Category: Notable Nosh

Notable Nosh: Unagi

Unagi 1

Who remembers the ‘Friends’ episode when Ross boasts to Rachel of his skill in the Japanese martial arts awareness technique of ‘Unagi’?  Of course, Ross got it wrong, for Unagi is actually the Japanese word for the freshwater eel that is frequently barbecued, and often included as a sushi offering.

Saltwater eel is also found in Japanese cuisine, where it is known as ‘Anago’, but it is less common (at least in the west), and not generally cooked in the sweetish Kabayaki sauce (very like Teriyaki Sauce) common with Unagi … Eel, by the way, does not generally appear as a (raw) sashimi and in sushi, and other preparations, is invariably cooked, generally by slow-simmering, occasionally followed by grilling.

Anyway, above you see Unagi as part of a Nigiri Suhsi offering I had at Hokkaido Sushi in Ottawa. It certainly isn’t the prettiest presentation I have ever been served but it was genuinely tasty. The fish was just a tiny bit drier than it should be but the sauce was delicately used and the full, very umami taste of the fish shone through perfectly. Many people tend to shy away from eel, despite being perfectly comfortable with other fish, but this worth trying…

Notable Nosh: Squid Balls

Squid Balls 1

Well, I first have to a bit of an apology for this post, folks … I ordered three of the above pictured ‘balls’ at Hokkaido Sushi in Ottawa a while back and I scarfed down two before remembering to take a photograph. It is also a little difficult to get any sense of the size of these balls (Yes, yes… I get you didn’t know that squid have balls), but I can tell you that each of these little delicacies is about the size of a quail egg…

Anyway, I almost didn’t bother with doing a post, given my photographic lapse, but the fact is, these were really terrific and worth a mention. Each little sphere was coated in a very thin batter (or maybe just dusted with a starch of some sort), but it was the ‘innards’ that really shone.

The ‘filling’ (as it were) was definitely squid… Indeed, the flavor was so much more pronounced even than fresh, deep-fried squid rings. What made the dish (and possibly contributed to the strength of the flavor) was the texture. I don’t know exactly what they did here, but it seemed very much as they processed (‘whipped’ even) squid flesh to a fine paste and then (possibly) added a little cornstarch… The mouth-feel of biting into each ball was springy, and very toothsome indeed. I wish I could explain it better, and, even more, I hope I can figure out how they made this … I will be playing around in my own kitchen and will, of course, report any developments …

Notable Nosh: Agedashi Tofu

Agedashi Tofu 2017-07 1

Some time ago (three years in fact), I posted my own recipe for Agedashi Tofu but, just recently, I experienced a restaurant version I thought I would share.

I had this version at a small restaurant in Vancouver that I did not review as it happened to be their opening day. It was terribly confused in its service, and the dishes were not up to scratch, so I thought it unfair to be too critical of them. One dish I had was spectacularly awful but this selection was pretty good.

I was actually expecting a few large cubes of tofu rather than the many small ones I was given but this was actually better. There were no bonito flakes included, as is usual, and promised in the menu, but this was not a serious problem. The tofu was lightly fried, with a nice thin crispiness on the outside, and the inside just properly soft. The sauce was a decent representation of the standard and went very well. Sometimes Wasabi is included and, while that might have been nice, I didn’t need it for this flavorful representation…

Notable Nosh: Chinese Green Dumpling

Chinese Green Dumpling 1

I chose to present this particular offering as a Notable Nosh post, rather than as part of my ‘Dim Sum’ series because, though I was served this from the Dim Sum Menu at the Palais Imperial in Ottawa on my last visit, the selection wasn’t really a standard dim sum offering and, indeed, differed rather significantly from what was described on the menu.

In the inset to the above picture, you can see the picture as it appeared on the menu. It is not a great picture and roughly indicated a slightly a slightly translucent dumpling with a very green filling. The first two Chinese characters beneath the image are 韭菜, which can mean ‘leek, or ‘chive’ and my server asked me, when I placed the order, whether I wanted chive or ‘sweet pea pod’. I went with chive and was expecting, from that, and the picture, that I would be getting some sort of vegetable dumpling.

