the flavour to concentrate overtime and the remaining of the previous batches sauce are mixed into the new batch and allowed to slowly caramelise again. It is said some of these sauces have been kept going for over 5 generations and well over 100 years, never being allowed to run dry. In addition to this, some restaurants dip the entire skewers of Unagi into the pot of sauce between periodically while grilling, compared to brushing the sauce unto the Unagi on this grill. This means that some of the juice form the Unagi is mixed into the sauce everyday. Having been repeated everyday for over 100 years, causes each pot of Unagi sauce to develop its own individual complex flavour.

The method for preparing Unagi is also unique compared to other fish. In almost all other fish, the belly of the fish is slit open to remove the guts. In contrast, Unagi is prepared using the kejime method (活け締め), which involves, driving a meuchi (目打ち)  or nail directly through the hindbrain of a live eel, which causes immediate brain death as well as paralysis. This method is superior because it immediately causes the muscles in the eel to freeze, preventing any further use of energy in the body. If you were to kill the eel using any other method, the body of the eel would continue to trash about, causing the consumption of energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). As the eel can no longer breath (because it’s dead), ATP is broken down through anaerobic glycolysis without oxygen, thus forming lactic acid which would give the eel a sour taste.

After dispatching the eel, the eel is filleted by cutting the down the backbone all the way down the entire length of the spine, splitting the eel open from top while leaving the belly untouched. This method is unique as it causes the belly to be positioned in the middle of the fillet, compared to conventional methods where the belly is cut in half. The innards are then scrapped away and the spine removed by inserting in knife underneath it and running it down the entire length of the eel. The eel is them skewered using bamboo skewers, ready for grilling.

39284770932_596600f232_o.jpg

The entire process of grilling Unagi is actually quite complicated. After being skewered, the Unagi fillets are grilled for a short period of time before being steamed. The initial grilling starts of the mallard reaction while the steaming that follows firms up the meat. The now firm Unagi fillet can then be deboned by hand. After deboning, the fillets is then dipped into the Unagi sauce and finished off on the grill before being served hot, with the skewers removed.

If we were to consider the preparation method for Unagi compared to other fish, it could be easily said that the Japanese overcook their Unagi as seafood usually only requires a short cooking time. However, this method of grilling, steaming and grilling actually creates a melt in your mouth texture. This is because the meat of Unagi is rather firm to start of with, and thus a fast cooking method such a pan searing would result in the Unagi becoming tough and rubbery. Furthermore the blood of the Unagi is poisonous if not cooked and thus this method of cooking ensures that the Unagi is safe to eat.

Grilled Unagi is more commonly served in a bowl, which is known as Unagi-don or Unadon (鰻丼) but can sometimes be served in a lacquered box, or Unaju (鰻重).

39379551741_e2d19350d4_o

Unagi-don (鰻丼)

  • 1kg of salt
  • 500ml Water
  • 500ml Tamari Soy Sauce
  • 250g Granulated Sugar
  • 250ml Mirin
  • 200ml Sake
  • 2 Live Unagi, about 800g each
  1. Kill the 2 live Unagi by hitting each Unagi on the head with a mallet. Alternatively, if you have a nail or meuchi (目打ち) and hammer, drive the meuchi down the back of the head of the eel to kill it immediately.
  2. After dispatching the eel, clean the eel by rubbing it with the salt, one handful at a time before washing off with water. The goal here is to remove as much slime as possible from the eel using the salt. This process requires a lot of salt. Repeat several times until clean.
  3. Reattach the eel to the choping board if using a meuchi. Insert your filleting knife or debabocho (broad-bladed kitchen knife) right behind pectoral fin. and slide the knife along the entire spine to open the back.
  4. Remove innards by scrapping the knife along the eel.
  5. Remove the spine by inserting your knife under spine and running it between the spine and flesh.
  6. Place the fillets flat on the board and scrap the fillet gentle with the knife to remove any dirt.
  7. Wash gently with clean water.

    25765772618_dc6440d262_k.jpg
    Red hot Charcoal Embers
  8. To make the sauce, combine the soy sauce, mirin, water, sake and sugar together in a pot and bring to a boil while stiring constantly to fully dissolve the sugar. Bring up to a vigorous boil to evaporate the alcohol from the sake.
  9. Reduce the sauce to your desired thickness. Add more sugar or soy sauce to taste.
  10. Cut the Unagi fillet into 4 equal portions and skewer each portion with 4 to 5 skewers.
  11. Place the skewers of Unagi over a charcoal grill for 5 to 6 minutes before rotating and grilling for another 5 to 6 minutes
  12. Place the skewers of Unagi in a steamer and steam for 15 minutes.
  13. Dip the skewers of Unagi in the sauce, grill on each side for 2 minutes.
  14. repeat 2 to 3 times.
  15. Remove skewers from the fillets and serve over steaming hot rice.

38436396065_1d6733c3c5_k.jpg

Notes:

  1. It is possible to use this recipe starting with pre-filleted eels but I have yet to see it sold anywhere. The taste of fresh eel is still the best.
  2. Cleaning the eel requires a lot of salt and scrubing so it is best to wear gloves.
  3. Remember to cook the eel well as uncooked eel blood is poisonous.
  4. The innards of the eel should come out in one go if the eel is fresh.
  5. This recipe also works on catfishes.

Yeast and Beer Battered Brill with Panko Onion Rings and Garlic Aioli

Yeast and Beer Battered Brill with Panko Onion Rings and Garlic Aïoli

37007454851_86e59943ed_k.jpg

Nothing brings back memories of a visit to the seaside more than a bite into light but crispy battered fish, fresh out of the fryer. The combination of the first crunch when you sink your teeth into the batter, accompanied by the steaming hot firm flesh of fish, together make the epitome of comfort food. Everybody has their own preference on how the perfect battered fish is made. Some people prefer a thick beer batter while some people prefer it coated with breadcrumbs. Then comes the debate on what is the best fish to use. Is it questionably now sustainable cod? Or is it the now commonplace hake? Maybe you prefer a more premium fish to be used in your chippy, like halibut or turbot.

When it comes to battered fish, I prefer to use any sort of flatfish, with my personal favourite being brill. Flatfish encompass a wide range of fish such as turbot, halibut, brill, plaice and soles. They are characterised by having a flat underbelly, with both eyes having evolved to be on the same side. All flatfish live on the seafloor, feeding off crabs and small fish while blending in with the sand and sediment to avoid predators. From a culinary perspective, flatfish are excellent as their flesh is firm and flakes of in large pieces when cooked. Furthermore, unlike other fish, flatfish do not have scales and thus are much easier to prepare. Flatfish come in all sorts of varying shapes and sizes, from the fairly small lemon sole to the sometimes humongous halibut which can reach sizes of up to 200kg a fish. For this recipe, a large flatfish fillet would be the most optimal, as it would be fairly thick, ensuring that the fish will not overcook before the batter is cooked to a delicious golden brown. A thick fillet also means that there will be a greater texture contrast between the crispy batter and the soft firm flesh inside it. In addition, a thicker fillet also translates to a smaller surface area to volume ratio, preventing too much loss of moisture when cooking, allowing the fish to retain some of its flavourful juices.

Among the different types of flatfish, the most prized flatfish favoured by chefs is the turbot, which as well as having the characteristic firm flesh found in flatfish, also has dense meat and a subtly sweet taste. As mentioned above, my preferred fish of choice for this dish is the closely related brill, also known as Scophthalmus rhombus. In comparison to turbot, brill can be said to be its undervalued brother, selling for much cheaper and affordable prices. It has an identical firm texture while only tasted slightly less sweet. And in all honesty, after being deep fried in batter, this difference would no longer be noticeable. I still believe that a turbot’s taste is more superior than brill’s taste. But unless you are cooking a dish that emphasised the quality of ingredients as well as the delicate different in taste, it is not worth it paying the price premium for a turbot in comparison to brill.

