BUTA MESHI

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Food culture is very interesting.  When I arrived here 15 years ago, I was so upset in a grocery store because I couldn’t find chicken thigh with skin without bone.  In Japan, chicken thigh without bone has  always skin.  If not, how could we make Japanese style fried chicken, Ka-ra-a-ge!!!  or OYAKO DON!!  ( I haven’t introduce this easy and delicious rice bowl yet!  I have to do that sometime soon!)

It has been 15 years. Still I can’t find chicken thigh without bone with skin, but I knew now that’s the way here, so I can accept that.   I get accustomed to making ka-ra-a-ge with chicken thigh without skin.  A little compromise.

 

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I don’t know why, but we Japanese love skin.  If you have a chance to go to Japan, please try chicken skin Yakitori (chicken skewers).  That is my favorite Yakitori.  I love fish skin as well, especially salmon skin.  Every time I give dried cod or salmon skin to my furry kids, I envy them.

Another thing I didn’t know the reason was about pork bellies.  Why don’t they have thick pork belly in grocery stores?  Very recently I finally found them sold in Wholefoods.

Japanese like FAT (you know the famous KOBE BEEF with marble of FAT!) , so we often use sliced pork belly (not bacon) in our dish.  They are tasty , easy to use, and cook fast!

I go to Asian grocery store a few times in a month.  The last time I went there, I purchased blocks of  pork bellies.  I didn’t have any specific menu I wanted to cook, but I thought I shouldn’t miss this good opportunity for me to get them.

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Now I have some blocks of pork bellies in my hand.

What should I cook?

When I was a kid, I didn’t like meat as much as others, but I loved my mom’s KAKUNI (slow cooked pork belly).  I know that is delicious, but I wanted to try something new.

 

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Today I will introduce BUTA (pork) MESHI (rice )!!

We ladies shouldn’t use this word, MESHI.  The word sounds very mannish, but that’s why when I use this word for this dish, that sounds DELICIOUS.

Here are today’s ingredients for BUTA MESHI.

  • 2 pork bellies ( about 1 pound each)
  • green part of Asian green onion (thick green onion)  (if you don’t have them, use regular green onion’s top parts)
  • 3 or 4 slices of ginger root
  • 1 tablespoon of white rice
  • 1 tablespoon of shiokoji (if you don’t have it, use just 1 teaspoon of salt. Detailed in ka ra a ge article here)
  • 5-6 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • 4 table spoons of soy sauce
  • 5 table spoons of mirin
  • black pepper, cilantro (optional)

Then let’s cooking!

Rub pork bellies with shiokoji (or salt) and leave them about 10 minutes.

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Put the pork in the pot, and then,,,

 

add white rice and green parts of green onions on top.

Why do we put white rice?  It helps the meat get juicy and soft!

By the way, we use white rice when we cook DAIKON radish.  That is because not only rice takes harshness of daikon radish but also it whitens daikon.

Return to the pork,,,

 

 

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add ginger slices and enough water which covers pork, and heat until it boils.  Skim off the scum, and put the lid on and turn the heat in low.

Check sometimes for skimming off the scum, and cook for about 1 1/2 hours or until pork gets soft.

Remove from heat, and leave it until it get cold enough.

Discard the green onions and ginger.  Sieve the soup so that you could remove rice.  Then put this in the fridge.  Sadly my fridge is not big enough, so ,,,,

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I keep them in the container.  When you keep it in the fridge, put plastic wrap on the surface of the soup.  Because,,,,

 

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TA DA-!

I forgot to take the moment of this exciting event, so I used the photo I took the other time (not BUTA MESHI).

Look!  I felt so good when I saw this fat!  This helps me not feel guilty that much!

You could use the leftover soup for another use, like soup for Ramen.

This time I only used,,

 

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MEAT!

By the way, you could keep this meat in the fridge for 3-4 days if you wrap them tightly with plastic wrap.

Now we make sauce.  Put brown sugar, soy sauce and mirin in a small pot, and melt the sugar.  set aside.

Return to the meat, cut the meat in half crosswise, and then cut it about by half-inch lengthwise.

