|Posted on November 3, 2009 at 6:52 AM|
Every night after the soba workshop, Akila Inouye was standing in the kitchen with me cooking dinner for everyone. I know he was very tired from the workshop, and so was I but we still wanted to eat a nice meal. We didn' t even discuss eating out because we both knew we could eat better at home, and we did.
On the final evening before going back to Tokyo, Akila made us a memorable meal. It was Rosanjin Nabe and Tempura. Nabe is Japanese hot pot cooking. It is one of my favorite ways to eat and entertain. Since I am doing a Japanese hotpot this month, I was excited that Akila included a hot pot dish in the menu.
Rosanjin is the multi-talented Japanese artist, ceramist, scholar, calligrapher and gourmet, who found the Bishoku-kai, gourmet club in the 1920s. He looks a little intimidating in this picture. Many say he was rather arrogant, and had uncompromisingly high standards when it came to food.
Once I made Rosanjin's roasted eggplant dish, yakinasu. It was a simple dish. You roast the eggplant, peel the skin, and serve it whole, with grated ginger and soysauce on the side. Serving it whole is the essential part of this dish. Rosanjin didn't want you to slice the eggplant in the kitchen. He believed that the best way to enjoy the fragrance and flavor of the roasted eggplant was to bring it to the table in its whole form, and then split it open with a pair of chopsticks to eat it. The seasonings and condiments were there to enhance the flavor of the eggplant but never to mask it. He was meticulous about freshness and seasonality of foods, and how they should be served. I love his food philosophy and his pottery.
The Rosanjin hot pot follows a similar philosophy as the roasted eggplant dish. It's pure and simple. Akila served the hot pot as an appetizer. The hot pot consisted of only two ingredients: thin slices of pork and Komatsuna, a leafy vegetable like spinach but much milder in flavor. Komatsuna is something you can always find at the Japanese markets. The two hot pot ingredients are cooked shabu-shabu style in a light dashi based broth, seasoned with Usukuchi-soysauce, sake and salt, and some Mirin. Rosanjin used soysauce to make the final adjustments to the flavor. Akila kindly walked me through the steps.
First step: Making the dashi base stock.
Akila at the stove, making the dried bonito and konbu dashi.
The degree of "umami" in the dashi stock defines how much to season. Use the recipe as a guide, and make adjustments as you go. This is true especially with hot pot cooking. The dashi base seasoning is determined by the quality of the stock you make, so start with good konbu and dried bonito flakes.
Most of the time, Akila was measuring with his eyes but later he explained to me that he tries to keep the salt level to about 1.1%. to 1.2% of the total dashi base. He added a teaspoon or two more of the Mirin and Soysauce than what the recipe calls for. The saltiness of the salt and soysauce, and the sweetness of the mirin are there, but never to overwhelm the umami of the basic dashi.
The pork is sliced Shoga-yaki style, between 1/8-inch -3/16-inch thick. This is slightly thicker than Sukiyaki-style cut. We did all our shopping at Mitsuwa Market in Venice.
We needed a group picture. So Japanese. My son Sakae and his girlfriend Bina flew in from Portland for the weekend. I hadn't seen my son in 3 months so I was happy that they could join this special dinner. Plenty of sake and wine are on the table, with all the hot pot utencils ready to go. A refreshing tomato salad was served before the hot pot.
Second step: Constructing and serving the nabe.
First, you poach the pork in the simmering dashi broth, and eat it straight. It's simple. One person puts the meat into the pot. When the meat is cooked, we each take our serving bowls and help ourselves to the the meat. It was so tasty, we didn't need any condiments.
When the pork is gone, Komatsuna comes next. You put the leaves into the pork infushed dashi, and let them absorb the savory flavors of the broth; this only takes a few seconds. You pick the komatsuna leaves out of the dashi with your chopsticks, and eat them before they go limp or darken in color. Everything was flavorful and pure. Sorry no time to take a picture of the cooked Komatsuna. It all happened so fast and I wasn't about to miss out on the experience.
Mmmm, smells so good.
The finish: Making the rice porridge
To finish the hot pot, Akila made a rice porridge in the rich dash. Akila tasted the dashi again. He added a little soysauce.
We added 3 cups of rice to the hot pot, and let it simmer for about 5 minutes over medium low heat until the rice absorbed most of the broth and turned into porridge.
Akila added two scrambled raw eggs into the simmering porridge when the porridge was nearly cooked. You don't want to over cook the eggs or the rice.
We put the lid back on the donabe while the porridge was cooking. The heat was turned off.
Only a pinch of yuzu zest is used to accent the porridge.
Porridge with egg and yuzu zest, ready to be served.
Mostly gone. The rice was served with pickles.
Thanks to Akila for making this beautiful Rosanjin hot pot. And this was only the beginning of this meal. Tempura was next! I tell you, it was a feast.
ROSANJIN HOT POT RECIPE
Serves 6 (as a appetizer)
1 bunch Komatsuna or Mizuna if you can't find any Komatsuna. Ends removed.
Don't use spinach.
1.5 lbs 1/8-inch -3/16 inch thick pork slices - shogayaki-style cut (This is slightly thicker than sukiyaki style cut)
1/4 tsp Yuzu zest for garnish
Dashi broth base for Rosanjin hotpot:
41/2 cups Dashi - dried bonito and konbu seaweed
1 tsp usukuchi soysauce
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sake
2 tsp Mirin or more to adust flavor
1 tsp or more soysauce to adjust flavor
Wash the Komatsuna and discard root ends. Put the leaves on a platter.
Arrange the sliced pork next to the spinach.
Prepare the yuzu zest. If yuzu is not available, use lime.
Make dashi broth base. You can do this earlier in the day or
the night before and keep it in the fridge
Add the seasonings to the broth. Before adding the soysauce, taste
the broth. It should be strong flavored but drinkable.
Adjust flavors with more Mirin and/or Soysauce but do not put too much.
About a teaspoon more if you need to make such adjustments.
Once you make a hotpot by yourself, you can figure out
what best suits your palate.
Bring the broth to the table and bring it to a simmering level.
Start with the pork and then follow with the Komatsuna. Use chopsticks or wooden paddle
to spread the pork evenly around the hot pot. The komatsuna only needs to
be cooked for less than 10 seconds. Every body picks up their chopsticks
and bowl and serves themselves.
Finish with porridge. It's usually the host that makes the porridge.
Porridge with eggs Recipe:
3 cups cooked medium or shortgrain white rice
5 cups of dashi broth infused with pork.
Taste the dashi broth. If it tastes good and a little
stronger flavored than soup, it's about right. Add rice to the
simmering broth, put the lid on the hot pot, and cook it over
medium low heat for about 5 minutes,
or until the rice absorbs most of the broth. Add two scrambled
eggs in a swirling pattern. Do this about 1 minute before
the porridge is done. Cover the rice with donabe lid. Turn off the heat.
Open the lid and serve immediately in individual rice bowls.
Pickles go well with this porridge.