back on the road 11 October 2014 by

bincho has diedIn July due to increasing rents, creative differences and an incident with a traffic warden we finally sold our run down old yakitori joint in Soho.

Rather than spend the rest of the Summer watching the place slowly get pulled apart in its transformation into yet another all encompassing, mediocre Japanese brand we packed the kit into the back of a transit and set off to grill our way across the fields and festivals of Europe.blood and wasabi

 

It was a return to how we started eight years ago but a lot more fun. As the street and festival food scene all over Europe has exploded it has become a more friendly place.  Customers more food savvy and keen to explore new tastes, other traders more varied, qualified and less obsessed with trying to make a fast buck. The only exception was Germany….we won’t go back there.belgium

 

We are now back in the UK and whilst we hunt tirelessly for a new permanent home we will be continuing to ply our trade from the stall and anywhere else we can find to pop up.

We will be using the blog to keep updates on what we are cooking and some of the things we have found on our travels.

First on this list a mystery solved in Spain.

 

Secretoraw koji

We’ve been grilling the loins of Iberico pigs for several years now. The acorn scented fat is amazing when scorched over open fire and the flesh just melts in the mouth.

 

However many of our loyal Japanese customers don’t want melt in the mouth, they need something more,  something to chew – more bite.

It was a friend of ours at Freedown foods who first popped in some secreto for us to try and we became instantly obsessed.DSC_0340

Off-putting to many Secreto must be cooked rare. The balance between the meat, marbling and high fibre content gives more texture than the conventional cuts without being tough, more time in the mouth, more flavour.

The mystery comes about from where this cut is actually from.

 

Many believed it is the pork equivalent of a skirt steak, others argued it was the cap from the ribs. On our travels not too far from Seville we were about to find out.

Rumour has it that it was called ‘secreto’ as most butchers denied its existance, considering it too good to sell and keeping it for themselves.

At first they were tight lipped, It was only after introducing  them to the delights of Japanese whisky that they spilt the beans.

The secret of this small triangle from just behind the pigs shoulder was out and whilst we drank and danced into the night a deal was struck to have a supply shipped over to the UK.

secreto!

Secreto is a firm fixture on our new menu, all we need now is a restaurant.

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adventures in offal 20 September 2012 by

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.

Pigs Chitterlings

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.

 Veal tongue

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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.

 

Trying to re-create beef tongue like the juicy beef tongue you get in Japan has been a struggle.

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 tongue is simply peeled and sliced as thin as possible before skewering.

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.

 

 

 

Lamb sweetbreads

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

 

Rabbit Kidney

A bit of an obscurity and a tricky one to sell, Japanese don’t do rabbit [there are few exceptions].

No trickery about this one – the same rules as for chicken offal - has to be fresh and must be cooked pink!

 

to be continued……

 

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nasu miso dengaku 21 August 2012 by

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.

 

 

Basic recipe

1kg miso

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

 

Allow the aubergine to cool slightly and spread the miso on thickly - the back of a spoon works well for this.

 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.

And that’s it – so to my vegan friends in Soho this ones for you, now please stop hassling me!

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dancing katsuobushi 17 April 2012 by

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 .

Without a suitable alternative chefs from Japanese restaurants across the capital have taken the law into their own hands. 

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.

I’m talking about Katsuobushi

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.

It’s dynamite on a salad, even a simple sliced tomato or humble plate of tofu succumb to its magical powers and slowly but surely its creeping onto the international fine dining scene.

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.

Familiar with this particularly un-glamorous part of London it didn’t take me long to track him down.mr bonito

 

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

 

 

 

 


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onsen tamago – the return of the perfect egg 2 November 2011 by

‘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

 The offending eggs were removed from the menu.

 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.

I couldn’t wait to try them out in London.

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.

 

 

There are many techniques to re-create this Japanese phenomenon at home, some say cooking in rice cookers, others argue running under a hot tap for an hour, some chefs I know even bath with them.

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.

 

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