35231371176_ad7248eac7_k.jpg

Brill is a brown coloured fish with light and dark patches that can be found up to 2kg in weight, thus making its fillet the perfect thickness for deep frying. When buying brill from the fishmonger, I prefer to buy whole brill as the bones of any flatfish are the best bones for making fumet (fish stock), as they are packed full of gelatin. When choosing fish, the best indicators of fresh fish are clear and not bloodshot eyes, as well as bright red gills. Further tell tail signs of the freshness of a fish is the firmness of its flesh, which should be able to bounce back to shape after being pressed lightly. A fresh fish should also smell of the sea without any musky aromas. When holding up the fish, it should also be able to hold itself without going limp. Unique to flatfish, one trick to when choosing which fish to buy is to flip the fish over to it’s white underbelly and look for blemishes caused by bruising to the fish.

Yeast and Beer Battered Brill with Panko Onion Rings and Garlic Aioli

Ingredients for Beer Battered Brill:

  • 2x 200g Fish Fillets (I personally prefer using Brill), do not use any oily fish such as tuna or salmon
  • 7g of Fresh or 5g of Powdered Yeast
  • 100ml of Vodka
  • 200ml of Beer (freshly opened)
  • 400g of Plain Flour
  • Rice Flour for dusting
  • Salt
  • Vegetable Oil/Rapeseed Oil/Canola Oil
  • 10g of Beef Dripping or 5g of reused oil
  1. To start off the batter, add in the plain flour, salt and yeast. Mix well together.
  2. Add in the beer and vodka and whisk together for a minute and not any longer. It’s okay to have lumps. The batter should be think enough to coat the back of a spoon. Adjust the amount of flour or beer if necessary. (Do not add more Vodka)
  3. Let the batter chill in the fridge for around 30 minutes or place the bowl in an ice bath to quickly cool it down.
  4. Season the fish fillets with salt and let rest in the fridge for 10 minutes.
  5. To prepare the deep frying oil, fill a pot with vegetable oil and add in the beef dripping. Alternatively add in the reused oil.
  6. Heat up up the oil to 180℃ (356℉).
  7. Remove the fish fillets from the fridge and pat dry with a paper towel.
  8. Coat the fish fillets with rice flour.
  9. Dip the fish fillets in the batter and coat well, wiping off excess batter.
  10. Transfer to the hot oil and fry until it is a crispy golden colour.
  11. Remove and pat dry the excess oil using a paper towel.
  12. Serve immediately and enjoy!

36539632100_90866a42bd_k_Fotor.jpg

Notes:

  • The batter should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, somewhat like the consistency of a hollandaise sauce. Too thin and it won’t be crispy and too thick and the fish will not cook properly and the taste will be doughy.
  • A light an crispy batter is made with an aerated batter, which can be done using yeast, baking powder or a carbonated liquid (beer)
  • Using a carbonated liquid like beer losses their fizz the longer you leave them. To compensate for that, I add a little yeast to the batter to keep the fizz up while the batter is resting
  • Whisking the batter together for more than a minute causes gluten strands to form as two of the wheat proteins in flour, glutenin and gliadin start to bind together. While this is useful when making bread, it cause the batter to become heavy.
  • Resting the batter causes the the small amount of gluten strands that form to relax. Counteracting this problem.
  • Adding vodka to my batter also helps makes the batter light and crispy as the alcohol in the vodka interacts with the glutenin and gliadin in the flour and prevents them from binding together. Preventing gluten strands from forming.
  • This of cause means that the batter now has a very high alcohol content, which may prevent yeast from growing. As such, I dilute the vodka with beer to lower the alcohol below 13% (which kills yeasts).
  • Keeping the batter ice cold also gives an extremely crispy batter due to the huge differences in temperature between the oil and batter, a technique from making tempura.
  • When deep frying, I prefer to use a neutral oil such as rapeseed oil or canola oil so that it does not impart any flavour into the fish. However as these oils may be harder to find, it would be easier and cheaper to just use vegetable oil.
  • In terms of improving the flavour of the fried product. It helps to add a tablespoon of beef dripping which helps give a final product a richer taste. Food cooked in oil that has been previously used in frying taste better in fresh oil. This is because as you fry oil, compounds in the oil start to oxidise and make the food taste better. So adding a bit of used oil into the fresh oil adds a lot of flavour.
  • When deep frying, the most optimal temperature is around 180℃ (356℉). Any lower than that and the batter takes too long to cook, causing the fish to overcook before the batter becomes golden and crispy. The batter will also be slightly chewy and soggy. Any higher and you risk the oil starting to smoke and the batter browning too fast.
  • Salting the fish and letting the fish rest in the fridge causes the water to be extracted from the fish, allowing the fish to have a firmer texture when frying.
  • Coating the fish with rice flour before dipping in batter into them gives a more even batter coating.
  • If the fillet stops bubbling, the fillet is already over cooked as there is no longer any steam leaving the fish fillet and the oil will start to enter the crust, making it extremely oily.
  • Do not add too many fillets into the pot at once as it causes the temperature of the oil to drop.
  • The most premium fish used for battered fish here in the UK is Halibut and Turbot which are both flatfishes. Brill is also a flatfish and in my opinion is an underrated fish which is much cheaper compared to Halibut and Turbot. Flatfishes have a firm texture which makes them perfect for deep frying.
  • Other common fish used for Fish and Chips here are cod, haddock and pollock. Cod is the most traditional fish used but due to unsustainable farming is not so common anymore. The more famous alternatives nowadays are haddock and pollock which are relatively cheap but have a rising price due to their increased popularity.

35231302106_2efc5de254_k.jpg

  • Onion Rings
    • White Onions/Yellow Onions
    • Pako Breadcrumbs
    • Rice Flour
    • Remaining Batter
  • Garlic Aïoli
    • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
    • Garlic
    • Salt
    • Egg Yoke
    • Lemon Juice
To make the Panko onion rings, cut the onions crosswise and seperate out the individual rings. If possible, remove the membrane inbetween each ring. Coat the rings in rice flour before dipping in the rings in the excess fish batter. Place the batter coated rings in a bowl of panko breadcrumbs and coat well before frying until golden brown. Again make sure the oil reheats to a 180℃ (356℉).
To make the garlic aïoli, smash the garlic cloves with the flat side of a knife. Remove the skin and add the garlic into a bowl. Add in the salt and egg yolks. Start whisking the mixture until the egg yolks are mixed with the garlic. Continue to whisk while slowly adding in oil, a few drops at a time, building up to steady stream. Add enough olive oil till the sauce has reached your desired consistancy. Add in a squeeze of lemon juice and adjust the seasoning to taste. A shortcut here is just to use a blended and blend the garlic and egg yolks together and continue to blend the mixture while slowly adding in the olive oil as the point of whisking is just to agitate the mixture to promote emulsification.
35141690311_29281c04e0_k.jpg

When deep frying, I prefer to use a neutral oil such as rapeseed oil or canola oil so that it does not impart any flavour into the fish. However as these oils may be harder to find, it would be easier and cheaper to just use vegetable oil. In terms of improving the flavour of the fried product. It helps to add a tablespoon of beef dripping which helps give a final product a richer taste. Food cooked in oil that has been previously used in frying taste better in fresh oil. This is because as you fry oil, compounds in the oil start to oxidise and make the food taste better. To enchance the flavour of your battered fish. It is also possible to mix a tablespoon of older oil into your fresh oil when deep frying. When deep frying, the most optimal temperature is around 180℃ (356℉). Any lower than that and the batter takes too long to cook, causing the fish to overcook before the batter becomes golden and crispy. The batter will also be slightly chewy and soggy. Any higher and you risk the oil starting to smoke and the batter browning too fast.

