Tuesday, May 10, 2005

My Kyoto-inspired dinner - Part I

This past Saturday, I had a lot of fun playing with some of the finest ingredients available in Japan. Lucky me, I came home with several bottles of mirin so thick it was viscous like syrup, vinegar so smooth I could drink it, and several bottles of aged artisan soy sauce, each with its distinct scents and flavors. I also brought back green tea powder (matcha) of varying quality, sea salt from the Sea of Japan, and best of all, a magically delicious Kyoto-style white miso that simply took my breath away at Hyotei. Since many of these ingredients have very limited shelf life after opening, I figured the best way to enjoy them was to cook a big dinner and share these ingredients with friends who would come with hearty appetites. In the end, there were 14 adults and 2 children to polish off every last bite!
dinner sauces
For the most part, I stuck with the menu I posted earlier, but I added some fun twists to it. I had such exciting ingredients that to simply cook some dishes would not have done them justice. I wanted my friends to really dive into the dishes and explore the different flavors inherent in them... so, I made some flavor guessing games as part of the dinner!

The first one was by far the most difficult question - the yakitori sauce game. I made a big batch of yakitori sauce base with sake, mirin, and dashi. Then, I split the batch into two and made two yakitori sauces by adding eqaul portions of a different soy sauce to the two divided bases. I marinated the chicken in the two yakitori sauces for the same duration, and the Papa Bear and I skewered one batch with long skewers and the other batch with short skewers. I handed all of the skewers over to the Papa Bear, who grilled them to perfection at the same time. On the table, I placed THREE small bowls of soy sauces - two bowls containing one of the soy sauces I used and a third bowl with my cheap Kikkoman soy sauce. Diners had to munch on the two kinds of yakitori, taste the three soy sauces, and guess which soy sauce had been used for which skewer. Amazingly, we had a winner!! My taiyaki partner, Melissa, was the only one to guess both skewers correctly!

dinner tsukune
The second question was apparently too easy, since many people got this one right. This game was based on turkey tsukune. Tsukune is the Japanese version of a meatball, and the best tsukune are so smooth, they almost dissolves in your mouth. Unlike meatballs in the US, tsukune is usually made with chicken, but for this dinner, I used the cheaper poultry (turkey).

I made a humongous batch of turkey tsukune and split the batch in two. I seasoned one batch with soy sauce and the other with sea salt. My friends, Arik and Jan, arrived unfortunately early and were put in charge of making the tsukune patties. I quickly sprinkled the soy sauce batch with sesame seeds before they began working on the second batch, and although they had graciously offered their help, they were not given any hints as to which or how the patties were different... Melissa courageously took on the tsukune grilling station and turned up perfectly grilled tsukune throughout the evening which went like hot cakes! These tsukune patties were a lot more popular than I expected and it was one of the first dishes to get finished! Must've been Melissa's excellent grilling skillz... Everyone must have enjoyed them quite a bit, since when the answers were revealed, this turned out to be one of the easier questions for everyone with most people guessing correctly that sesame batch was the soy sauce batch!

dinner miso
My main dish for the evening was my edamame-miso trout. I designed this dish to highlight the white miso that was one of the best miso I have ever tasted. Miso, the savory Japanese aged soy bean paste, is so full of flavor that it is difficult to find bad miso. But it is also difficult to find good miso for the same reason - it's so full of those umami chemicals that it's hard for anything to be much better than others. Or so I thought, until I had the white miso at Hyotei. This miso was simply amazing with the perfect balance of subtle sweetness and savory richness and cooking with it was pure pleasure. I simply combined my miso with ground edamame (which is the feat by the Papa Bear - I don't have a blender or a food processor, so everything I puree is hand-ground in a mortar and pestle...) and stuffed three whole trout with the miso-edamame mixture. I then sprinkled some sea salt on the trout, wrapped them loosely in bamboo sheets, and threw them in the oven for a while. It was a very simple preparation with one intent - to bring out the power of that spectacular white miso. The whole dish rested on the quality of the miso, and boy, it did not disappoint. The sea salt, the white miso, and the edamame worked together perfectly for a harmony of flavors that felt very 'Kyoto' to me. I wouldn't dare make this dish again with anything else. Several of my friends have asked me for the recipe, but I have to say this - unfortunately, the dish was based so firmly on that white-miso from Kyoto, I don't know if any other white miso could fill in for that miso...

Wow, I've already run out of space and time! Apparently, I wrote a lot of text today!! I still have my cherry blossom rice balls (sakura onigiri), two vegetable plates, and the last of my 'guess the ingredient' questions to share with you, so come back tomorrow for Part II! And best of all, tomorrow's posts will feature Molly's great photography skills! Yes, in case you are wondering... I didn't take pictures of the yakitori or the trout... but it was because my camera ran out of battery... and by the time the battery was charged, I was too busy socializing and eating... Ops.


molly said...

So how do I make dashi?? IF that is the secret to it all, I need to know it...

mmm...that's delicious said...

Yummy!! Can I come next time?

Alice said...


Yes, the dashi is the secret... And if you are nice to me, we can make some really good ones together...


Sure, if you are going to fly down from WA just for my dinner!

Fatemeh Khatibloo-McClure said...

May I please, pretty please, with sugar on top, have the tsukune recipe? They are SO tasty, I can STILL taste them!!!

Alice said...


Ah, the recipe. The problem with my cooking is the lack of recipes...

I think there were:

2 lbs of ground turkey
3 or 4 eggs, beaten
1 cup or so of almond powder
a bunch of green onions sliced
a dash of mirin
a dash of dashi

salt or soy sauce

The key is to get the consistency that is loose enough to be smooth but stiff enough to work into patties or balls... I kept adjusting the wets and the dries until that optimal consistency.

I'm sure, being the fabulous cook you are, know what I mean about recipes and can wing it just as well (if not better!) than me with the ingredients above!