Sunday, January 31, 2010

Oyako Donburi aka Egg on Rice

Last night I made oyako donburi or Chicken-'n-Egg on Rice. So far this has been one of my favorite dishes, but I was predisposed to enjoy it.

The history is that while I was a student at DU, I ate at Tokyo Joes.... a lot. It was a staple of my diet. Between them and the fledgling Chipotle, I didn't eat much else. My favorite dish at Tokyo Joes was their Oyako bowl. I couldn't figure out exactly what the taste was, but I loved it. Egg, chicken, rice, onions, with a hint of sweetness. I gobbled it up like the Bumpus's dogs eat turkey.

Once I left school, I wasn't near Tokyo Joes nearly as often, so it became a periodic craving for me. At three in the afternoon for no apparent reason my stomach would scream..."Oyako---NOW!" A few times I thought about trying to make it at home. In fact, before I met my wife and got hold of her copy of Japanese Cooking, I had a cookbook called "The Complete Asian Cookbook" by Charmaine Solomon, which had an Oyako recipe in it. I tried making it, but it didn't taste right.

Now that I have tried a different version of the dish, I have a comparison. The major differences are: dashi vs chicken stock as a base, and sugar vs mirin to sweeten the dish. Tsuji's version chose dashi and sugar. Solomon used chicken stock and mirin. In fact, Solomon recommended dry sherry as a substitute for mirin, which seems a bit off to me.

In any case, Tsuji's version was delicious and I think it might become a staple around our house.

On another note, I have to confess a little. I am working through Tsuji's cookbook and I have a growing admiration for him as an author, chef, and connisseur of great food. However, I've been a little unfaithful. I casually mentioned Solomon's "The Complete Asian Cookbook", but I've consulted her book a couple of times during the process so far.

For instance, she had this interesting tidbit about the dashiyaki tamago:

Japanese omelette pans are rectangular. If you can get one it will make your rolled omelettes easier to handle and neater in appearance, but a round pan can be used quite successfully.

And my was successful. Not "quite successful" but merely a regular level of successful. Her recipe was nearly identical to Tsuji's. She added a parsley garnish.

So now that I have confessed, I'll say three "hail Tsuji's" and we'll continue on our culinary adventure. I will continue to use Solomon's book a reference and I'll note when her explanation is helpful. But I won't feel guilty about it.... not any more!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

My Secret Weapon

I think it is only fair to let everyone know about my secret weapon in project Tsuji. Weapon may be stretching it a little bit. Maybe more like a life line. Or more apropos: phone a friend.

The secret is my sister in law, "H", who is Japanese. My brother studied and taught in Japan for 10 years. Of course, he ended up dating and marrying one of his students. I'd say it's a little sleezy of my brother if she weren't the "older woman".

A little bit about H: She is incredibly fun loving and loves to laugh. She is creative and always willing to share a smile and her fun twist on things. I was so happy to welcome her as my sister many years ago and I am also happy that she was willing to help me on this project.

The first bit of help she gave me was on one of the salad dressings. It called for 3/4 of a cup of red miso and it tasted incredibly salty. The title of her response was "WAY TOOOO MUCH". She said the recipe should have called for 3/4 of a Tablespoon of the miso, and she gave me her own dressing recipe. (I'll be trying that this week.)

In any case, I have a little help on board. Thanks H!

Thursday, January 28, 2010


"Making good dashi" says Shizou Tsuji "is the first secret of the simple art of Japanese cooking." In flipping through Japanese Cooking, most of the recipes call for dashi. Dashi is to Tsuji and Japanese Cooking what butter is to Paula Dean. Essential and ubiquitous.

It is only made of three ingredients. Water, konbu, and bonito. How simple is that? Wait... konbu... bonito. What's that!?!

Fortunately, Tsuji is thorough. He has included a section at in the beginning of Part One called Ingredients. I've found this section to be extremely useful and could be a booklet unto itself. It describes ingredients which are common in Japanese cooking but uncommon in
western kitchens. It actually explains the difference between Tamari and Soy Sauce and indicates reasonable substitutes for hard to find ingredients. It turns out that konbu is giant kelp and bonito is a dried, smoked fish. Fortunately for me, these are sold dried and
packaged at the local Asian market, especially since I'm in Denver with no ocean in sight!

The procedure is also simple. Boil water, add kelp, remove kelp, add bonito, remove bonito. To get this right, it is important to check the flavor of the soup, the texture of the kelp, and to remove foam at the right time. It does take a bit of time.

