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I’m at a conference this week, so I won’t have much chance to experiment. Here’s something to tide you over: 

Like many gaijin, I am a big fan of katsu. When the Portuguese missionaries showed up in Japan in the 1500s, they brought along both the Roman Catholic Church, and their mastery of fried foods. Catholicism ended up not being a permanent fixture, but nobody could debate the tastiness of the frying. Tempura and pork and chicken katsu have remained a vital part of japanese cuisine, and a refuge for westerners on whom the flavors of raw fish and edamame are lost.

This particular katsu recipe has the double virtues of being fast and easy. I’ve seen other recipes that advise marinating your chicken or pork with a little soy sauce, sake, and sliced scallions before frying. These are tasty, but less convenient for a work night.

Chicken Katsu (from Hiroko Shimbo’s The Japanese Kitchen)

  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 3 eggs beaten  with 1/3 cup water
  • 2 cups panko crumbs
  • oil for frying
  • 1/2 head cabbage shredded

Put the flour, egg/water mixture, and panko crumbs into separate bowls. Dip the chicken breasts into the flour, then the egg wash, then back into the flour, then back into the egg again, and roll in panko crumbs. Heat oil for frying (about 2 inches) and fry chicken breasts about five minutes on each side, until golden brown. Serve with shredded cabbage and tonkatsu sosu.

This one’s much more simple than it looks, but it’s time consuming. Save it for a Sunday and try to rope in a significant other or potential significant other. Nothing tests your ability to enjoy someone’s company like folding scallion dumplings with them for an hour or so.

On the left...the work of a perfectionist. On the right...functional.

The recipe itself is from Ruth Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires, which is about her tenure as the New York Times’ restaurant critic and is worth reading if you’re at all curious about restaurants and how they work.

Aushak

Meat Sauce

  • 3 tbs vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tbs tomato paste
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper

Heat oil in small skillet. Add onion and cook for 5 minutes until golden. Add beef, garlic, coriander, and ginger and cook, stirring often, about 3 minutes until meat is no longer red. Add water and cook, stirring often, until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste, stir, and cook another 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Yogurt Sauce

  • 1 cup full-fat yogurt 
  • 1 tbs minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Blend ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

Dumplings

  • 2 bunches scallions, green parts only, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 25-30 wonton wrappers

Combine ingredients in a small bowl. Lay 1 tsp mixture in center of each wrapper and moisten edge. Fold over and press edges to make semicircles if your wrappers are round, or triangles if square. 

Heat 3 quarts salted water in a large pot. When boiling, add dumplings and cook for 5 minutes.

To Assemble;

Spoon 1/4 cup yogurt sauce onto a serving dish and cover with dumplings. Spoon remaining yogurt sauce on top and garnish with chopped fresh mint. Spoon meat sauce all around, and serve at once.

If I had a signature dish, this’d be it. The General and I have a long history.

My hometown of Spokane, Washington, was not exactly a culinary melting pot in the Mid ’80s. While there were several Chinese restaurants, they were essentially interchangeable having gotten most of their menu items from Leann Chin’s book (the best of this group, the Tungloon Garden, is still in business and still makes the best bulgogi to be found outside a Korean eatery). Then along came the China Best, our first “high class” Chinese restaurant, and on their menu was an item called “General Tso’s Chicken”.

This was a big deal for us. General Tso’s work was pretty much unknown in Eastern Washington and the China Best rose to fame very quickly on its strength. Quite honestly, it’s hands down the best General Tso’s I’ve ever eaten anywhere…and I’ve lived in two cities with Chinatowns.

The history of General Tso and his Chicken (which is really about as Chinese as the Hamburger is German) makes for interesting reading. When I want to make people laugh at my history nerdiness I call it “General Tso’s Taiping-Quelling Ever-Victorious Chicken.