The best fish batter to me is one that light and crispy. In order to do so, we need to aerate to batter. This can be done using a raising agent such as yeast or baking powder, or simply using sparkling water or beer. My preference is to use both a mixture of yeast and beer. The explanation is as follows. When flour is mixed with water, it forms gluten strands as two of the wheat proteins in flour, glutenin and gliadin bind together. While this is useful when making bread, it cause the batter to become heavy. Resting the batter causes the gluten strands to relax. This is because it allows the batter to remain light and crispy. However, if using a carbonated liquid like beer or sparkling water, they lose their fizz the longer you leave them. To compensate for that, I add a little yeast to the batter to keep the fizz up.

15574050631_069eb59565_k.jpg
Llandudno, Wales

In addition to this, I also like to add vodka to my batter, as the alcohol in the vodka interacts with the proteins in the flour and prevents them from binding together. Preventing gluten strands from forming. This of cause means that the batter now has a very high alcohol content, which may prevent yeast from growing. As such, I dilute the vodka with beer to lower the alcohol below 13% (which kills yeasts).

Keeping the batter ice cold also gives an extremely crispy batter due to the huge differences in temperature between the oil and batter, a technique from making tempura.

When cooking the onion rings, I prefer to use Panko breadcrumbs compared to normal breadcrumbs as they have a larger surface area thus give a more crispy finish but if you can’t find them then normal breadcrumbs work as well.

32314266582_e3923635b2_k.jpg
Marseille, France

An Aïoli is a sauce that originates from the Mediterranean countries. It’s name literally means garlic and oil in Provençal and the original recipe for it does not contain egg yolks. With the rise in popularity in mayonaise, modern day recipes now contain egg yolks and added lemon juice to help cut the richness of the sauce. When making sauces such as aïoli, hollandaise or mayonaise, we need an emulsifier, which prevents a mixture of oil and water from seperating after being mixed together. This is because non-polar oil molecules have a greater affinity for each other. The same goes for polar water molecules. An emulsier works by having both a hydrophilic (water loving) and hydrophobic (water hating) chemical group. The hydrophilic group sticks into the suspended water particles while the hydrophobic group sticks to oil and prevents the two from joining.

Examples of emulsifiers are lecithins which are found in egg yolks, and compounds found in garlic, which is why it is possible to make an Aioli without egg yolks.

Tongbaechu-kimchi 통배추김치

Tongbaechu-kimchi 통배추김치

38933008232_d4bcd03869_k.jpg

Ah the sweet smell of fermentation, the technique used to preserve food for centuries before the invention of refridgerators and freezers. Fermentation allowed food to be kept for longer periods of time, especially important during the winter when food was scarce, while also allowing people to eat fruits and vegetables outside their seasons. Making kimchi yourself even has a certain satisfaction to it, the feeling of reenacting a processed used by humans from so many generations before. Then theres that small sense of pleasure popping open a jar of newly fermented of kimchi, the small hiss when all the carbon dioxide produced from fermentation is released from the jar, followed by that characterestic sweet and sour but yet so pungent smell that people either love or hate.

The word Kimchi is actually the general term of any traditional Korean dish made of vegetables that were salted, this included spicy and non-spicy dishes, as well as fermented and non-fermented dishes. Because of this, they’re are almost an uncountable different variations in Kimchi, coming from different parts of Korea. My favorite version of Kimchi by concept is actually Sachal Tongpaechu 사찰 통배추 김치, which is the Kimchi made by monks in the Korean Buddhist Temples. These Buddhist monks do not believe in eating meat as they do not want to harm animals, and are also not allowed to eat the five forbidden vegetables (五荤) which are asafoetida, garlic, green onion, shallots and leeks due to their pugency. Because of this their version of Kimchi is extremely simplistic and light but still contains a lot of flavour.

The most famous version of Kimchi however, is Tongbaechu-kimchi (통배추김치), made by fermenting salted cabbage in garlic and radished with hot pepper flakes (Gochugaru). This version of Kimchi has become so ubiquitous that it is now assumed that you’re talking about Tongbaechu-kimchi when you say the word Kimchi. Tonbaechu-kimchi is also sometimes called baechu-kimchi.

34708545723_91f116eb1c_k.jpg
Garlic from the Marché Bastille in Paris

Other than the increased umami caused by fermentation, Kimchi is also sometimes called the “World’s healthiest food”. This claim of course is subjective and can never be proved. However, Kimchi does contain quite a substantial amount of vitamin A, B and C. Kimchi also undergoes lacto-fermentation which means that it also contains a lot of lactobacillium, the same kind of bacteria which is found in our gut- the so called ‘good bacteria’ (with the most famous being Lactobacillus kimchii). While the effectiveness of these so called ‘good bacteria’ is still up to debate, one benefit of kimchi that is undeniable is that Kimchi is made almost entirely of vegetables, which are definately good for you, providing nutrients and dietary fibre.

As mentioned above, the main process that give Kimchi it’s distinctive taste and flavour is lacto-fermentation. When people think of fermentation, they usually think of beer and wine which is fermented using yeast. Lacto-fermentation is not carried out by yeast but by a strain of bacteria called lactobacillium. Under anaerobic circumstances (no oxygen), they convert sugars into lactic acid, giving them Kimchi its sour taste. The increase in lactic acid also means a reduction of pH which is extremely important as it prevents the growth of some of the most deadly bacteria such as Clostridium botulinum which causes Botulism that can kill you in a few hours. Because of this lacto-fermented products are one of the easiest and safest to make. This also includes sauerkraut.

When people think of the term lacto-fermentation, the sugar than comes to mind is lactose, the disaccharide sugar compsed of a single galactose and glucose molecule bound together found in dairy products.  This being said, lacto-fermentation does not only work on lactose, but any kind of sugar. In order to start lacto-fermentation, you first want to kill of other bacteria before creating an anaerobic environment. When making Kimchi, this is done by first rubbing the Kimchi in salt and soaking it in brine to kill of other bacteria through osmotic crenation. The salt also draws out water from the Kimchi, thus flooding the jar the Kimchi is made in with water, removing space for oxygen to build up and creating an anaerobic environment.

The salting of kimchi is also extremely important in terms of taste and texture. For one, the lack of water in the cabbage hardens a protein called pectin that occurs naturally in the cell wall of most fruit and vegetables. This gives the cabbage in the kimchi a nice crispy texture, preventing the cabbage from going soggy and limp.

 

9948528343_073da25dc9_k.jpg
In terms of how long to ferment the Kimchi, after I have packed the fresh kimchi in the jar, I usually allow it to ferment for 1 day at a temperature of around 24°C (75°F) before storing in into the fridge. Personally, I find 1 day of fermentation long enough for the kimchi to reach my desired level of sourness. Of course the duration of fermentation also depends on the temperature of where you live in. Whilst placing the kimchi does not stop fermentation, it greatly reduces the speed of fermentation and I personally enjoy eating my kimchi over a period of time and tasting how the flavours turn stronger and stronger. This of course leads on to the question of how long can you keep your kimchi for and the honest answer to that is that it depends on your own personal preference. When you think about fermented food, it helps to realise that fermenting food is actually allowing food to go bad in a controlled manner and that fermentation can be viewed as a spectrum, where at one end of the spectrum you have fresh food, and at the other extreme end you have rotting food. In this spectrum, fermented food lies somewhere in the middle, and the level of fermentation that food can undergo before people consider it to have gone bad varies from person to person, culture to culture. From my personal experience, cultures that have traditional food made from fermentation usually have a higher tolerance to it other cultures that do not. I have even heard of famous restaurants serving year old kimchi! So to the question of how long kimchi keeps, the best answer to that is to trust your nose and to throw it out when you can no longer handle the smell or if it starts to smell rotten.
 32670606714_494d953772_k.jpg
Kimchi itself can be eaten raw as a side dish, also known as banchan (반찬) or cooked in stews and soups. When using Kimchi to cook, my preference leans towards using stronger and more fermented Kimchi, and to save the fresher Kimchi for eating on its own.

