Archive for March, 2010

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March 30, 2010: Japanese Teas

March 30, 2010

Considering that almost all of these teas (with the exceptions of Dattan and Mugicha, which are made from buckwheat and barley respectively) are from one plant: “Camellia Sinensis” (the Latin name for the tea plant) it is remarkable that the Japanese have made so many pleasing variations:

Matcha (sometimes “Macha”) also called “rubbed tea” is a finely ground tea powder. Matcha is used in the Japanese Tea Ceremony. It is made from the top leaves of shade-grown tea. Because the tea is not filtered or strained, one is drinking the tea powder mixed with hot water, so the level of caffeine is very high and tends to make the tea bitter. Because of this, it is usually served with a sweet-bean paste to mellow the bitterness. Matcha is also used in cooking, usually desserts like Matcha ice cream or Matcha pastries.

Genmai Cha often called “popcorn tea” or “people’s tea” is tea leaves mixed with toasted rice. The rice sometimes “pops” like popcorn. The tea has a pleasant warm flavor (“…a little like a Cheerio…” says Chef Saito) from the toasted rice. Because the rice is considered a filler and is generally less expensive than other teas.

Sencha (or shincha, literally “new tea”) Sencha has a very pleasant sharp and fresh; robust and “grassy” flavor. It is considered a “daily” tea, but a higher grade than most teas. The first months harvest is available for only a limited time after harvesting (April through May in southern Japan) in Japan and rarely outside of Japan.

Gyokuro is considered the highest grade of tea. It is made from only the best part of the tea leaves with none of the lower branches that most teas are made from. it is specially processed from older shade-grown tea plants and may cost up to $1000 a pound! Gyokuo has been described as “History, Philosophy, and Art in a single cup.”

Hojicha Is a roasted tea made from bancha (or “common” tea, made from mostly the twigs of the tea plant) but can also be made from sencha. The roasting makes the tea a reddish-brown color and is lower in caffeine and so is a good tea for after an evening meal or for those who want a lower caffeine tea.

Dattan is a healthy, decaffeinated “new” tea made from roasted buckwheat. Also called “soba tea” as “soba” is Japanese for buckwheat and is often found in the form of noodles in Japanese cooking. It is high in “rutin” which is an antioxidant found in buckwheat and is also high in vitamin B. Dattan has a “nutty” flavor.

Not shown is Mugicha which is a roasted barley tea that Japanese serve cold in hot months and is also decaffeinated.

Preparing tea correctly can be fairly complex depending on the tea. A couple of rules from Chef Saito: “the higher the grade of tea, the lower the temperature” and “let boiling water settle first before adding tea” and “never boil a good soup or a good tea.”

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March 30, 2010: Seafood Hors d’oeuvres

March 30, 2010

Seafood Hors d'oeuvres: L-Sashimi (Tuna); C-Scallop; C-Shrimp; R-Crab

Today’s Japanese Fusion dish is Seafood Hors d’oeuvres. When Chef Saito buys sashimi (raw tuna) he looks for the best “chuturo” which is the white fat between the red meat of the tuna. I was surprised that according to Chef Saito the most fresh fish is not always the best. Mackerel, in particular, has a metallic taste when fresh and needs a day to mellow. With seafood hors d’oeuvres, Chef Saito recommends wasabi (from tube, NOT powder imitations) or soy sauce. Also good is a mixture of soy sauce, sliced scallions and/or grated fresh ginger.

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March 28, 2010: Dinner with Friends

March 30, 2010

Teriyaki Steak, Quenelle of Potato and Carrot, Sautéed Portobello Mushroom; Wakami-kale soup with beans and vegetables

After helping Teja and Barb with painting their bedroom, changing the color from a putrid “Excorcist Green” that they inherited from the former owners, to a bright and cheerful bluish-purple”Gypsy” , it was time for fun: making dinner. I wanted to try Chef Saito’s Teriyaki Steak. Also I made a quenelle (tri-corner shape) of carrot and potato, accented with garlic butter, and sautéed Portobello mushrooms with lemon and butter. First course was a wakami and kale soup with beans and my own veggie stock. I grabbed a Teriyaki sauce recipe at the last minute from the web, but THAT was a mistake: I dicoverd that not all teriyaki sauces are the same. This one may have made a fine barbecue sauce and was quite tasty, but was far from a real teriyaki sauce!

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March 26, 2010: Champagne-Plum Wine Cocktail

March 26, 2010

Today’s Japanese Fusion recipe is Chef Saito’s signature cocktail. He starts by taking a fine champagne and making it more interesting by adding a small portion of plum wine and topping it off with fruit slices. Chef Saito considers ordinary cocktails too sweet and heavy. The champagne-plum wine cocktail compliments food better, particularly lighter appetizers like sashimi and sushi. One of Chef Saito’s clients said she liked this cocktail, although she never really liked champagne!

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March 23, 2010: Yoshio plays the Koto

March 25, 2010

Yoshio plays the Koto in his new Lowell apartment.

The koto is a Japanese musical instrument sometimes called the “Japanese Harp”. It was introduced from China in the 7th or 8th C. and has (usually) 13 silk strings with 13 movable bridges. The strings are plucked with pics on the musicians right hand.

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March 23, 2010: Lemon-Shiitake Mushroom Cream Soup

March 25, 2010

Today’s Japanese Fusion dish from Chef Saito is Lemon-Shiitake Cream Soup, topped with puff pastry in the shape of mushroom. Chef makes a delcious stock from dried shiitake mushrooms and adds a bechamel sauce laced with lemon zest. He then tops off the soup with fresh shiitake mushrooms, covers with the puff pastry and then is baked.

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March 17, 2010: Toppings for Okonomiyaki

March 17, 2010

Aonori (top) is a special sea vegetable that grows on rocks near the seashore. After drying in the sun, the resulting green powder is packaged. Aonori is sprinkled on Okonomiyaki just before serving.

Katsuobushi (bottom) is finely sliced bonito. The dried bonito is bought in speciality shops. When purchasing, the Okonomiyaki gourmet will strike the whole bonito against a hard surface and listen for the sound: the clearer and higher the pitch, the better the Katsuobushi. The bonito is then shaved with a special plane-like device to get the right thickness. Katsuobushi is also used for making stock, and might be the most important ingredient in Japanese cuisine.

You may find both these toppings for Okonomiyaki at any Asian Gourmet Store.

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