Sunday, November 11, 2012

Japanese Cooking Tips

I've been watching a lot of Japanese cooking shows lately and I've been learning some interesting things. Like about cucumbers. If you rub salt all over them, they'll get shiny and extra green. I think this works mostly for long Asian cucumbers like these:

From NHK World

You can also use salt to get rid of that gross fishy odor from raw shrimps. Either soak the shrimp in salty water or rub the shrimp directly with salt (my preferred method). Rinse, pat dry and then use.

If you plan to deep-fry the shrimp, cut the tails at a diagonal to get rid of excess water. Excess water will make the hot oil go nuts and may cause accidents.

If you want to make shrimp tempura, make small cuts in the belly section (just don't cut all the way through—you want to keep the shrimp whole). This will keep the shrimp from curling during cooking. Then lightly pound the back of the shrimp with the dull side of your knife. To plumpen up the shrimp, they say.

Another handy tip: if you want to make an omelet and you're using a Teflon pan, heat the pan, add a tiny bit of oil, then break the egg directly into the pan; mix with a spatula (or chopsticks) and cook. This saves you from washing a bowl.

A lot of my tips are now coming from an interesting NHK program called
Itadakimasu! Dining With the Chef. Here's a video of the shrimp tempura show. (So sad they got rid of Shelly. About the only "normal" presenter on NHK.)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Small sausage in big sausage from

Lately, I've been going to a lot of Taiwanese restaurants but it's still not really clear to me what Taiwanese food exactly is. So I was really grateful that my husband sent me this article by Clarissa Wei: Pork-chop Gate: Why Pork Chop Over Rice Isn't Classically Chinese + Death of Authenticity. I'm not really sure if the article answers all my questions because there seems to be a lot of controversy over what she says but it's an interesting start. Clarissa is Taiwanese and her criteria seems to be "would my grandma know what it is?" Classic or not, pork chop over rice is awfully nummy. I also love the pickles you get at Taiwanese restaurants. Check out the article if you'd like to know more.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Pea Pod Shells

Just saw the most interesting use for pea pod shells on a Japanese cooking show. Put the washed and depodded shells in a pot of water. Add konbu (a type of seaweed often used in Japan to make stock). Bring to boil. Cool the broth and use to cook rice with! You can add peas if you'd like.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Rose-petal sandwiches

Photo from Wikipedia; author Frank Vincentz
I was doing some research on roses and their uses when I stumbled across the most interesting recipe for rose-petal sandwiches at Usually, rose petals are the decorative part of a cake or other pastry and I've never seen them used to flavor a sandwich before. The recipe is quite simple. Just put rose petals in the bottom of a container (I'd advice organic). Then add butter that's been wrapped in wax paper. Put the container in a cool place overnight and you should have butter with the fragrance of roses. Spread the butter on sandwich bread and voila! I haven't tried the recipe but it's intriguing. Sounds perfect for an afternoon tea.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Ah...just looking at this picture makes me want to whip up another batch of okonomiyaki. What is okonomiyaki? It's a big, fat savory pancake filled with vegetables and meat. In Japan, you can go to restaurants that specialize in okonomiyaki. Each table will have a large flat grill and the pancake is made right in front of you. Lots of fun. But you can also make okonomiyaki at home. It's pretty easy—in fact, learning to say okonomiyaki is the hardest part of the dish.

Recipes will vary greatly because you can add pretty much any ingredient to the basic flour batter. But I have found that one ingredient is pretty important: nagaimo (a.k.a mountain yam).  The yam won't add any flavor at all, but it will make the pancake light and almost cake-like.  I have to warn you that nagaimo takes a little getting used to. The raw vegetable is pretty darn slimy and trying to peel it (which you must) can be a bit tricky. The Japanese really enjoy slimy vegetables (okra is another favorite) and believe their mucilaginous properties are very good for your stomach. I don't mind slimy. And all the slime will have disappeared by the time you've cooked the pancake. Another odd property of nagaimo is that when you grate it, the yam instantly turns into a snot-like gel! Just bear with it and continue to grate in a very gentle manner (I find a Microplane is great for this). Interestingly, if you just slice it into large chunks and braise it in a stew, the nagaimo has the same texture as a potato.

As a guide, click here for a very dependable recipe from Harumi Kurihara, a popular cookery writer in Japan (she's known as the Martha Stewart of Japan). Warning! The recipe calls for "taro". This is a translation mistake. What they really mean is nagaimo. You will not get the same effect using taro!

Going out to eat okonomiyaki is such a popular thing to do in Japan, many TV shows feature it in a scene or two. My favorite depiction of okonomiyaki feasting is in Kekkon Dekinai Otoko (The Man Who Wouldn't Marry). In the following clip, Abe Hiroshi demonstrates the perfect way to cook okonomiyaki.

KekkonDekinai06.2 2/4

Vivian | Myspace Video

Friday, October 7, 2011

Yotam Ottolenghi's Butternut Squash and Tahini Spread

Sometimes you read a recipe and you know instantly that it's going to be good. Like Yotam Ottolenghi's recipe for butternut squash and tahini spread. The title of the recipe says it all—the heart of the recipe is just squash, tahini and yogurt. I tried out the recipe today and the dish was fantastic, probably because I was able to get an incredibly sweet and aromatic butternut squash. That's the trick to recipes like this: very good, fresh products. Hope you try it.

For the full recipe, go to The Guardian's webpage.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Soy Sauce

I grew up using Kikkoman soy sauce and never really thought very seriously about soy sauce at all. Kikkoman seemed like a good all-purpose sauce and I used it whenever a recipe called for soy sauce regardless of what cuisine it was. But lately, I've been thinking a lot about soy sauce. Initially, I was mostly concerned with finding a sauce that didn't have sodium benzoate, a nasty preservative that's in practically everything, including liquid vitamins. But now, I'm concerned about taste. I had no idea how different soy sauces can be, from Kikkoman to Yama to Marukin.

Marukin is the one I've been using most. According to the label, it has no preservatives at all and must be kept in the fridge. It's much more salty and intense than Kikkoman so a little goes a long way.

The second soy sauce I now have is a brand called 수복표 국간장. Yup, the name of the brand is only in Korean. Strange for a soy sauce made in Los Angeles. In English, the brand name is Soo Bok. Like Marukin, there are no preservatives (again, I have to trust the label). But unlike Marukin, there's no wheat. That's really the difference between Japanese and Korean soy sauces, Japanese being a combo of soy beans and wheat, Korean being pure soy beans. 수복표 국간장 is absolutely lovely. The sauce is light and clear with a delicate, though very salty, taste. Really recommend it for all Korean food.

Of course, if you're cooking Chinese food, you really should use a Chinese soy sauce, but I haven't found a really good brand yet. Pearl River Bridge is the brand most available in the U.S., but I've never been terribly impressed by Pearl. Any recommendations out there?