For my take on Kimchi, I believe the best secret addition to an incredible Kimchi are freshly shucked oysters! By adding oysters to Kimchi, you add a dimension of flavour to the Kimchi. Kimchi made with oysters has the very refreshing smell of the ocean that makes you feel like you’re basking on the sandy beach on a sunny day. That, added to the salty punch provided by the oyster’s juices and supple mouth feel the oysters contributes to the Kimchi makes it worth the additional cost. From what I could find, fresh oysters used to be added tobaechu-kimchi before the cost of adding oysters became so high that people stopped adding it. This, coupled with the fact that most people started buying commercially made Kimchi, which didn’t have oysters added to keep the cost low, mean’t that adding oysters to Kimchi became a thing of the past. If you are unable to find fresh oysters to shuck and add to your kimchi, a much cheaper and mroe viable alternative is using frozen oysters. I personally have tried using canned oysters and honestly it was not worth it as it does not contribute any flavour at all.

39313476801_64fd23fd36_k.jpg

In terms of safety, after a lot of painstaking research, fresh oysters are actually safe to add to Kimchi and this same Kimchi can be kept for many months without going bad. The most important factor be careful of is that the oysters must be submerged under the Kimchi brine. So here is the reasoning behind it. Most oysters in the first place are eaten raw, so just by themselves they are safe to eat. In a normal scenario, you would eat a raw oyster after its been opened for more than a few hours. However when added to Kimchi, the lactobacteria in the Kimchi prevent other types of bacteria from developing, thus protecting the oyster and keeping it safe to eat. The juice of the oysters also have an extremely high salt content, which helps to salt and preserve the Kimchi. After a few days, the oysters themselves will also start to ferment, changing their flavour.

There are also Kimchi recipes that include prawns and fish, but for safety reasons these recipes require you to ferment the Kimchi for up to a month before it is safe to eat as unless the prawns and fish are sashimi grade, they will only be safe to eat after fermenting for a longer period of time, compared to the normal 1 day.

15391095700_dcd9dfb79e_k.jpg
Llandudno, Wales

Tongbaechu-kimchi 통배추김치

  • Cabbage Preparation
    • 3kg of Napa Cabbages (배추), which is about 6 medium sized ones
    • 400g of Fine Sea Salt
    • 2.5 litres of water
  • Vegetables
    • 200g of Carrots
    • 400g of Korean Radish/Daikon/Mooli
    • 150g of Green Onions
    • 150g Asian Chives (부추)/Garlic Chives/More Green Onions
    • 150g Water Dropwort (미나리)
  • Porridge
    • 500ml of Water
    • 30g Sugar
    • 60g of Glutinous Rice Flour/Potato Flour
    • 150g of Garlic Cloves
    • 40g of Ginger
    • 200g of Yellow or White Onions
    • 70g to 150g Korean Hot Pepper Flakes (고추가루), depending on how spicy you want it
    • 200ml of Fish Sauce
    • 150g of Fermented Salted Shrimp (새우젓) or Dried Sakura Shrimp
    • 40 Freshly Shucked Oysters
  • To finish
    • Black and White Sesame Seeds
  1. Gives the Napa cabbages a wash in water to remove any dirt and soil.
  2. Cut the cabbages cross-section-wise, each into 4 evenly sliced parts, removing some of the root and core at the end. Using your hands, roughly separate the the cabbage layers from each other.
  3. Dissolve the salt in the water and add all the cabbages into the water, mixing together so that the salt water coats each leaf and stem. Try to submerge as much of the cabbage as possible.
  4. Leave to soak from 1 to 2 hours, mixing every 30 minutes so that the cabbage gets evenly salted.
  5. After salting, wash the cabbage thoroughly and drain off the water. The cabbage does not need to be totally dry.
  6. While salting the cabbage, start preparing the vegetables by julienning the carrots and radishes into matchstick size pieces. Then, finely chop up the green onions, chives and water dropwort. Mix together and set aside.
  7. Mince the garlic cloves and ginger and dice the onions.
  8. Make the ‘porridge’ by dissolving the glutinous rice flour and sugar in the water before slowly bringing the mixture up to a boil.
  9. Stir constantly to prevent the flour from burning and be ready to take the saucepan off the heat the moment the mixture starts to solidify as this occurs rather suddenly.
  10. Once the mixture has become a paste, add in the fish sauce, minced garlic gloves, minced ginger and diced onions, fermented salted shrimp and hot pepper flakes. Mix well.
  11. Add in the rest of the vegetables as well as the shucked oysters into the porridge and continue to mix.
  12. Add the salted cabbages into the porridge, using your hands to coat the cabbages with the porridge well. This is a very important step.
  13. Finish with a sprinkle of black and white sesame seeds before packing into three 2 litre jars. Do not fill the jars up to the brim and leave space for the kimchi to expand overnight.
  14. Leave the jars out of the fridge overnight or longer with the lid closed to ferment.
  15. After each day of fermentation, use a fork to press out the air from the kimchi before storing into the fridge.

32671218724_854aa975e7_k

Notes:

  • Kimchi is made by lacto-fermentation, whereby simple sugars are converted to lactic acid by Lactobacillum in an anaerobic environment (an environment with no oxygen)
  • The increase in levels of lactic acid lowers the pH value of the kimchi, giving it its classic sour taste. The low pH value combined with an anaerobic environment means that other dangerous bacteria such a botulism are unable to grow there, making kimchi extremely safe to make.
  • Fresh oysters can be safely added to kimchi and eaten straight away in the same way that you would eat a freshly shucked oyster. After a few months however, it is still safe to eat kimchi with oysters as the environment created by the lactobacillum keeps the oyster safe from other bacteria. This is also aided by the salty brine that comes with the oyster. One important issue to note here is that to keep the oysters in this protective environment, the oysters must be kept submerged in the kimchi brine.
  • Kimchi recipes that incorporate other seafood also exist but require up to a month’s fermentation time before being safe to eat and therefore I do not recommend them. The reason why kimchi with added oysters do not require as long a fermentation is because oysters can be eaten raw originally.
  • You can replace fresh oysters with frozen oysters but not canned oysters as canned oysters no longer contribute flavour to the kimchi.
  • Salting the kimchi is important for two reason:
    1. It kills of other bacteria present on the cabbage, allowing the good bacteria (lactobacillium) to grow.
    2. It hardens a plant protein called pectin that occurs in the cell walls of the plants, giving the kimchi its characteristic crispy texture, preventing the kimchi from going soggy and limp.
  • One day of fermentation is enough for my kimchi to ferment enough for my taste but if you would like your kimchi to be stronger, feel free to ferment for longer. The average temperature where I live is 24°C (75°F).
  • Placing the kimchi in the fridge does not slow it down but greatly reduces the rate of fermentation. I personally enjoy tasting the kimchi slowly over time as its taste evolves.
  • Traditional kimchi is made using whole cabbages of halved cabbages. In my recipe I have decided to cut up the cabbage to make packing the jar and eating the kimchi more hassle free. I have tested using whole cabbages and have not found any variation in taste.
  • As the stems are thicker than the leaves, it helps to add more salt on the stems.
  • The porridge is extremely important in kimchi as due to its viscous nature, it is able to stick to the cabbage and infuse the cabbage with the taste of the herbs and spices.
  • I store my kimchi is several 2 litre kilner jars but it is possible to buy specialised fermentation jars that have built in air-release valves. I prefer kilner jars over these jars as they prevent the whole fridge from smelling of kimchi.
  • After a period of fermentation, be careful when opening your jars as the kimchi is liable to explode due to the build up of carbon dioxide generated by fermentation.
  • Because of this, I recommend not filling up the entire jar with kimchi, and opening the jars once a day when fermenting out of the fridge. When the kimchi is stored in the fridge, the fermentation slows to a point where you no longer have to release the gas.
  • Wearing gloves is advisable when mixing the porridge with the cabbage as the hot pepper flakes might sting.
  • In this recipe I dissolve the cabbage in a salt water solution compared to dry salting the cabbages. * I prefer this method as it keeps the cabbages slightly more moist, which means your kimchi will have more brine compared to a dry salting method.
  • I cut of some part of the root of each cabbage as I feel this may be too hard to eat.
  • It is possible to use any dried shrimp if you can’t find fermented shrimp as this is added only for the flavour.
  • The word kimchi is actually a general term for any Korean dish made from salted vegetables, whether fermented or not. However, the Tonbaechu-kimchi variety is so famous that this is what people usually mean when they say kimchi.
22691057111_58e7636d57_o.jpg
Borough Market, London