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Like this.

 

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Sorry, this is a little thicker than half-inch, but my husband will be glad.

Heat a pan (preferably cast iron skillet) with no oil, and ,,,

 

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saute them until they get browned.

 

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If you see lots of oil, just wipe it with paper towel.

 

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Looks nice already.  Then,,

 

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add prepared sauce and saute a little more.  Since this sauce has lots of sweetness, be careful not to burn too much.

 

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OH MY GOD!   Looks good and smell good!

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Since this pork was cooked until it got fork tender, they easily fell apart.

Prepare rice and put the pork on the rice carefully.

Pour extra sauce if you like.

I was about to serve this pork with Japanese rice (sweet  and sticky), but I changed my mind.  I decided to serve with Jasmine rice instead with cilantro. You could grind black pepper on top if you like.

 

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I though this was too much for one meal, but my husband finished them all!!

He said,

This is so tender.  So delicious.  Even though they are pork bellies, they are light! 

Once you prepared cooked pork, you can flavor the pork with any flavor.  You could go to Vietnamese flavor using fish sauce and red hot chili or you could go to American flavor using BBQ sauce!  You could make sandwich with them, too!

I hope you enjoy them!

 

 

 

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How to plate Japanese food

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This pork dish was really a hit.  I cooked two hours, and then I sautéed them with sweet sauce.  My husband loved it.  However something is wrong in this photo above.  Can you see it?

A few days ago I got e-mail from my Japanese male friend.  He was saying that he couldn’t stand seeing that photo.  He said,

Did you forget Japanese spirits?  Do you really like cooking?  You love cooking, but don’t mind a proper plating?

I could feel how upset he was.   We are good friends from university, so he didn’t mean he offended me.  He always teaches me things I don’t know.  I like it.

I was thinking for a while, looking at this photo.  He was mentioning something about plates.  He said it was opposite.  The plate is white, so there is no pattern or a figure.  How could it be opposite then?

 

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He meant I put pork opposite.

 

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taken at one of Japanese restaurants I have been 

As you can see in the photo above , we should put any slices (fish or meat or anything!) as HIDARI OMOTE, left side up to pick up easily with chopsticks (for right-handed).  We also traditionally believe HIDARI (left) is good.

 

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borrowed from MARUKOME.co.jp

For example, we plate a whole fish a head left. Especially for a festive occasion, we definitely have to put head left.

That is why my plating was wrong.  More over I could put garnish at wrong corner.  As for garnish, I had to put it on the right corner.

Japanese food is famous for beautiful plating, and it has a rule like cutlery setting in French.

For example, miso soup and rice should be set in front of the dishes, miso soup at the right and rice at the left.  This is very basic.

 

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Also we should plate foods by  odd numbers.   We think odds numbers are good (Yang-as in Yin/Yang).

Each food culture is so unique.  What is thought to be good for one culture can be unacceptable in other culture.  Think about slurping Ramen!

 

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There are still tons of rules for Japanese food, and I will write about them sometimes in future posts.

By the way the pork in the first photo and the photo above are so good, so I will write about them next!

I was so glad that I put pork and snap peas in odd numbers……

Good job, me!

Eternal Theme-how to cook easy-peeling eggs

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I often use a boiled egg for my husband’s OBENTO unintentionally.  When I have still some space in the box and don’t have anything I could put,  I reach  a carton box of eggs in the fridge and take one egg and boil it.  Last resort.

How to cook eggs perfectly for easy-peeling is often being asked in cooking magazines, and , like many people, I have tried various ways, seeking the BEST way.

Here is my way.   I put eggs in a pot with water, and start boiling it.  After it boils fully, I turn off the heat and put a lid on.  Wait 8-10 minutes.  Then save eggs from the water and put them in the cold water.   This is the way I decided to do ten years ago.

When I went back to Japan last year, I found an interesting tool in the grocery store.

 

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The product name is TSU RU RI N, which is the sound we use when something is slippery or smooth.  For example, you could use it  for the slippery floor or  you could use it for beautiful smooth skin. Oh, that makes me remind that we express a beautiful skin as egg-like-skin!  Do you have the same expression here?

