adventures in offal 20 September 2012 by DM
Our search to find obscure animal parts that sit well with Japanese grilling techniques has at times bordered on obsessional.
On a recent educational staff visit to rare breed farm I noticed that all of our prep chefs had brought their knives with them. The farmer was less than impressed. Opportunists I told him.
There is not many offal parts that we haven’t attempted, some more successful than others and time we started to record our epic journey on the blog.
Here are five of our current favourites.
During my time in Japan I’d eaten more than my fair share of grilled pigs intestines, strangely though almost always in Korean restaurants. Always a great flavour but almost always chewy and regardless of how much spicing you put on them strictly for the hardcore. It was never something I thought I would be able to sell in the UK.
It wasn’t until a trip to New york a few years later when I ate them at famous noodle bar that I realised their potential. By sheer coincidence on that particular night Fergus Henderson was at the helm doing a guest spot and had decided to skewer grill them.
The chitterlings were left plain, they were charred to perfection, tender, full of natural flavour and EVERYBODY was raving about them. I vowed to recreate them on a yakitori grill.
I bottled out of putting them on the main menu at Bincho but every now and then bring them back as an ‘under the counter’ special.
The chitterlings are rinsed, blanched twice in two changes of water and then braised in a seasoned dashi until tender. They are then left overnight to cool slowly in the cooking liquor, the next day cut, skewered and grilled until crispy.
There’s something very special about caramelised yakitori sauce and pigs intestine.
The Foie Gras Negima
Grilling foie gras is possibly the most tricky thing a yakitori chef can do [not to mention dangerous!]. A slight mis-judgment of the heat, a rogue flame or a drip of fat rendering off onto the wrong part of the grill and the whole thing lights up like a roman candle. NOT something to be tried by anyone wearing flammable hair products. [As one young lady on a recent trial found out]
For this one we first drop the foie gras in the freezer for an hour. This light freeze enables us to caramelise the outside without overcooking the inner and stops us loosing too much fat into the fire. Its finished with a drizzle of spicy yakiniku sauce and served with beni shoga ‘hot pickled ginger.
A new skewer to us and one that has made us kick ourselves in a why didn’t we think of this before kind of way.
The main reason is that in Japan the beef [from Wagyu cattle] has a much higher fat content than ours. The perfect marbling making it ideal for grilling purposes. Standard British beef tongue will just not do. After years of unsuccessful sourcing our answer to this has been to use Veal tongue.
The key again lies in the grilling – this must be cooked rare/medium rare, anything more and its like leather. No sauce, just salt and a drizzle of lemon as it comes off the grill.
Offal that is crispy on the outside and creamy on the inner is always going to go down well with our regulars
In South America they grill sweetbreads like they’ve gone out of fashion.
On a trip to Argentina one of our chefs ate them finished with a sweet sticky sauce – not unlike some of our own sauces; the ‘sweetbread teriyaki’ was born.
We first used Veal sweetbreads which many prefer but at current prices not something we can afford to skewer
The sweetbreads are soaked in milk for 8 hrs to remove blood and firm up the fats. They are then dropped in a sake based bouillon for a few minutes for a quick poach, when cool the membrane is then peeled off before skewering.
To spice things up a bit we season this with shichimi pepper during grilling
A bit of an obscurity and a tricky one to sell, Japanese don’t do rabbit [there are few exceptions].
to be continued……
nasu miso dengaku 21 August 2012 by DM
Having recently been mugged by a very friendly butch group of skinhead, lesbian, vegans for this recipe [ladies you know who you are] I decided that instead of going through that experience again I’d put it up on the blog.
There are many variations of this recipe, this is by no means the definitive version but a version that works for us and goes particularly well with the smoky flavour of the grilled aubergine.
First choose your aubergines carefully
Like all aubergine recipes freshness is the key.
Your looking for the torpedo shaped Japanese variety, sadly for UK residents for now you will have to look further than Tesco’s, fortunately they are available from most good Asian food markets.
The big black versions or baby aubergines are ok at an absolute push but the Japanese variety holds less moisture, requires less oil and gives the finished dish a more creamier texture, definately worth hunting out.
Now make the miso topping – ‘den miso’
The type of miso you choose really depends on personal preference, we recommend a lighter shiromiso preferably from western Japan [saikyo miso]. Shiromiso has undergone a much shorter fermentation which produces a lighter, sweeter flavour than a darker miso.
Tokyo-ites and people from eastern Japan [Kanto] usually prefer the red miso aka miso which is more intense and saltier.
190 ml mirin
190 ml sake
50 gms sugar
Simply mix all ingredients in a bowl, whisk until smooth then put over a pan of boiling water [a bain marie type set up] and cook very slowly, stirring whenever you can. The sugar will dissolve and the mixture will slowly thicken to produce a wonderful silken, golden sauce. Allow to cool.