It is also possible to buy specially made containers to store your kimchi, such as jars with in build air-release valves which release the carbon dioxide when the pressure builds up to high. When using normal jars, be careful when you seal the lid, as the pressure that builds up is sometimes enough to cause the jar to explode, especially when opening the lid. I personally just use normal 2 litre Kilner jars and release the air carefully after the first day of fermentation. After placing the kimchi in the fridge, I only release the air once every forthnight The main problem with using other vessels in my opinion is that the fridge will start to smell of kimchi, which is why some Korean families have specialised Kimchi fridges. If you are extremely enthusiast about making Kimchi, you could also buy an Onggi (옹기) which are traditional Korean arthenware pots used for fermentation.

 

Umeboshi Onigiriうめぼしおにぎり

Umeboshi Onigiriうめぼしおにぎり

15753142694_264f1ff5ed_k

Onigiri, the Japanese equivalent of the sandwich, consist of balls of rice stuffed with tasty fillings, wrapped with a crispy piece of nori seaweed. They are extremely popular snacks in Japan and can be brought from almost every convenience store. Other than store brought Onigiri, it is also very easy to make it at home, with mothers making their children different types Onigiri for school lunches. Onigiri comes in different shapes and flavors, with the most common shapes being either triangular or spherical. Examples of classic filling for them are tuna and mayonnaise, spicy cod roe and chicken karraige but really anything goes into them, particularly left overs from the day before. Contrary to what most people believe, Onigiri is not a type of sushi, as it is neither seasoning with rice vinegar, nor does it use short grain rice. The most traditional Onigiri is only seasoned with salt and shaped with hands dipped in salt water. In Korea, an identical dish exists called Samgak-gimbap (삼각김밥) is also eaten as a snack or portable meal with the main difference being the filling, which instead is korean themed.

Here we will be making Umeboshi flavored Onigiri. Umeboshi is a japanese special made by pickling a particular species of plum know as the Japanese apricot or Prunus mume. This fruit is more closely related to the apricot than the plum despite being called a plum in english and is usually harvested early in the summer, around June, before they have ripened and are still a vibrant green color. Traditional Umeboshi Onigiri is made by wrapping rice around some Umeboshi, in my take on the recipe, I have decided to mix the Umeboshi paste into the rice to get a more uniform taste throughout the Onigiri, giving me the option to pair other fillings with the sour taste with the Umeboshi.

20844971713_d6577fff0c_kBesides being the Japanese national flower, one of Japan’s most celebrated symbol is the cherry blossom, also known as sakura. The cherry blossom however, is not the name of one singular species of tree, but any tree species under the genus Prunus. This genus includes the apricot, almond, peach and of course cherry trees. As such, the tree of the Japanese apricot flowers during the start of spring and is celebrated as an indication of the arrival of a new season. Another traditional Japanese belief is that the Japanese apricot wards off evil and misfortune when eaten for breakfast.

A Japanese specialty, the first step to making Umeboshi is by pickling Japanese Apricots in coarse salt along with purple shiso leaves. The flavonoid pigment compounds are extracted from shiso leaves due to the salt and color the Umeboshi, giving them their characteristic redish-purple color while also imparting the taste of shiso in the Umeboshi. As the name is self explanatory, boshi means ‘to dry’, and thus the Umeboshi is finished being dried in the sun.

To prepare the Umeboshi for the Onigiri, I usually buy whole Umeboshi and grind it up using a Suribachi and Surikogi. The Suribashi is a Japanese mortar but unlike the traditional heavy stone mortar, the a Suribashi is made from pottery that is glazed on the outside. The unique feature of a Suribachi is that the inside of it is lined with many many grooves that makes it an efficient surface to grind food into very fine pieces. A Surikogi on the other hand, is the Japanese version of the pestle, which is made from wood. With the Surikogi being made from wood and the Suribachi being made from pottery, this mortar and pestle is not used to grind up ingredients in the conventional pounding motion, but in a circular movement, where the Umeboshi is ground against the grooves of the Suribachi.

21402285442_ce4bbf8a66_k

Umeboshi Onigiriうめぼしおにぎり

  • Rice
  • Furikake
  • Salt
  • Water
  • Nori (Japanese Dried Seaweed)
  • Whole Umeboshi
  • Suribachi and Surikogi (Mortar and Pestle)
  1. To cook the rice, the easiest way is to use a rice cooker, adding 1.5 times the amount of water to rice in weight.
  2. When the rice is done, use chopsticks or the back of a spoon to mix the rice, which helps give the rice a fluffly texture. There is no need to soak the rice before hand.
  3. Allow the rice to cool down to room temperature before using it to form the onigiri.
  4. Cut the Nori into small rectangles.
  5. Using a small knife, remove the seed from the centre of the Umeboshi. Alternatively, you can use a cherry pitter to remove the seed.
  6. Place the remaining flesh in the Suribachi and use the Surikogi to grind up the Umeboshi using a circular motion.
  7. Add the now ground Umeboshi paste into the rice and mix together evenly. Add a little Umeboshi at a time and taste frequently until the rice is seasoned to your taste.
  8. Next, dissolve some salt into a bowl of water. Dip your hands in the water before shaping the Onigiri to prevent the rice from sticking your hands. The salt in the water helps flavour the Onigiri as well.
  9. Carefully take a handful of rice in one hand and first shape them into a ball. At this point, you can wrap the cut nori around the spherical Onigiri or shape the Onigiri into a triangle before adding the nori. To do that, shape one hand into a U-shape, with your fingers forming one side of the U and your palm forming the other.
  10. Using the other hand’s middle and index finger, form an inverted V shape and press on top of the U-shape formed by the other hand, carefully molding the Onigiri to a triangular shape. Be careful to use just the right amount of presure of that the Onigiri holds its shape. if too much pressure is used, the rice grains will be crushed and go mushy.

16816179956_c7bbf22b83_k.jpg

Once you have shaped the Onigiri, sprinkle on some furikake on them. Alternatively, it would also have been possible to add the furikake directly onto the rice mixture. Furikake is a type of japanese seasoning that contains tiny pieces of shredded seaweed, sesame seeds, dried Katsuoboshi, and sometimes freeze dried egg or fish roe. Japanese people sometimes just eat Furikake on plain rice but it works very well with Onigiri.

Once done, enjoy the Onigiri right away or wrap in clingfilm to enjoy later. If eating later, I highly recommend you add the nori only when you eat it, as it would go soft and lose it’s crispiness.

Kurume Tonkotsu Ramen 久留米ラーメン

久留米ラーメン

38689760011_465c39c241_o.jpg

Whenever I meet up with an old friend that I haven’t seen in a long time, we never catch up on each other’s lives over a cup of expresso in a dimly lit chic cafe, instead I’d much rather reminiscence the good old days over a piping hot bowl of ramen with a pint of beer. In my books, nothing beats sinking my teeth into a melt-in-your-mouth thinly sliced piece of chashu, slurping up the hot noodles from the lip smacking fatty soup, before washing it down with a swing of beer. This of course, follows with the mandatory noodle top up to go with the remaining broth! This system of having a second helping of noodles is known as Kaedama (替玉). My personal favourite ramen is Tonkatsu ramen, with it’s creamy pale white broth. While some people may find it a little too heavy compared to Shio ramen (salt based) or Shoyu ramen (soy sauce based), a well made Tonkatsu broth, contrary to the general conception, is not extremely fatty, but broth that balances collagen, gelatin and fat.