Returning to the topic, how to peel eggs perfect is still my forever theme, even though I have my  way.  So I purchased this product.

 

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This is a simple tool.  It has a hidden sting underneath.  I put an egg on this product and push it under.

 

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Then the sting makes a tiny hole on the egg-shell.  That tiny hole helps making space between shell and inner membrane.  If you are interested in this product, go and get  it in Japan.  Kidding.  You don’t need to go to Japan.  Just simply use a pin.

 

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It works well, but sometimes it fails. Very close, but Still not perfect for me.

Then I decided to do a new method.  I am not going to boil eggs this time.  I will steam them!

 

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I used to cook white rice in Le Creuset, but recently I got a new pot, DONABE.   Donabe is a story type of clay cookware from Japan.  This pot has a long history, but recently people rediscover its wonderful utility.  One  day  my lovely friends gave me  a recipe book of Donabe witten by Naoko Takei Moore and Kyle Connaughton.  That book fascinated me a lot!  I just enjoyed seeing all the beautiful photos and interesting recipes!  I thought Donabe is only for a hot-pot, but NOT!  As soon as I found out various usage of  Donabe, I asked my husband to get one for me.  Since he could get benefits from that, he gladly ordered it for me!  Now I switched from Le Cruiset to DONABE for rice cooking.

 

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This pot has an inner lid for keeping contents from boiling over and providing extra heat retention.    On the inner lid, we could put eggs just taken from fridge.

 

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Make sure not cover the holes of the lid.  Then just cook rice.  As rice is being cooked, eggs are also being cooked.

 

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Smell so good!

It cooks rice always perfect!

How about the EGGS?

I thought they might have some cracks on the shell, but they didn’t.  Right after steaming time for the rice, I saved the eggs and put them in  cold water.  After a while, I peeled them.

TSU RU RI N!!!!

This is the best TSU RU RI N!

The egg was hard-boiled(hard-steamed?), but it was so easy to peel.  This can end my challenge to seek the best way to cook eggs.

 

Then a few days later,,,,

 

 

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Oops,,,I did it again.

I reached the carton box again.  However I didn’t put an egg in the water.  I put the egg on the inner lid.

My husband must enjoy this perfect steamed-egg.

 

 

Japanese style Braised Pork with Apples

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There are tons of things I’ve learned since I came here in the US.  First of all,

English, of course!!   

I am still working on it, but I don’t see any progress sadly.  I would like to say once again here that I am sorry if I use wrong words or expressions in my blog.  Besides of language, I’ve been  learning American culture.  When I used to live in Japan 15 years ago, we celebrated Christmas as well (not the same way as here though), but we didn’t have Halloween nor Easter, so they looked so new and fun for me.  Now even in Japan they do celebrate Halloween and Easter.

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One Thanksgiving dinner at my home

I didn’t know Thanksgiving 15 years ago.   I still remember we went out for lunch on that special day and every restaurant was closed but Korean BBQ place, so we ended up with eating Kimuchi and BBQ.  Later I knew Thanksgiving means TURKEY and CRANBERRY.  Yes, cranberry.

In Japan we have many kinds of fruits, but we don’t have a culture to use those often for cooking.  When I first experienced turkey with cranberry sauce, to be honest, I thought

NO WAY!

However now I can’t eat turkey without cranberry sauce.  I am so American!

 

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Brazilian feijyoada with oranges

Thanks to American culture, I learned that cooking with fruits enhances flavor of meals, and often it plays a big role as a tenderizer for  meat.  Now I love using fruits for our dinner.  Especially apples and oranges.

Now I know pork  goes well especially with apples.  I often braise pork with apples.  Well then, I have to take advantage my situation of my knowing two cooking cultures.  I have to apply that for Japanese dish!

Today I would like to introduce a very easy but delicious pork dish.

Here is the ingredients for today’s dish!

