Posted in Notable Nosh

Notable Nosh: Sea Bass Sashimi and Sushi

Sea Bass Sashimi and Sushi 1

A while ago, I got to try Sea Bass for the first time. At least, I think I did…

It is a sad truth that there is a lot of fraudulent substitution when it comes to seafood, and this happens no less in sushi restaurants than it does with fishmongers, or down-market fish-and-chip places. While researching for this post, I happened to find quite a few different pictures of Sea Bas on the web that didn’t look much like the fish in the above picture. This might be concerning, except it turns out that there are quite a few varieties of Sea Bass, including ‘White Sea Bass’ and ‘Striped Sea Bass’.  Still, even though the Wasabi restaurant in Ottawa is pretty reputable place, one never knows …

Anyway, when I am trying a sashimi selection, I like to try it as nigiri sushi as well, and I did this for my first experience with Sea Bass. Here you can see that sashimi portion of my order is formed into a nice little ‘rosette’ and garnished with Masago, or Smelt roe. This is actually almost a tasteless ingredient and didn’t affect the experience of the fish other than adding a little visual interest.

Unfortunately, I really wasn’t all that keen on this choice for sashimi. The flesh was a little fibrous, but other than that it had a rather soft texture that wasn’t all that pleasant, and it seemed to leave a slight ‘residue’ in the mouth. This suggested something less than peak freshness, but there were no other off tastes that would further tend to that conclusion. What flavor there was actually had the very slightly muddy taste I associate with fresh fish rather than the marine varieties… it is chiefly for this reason that I began to suspect that my ‘Sea Bass’ may have been something else…

In any event, on my next trip south, I will try and sample ‘Sea Bass’ in a few other establishments and see if I can learn a little more….

Posted in Wine

Wine: Vina Laguna Terra Rossa 2016

Vina Laguna Terra Rossa 2016

Today’s wine selection is the last of a series of obscure wines I purchased at the end of last year, some of which I have featured in past posts already. This one is a little special as it is Croatian (and I have never had a wine from Croatia as yet), and also because the dominant grape in the blend is Teran, a new varietal to me. The other grapes in the blend are the familiar Merlot, and Borgonja, which, I believe, is just another name for Gamay. In any event, the blend works very nicely indeed…

The wine is a very dark ruby, and it is medium bodied with a silky mouthfeel. It is pretty dry, with bright acidity, smooth tannins and a finish that persists somewhat but weakens quite quickly. The nose is quite rich with dark berries and plum jam at the front, and there is dusty wood and some floral highlights over a faint forest floor quality, and some barnyard notes underneath.

The palate has plum, cherry and blackcurrant, with just a little citrus, and there some fairly aromatic floral notes and a little bit of wood and leather. This isn’t a hugely complex wine but, at $17.50, I thought it pretty good value for the price.

Posted in Notable Nosh

Notable Nosh: Palais Imperial Style Kung Pao Chicken

PI StyleKung Pao

This dish appears on the menu of Ottawa’s Palais Imperial as ‘Imperial Style Chicken (spicy)’. However the Chinese character entry (reproduced in the inset in the above picture) reads Gōngbǎo jīdīng, and translates, in its most common spelling form as Kung Pao Chicken (Cubes).

For ages, I have rather thought of starting an ongoing blog feature here called ‘The Kung Pao Chronicles’ as I find this a very interesting dish indeed. I still may get around to doing that someday (maybe), but, for now, I am going to continue trying this widely variable dish wherever, and whenever I get the chance and I may, occasionally, share the experience here.

My interest lies mostly in the fact that I have come to regard ‘Kung Pao dishes’ as being a good way to assess a Chinese restaurant. This is because you typically find it reproduced it three ways:

  • Chinese style;
  • Westernized Chinese style; and,
  • Straying so far from the basic theme as to be neither of the first two.