The recipe that follows is my take on Kurume Tonkatsu Ramen which originates from Fukuoka, a Prefecture on the Kyushu island of Japan, which is known to be the original Tonkatsu Ramen and thus the most authentic.  Fukuoka is definately known as the capital of Tonkatsu Ramen in the world and here, it comes in three distinct styles, Nagahama, Kurume and Hakata. Kurume style tonkatsu is boiled longer than the other two styles and the resulting broth is so rich that it doesn’t require the addition of fat at the end. Historically, Kurume style ramen is also different as the previous day’s excess stock is added to the next day, in the same way traiditonal unagi shop’s sauce pot is never emptied.

This recipe is definitely for the love of labour as I have tried to make it as close to the original as possible. The characteristic creamy colour of the Tonkatsu broth comes from an emulsion of rendered fat, collagen and gelatin, whereby the gelatin acts as a surfactant that emulsifies the fat. This is made by vigorously boiling down pork bones for a long period of time. In addition to this, the main ingredient that sets apart the original Kurume Tonkatsu Ramen from other Tonkatsu Ramens found around the world is their use of entire pig skulls in the broth. This is because by boiling down pig skulls, the the brains and eyes are rendered down and dissolve into the broth, giving the broth a uniquely delicate sweetness to it as well as an umami boost (similar to the addition of prawn heads to shellfish stock).

28003055100_4c85fde56b_k.jpg

Before I go into the details of making the broth. We first must talk about what makes a bowl of ramen. A bowl of ramen has 4 primary components, the noodles, the tare, the broth and the toppings. All 4 of these components play an important role in making up an authentic bowl of ramen but in my opinion, the broth is by far the most important as it serves as the base flavour on which the chef is able to layer other flavours onto, like a painter on a sheet of canvas. While the broth may be the most important, let me first elaborate about the tare of a ramen, which in my opinion is the hardly ever discussed, yet alone mentioned, even when it is one of the primary components. The tare is the base seasoning added to the broth to add saltiness and complexity to the dish. It usually consists of a concentrated salty liquid that is added to the broth at around a 1:10 ratio of tare to broth. Tare can be made from concentrated dashi, soy sauce, and salt. In the case of Shio ramen, the tare used is dry and in the very best restaurants is made from several different kinds of salts to give a complex flavour compared to using plain salt.

The noodles used in Japanese ramen also originates from China and similarly, they have an alkaline element added to it. This gives them their unique taste but more importantly a different mouth feel. For example, most industrial ramen makers use kansui, or lye water, to give the noodle’s its bounce. This is in contrast to french pâtisserie, which ocassionally uses Ascorbic acid to increase the bounciness of their pastry. Ramen noodles in Japan are usually made without egg, with their yellow color comming from the kansui as well. Kurume ramen noodles are traditionally eaten with a hard centre, similiar to ‘al dente’ in Italian cooking. Because of this, a bowl of ramen should be eaten as soon as its served, in order to prevent the noodles from becoming soggy. Kurume ramen is traditionally paired with thin, straight noodles compared to the instant ramen noodles which are curly. In my opinion, the pairing of straight noodles with Kurume ramen works well as the straight noodles stick together and the soup clings more onto them.

For the topping, the classic toppings are pork chashu, marinated eggs, naruto (fish cake), bamboo shoots, chopped green onions, sesame seeds, mayu (black garlic oil), black woodear fungus, and a sheet of seaweed.

37921490192_f250d5502b_k.jpg

For this broth, I use purely pig’s trotters, skulls and water (filtered if possible). The reasoning behind this is to obtain the purest flavour of pork. The secret to making an amazing tasting Kurume Tonkatsu Ramen is the use of pig skulls in the recipe, whereby the brains and eyes melt into the broth, giving a subtle sweetness to the broth, similar to tomalley in crabs. From my experience, any addition of aromatic vegetables such as onions, garlic or ginger overpowers the soup, making it more similar to Chinese soups. For the same reason, I have also chosen not to add any chicken bones to prevent the underlying taste of chicken being added to the broth. Other than tasty, food should also be aesthetically pleasing. Tonkatsu ramen would not be Tonkatsu ramen without being an extremely pale cream colour. As mentioned above, this pale white colour is an emulsification of collagen and fat that is extracted from the bones by using a vigorous boil. This technique is very different from classic french stock which have to be as clear as possible and therefore never raised above a gentle simmer. In contrast to this, a Tonkatsu broth can not be made by simmering the pork bones as you would not get an opaque white soup due to the lack of emulsification. The vigorous boiling of the bones is akin to the vigorous whisking required to make a successful hollandaise sauce, creating a fine suspension of hydrophobic particles in water. As with most stocks and stews, extracting flavour requires a long period of boiling. This process is even longer when making this broth as the collagen in the bones requires a long period of boiling before it renders into the soup. From my experience, 20 hours is optimal, with any longer being a waste of time and any shorter causing the broth to be slightly too watery. This is especially so for Hakata Tonkatsu broth which requires a Brix scale of 10.1 or above. The Brix scale is a measurement of the sugar content of an aqueous solution, which can be measured with a Brix refractometer. Of course this is used only by the most meticulous ramen enthusiast.

Another problem typically faced when making the broth is the broth taking on a brownish tinge which gets darker over time. This occurs as the broth slowly oxidise over time. The component of the broth that is liable to oxidise is blood, and therefore as much blood as possible needs to be removed before the initial boil. Two methods are available to use to do this, the first being soaking the bones for 24 hours prior to cooking and the second one is the blanch the bones in hot water before washing the bones carefully in cold water. Since we are using pig skulls, I recommend using both technique as the skulls are full of dirt and grit (unless you are buying commercially prepared pig skulls). In fact, rather than mere blanching the pigs skulls after soaking, I recommend boiling them for up to an hour to make sure they are thoroughly cleaned. Any longer than one hour and the brain starts to melt and flow out of the skull, something that we want to prevent as we want as much of the brains to go into our broth.