  • 2-3 lbs pork butt
  • 2 apples (preferably organic and sweeter variety such as fuji)
  • about 5 Tbs of soy sauce 
  • 2 Tbs of sugar   (I use brown sugar.)
  • about 1 cup sake
  • 2-3 dashi packs
  • oil

Yes, as you can see, ingredients are very simple.  Among those, the important ingredient as pork is dashi packs. They make this dish Japanese.  I bet some of you don’t know what dashi pack is.

First of all, dashi is a Japanese  stock we take from bonito, dried sardine, or kombu.  It has Umami flavor.

These days we have a convenient package which contains those UMAMI  flakes in a bag.   You can just put this in water and use it.  There are many dashi-pack brands, but my favorite brand is KAYANOYA.  Recently  I found out we could buy this package here in the US!    Here is their online site!   If you have a chance to order it, please make miso-soup with this package at first!  I think you could enjoy better miso-soup than in some Japanese restaurants.  I highly recommend this products.

Now I have this packages in my hand, so why not using them for good UMAMI flavor?  Actually this recipe was introduced in their Japanese site.

I have never thought using apples for typical Japanese foods, so when I saw this recipe, it was an eye-opener.

OK! let’s try it!

If you have organic apples, just core them and leave their skins on.  Cut into 8 slices.  I didn’t  have organic apples in my hand sadly, I peeled them.

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Tie the pork with string for keeping its shape.

 

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Heat the oil in the pan and brown it all sides.

 

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Put the apples and,,,,

 

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2 dashi packs, 2 cups of water, sake, soy sauce, and sugar in the pan.  If you like strong flavor, you could increase the amount of soy sauce here.

 

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Once it boils, turn the heat  low.   If you think you need more liquid to cover the pork, go ahead adding water.

 

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Put the lid on and cook at least for one hour until the pork gets tender.  I think I cooked for about 1 and half hour.

 

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That’s it!  How simple is that!

Japanese food tends to be sweet, so if you use sweeter apples, it becomes more like Japanese.  Since I use Granny Smith, mine has a sour taste, which was also good, though.

In this dish, apple flavor didn’t overwhelm  and merged really well with other ingredients.  If you leave the skin on, apples keep their shape better, so you can also enjoy them as well as pork.

 

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Pork gets tender because of slow cook and enzymes of apples.

 

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You can put boiled eggs at the end and cool them in the soup for a few days.  Those eggs are also so good!

 

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This pork is very versatile, so you can put it on Ramen as well!

Again I have to take advantage more of my situation.  I know two wonderful cultures, so I need to make fusion more!

By the way, I heard that they  have Black Friday in Japan even though they don’t have Thanksgiving,,,,,

Interesting fusion culture,,,,.

 

 

 

The Easiest Eggplant Dish Ever!

 

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I came to the US 15 years ago, and it was my first experience to live in a foreign country.  Sorry to say this, but I thought people in the US only had hamburgers, pizza, and hot dogs.  When I saw people eating SUSHI rolls with chopsticks, I was so surprised and impressed.  Now we have more varieties of international foods here and we can find any ethnic vegetables or condiments in most of grocery stores.  By the way I thought  familiar vegetables for me such as green onions, ginger, and okra all belonged to Japan.  It was several years later I found out okra is originated in Africa!  Eggplant is one of vegetables which I though is JAPANESE.

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People here make Eggplant parmesan and baba ganoush and more.  In Japan as well there are many eggplant dishes.  We often saute or steam them.  We pickle them.  Eggplant doesn’t  have strong flavor, that is why they are very versatile, I think.

One of my favorite ways to cook them is a saute/steam method.  After burning it on the pan, put a lid on and steam it.  It is so easy and you could put anything adds-on  depending on your favor.

Now I would like to introduce how to do that even though there are not so many processes.

Here are the ingredients example.

  • 1 eggplant halved
  • vegetable oil
  • daikon radish, finely grated
  • UMEBOSHI ( more about UMEBOSHI is here!)
  • green onion, chopped
  • lime
  • bonito flakes
  • soba tsuyu (dipping sauce for soba noodle)

Then let’s cook!

