Tag: Japanese

Ingredient: Instant Dashi Powder

Instant Dashi 1

Some years ago, I wrote a post featuring the Japanese soup stock known as Dashi. In that post, I mentioned that Dashi could be a simple mushroom stock, or a stock made using just the seaweed called Kombu, or, more commonly, a more complex stock combining Kombu and the dried, smoky tuna known as Katsuobushi

Anyway, in my Katsuobushi post (see the above link), I showed several varieties of the proper fish product and one the ‘instant’ powdered versions. I was, it must be said, a bit scathing of the latter, indicating that it wasn’t, for several reasons, as good as the ‘real’ thing, but, while that is generally true, the same can be said for homemade chicken stock versus one made using bouillon cubes or extract. One uses homemade if that is practical but, sometimes, especially if only a little stock is needed, using an ‘instant’ substitute is perfectly acceptable…

Today, I thought I would take a little more detailed and closer look at the basic product, and also do a bit of a comparison of a few different brands. There are literally scores and scores of different instant dashi products to be found but the ones you see pictured here are three of the bonito tuna based ones that I have most commonly come across in my part of the world… Continue reading “Ingredient: Instant Dashi Powder”

Notable Nosh: Wasabi’s Unagi Taters

Wasabi's Unagi Taters

Dear, Oh dearie me… this little offering was… just… sad…

Normally, a dish or meal is featured as a ‘Notable Nosh’ dish because it was either very good, or otherwise interesting in some way, but, unfortunately, that was not the case here… I love the Japanese Restaurant, Wasabi, down in Ottawa’s Byward Market, not just because they usually have top notch food, but also because, sometimes, they can be innovative in clever and tasty ways. Occasionally, though, or at least a couple of times in my experience, they have managed some truly frightful boners. Their ‘Unagi Taters’ which I tried just before this past Christmas, were, I regret to say, boners in the first degree

The menu introduced ‘Unagi Taters’ as: Miso herb croquettes with unagi (eel), cheese, and chives.

Sounds sorta interesting doesn’t it?

Let’s unpack ….

To get the full idea of the croquette, imagine a dollop of cold, unseasoned and mashed potato that is pressed flat, coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried. You may well imagine that the result would be somewhat flavorless and with an unpleasant texture, and… you would be right. Had these ‘croquettes’ included the advertised herbs or miso, the additions might have saved them. As it was, however, they were nowhere in evidence; Not merely added insufficiently, mind you … but completely absent.

The Unagi was the only thing that added any sort of decent flavor here… Unfortunately, it may be that the chef was having a bad night or something, but only two of my four ‘taters’ managed to have any eel put atop them, and in both cases, the amount was not quite enough to be described as ‘stingy’. The final insult to the otherwise decent fish came with the addition of the cheese.

The cheese, and I swear this is true, was actually squares of processed cheese that were added to the ‘taters’ before being popped under the grill. This might have been alright except that the grilling wasn’t even long enough to properly melt the cheese (much less toast it to make it flavorful) and so there it remained as cold, and plastic-like, as it usually is. Sadly, this is not a dish that was poorly executed, it wasn’t even well-conceived to begin with.

Well… in all fairness to Wasabi, despite my little diatribe here, I love the place and will continue to eat there when I come to town. But guys … for heaven’s sake, retire this one from the menu and, for future innovations, if it comes to mind that processed cheese with fish might be a good idea then … NO, NO, and .. NO!!

 

 

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….

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 …

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.

Broccolini with Sesame Miso Dressing

broccolini with sesame miso dressing 1

Today’s simple little recipe is one I derived from a common Japanese way of dressing cold greens (notably spinach). The dressing in question is made by toasting sesame seeds then grinding them to a paste along with a little sugar and mirin, sake and soy sauce. The result is called ‘Spinach Gomae’ (if using Spinach) and, while I like the dressing generally, I also find that it can have a bit of a bitter after taste.

I decided to try something that resulted in the same sweet/sesame flavors, but avoided any bitterness and, accordingly settled on Hummus as a milder (if not very Japanese) base for the dressing. I also incorporated a little light miso for depth, and then included a rich Japanese Sesame oil for the proper sesame punch. For today’s dish, I am using Broccolini rather than spinach to make a nice little appetizer salad…

Ingredients

  • 2 cups pre-blanched Broccolini, trimmed of thick stems;
  • 3 Tbsp. Hummus;
  • 1 tsp. Light (white) Miso;
  • 1 tsp. Lemon Juice;
  • 1 Tbsp. Dark Sesame Oil;
  • 1 tsp. Sugar;
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp. Mirin;
  • Sesame Seeds for garnish.

Assembly is super simple … First, blend together all the ingredients except the Broccolini and sesame seeds and mix to a smooth paste. Allow this to sit for at least 20 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.

When you are ready, add the dressing to the Broccolini and mix. The idea here is not to drench, or drown the greens in the dressing, but rather just add enough to coat the pieces with sauce. Arrange the greens attractively on individual serving plates and sprinkle with sesame seeds for garnish. Serve…

That’s it.

Sushi Village Revisited

JR Egg Sushi and Sashimi 1

I don’t generally give restaurants a second review…  I visited, and reviewed Sushi Village almost two years ago and all I will say about this most recent visit is that the ambience, food and service are about the same as they were for my first experience. That being said, I dropped in to the place once again quite recently (as the place is very close to the hotel where I most commonly stay in Ottawa), and I thought my readers might like to see the dishes I selected.