I am not going to go on at great length about the characteristics of these, except to say that the latter case will generally consist of some chicken with peanuts, or cashews, in some sort of hot sauce. This is true of all three cases, of course, but the basic Chinese tradition has certain other essential features as well. In today’s case, Palais Imperial follows the essential idea pretty well…

The one thing that is to be noted is that there is a lot of ‘bulk’ here in the form of vegetables, and indeed, this could really be called ‘Kung Pao Veggies with a Bit of Chicken Added’. Most recipes will often only include some green onion along with the chicken and peanuts, but here, the Palais Imperial includes red and green bell pepper, water chestnuts, celery, carrot, bamboo shoot, baby corn, and mushrooms. To be fair, of course, a restaurant has to be cost conscious, and a certain amount of filler is to be expected. Here though, it really was quite a lot at the expense of the chicken quantity.

The chicken in this dish was actually cut more in slices (piàn), rather than dice, or cubes (ding), but this is hardly fatal to a ‘proper’ Kung Pao dish, and I note that Palais Imperial used the darker thigh meat, which is more in keeping with Chinese tradition, as opposed to the white breast meat more commonly used in westernized versions.

The ‘heat’ for this version comes from the addition of Thai style dried red chili and this restaurant has given the dish the one of the signature ‘Kung Pao’ flavor elements, which is a ‘scorched’ chili flavor obtained by frying the chilies in the cooking oil until they darken before adding the other ingredients. This allows the unique flavor, and the heat, to permeate the finished product.

Beyond the chili heat, a Kung Pao dish is also slightly sweet and sour. In westernized versions, both elements tend to get exaggerated, of ten to the point that the sauce is pretty much the same sort of ‘sweet and sour sauce’ typical in these restaurants. The Chinese version is much more understated but, funnily enough, this place has actually gone to the other extreme. There is a tiny bit of sweetness, but very little ‘tang’. All in all, though, the dish I was given was delicious, with just the right amount of heat for me. They seem to cleave pretty close to the traditional Chinese original, with the deviations being no more than their proprietary, individual touches…

 

Posted in Notable Nosh

Notable Nosh: Japanese Seafood Chowder

Japanese Seafood Chowder

Well, this particular creation of Wasabi in Ottawa was pretty interesting in concept but not, unfortunately, in execution…

The menu described this being ‘Shrimp, scallop and fish in light miso’ but it was pretty hard to see how what I was served matched that description in any material fashion. Firstly, I was rather expecting that the chowder would be a dashi based miso soup lightly thickened in some fashion to make it a ‘chowder’ of sorts. Here though, the medium was definitely a chowder that had been thickened, as far as I could tell, with potato, as is the case with many western chowders. There was, however, no dashi flavor, nor (more to the point) any hint of miso at all. Basically, the only real taste was something akin to a cross between potato and mushroom soup.

The promise of actual seafood in the dish was also pretty optimistic. I could tell that a few of the chewier pieces were fish, and there were some tiny pieces of shrimp, but neither was in abundant supply and there was no scallop as far as I could tell. Indeed, the majority of solid pieces in this brew were actually potato.

The only real Japanese aspects to this dish were the strip of Wakame floating on top, and the Panko on the side. The Wakame was alright, I suppose (but added more for garnish than anything substantial), and the Panko was somewhat interesting. Normally, crackers or the like are provided with soups so they can be crushed and added in for a thicker heartier result. Thickening was hardly needed here but, if a little was sprinkled on each spoonful, it did lend a slightly enhanced texture.

Unfortunately, I can’t say I really enjoyed this all that much, but I still think the idea is good. An actual miso style soup thickened with potato, and with lots of good seafood added, would be very good. I guess though, I will have to do it myself …

Posted in General

Wine: Disznókö Furmint Tokaji Dry 2016

Disznókö Furmint Tokaji Dry 2016

Way back in my college days, I used to buy the same two wines over and over again, and both were Hungarian reds. It is somewhat funny, then, that in the last 5 or ten years during which I’ve been keeping notes, I don’t seem to have bought a single bottle of Hungarian wine until I bought this dry white Hungarian during the past Christmas break.