1.Wash eggplant well, and using paring knife (I used a knife for grapefruit! This works so well!), run it along the inside of the skin. (not cut through!).  Then make a square-cut inside the line.

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2.Heat the pan and add vegetable oil.  Put a half of the eggplant cut side down (if you make two of them at once, you could put two together.)  Saute in medium heat for about 3- 4 minutes until it gets burned-markings.

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3.Flip it and put a lid on and keep cooking for about 7-8 minutes. (This is a steeming process. Since eggplant has lots of water in it, you don’t need to add liquid here.)

THAT’S IT!

You get soft juicy, but not too mushy eggplant.  Now you could put anything on it.

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I put grated daikon radish, bonito flakes, green onion, along with a huge UMEBOSHI, a pickled plum.  Then I poured soba tsuyu on top.

I know it is a bit hard to find bonito flakes, Umeboshi and soba tsuyu, so you could just use grated daikon radish and soy sauce!  You may want to have citrus flavor, so use lime or lemon.

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This is so good.  My husband loves this.  He doesn’t know how easy it is to make this dish!

That is the best part!

Enjoy!

 

 

 

versatile TSUKUNE (chicken patty) base 

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When I showed this picture to my friend, she said ” it will never happen to me“.

This is OBENTO for my husband.   I have been living in the US for more than 15 years now, and I know lunch styles are different for each country.  For us Japanese, as well as breakfast, lunch is also important, and we have a wonderful OBENTO culture.

Recently the word OBENTO ,or lunch box is often appearing in food magazines, and they suggest healthy and delicious lunch box menus.

My friend who was very surprised to see my OBENTO for my husband told me she could do PB & J, but she wouldn’t wake up early in the morning and prepare that kind of OBENTO.

I know sometimes it is hard to wake up early, but OBENTO culture is in my DNA! This is THE LUNCH for me. This is THE LUNCH mothers and wives would like to prepare for someone they love.  We have a special word for OBENTO made by wives.  That is AISAI BENTO, literally means BENTO made by wives with love.

Today I would like to  introduce one of the nice items not only for dinner but also for AISAI BENTO!

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That is TSUKUNE , chicken patty.

If you have been to Japan, you many know what TUSKUNE is.

Tsukune is made of grounded chicken and ,in some cases , vegetables such as green onion.

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(they are yakitori)

Wikipedia says tsukune is a Japanese chicken meatball most often cooked yakitori style.

The last two in the photo were tsukune.

My tsukune base is very versatile.  Once you make the base, you could make meatball with sauce, or put that in the hot-pot, or like I did, fill them into vegetables and pan fry them.

Besides, they freeze very well, so you can stock them in the freezer!  How nice!

Even my friend could prepare OBENTO then!

I sometimes make grounded chicken at home using standing mixer attachment, but you could use store-bought grounded chicken or turkey.

Depending your favor, you could use chicken breast or thigh.  When I ground at home, I put green onions and ginger at the same time, that way they distribute well into the meat.

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You may be able to use a food processor.  I used to do that.  Just chop meat by cube, and put all the ingredients you want.  Be careful not to run the machine too much.  We don’t want paste here.  We need some meat texture left.

Either home-made or store-bought, now  you have grounded poultry in your hand.  Then I will show one example of tsukune base.

Here are the ingredients example.

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  • 1 pound of ground poultry
  • 2-3 tablespoons of green onions, finely chopped
  • 2-3 teaspoons of grounded ginger or only liquid
  • 2 teaspoons of shiokoji (if you have)
  • 2 teaspoons of grounded sesame (optional)
  • some wild mushrooms, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1/2 medium size cooked carrot, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1/2 large size egg, beaten
  • 2 teaspoons of potato starch (or any other starch)
  • 2 teaspoons of sake

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Remember, you can use any vegetable as far as you chop them fine, and they are easy to be heated through. ( if not, cook them beforehand.)

Egg is kind of MUST ingredient for tsukune to have soft texture, but you can adjust other condiments.  For example, when I bake tsukune with sauce, I don’t put any salt.