27887361670_fca9e5eaa5_k.jpg

Kurume Tonkotsu Ramen 久留米ラーメン

  • Broth
    • Pork Skulls with brains in tact (preferably with the eyes too)
    • Pigs Trotters
    • Water (filtered if possible)
  • Tare
    • Katsuobushi- Dried Bonito Flakes (鰹節)
    • Kombu (dried kelp)
    • Water
    • Niboshi (Dried Sardines)
    • Mirin
    • Sake
    • Pork Lard
    • Fine Sea Salt
  1. To start the broth we must first drain all the blood from the skulls and trotters. Soak the skulls and trotters in water overnight before boiling them for half an hour.
  2. Discard the water and wash the skulls and trotters to remove all the blood which should now be brown and clumped together.
  3. Place skulls and trotters in a large stock pot, cover with water and place the lid on before bringing to a rolling boil for 20 hours.
  4. Remember to constantly refill the water if your lid is not tight fitting and please do not leave the stove on overnight. It is not nessesary to leave the pot on a rolling boil for all the 20 hours, but the more hours the better. It is still alright to start with a rolling boil while you are able to monitor the pot every hour and to lower the pot to a simmer when you need to leave for longer periods of time.
  5. Around the 10 hour mark, it is useful to try and break open the skulls to extract the brain if the bones are soft enough. You might want to also remove the skulls from the pot and break them open a cleaver before putting them back in the pot.
  6. After 20 hours, the broth is done. Strain the stock and discard the trotters, skulls, and any remaining bone fragments. The broth can be frozen for up to 3 months.38657297742_1c36a0470a_k
  7. To make the Tare, we start with a dashi base. Dashi is basically the Japanese version of stock and is either made from Kombu which makes a type of vegetable stock, or Katsuobushi which makes a type of fish stock. Dashi is unique because it has extremely high levels of glutamate which is the compound which gives us the umami sensation. This is because when Katsuobushi is made by smoking fresh skipjack tuna fillets, the glutamate in the fish concentrates. Dried Kombu and Katsuobushi are two of the food with have the highest naturally occuring glutamate, which combined together, form an umami bomb.
  8. To start, soak the Kombu at room temperature water overnight to let it infuse slowly into the water. Do not wash the Kombu before soaking as you will wash off some of the Mannit, which is the white powder found on dried Kombu. Mannit contains a lot of glutamate which we do not want to lose.
  9. Seperately, render the down the pork lard into liquid form before frying the Niboshi in it. Reserve pork lard and seperate the Niboshi. The pork lard can be used as an additional topping to the ramen.
  10. Place the Kombu and the soaking liquid in a saucepan and heat until the mixture reaches 80°C (176°F). If you heat the Kombu above this temperature, the Kombu will start to release bitter compounds which will ruin the dashi. After years of making dashi, The Japanese have determined 80°C is the most optimal temperature for making dashi as it causes the most flavour extration in the quickest time without the extration of bitter compounds.
  11. When it has reached 80°C, immediately take it off the heat and add in the Katsuoboshi and fried Niboshi and let it infuse for around 15 minutes.
  12. After that, strain the dashi to remove the solids and add in Mirin to taste. Now add in a dash of Sake and bring it back to a boil to reduce it down until concentrated.
  13. After reducing, the dashi (now tare) should be very concentrated in a ocean-like taste but not extremely saltly.
  14. The final step now is to increase the salt level with sea salt, adding quite a bit of sea salt to the tare until it is almost unbearably salty. The reason why we add so much salt to the tare is because the broth has no seasoning in it and thus we want to use the tare as seasoning. However we want the fish taste from the tare to just be a complementary background taste and not full forward. In order to do so, we need an extremely salty tare that when diluted in small amounts, is enough to season the broth and add provide subtle fish notes.

 

To make a bowl of ramen, mix the tare to broth in a 1:10 ratio, before adding the toppings (such as Chashu) and noodles. Serve immediately.

38689793801_71c88088c8_o.jpg

 

Iberico Pork Japanese Style Chashu チャーシュー

チャーシュー

24101118318_fbfd9119f1_k.jpg

Before even opening the door to the kitchen, the glorious smell of melting pork fat coupled with the sweet and salty smell of simmering soy sauce is enough to make anyone salivate. This is a recipe for Japanese chashu made from Iberian pork, which is a Japanese adaptation to a barbecued pork dish that originated from China known as Char Siu. It is usually served as an acompaniment to ramen, and when done well, has the ability to take a simple bowl of ramen to a completely different level.

Traditional Chinese Char Siu cooked by barbecuing pork that has been previously marinated in hoisin sauce, honey and Chinese five spice powder. Red colouring is also sometimes added to the dish to give is a vibrant red finish that is visually appealing. In contrast to this, Japanese chashu is actually braised in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar and sake for long periods of times, to give a more tender mouth feels and less bold flavour profile. Japanese chashu can be marinated beforehand or not, with minimal effect on flavour.26487169099_588083d29b_k.jpg

Iberico Pork Japanese Style Chashu チャーシュー

  • Pork Belly
    • Iberico Pork Belly (Bellota grade)
    • Salt
    • Green Onions (Negi)
  • Braising Liquid
    • Tamari Soy Sauce
    • Ginger
    • Garlic
    • Sugar
    • Sake
    • Water
  1. First, preheat the oven to around 160 degrees celcius.
  2. After that, we need to prepare the pork belly by trimming off the excess fat as well as removing the hair from the pork skin. This step is usually already done when you buy the pork belly but if not, you can use a blowtorch to burn off the remaining hair on the skin. This is done by waving the blowtorch back and forth, just enough to burn off the hair without cooking the skin.
  3. Next, season the underside of the belly generously with salt and pepper before rolling it up into a log and tying together with string. I personally prefer not to score the skin of the belly as we will be braising it compared to roasting it.
  4. In order to maximise the flavour of the belly, heat up some oil in the pot which you are going to use to braise the belly. Make sure this pot is oven safe. Dry the skin outside of the log using paper towels before searing the log all around in the hot all. Remember to also brown both ends of the log where the meat is exposed. Once seared, remove the pork belly log from the pot and set aside for the time being.

    35131765950_5d694f9a74_k
    Violet garlic on display at the Marché d’Aligre, Paris
  5. To start the braise, cover the pot with its lid and place it inside the preheated oven.
  6. Leave the braise for around 3 hours, ocasionally flipping the log so that the log spends equal amounts of time submerged inside the braising liquid.
  7. If the water level runs too low, add in more water to prevent it from burning.
  8. The chashu is done when a knife can slide through the meat with minimal resistance.
  9. If the sauce has not been reduced to your desired thickness, place the pot over the stove stop and heat without the lid to reduce the sauce until it evaporates to form quite a thick glaze. Be careful at near the end of the cooking time as this is when the chashu has a higher chance of burning.

To serve, cut thin slices of the chashu, about a few millimetres thick, and serve with rice or ramen. The tricky part of this recipe is how much water to add to the pot. The amount of water you add to the pot is actually dependent on how water/steam tight the lid for your pot is. If the lid of your put is an extremely tight fit, less water is needed as the amount of water loss from the pot during the 3 hour braising duration in the oven will be fairly minimal. If you were to add a lot of water in this scenario, you would get a very diluted sauce. If your pot’s lid is not tight fitting or it allows a lot of water to evaporate, add more water in order to prevent the sugar in the sauce from burning after all the water has evaporated. In a perfect scenario, you would want the amount of water (and thus sauce) remaining in the pot to be just right- where the sugars in the sauce have just caramelised and the sauce to have a consistency of a dark shiny glaze.

33291752545_c728e621c6_k.jpg
University Parks, Oxford

Another way to cook this dish is actually on a stove/fire. In this case, the more traditional method here utilises an Otoshibuta, which is a Japanese drop-lid made using wood that replaces the original lid of the pot. An Otoshibuta does not fit as snugly on the pot as a typical lid. In fact, it normally has a smaller diameter than the pot, thus allowing it to sit directly on the food in the pot. The reason for using an Otoshibuta is to slow down evaporation without completely stopping it. This is perfect for this dish as you would want the chashu to simmer while also simultaneously reducing the sauce. As it is also in direct contact with the food, it prevents rigorous boiling which may break up more delicate food. To cook chashu on the stove top, instead of tying up the pork belly into a log, simply use the whole piece as it is after searing, add in the liquid and then braise. Remember to still flip the belly occasionally and be extra careful of burning. If you do not have an Otoshibuta, you can always use the original lid for the pot or use a makeshift Otoshibuta using aluminium foil or baking paper shaped into a circle with holes punctured into it. The original point of tying the pork belly into a log shape is not only for aesthetic purposes, but also to make it easier to cut, as well as preventing too much loss of moisture from the meat, as the surface area of the meat is greatly reduced.

Now lets talk about Ibérico pork and what makes it so special. Ibérico pork comes from specially bred pigs knowns as Pata Negra that are raised in the Extremadura region in south west Spain. These pigs get their name from their black hooves. In comparison to normal everyday pork, their taste is not only superior, but even the composition of their fat is better for our health. Their meat is also extremely well marbled, while also being able to retain a delicate flavour without being overpowered by fat. The secret behind their amazing taste lies in how they are raised. During the autumn, throughout a duration known as the Montanera, the pigs are allowed to roam freely in a agroforestry system known as a Dehesa, which is an area of land that is planted with a variety of trees such as oak and cork trees. Here the finest Pate Negra pigs eat exclusively the acorns produced by the oak trees in the Dehesa. A Dehesa is extremely valuable to the farmer as it not only produces the acorns eaten by the pigs, but also serves as a source of wild mushrooms, cork for wine bottles and oak for barrels. To ensure that every pig gets enough food, a swine herder guides the pigs around the field, using a stick to knock acorns off the oak trees.