Sadly, the China Best is no more, but they did have the decency to reveal their General Tso’s recipe in Spokane Cooks! Northwest, which is like a snapshot of the Spokane restaurant scene in the ’80s. I carried it on an index card all the way through college and grad school, and I now present it here, updated and tweaked:

General Tso’s Taiping-Quelling Ever-Victorious Chicken (China Best Style)

  • 4 skinless boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite size pieces
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp chopped garlic
  • 1/2 tsp chopped ginger
  • 2 tbs soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon shaoxing rice wine (find at Asian market or substitute dry sherry if desperate)
  • 1 tbs chinkiang vinegar (this is a dark, strong vinegar you can also find at your Asian market. You can try white vinegar, but the taste won’t be anything near the same)
  • 1 tsp chili sauce (use more or less depending on your heat tolerance)
  • 1 small handful dried hot chili peppers (these are for color and are optional)
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 10 tbs cooking oil (peanut preferred)
  • 1 tsp sesame oil

Marinade:

  • 4 tbs soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp shaoxing rice wine
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper

Mix marinade ingredients, and marinate chicken pieces for 1 hour. Heat 8 tbs cooking oil in a wok or heavy saute pan and stir-fry marinated chicken for 8-10 minutes. Remove from wok, set aside, and clean wok for next step.

Add 2 tbs oil to clean wok. Add garlic and ginger and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the soy sauce, rice wine, vinegar, chili sauce, dried chilies, salt, pepper, sugar, and scallions and stir fry for another minute or so, until the scallions just begin to change color. Add chicken back into wok and mix with sauce. Remove from heat and sprinkle on sesame oil before serving.

One nice thing about this recipe is that the chicken isn’t deep-fried first so you can at least pretend it’s healthy to your friends. I was actually completely unaware that General Tso’s is normally breaded until I went off to college in Milwaukee….and the first time I ordered it I thought I’d gotten Sweet and Sour Chicken accidentally instead. The Chinese restaurant people had a good long laugh when i went back to complain.

I suppose it’s apropos to start off my first ‘entirely for this blog’ post with a Frugal Gourmet recipe, since watching Jeff Smith’s TV show as a kid had a lot to do with my interest in cooking. This was back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, before the Food Network transformed cooking into a “celebrity” occupation, and Jeff was much more low-key than a lot of the personalities we’re used to in the mighty 21st Century. His best trait (at least from the point of view of an insecure teenager) was that he had a way of making you feel confident about trying something new…if your chicken got a little scorched or your soup was overseasoned, you knew he wouldn’t laugh at you. I ended up with a lot of Frugal Gourmet cookbooks, largely because people trying to avoid giving me a dragon or spaceship related gift in high school knew that I enjoyed his show.

Today was a perfect day for a light fish dish…incredible humidity, and my girlfriend, who loves Ahi, in town looking for a new apartment.

Sicilian Tuna (from The Frugal Gourmet Whole Family Cookbook)

  • 4 60z fresh tuna steaks
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1 and 1/2 tbs white wine vinegar
  • 1 tbs chopped parsley
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Coat tuna steaks in flour and fry in olive oil, 1-2 minutes on each side (It’ll be pink in the middle. That’s how you want it). Remove tuna to a warm plate and add onions, pepper, chicken stock, and pepper. Let everything cook down till the stock is reduced a bit and the onions are tender. Salt to taste, and pour over fish.

This goes very well with pasta and a green salad. I went with Aglio Olio, which is less an actual recipe (despite what Italian cookbooks will tell you) and more a useful trick. I’ve seen a lot of different ways to jazz it up, but this is the simple version I got from my mom. It’s incredibly useful because it’s easy to keep garlic and pasta on hand, and it requires almost no skill to prepare :

Pasta Aglio Olio

  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil (splurge for something decent…this stuff tastes awful with cheap olive oil)
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (or about one large pinch)
  • 1 lb cooked pasta (I prefer linguine for this)

Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan and add the garlic…you should hear it beginning to cook. Wait about a minute and add the parsley. Let cook another 1-2 minutes -you should be able to smell the garlic, but it shouldn’t turn brown. Remove from heat, stir, and toss with pasta. Serve with grated parmesan or romano cheese.

Sicilian Tuna and Linguine Aglio Olio