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When I prepare, I make two kinds of tsukune base.  One has lots of enoki mushrooms, which give tsukune crisp texture.  I use this for chicken patty for my husband’s obento.

 

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I shaped them and put sesame on both sides and sautéed them with shoyu based sweet sauce.

 

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The other  base in the bowl was for hot-pot.  I put lots of vegetables along with those tsukune ball, so I didn’t put any vegetable other than green onions and ginger.

 

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For this obento, I put tsukune base inside baby bell peppers.

 

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Half the peppers and fill tuskune base inside the peppers covered with potato starch.  Then pan-fried them, first meat side down, and then flip them and cover the pan with lid and heat them through.You can eat them with soy sauce and some citrus if you want.

 

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Would you like to make this kind of OBENTO for someone you love?

Set the alarm at 5!

I heard someone says NO WAY!!

 

 

 

Best Chicken Soup Ever!

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Organic whole chicken was on sale!

I had to pick it up even though I didn’t have any  plan to use it.

By the way, if you get a whole chicken, what would you like to cook?

Of course, roast chicken is the first thing everybody comes up.

In Japan, roaste  chicken is a special occasion meal, but not here.

We here have relatively many chances to have roast chicken since many restaurants have it in their menu, and also most of grocery stores sell them.

So, that is not exciting option for me.

Then what is it?

CHICKEN SOUP!

Is chicken soup exciting?

YES!

Chicken soup is also ubiquitous and not special occasion food, but I think the best chicken soup is made at home, not at restaurants or any grocery store’s pre-cooked section.  That’ why it could be very special!

OK!  I will make a very special chicken soup today, but in Asian way!

 

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What a nice smell!

I made this in the oven, roasting slowly.

 

 

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So delicious with tons of Umami flavor!

Besides, don’t you think this looks  elegant?

It is easy to prepare if you have time for the usage of oven.

So, let’s begin!

 

 

Here are the ingredients for this soup.

  • 1 whole chicken (3-4 lb)
  • salt (1% of the weight of the chicken)
  • 5-6 dry shiitake mushrooms (Soak them in the water overnight.  Don’t throw away the water. We will use for the soup.)
  • 1 -2 green onion
  • 3 inches of kombu
  • 1 cup of shaoxing rice wine ( if you couldn’t find one, replace with sake)
  • 1 Tb spoon of soy sauce
  • 1 Tb spoon of fish sauce
  • celery leaves
  • 2 star anise
  • cilantro

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First rub the chicken with salt (1% of its weight) and ground white pepper.

Leave it in the fridge at least one hour, but no more than 4 hours.

 

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Squeeze the liquid from shiitake mushroom and take the axis of hydrated shiitake mushroom and set aside.

 

Cut the green onions by  2 inches lengthwise (I used green parts only), and set aside.

Set the oven at 350 F.

 

Cut off the stems of cilantro and tie them with twine.  We will use the leaves for garnishing.

Likewise cut the leaves of celery and tie them.

 

The spice we use today  is star anise.  They have strong flavor and play an important role for this soup, so if you don’t have them in your pantry, run to a store!

 

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In the large dutch oven pot, put the chicken (if you don’t like saltiness, wash it with running water quick and wipe it with paper towel).

Then put the shiitake mushrooms, kombu, green onions, celery leaves, and cilantro stems.

Pour total 8 cup of water, including the shiitake water, and then,

 

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add soy sauce, fish sauce and the star anise.

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Bring  the pot to a boil .

Take off the scum, and put the pot in the preheated oven with lid.

Cook about one hour and half to two hours, depending the size of the chicken.

That’s it!!

I think mine is ready after 2 hours.

 

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Good smell!

Take the leaves of celery and stems of cilantro.

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Don’t you think it looks delicious?

I want to this soup very clear, so I strained the soup to take the residue of the vegetables.

 

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The meat fell off easily.  So tender and juicy!

 

 

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This is such an easy cooking and delicious meal!

You could put some noodle in there like Ramen.

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Enjoy the soup! 

Next time you  cook CHICKEN SOUP, remember there is another type of flavorful chicken soup!

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I start waiting for the next chance already!