36034013010_9edfecbda5_k.jpg
Covered Market, Oxford

These acorns consumed by the pigs are rich in oleic acid, a type of unsaturated fat that is also found in olive oil. In a almost perfect example of the phrase ‘you are what you eat’, oleic acid can make up more than half of all fat found in Ibérian pigs that feed on these acorns. This not only makes Ibérico pork substantially healthier to eat, but most gives them a unique taste, making them dubbed as ‘olives with legs’ by the locals. In order to receive the protected designation of origin certification, or Denominación de Origen, the pigs not only have to been allowed to roam freely in the Dehesas, but must also have been on a diet that consist of varying amounts of acorns depending on the classification. The most prestigious classification is that of Ibérico de Bellota, whereby the pigs are fed exclusively on acorns, with the next classification being Ibérico de Cebo, where the pigs feed on a mix of acorns and feed approved by the Denominación de Origen. Of course if you can’t find Ibérico pork belly, this dish works perfectly fine with normal pork but in my opinion, nothing can beat the flavour of the real original Ibérian pig that has been allowed to roam free in the spanish Dehesas.

Tajarin with Fresh Porcini Mushrooms and Wild Calamint

Tajarin with Fresh Porcini Mushrooms and Wild Calamint

36944341470_5727815ed3_k.jpg
Wild Calamint in Florence

The Porcini mushrooms, as it is known in Italy, is more commingly known as cèpes in the French culinary world, and the Penny Bun in America (it is never called Penny Buns in the UK). It’s scientific name is the Boletus edulis, and it is part of the Basidiomycete group of fungus, the fungi group with contains the majority of edible mushrooms. As the name implies, ‘edilus’ in latin simply means that it is edible. In italian, the word Porcini can roughly be translated to “baby piglets”. Like all members of the Basidiomycete group, the fungus lives underground by growing mycelium. Mycelium are long white strains that grow outwards in search of nutrient in the soil. Along the way, the hyphae (branches of Mycelium) secrete enzymes to digest the nutrients in the soil, before absorbing it back in. The actually Porcini mushroom that sticks out of the ground, is actually the fruiting body of the fungus, with it’s sole purpose being to spread its spores. Armed with this information, when harvesting Porcini mushrooms, hold the stem of the mushroom as close to ground level as possible before twisting gently to break the hyphae. Do not pull the mushroom as this will damage the underground mycelium, while cutting the mushroom with a knife will cause the remaining part of the mushroom to rot, thus also harming the mycelium.

Another important fact to keep in mind is that Porcini mushrooms form symbiotic relationships with trees. This means that they share nutrients with some species of trees in exchange for other nutrients which they might be unable to find themselves. Because of this, Porcini mushrooms are usually found at the base of certain species of trees such as chestnut and pine trees. When harvesting porcini mushrooms and choosing porcini mushrooms at a market, be sure to check the underside of the mushroom. Similiar to button mushrooms, you do not want to choose those that have an opened cup, where their gills are already visible. You would prefer to choose those which are still closed, where their gills are not visible on the underside of the mushroom. If the underside of the mushroom has becoming a spongy yellowish brown, the mushrooms are already overripe and should not be picked/choosen.

 

36529176633_b8ef9e97c7_k.jpgAnother key point to remember when gathering porcini mushrooms from the wild is that they should have a prominent white reticulum (veins) on their stem. If they instead have a pinkish reticulum, they are most probably the closely related Bitter Bolete, which while harmless, are extremely bitter and will ruin an entire dish. Along with this, remember that any Porcini mushrooms that have a red underside or a blue-ish thinge should not be taken as they are most likely poisonous.

Like all other mushrooms, it is preferable to clean them with a mushroom brush or a damn cloth. Never soak or wash them in water as they are water permeable and will soak up water very quickly, diluting the flavour and causing your mushrooms to go soggy. If the mushrooms are extremely dirty, it is still acceptable to quickly rinse the mushroom in cold water. To prepare fresh Porcini mushrooms, I usually scrape any grit and dirt from the mushroom before slicing them length wise. If the mushroom are fairly large and old, I sometimes also peel them to remove their tough outer coating.

 

35131765950_5d694f9a74_k.jpg
Violet Garlic on display at the Marche Aligre in Paris

Tajarin is a type of egg pasta that is traditional in the Piedmont region of Italy. It is similiar to tagliatelle but thinner (~3mm). Both tagliatelle and tajarin are made from the same recipe which contains semolina flour, salt and eggs. However, they not only differ in place of origin, they also differ in uses. Tajarin, with its thinner width, is better suited for light sauces and delicate flavours such has white sauces and mushroom sauces. Conversely, tagliatelle with its high surface area, is more suited to heavy meat sauces such as a ragu. This being said, tajarin can also be found to be served with meat sauces in Piedmont. 

This dish consist of sautéed Porcini mushrooms in garlic and butter, served with fresh Tajarin and a sauce of Nepitella and reduced Porcini stock.

 

23834263228_177f0cde2d_k.jpg

Tajarin with Fresh Porcini Mushrooms and Wild Calamint

  • Fresh Porcini Mushrooms (sliced length wise)
  • Olive Oil
  • Garlic
  • Salt
  • Nepitella (Wild Calamint)
  • Mushroom stock
    • Dried Porcini Mushrooms
    • Vegetable Stock
  • Fresh tajarin
  1. First, fry the garlic in olive oil until golden brown before adding in the fresh Porcini mushroom and sweat until soft but still with a meaty texture. Add salt to taste before setting aside.
  2. To make the mushroom stock, reconstitute the dried Porcini mushrooms in hot vegetable stock for around 15 minutes.
  3. Next, in the same pan used to fry the Porcini mushrooms, add in mushroom stock to deglaze the pan, before adding on fresh Nepitella.
  4. Reduce the stock until thickened to desired consistancy. To cook the fresh tajarin, prepare a shallow pan with boiling water, olive oil and salt.
  5. Once boiling, add in the tajarin and cook until soft but still al dente.
  6. Drain the tajarin and mix the tajarin into the sauce, before adding the porcini mushrooms back in the the pan and mix everything together.
  7. Finish with more Nepitella. Fresh tajarin (or pasta in general) does not take long to cook, only a minute  or so.
  8. If using dried tajarin, the cooking time will be considerably longer. To help thicken the sauce, pasta water can be added to the sauce when reducing, as the starch in the pasta water will help thicken the sauce.
  9. As usual, salt is added to pasta water to help season the pasta. Mushroom stock can also be added to the pasta water to give the pasta notes of mushrooms.

36832011850_274af4d28b_k.jpg

This dish is not a traditional Italian dish as it consist of a mix of Piedmont and Tuscan influrence. The use of Nepitella is widespread in the Tuscan region and is the classic acompaniment for Porcini mushrooms. In contrast to this, the use of Tajarin comes from the Piedmont region, and is rarely found in Tuscany. To me the thin texture of tajarin works better with this sauce, thus explaining my choice in blending the two styles.

Nepitella, also known as wild calamint, is an aromatic herb which is common is Tuscany. It is rarely used in most of the english speaking world, but is a common ingredient in autumn and winter dishes, especially in Florence. In my opinion, Nepitella characterises Italian cooking extremely well, as it’s taste is not only fresh and sharp, but has the flavour combination of oregano, mint and basil, three of the most common herbs found in italian cooking. This of course is just a description, and the flavour of nepitella itself is unique and somewhat on the floral side. A little nepitella goes a long way and should be adding to dishes with care.