The ‘Furmint’ in the name here refers to the grape used, and ‘Tokaji’ is the protected designation of origin (PDO) region where the wine is produced. Some of you may recognize the region name in connection with ‘Tokay’, which is an Anglicization and refers to a very sweet white wine from that area. Today’s selection, however, is, as the name indicates, a very dry wine. The Furmint grape, which accounts for about 60% or so of all wine production in the region, is also grown in Austria, Slovenia and Croatia. There has also been plantings of it in the USA in recent years and some suggest that, though still relatively unknown outside of its traditional regions, it may see an increase in popularity in the future.

In any event, this particular product is very nice indeed. It is medium-light bodied, fairly dry, and has a very bright, crisp acidity from start to finish. The nose is very muted, but carries golden apple with a backdrop of dusty straw and some faint aromatic floral notes. On the palate, one finds gold and sour green apple with a dash of mild citrus, some green vegetal highlights, and cedar with notes of resin and toasted sawdust. The slightly resinous quality may limit the appeal for some but I liked it very much and I think that this makes a very decent sipping wine and should do nicely with seafood, especially smoked salmon and smoked oysters.

Posted in Notable Nosh

Notable Nosh: Black Cod

Wasabi Black Cod

I am sharing this appetizer I enjoyed just before last Christmas for two reasons. First, because it was a very nicely prepared dish, and also because it uses a fish I have never had before …

I had to look up ‘Black Cod’ when I was preparing this post, and I rather expected to discover that a ‘Black Cod’ is merely a specific variety of Cod, As it happens, it is not a member of the same family at all and the species is also known as ‘Sablefish’. I have included an inset picture of the Sablefish up above (thank you, Wikipedia) so you can see what it looks like. It doesn’t really look all that much like the Atlantic Cod I am used to, and I am rather surprised that one wouldn’t call it ‘Sablefish’ on a menu, as the name is quite pretty.

I had my first ‘Black Cod’ at a Japanese restaurant where it was described on the menu as being ‘marinated in miso and sake’. Once marinated, it was grilled very nicely and then served in pool of sauce that I am fairly sure was the same thing as the marinade but with mirin, or at least sugar added for a bit more sweetness.

The marinade is actually not that uncommon when it comes to grilling fish, and I have used a variation or two of the basic idea on Salmon and Arctic Char. It is not easy to see here, but the chef kept a strip of skin on the edge of the fish, which is good idea from the point of holding the cut together, but also provides a nice textural and taste addition as well. Generally, if I am grilling fish this way, I leave all the skin because I really like, but reducing it to a strip does make for eating the flesh with chopsticks a little easier.

The grilling was really expertly performed here, leaving the delicate meat beautifully succulent. It was easy to pick a mouthfeel simply by inserting the chopsticks and lifting away two or three flakes at a time. Without the skin, the flakes might not have held together once cooked to the perfect tenderness, but here, they adhered slightly, but could be ‘peeled’ off, leaving the thin strip of skin as a final little tidbit.

My only real criticism here was that the sauce was just a little bit too sweet, and thus too heavy for the very delicate flavor of the fish. Something with just a bit of citrus might be nice, if only to cut the sweetness, but aside from this aspect of the result, I thought this was a terrific dish.

Posted in Experiments

Experiment: Fake ‘Oyster’ Sauce

Fake 'Oyster' Sauce

I began experimenting quite a while ago, attempting to make a sauce something along the lines of the standard Chinese Oyster Sauce. Essentially, an oyster sauce is the essence of oyster extracted through long simmering and then sweetened and thickened in various ways. I was aiming for the basic taste, except, for my experiments thus far, I used shellfish ingredients other than oyster…

In the inset in the above picture, you can see the brown, viscous, and thick sauce I produced, along with a simple stir-fry dish I cooked using it (It was pork, green pepper and onion as best as I remember). I made the sauce almost two years ago (and the stir-fry a few months later), but I shelved the project for the time being and only resurrected it recently. I still had a jar of the sauce in the fridge and I was a little amazed to find that, not only had the sauce maintained very much the same consistency and viscosity (and not dried out as I might have expected), but it also had preserved its original taste to an amazing degree.