Tradition would have us put an egg yolk or two in at this time to aid glazing, we have found that if it is cooked for long enough there is no need, the high sugar content allows the mix to glaze naturally and gives a cleaner flavour.
You may think that its made a hell of a lot of mix, fear not. it will keep for several weeks in an air tight jar in the fridge and has many uses. This type of miso paste is at the heart of every Japanese kitchen. Use it to marinade oily fish such as mackerel or Salmon, or as the basis of sauces or dressings.
At this point flavours can also be added such as grated ginger, citrus zest, sesame or mustard.
Now before we can glaze the aubergine it needs to be cooked. First split it in half lengthways and score the flesh with a sharp knife. Like most things at bincho here is where our grills come into play; skewer like the picture opposite, drizzle with with lots of non-scented oil then grill both sides until soft.
For those who don’t have a BBQ you can cook it in the same way under a salamander although the best results for the home cook are to shallow or deep fry in a clean non-scented oil.
You will be alarmed at how much oil they absorb, much of this will be expelled as it cooks but quite frankly [and you can quote me on this] all great aubergine dishes need plenty of oil.
Then sprinkle with sesame seeds and put under a hot grill.
Keep an eye on it because the difference between glazed and burnt is literally seconds.
dancing katsuobushi 17 April 2012 by DM
During the last few years London has seen a drought of epic proportions.
Due to some nonsensical EU legislation possibly THE most important ingredient we know, love and depend on was banned from entering the UK .
We’ve been forced into a life of crime, thrown into an underworld of smuggling, dealing, and black market trading, we have become desperados.
Chefs have stopped at absolutely nothing to get hold of it, stories of illegal round-the-world boat trips, bribed JAL cabin crew and even a rumour of one yakitori chef who flew back from Tokyo with it stuffed into his children’s soft toys [COUGH ahem],
When It has found its way into the country its been traded on back doors of restaurants, stolen, gambled with, even talk of one chef losing fingers in a yakuza style hit for simply trying to protect his stash.
Nicknamed Odoru [dancing] Katsuobushi for the erie performance it makes when sprinkled on a warm plate of yakisoba or okonomiyaki, it is basically dried bonito [skipjack tuna].
To keep it simple The bonito is simmered for an hour, deboned and then smoked for 2-4 weeks. A natural mould is then added and it is left to dry in the sun – [ a more detailed description is here] this process as you can imagine completely transforms the appearance and more importantly the flavour
These small blocks are then shaved into ‘wood shavings’ maximising surface area and allowing flavour extraction – GENIUS
Its jam-packed with inosinic acid which gives intense umami, adding complexity and depth to anything in its path, Most importantly for chefs its at the base of every good Dashi – the foundation stock that so many Japanese restaurants depend on.
Fortunately for the chefs such as us the bloodshed is over.
A month ago a rumour was circulated that one of Tsukiji markets most famous producers and shrewd business man, Mr Wada was setting up a factory in a north London ghetto called Enfield.
Seems Wadasan, A.K.A Mr Bonito, had been alerted to the UK famine and decided to do something about it. He had contacts in Top Japanese supply company over here called Tazaki foods.
Together they recruited and trained a crack team of food mad, bearded scientists and with state of the art equipment imported from Japan they began to shave.
Wadasan – a stickler for quality, oversees the whole operation himself during his regular visits. He imports the fish from the clean waters off Vietnam, where he also spends time developing the cooking and drying process.
Wadasan himself is amazed at the quality of the British product, he told me that while over here he eats it sprinkled on mozzarella every day for breakfast.
Believe that or not but by all accounts the British product its is every bit as good as the Japanese version. [well come on, they're never going to say its better] and it looks like its here to stay.
need more info ? – Essential reading Dashi and Umami the heart of Japanese cuisine
onsen tamago – the return of the perfect egg 2 November 2011 by DM
‘The Japanese ability to do the simple things better than anyone else stops short at poaching eggs, absurdly the yolk seemed more cooked than the white rendering it silky and sickly in equal measures’ ‘impossible chopstick fodder’ -an un-named national restaurant critic [second from left] giving us a slapping back in 2008.
In Japan the hot spring [onsen] ryokans are without doubt some of the best places to find the real regional food of Japan. It’s their version of cuisine de terroir, super fresh local ingredients cooked simply with a meticulous attention to detail.
As I sat in one such onsen, at one with the beautiful frozen landscape, naked except for a napkin on my head and with just a flask of hot sake for company, a hunched little old lady reached over my shoulder and pulled a basket of these glimmering white eggs from under my leg. My onsen tamago virginity was about to be broken
Later that night I got the chance to try one, served simply in a delicate chilled suimono broth with a few fresh shavings of bonito and some local mountain herbs it was a revelation. Its custardy texture and thick creamy yolk was like nothing I had eaten before, it really was the perfect egg. No trickery, just an total understanding of the ingredient and temperature.