What I received, as you can see in the main picture, is something that looks very much like well-formed Har Gow. It is not easy to tell, but they were actually pretty large and a little difficult to eat with chopsticks. They held together well, though,l and the wrapper was well-steamed and tender. What surprised me, in the event, was that the filling was not what I expected. There were chives present certainly, and in large enough amount to be very noticeable taste-wise, but the rest of the filling, indeed the bilk of it, was minced shrimp. It caught me off-guard and I might have been disappointed by it save for the fact that it was very, very good. I am not good at making Har Gow style dumplings as yet, but I think the next time I make Jiaozi, I will try this very decent filling combination…

Notable Nosh: Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki 2017-07 1

Okonomiyaki has sometimes been called the ‘Japanese pizza’ but, though the appearance is similar (and occasionally cheese is used) the resemblance is superficial at best. Rather, this particular specialty is more closely similar to the Korean savory pancake known as ‘Pajeon’. Basically, the Okonomiyaki (which means ‘cooked as you like it’) consists of a pancake base made from cabbage, and sometimes other shredded vegetables, in a batter. This maybe cooked on both sides (or one only in some styles) and then toppings are added along with a sweetened Worcestershire type sauce and (commonly) mayonnaise. Seafood or meat can be included in the pancake and shaved Bonito flakes are a common topping.

I ate the one you see pictured above at Wasabi, in Ottawa, and, though it wasn’t the prettiest I have seen, it was very tasty indeed. The batter contained both cabbage and scallions and was well cooked through. It was a little dark in places but this did not ruin the flavor at all. The topping, in addition to more scallion, included shaved bonito and little strips of toasted nori. The bonito flakes were still fluttering when I received the dish, meaning it came straight from the griddle, and the nori added a nice nuttiness.

The one thing that made this particular variety different was that cheese was used in place of mayo… I was a bit leery of this but, in fact, it turned out to be very nice indeed. I have had Okonomiyaki a few times before this (some not very good) and I am looking forward to trying many more to explore the different structures and styles I’ve heard about.

Notable Nosh: Steamed Crab

Steamed Crab 1

This was a very nice dish I enjoyed at a Chinese restaurant on my summer trip to Vancouver. The restaurant kept their own crabs alive in a tank (see the inset) allowing me to choose my ‘victim’ for the kitchen to prepare in a style of my choice… This was the first time I have been able to do this, and I really enjoyed it.

As to the type of crab … during my visit to Vancouver’s Chinatown, I saw several tanks of crab in various fishmongers… all the same type of crab… and in some notices, they were identified as 大肉蟹 which would be pronounced as ‘dà ròu xiè’ in Mandarin and could mean either ‘pork crab’ or ‘big meat crab’ depending on whether you treat the first two characters as stand-alone, or a compound. I asked my server what the crabs were called and she first said ‘Vancouver Crab’ but when I asked her what she called them, she said something that was so close to the aforesaid Mandarin rendering that I am pretty sure that it was the Cantonese equivalent (it was a Hong Kong style restaurant, after all). Anyway … I recall having Dungeness Crab in BC some 12 years ago and these looked the same so, upon comparing the shell markings to those in pictures of Dungeness Crab at Wikipedia, I am convinced that this is what I was served…

As to the preparation, I was given the choice of several different ways (all steamed) amongst which were included: black bean sauce, garlic sauce, ginger and scallion, and some sort of cream sauce… I chose the garlic. In retrospect, I think I probably should have gone with the ginger and scallion as ginger really does work well with crab (and fish in general), while the garlic came across as a little oily tasting after vigorous steaming. Still, I enjoyed it immensely, and, while it was a very messy dish to eat, the meat was so succulent and sweet I could have eaten two of the sizeable beasts. My final thought on completing this meal was to regret the unavailability of live crab in my own community so that I could reproduce the experience myself…

Notable Nosh: Pork Rillettes

Pork Rillettes

Rillettes is a specialty of French cuisine that can be thought of as something of a cross between the rustic Confit and a fine Pâté. Like a confit, it uses salt and fat to preserve meat but, as with the confit, the preserving process produces a lovely result that is prized in and of itself. It has been many years since I last made a batch, and I am still planning to post the recipe when I finally do again, but, for now, I am just going to share with you the very pleasant version I had at Play Food Wine in Ottawa not long ago…

This rillettes dish came with slices of pickled cucumber. They were clearly not a lactic acid ferment type, but were made using a very mild and slightly sweet vinegar. What set these apart is that the pickling medium also included some finely shredded seaweed of some sort (Wakame, perhaps), and this added a different level of flavor that was both unexpected and very good.

The rillettes here were quite bit more finely processed than others I have had. My own have tended to be quite granular in consistency, and others can be composed of tiny shreds, but these were very smooth and quite unctuous, almost like a pâté, in fact. The mix was not heavily seasoned, indeed, other than the expected salt, the only thing I could identify were some tiny brown mustard seeds. These, surprisingly, were softened to the point that I had absolutely no sensation of biting into seeds and their flavor had obviously been given up to the blend. The result was anything but bland, though, and the pork really spoke for itself without a lot of additional enhancement. I have to say that my own efforts, thus far, haven’t exceeded this particular dish.