The first, which you see pictured above, was listed on the Sushi/Sashimi menu as just ‘Egg’, which I took to be a sushi/sashimi version of the multi-layered Japanese omelet known as ‘Tamagoyaki’. It was an egg dish, no doubt, but the connection between that basic fact and the complex Japanese egg specialty ended there. What I received was sort of an omelet, I suppose, but it was little more than plain egg that was cooked (in some way) to produce a thin, faintly rubber-like, sheet of yellow plastic. It didn’t taste bad, by any means, but it could easily have been powdered egg, and the texture was nothing like I a proper Tamagoyaki omelet. In fairness, the menu never made that specific claim but I will note, in passing, that I went and had what was definitely touted as ‘Tamago’ in a much higher end sushi restaurant only a few days later and got the same thing … Shame! Continue reading “Sushi Village Revisited”

Notable Nosh: Red Snapper Sashimi

Red Snapper

About six years ago, I reviewed an Asian fusion restaurant and noted that some Red Snapper sashimi I ordered had ‘that slightly unpleasant earthy taste that some freshwater fish have’. I am a little embarrassed by that review now as I did not know, as I later learned, that Red Snapper is actually a sea fish…

In fairness to myself though, I have to say, the mistake was somewhat honest as, in all probability, what I ate on that particular occasion was not Red Snapper at all. It turns out, according to a report by the American Congressional Research Service, that almost 80% of the fish offered in restaurants as ‘Red Snapper’ is some other fish entirely. Some of it is ‘Pacific Rockfish’, while Tilapia, most definitely a freshwater fish, also often appears fraudulently in its place. I am thinking, now, that the ‘Red Snapper’ that disappointed me all those years ago was freshwater fake…

Anyway, I have had Red Snapper many times since them (as far as I can reasonably tell). Most recently, I had it at Wasabi, in Ottawa, where I ordered both as the Sashimi, and Nigiri Sushi you see pictured above. This offering was definitely a sea fish and (assuming I wasn’t fooled on this occasion, or the last few times) I think I can claim this fish as being my favorite for consuming raw …

One of my absolute favorite Sashimi selections is Octopus. Partly, this is a textural thing, but I also love the very sweet marine flavor of the flesh. This same sweetness doesn’t actually come through very strongly in most fish (as opposed to shellfish), but the Red Snapper (known as ‘Tai’ in Japanese) represents an definite exception. The texture is even a bit like octopus in that it is quite fibrous and very robust (compared to, say, fatty tuna), but it is the sweet but delicate umami quality of the fish that makes it special for me. Quite honestly, I would order this ahead of the riches, most expensive Otoro any day …

The Sake Bomb

Sake Bomb

I was at the Wasabi restaurant down in Ottawa and I saw this thing called a ‘Sake Bomb’ on the menu. It turns out that this is actually a ‘thing’ these days (and not just unique to this restaurant) but, in any event, I had to try it…

My waitress brought me a small glass of beer (Sapporo, I think), and then she balanced a small cup of hot sake on swizzle sticks above it as you see in the left-hand picture above. Now, since I insisted on taking a photograph, she then did what the drinker is supposed to do. She yelled…

Ichi, ni, san, sake bomb!!!

And then she bashed her fist on the table causing the cup to drop into the beer…

Well… I am sorry I couldn’t snap a picture quick enough, but the result was like a little mini-volcano. You can see the resultant mess in the right-hand picture, and all I can say is that I am glad she got me to move my menus, Ipad, and camera case out of the way first.

Kind of a one-time novelty experience, of course, but the result actually tasted pretty good 😊

Notable Nosh: Japanese General Tso’s Chicken

Japanese General Tso

General Tso’s Chicken (or some spelling variant thereof) has become so ubiquitous that most people who have dined in a Chinese restaurant have had it at one time or another. Surprisingly, though, even though the dish has been popular for a decade or so, it was only last year that I tried it for the first time. There are many different variations on the basic theme, of course, and one can almost so that no two representations are more than passingly similar. After my first try, I decided to order it in various locations and see if I could get a handle on the range of different preparations …

My first experience was in a fairly westernized Chinese restaurant in Vancouver. Just recently though, I was down in Ottawa and I came across an appetizer version in a Japanese restaurant. It was an ‘All-You-Can-Eat’ Sushi place and it had a small section of ‘Chinese Food’ listed on its extensive menu.

Anyway, the result you see here was … well, interesting. Even in my limited experience with this dish, I can pretty much guess that experienced aficionados would probably say that, whatever this dish is, it is NOT General Tso’s chicken. There are no vegetables in the mix (although, to be fair, this was meant as an appetizer so ‘filler’ was not needed), but the sauce that covered the chicken was completely off base. The chicken itself was actually pretty good… it was only dusted with flour rather than being battered (which is a plus to mind), and it was fried to the point of being nicely crispy on the outside. As for the sauce?

Well, as far as I have been able to tell, General Tso’s Chicken is supposed to have a bit of a fiery bite to it. It is not a ‘hot’ dish, as such, but it should have a little chili somewhere in the mix to give it a little spark. Here, though, the spicy heat quotient was zero (zip, zilch, nada, nyet, niente… etc.). The actual result was much more like the sort of sweet and sour sauce poured over chicken balls in the lower end ‘Chinese’ restaurants. It was, to my mind, quite a bit like ketchup diluted with a little vinegar, and with extra sugar added. Not horribly bad, at all… just not right. I rather think the good General might be rolling over in his grave at the thought of this production in his name…