Back in Tokyo they became an obsession, I hunted them down wherever and whenever, in bowls of ramen, in a back street noodle bars, dished up at lunchtime in gyu-don bowls or used as a yakitori dip in upmarket gaffs like Gonpachi, I would never pass up the opportunity to see their potential.
Fortunately since 2008 things in the west have changed, whether it was David Chang dropping them down at Momofuku, Helen Marie Arzak doing the cling film thing in San Sebastian or one of the countless Japanese restaurants that have been doing this for years, the onsen tamago or ‘slow cooked egg’ has finally been accepted and is here to stay.
Restaurants like us have to resort to technology to achieve perfection but don’t be put off trying this at home. If you have a thermometer a steady temprature just shy of 63 degrees for an hour will never fail. There is an easier way of dropping them into a few inches of boiling water, then immediately removing the pan from heat for 15 minutes will also work – check this .
If you can’t be bothered with all of this then you know where we are.
The Onsen tamago is back and appearing at a yakitori joint near you from November.
the miso pig’s head 2 October 2011 by DM
No dish has captured the imagination amongst our regulars quite like this one.
Since it’s debut as a special just a few months ago it has gained a cult like following and has singularly become the most requested off menu item we do.
First conceived for a group of adventurous Japanese salarymen, improved for some local offal nuts and then perfected for a friendly food blogger it has since become a habitual feature on our specials board.
It’s basically an adaptation of the classic Izakaya staple motsu nikomi, a hearty stew of braised pigs tripe and vegetables in a rich miso broth, a dish that really highlights the natural affinity between offal and miso – Our take on it, using all the different tastes and textures of a pigs head lifts it to another level.
I’ve lost count the amount of times I’ve been asked for this recipe so time to share, in all its gory glory.
The Miso Pigs Head
First things first, hair removal – not a pleasant job but essential. Use a blow torch to singe the hair then follow up by scraping off with an old sharp knife. The odour of torched flesh and burn’t hair isn’t everybody’s cup of tea – open a window before you start. [Caution! this smell can really worry your neighbours]
Now time to de-bone the head
Cut the ears off then take a sharp knife and make an incision from the nose all the way up the snout over to the back of the head. Slip your knife under the skin on one side to create a flap.
Now whilst working the knife against the skull just peel the flesh away paying particular attention to the meaty parts of temple, snout and cheeks. Continue this all the way down until it comes off then repeat on the other side.
Now the gory bits over – let the kids back into the room, its time to make a brine.
2 litres of water, 300gms of sea salt. 200gms of sugar, an unpeeled, sliced knob of ginger, a stick of cinnamon, 3 star anise and six peppercorns.
Brinings not a big thing in Japan and is not essential if your in a hurry. I recommend it because it firms up the flesh, provides a deep penetrative seasoning and most importantly reduces moister loss in the final stage.
Take the head, rinse under cold water then bring to boil in clean water, removing scum as it appears on the surface. Simmer for 15 minutes then drain and allow to cool. Cut into bite sized chunks. you can remove unwanted fatty parts at this stage if you want.
The next bit is basically a take on the classic motsu nikomi recipe – no exact amounts or timings here, all very much to taste.
Gently sweat finely chopped ginger in a drop of sunflower oil until it becomes fragrant, add the chunks of pigs head and continue to sweat to impart flavour, next add bite size pieces of carrot, and slices of lotus root and continue to cook over a very low heat for a few minutes. Now add a couple of glasses of sake, a sprinkling of sugar and simmer for 10 minutes.
Next add slices of lotus root, chunks of daikon, gobo [Japanese burdock] and top up with dashi. Dashi is an umami rich stock made essentially from seaweed and dried bonito flakes. The powered version is widely available and works just as well here.
Simmer for between 45 minutes and an hour, The timing here varies on the size of the pieces and heat, You will know its ready when the meat is tender and gives easily. Add slices of Chinese cabbage and simmer for a further few minutes.
Miso time now- we prefer a mild sweet white miso here, red or dark miso works but can end up being too salty.
Drain off about a cup of the braising liquid into a small bowl and whisk in the miso. The amount you need is very much to taste, you can always add more after. A good starting point is about 2 tbsp for a half a head.
Pour this thick miso liquid back into your braising pan and return to the heat. Carefull not to get too hot now, miso hates been boiled. Finally drop in some pieces of tofu and sprinkle with chopped spring onion.
So that’s it, definately worth the effort, don’t forget to serve with hot shichimi pepper. A chilled glass of sake is of course, obligatory.