Notable Nosh: Uni

Uni - 2017-07 1

Uni is sometimes referred to as the roe of the Sea Urchin but is actually the gonads of the creature and can produce roe or milt (semen). It is a delicacy in Japanese cuisine but it is seasonal, and not always easy to obtain, so one frequently sees it on the menus of Japanese restaurants only to find, on ordering, that it is not currently available. I came across some recently at Wasabi in Ottawa’s Bytown market, where they were available as a sushi selection, or as a sashimi preparation served, as you see above, in little cucumber cups. Each cup held four or five individual gonads and you can see an individual piece in the inset.

The texture of uni is not for everybody. It is very soft, with a silky mouthfeel and is rather like the white of a soft-boiled egg, or, perhaps, a very firm custard. When tasted, without any sort of additions, it is very reminiscent of the tomalley, or liver, of a lobster. Some would say it has a fishy taste, but I rather think of it has having a generic ‘sea flavor’ coupled with a distinct sweetness. Tomalley can also have an underlying faintly musky pungency but, with uni, it is sweet all the way through except at the very end where a similar pungency comes across as an almost bitter aftertaste. It is brief however, and does not really affect the overall pleasure of the taste at all.

In this preparation, the uni was served with a wedge of lemon, a small mound of wasabi (hidden behind the inset in the above picture), and a little dish for soy sauce. I tried soy first and, while it was pleasant, I found that the sweetness of the soy masked the delicate sweetness of the uni, thus robbing it of some of its impact. The lemon was an even worse choice as, not only did the acid mask much of the good flavor, it also made the final bitter quality more pronounced and I am surprised that anybody thought that this would be a good accompaniment. As for the wasabi, however, this worked really well. Despite the sharp, intense power of the root, it didn’t mask any of the sweetness at all and really complimented it nicely. I should like to try the delicacy in a sushi preparation sometime, but the sashimi along with just a little wasabi is terrific.

Notable Nosh: Chinese BBQ Pork and Duck

Chinese BBQ

Not long ago, I posted a review of Gain Wah restaurant in Vancouver’s Chinatown. I mentioned therein that, as I was leaving, the very friendly owner who was manning the BBQ station offered some barbecued duck to try. It was absolutely delicious and I told him I would be back. Well… I did just that and ordered the plate you see above which, for the princely sum of just $7.50, gave me a generous helping of both duck and pork along with a little dish of plum sauce on the side. Now, though I have been tempted by Chinese BBQ on various occasions, this happened to be my first real experience (aside from the gratis sampling two days earlier). Now… I have to say that I am a convert. The duck was not quite as good as the first taste, as that had been freshly cooked and still piping hot, but both meats here were exquisitely succulent and flavorful. There was a slight hint of 5 spice powder here and there (which I can take or leave), but, otherwise, this was perfect and the plum sauce really wasn’t needed for either. I have had thin slices of BBQ pork tenderloin in fried rice and noodle dishes once in a while, but that cut is exceedingly dry and nothing like the lovely, slightly fatty portion here. I am going to have to experiment in my own kitchen…

Notable Nosh: Pork Belly with Kumquat

Pork Belly with Kumquat and Parsnip

I had this little appetizer at Play Food Wine during my vacation in Ottawa. I am not posting it because it was an especially wonderful dish, but rather because the basic idea was pretty good and could be improved with a little tweaking. It is not easily apparent from the photograph here, but the pork belly consisted of two thumb-sized pieces that were roasted, then placed on a bed of pureed parsnip and topped with a sauce made with kumquats. There were some snap peas included, which didn’t add a great deal, and the garnish consisted of sprouts of some sort (possibly mustard).

The pork belly was well cooked but otherwise unremarkable. Little seasoning was used during the roasting from all I can gather, and the compliment came from the additional components on the plate. The parsnip bed was nice, with the sweet taste of fresh parsnip coming through cleanly, but I didn’t like the consistency very much. It was a little too much like applesauce and something with a bit more texture would have suited me more. As for the kumquats, I thought the idea pretty decent, but, ultimately, it was too overpowering. The fruit appeared to have been sautéed until partially collapsed into a thickish chutney-like affair, but the overly sweet result, coupled with an orange-pith like citrus bite was a bit much for the pork. I’d try this dish myself but, instead of the kumquat, I think something like cranberry (as one idea) might work a little better. Still, it was a good try…