Tsuji says in the preface to the "Basic Stock" chapter, that you can substitute other stocks, like chicken stock, but this will merely be a la Japonaise, rather than authentic. He also says that dashi-no-moto, or instant dashi, is widely available.

I am going to make an attempt to make dashi from scratch one of these days. I did, however, elect to buy dashi-no-moto from the Asian market. In the preface to the book, Tsuji says that these were pretty good substitutes for homemade dashi. I am not sure if Tsuji would
approve of my choice. I do have both konbu and bonito available to me, but dashi is a bit time consuming. So for now, dashi-no-moto it is.

The first batch that I made turned out well. I was surprised that the flavor was so familiar. It tasted like most of the clear soups I've had in sushi bars. It was just fishy enough to make my cat go bonkers while I was making it. I can see why this is so widely used in Japanese cooking.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dashi-maki Tomago

The first meal I made was Udon Noodle soup and Dashi-maki Tomago.

The udon noodle soup was actually simple. We had packages of udon noodles from the refrigerated section of our local Asian food market. The soup itself was dashi, soy sauce, sugar and mirin, combined with the udon noodles and chopped green onions. It was delicious.

The main dish was Dashi-maki Tomago or Rolled Omelette. This was a little bit trickier. Essentially, this is a french omelette that is rolled in the pan with chopsticks or a spatula, instead of folded over on itself. The procedure is repeated three times to get a pretty thick egg roll. (Egg roll not eggroll!)

The first problem I ran into was that the recipe requires a square frying pan. You are supposed to pour a small amount of the egg mixture into the pan, let it cook until it is just a little runny, then roll the egg onto itself toward you. Then move the omelette back to the far side of the pan, pour in more egg mixture, and repeat the rolling procedure. It doesn't really work in a round pan. If you push it back to the far edge, you end up with a misshapen version of the Dashi-maki Tamago.

Since I am determined to buy the minimum amount of specialty equipment for this project, I made due with the round pan. The result was ok, but not perfect. I literally tried to fit a square peg in a round hole.

The meal overall was tasty. The udon noodles are a favorite of mine for sure. They are chewy and soft and add a nice touch to the slightly fishy taste of the dashi soup.

If I were going to try this recipe over again, I would probably try to use one of those square griddle pans you use to make pancakes. I don't own one, but I have friends who do. I will say that I liked the flavor, but my favorite egg dish is still the fritata.

For next time, I'll need to write more about dashi, which was used in both of these recipes.

The Project Defined

I always think it is important for the first post of a blog to lay out the path it's is going to take. What are its rules? Its customs? What can you expect? What is the tone going to be?

From that introduction, you may think that my blog is going to involve many strings of questions. It may, but that is not the reason for this blog.

I'm blogging because I am shamelessly stealing an idea from that popular movie "Julie and Julia". I am going to cook my way through a cookbook. Specifically, I'm going to cook all of the recipes in "Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art", by Shizuo Tsuji.

Why? Because I am interested in Japanese food and culture. Because this, as best I can tell, is the Japanese equivalent of Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking". Because I thought Julie Powell's idea for the Julie/Julia project was smart and a good idea demands to be imitated. And finally... why not!?!

I have a few rules of this enterprise. They are:

1. I will try to prepare all 200+ recipes in Tsuji's book. I do have a few reasons I may exempt myself from a recipe. See below.

2. I will blog about the experience, with a few inputs from my willing wife.

3. I will try to prepare everything without purchasing any new equipment. I do believe that a cook should have the right tools for the right job; however, this is an east meets west affair. There are things in a Japanese kitchen which are not common in an American kitchen. Since Tsuji's book was written to introduce Japanese cooking to the anglophone world, I think I should be able to cook most everything in a typical American house.

4. This is the first exemption. I will try to cook all of the recipes in the book; however, I may be limited by the availability of ingredients. Denver, my hometown, has a number of pretty good Asian groceries and specialty stores. Even the local megamarts seem to carry a wide range of Asian ingredients. That does not mean that I can find everything. I will look to internet groceries for items that can be shipped. I will draw the line if something gets too expensive. You can have some of the best clam chowder from Pikes Market in Seattle shipped anywhere in the US, but do you want to pay $100 for a bowl of soup? I will come up with a firm dollar limit after I get some input from my wife.

5. This is the second and last exception. I haven't read through the whole book yet, but I will not be preparing natto under any circumstances.

So with that being said, I hope you enjoy this culinary adventure with me.