My method was to boil some cooked lobster shells, a little leftover lobster meat, and some dried shrimp in water, reducing it until the ‘broth’ was quite strong. I then cooked this once again along with soy sauce, unflavoured corn syrup, and a little sugar, once again reducing everything until the consistency was like a commercial oyster sauce.

In actual oyster sauce, the flavor is sweet and salty with a vaguely shell fish background; It is oyster-like to a certain degree, but really, any suitably sweet,  marine type flavor would work, and my lobster-shrimp concoction managed to reproduce the essential taste quite well. In any event,  I want to keep working at this and reduce the process to a simple ‘recipe’ in the near future, and I will certainly post my work as it develops…

Posted in Notable Nosh

Notable Nosh: General Tso’s Chicken Palais Imperial Style

imperial general tso 1

It is still only about a year and a half since I tasted a dish of General Tso’s Chicken for the very first time. Since then, I still only managed to sample just a couple of other versions, but my plan is to try a good range of them, from as far afield as I can, in hopes of getting a handle on this highly variable menu item. The one pictured above was served to me at the Palais Imperial Restaurant in Ottawa a little before this past Christmas. The last version I had before it, a Japanese Restaurant General Tso’s Chicken, was pretty awful, but this current one was pretty decent…

The chicken (probably thigh meat) was very juicy, in large chunks, and was deep fried in a light batter coating. The sauce was very thick and, while sweet, was not overly slow. It was, I would say, ‘Oyster Sauce sweet’, rather than , say, Hoisin Sauce. It had a tang to it, probably rice vinegar, and there were a fair number of scorched red chillies throughout. These chillies (Thai, or African Birdseye) were indeed hot when bitten in to, but they only lent the sauce a sort of background heat, somewhere about the level as if a splash of Tabasco had been added.

The only criticism I had was that the dish had just a bit of a burnt taste and there were black flecks on the chicken. This was not, I am fairly sure, from scorching the chillies, nor intended, rather I think that the oil being used had not recently been changed. Aside from that, which in no way ruined the dish, I thought this very well done. I think I shall use this as a basic model when I come to attempt this dish at home.

Posted in Wine

Wine: Château Ksara Blanc de l’Observatoire 2016

château ksara blanc de l'observatoire 2016

For a while now, I have been doing something of a virtual tour of France by trying to sample my way through the huge number of wine AOC’s one by one. Just before Christmas, however, I took a little break and purchased a dozen or so bottles from the more obscure, or at least lesser known, wine regions of the world. I had just finished reading a book by a fellow who did an actual tour of some of these places and it really sparked my interest.

Now, Lebanon, I have to say, is one of those places that I have never ever associated with wine production, but, in fact, they have been at it over there for quite a spell now and wines from the region were being exported to Egypt some 4000 years ago. Today’s selection, is actually a good representative of the region as it is produced by Château Ksara, which is in the Beqaa Valley and is, I believe, the second oldest wine outfit in the region, having started production back in 1857.

This bottle cost me $15.00 from SAQ in Quebec and is a blend consisting of Sauvignon Blanc grapes, at 90%, with 5% each of Muscat and Clairette. I wasn’t expecting to be especially crazy about this choice as I am not usually terribly keen on Sauvignon Blanc wines, but this turned out to be very pleasant and interesting.

It is quite a dry wine, with very crisp acidity and the texture has a rather hard mineral quality. The nose, I have to say, is beautifully complex and very aromatic with golden apple with a little pear, banana, lychee and toffee. There are a few floral notes, a lovely underlying herbaceous quality, and just a hint of fennel pollen.

On the palate, you don’t get quite the same complexity as the nose, but there are some components to the overall profile that mark this as quite a bit different from other Sauvignon Blancs. The fruit is mostly sour apple with some highlights of tropical fruit, but there are also notes of straw and wood, and, most interestingly, hints of fresh tar and camphor. Those last two may sound a bit off-putting to some, but they actually give the overall wine a wonderful character and reminded me a little of some Greek wines. In any event, at this price you really are getting a very decent sipping wine and I recommend giving it a try.