Monthly Archives: October 2012

Okinawa style sôki soba, and kôrêgûsû recipe

The word “style” is there to signify that this is by no means an authentic recipe for sôki soba. The last time I ate sôki soba was probably about 11 years ago, during a school trip to Okinawa. Long-distance school trips are very common in Japan, and it occurs at least once during high school, usually when you are a senior. What films, dramas, and anime teaches you is that the school trip is a condensed period in terms of drama, consisting of confessions of affection, break-ups, schoolboy fights, homoeroticism in the public baths, and scopophilic activity to balance out the homoeroticism. However, I don’t remember doing any of those things. I barely remember anything I did during that trip, probably because of the relatively dull life I lived during high school. I also barely remember how those noodles look like, let alone taste like. Anyway, I am far from being the authority on Okinawa soba.

On the dish:

Sôki indicates the braised rib that gets topped on the soba. The soba does not indicate soba noodles. What’s called soba in Okinawa is not made from buckwheat, but regular flour with alkaline water, so its somewhere in between ramen and udon. I used chinese flour noodles, which is probably quite far from the real stuff. But what the hell, I’m in the midwest, I can’t have every Asian grocery on hand. The broth is usually made with a mixture of animal based stock and fish based stock, so making sôki has two functions, one being extracting the broth out of the ribs, and the second being, well, making the sôki.

So first, on with the sôki:

Put ribs cut into sizes fit for one serving. I cut the ribs in half, across the bones, and then cut into appropriate sizes, about 3-4 inch squares. Put the meat in a pot and cover with water, and wait til water starts boiling. After the water starts boiling, turn the heat on low and leave it for about five minutes or so.

Then throw the water away, and rinse the pot and meat with cold water until you wash off the gunk. This is essential for getting clear broth.

Cover the meat with plenty of water, enough for the meat to float. Then stew on low heat for several hours, at least 2, but about 4-5 for best results. You have to skim the gunk off the top every once in a while.

When you’re done, take the meat out of the pot. The pork broth that remains will be used later for the noodles.

Put the ribs in a pot, and pour some water, a bit of sake, soy sauce, and sugar. Mirin if you have some. Go heavy on the sugar and light on the soy sauce.

Stew for about an hour or so, adding more soy sauce every 15 minutes until you reach the desired flavor. And then you’re done.

The noodles:

Boil the noodles according to instructions. Cut up some green onions. With scallions, more is usually better.

Mix some fish broth granules (hondashi, I can’t afford bonito flakes) into the pork broth. If it tastes too strong, just mix in a bit of water. Add some of the braising sauce for the sôki into the broth. Add some soy sauce, sugar, or sake to taste.

Throw the noodles into a bowl, pour some broth, place the sôki  on top, and cover the entire thing with green onions.

The initial process of creating the sôki takes a while, but once you have the sôki, pork broth, and braising sauce on hand, you can make this dish fairly easily.

I forgot one more thing:

The traditional Okinawa soba comes with a condiment called kôrêgûsû. 

As you can imagine, its impossible to find in the United States. Well, at least in Kansas. However, you can make one yourself fairly easily.

Get a small jar, fill it with small chili peppers whole, fill the jar with vodka (I use Sobieski since its cheap and tastes pretty neutral) and leave it there for 3 weeks or more.

Throw about a tablespoon in the soba, and it tastes amazing.

An added bonus is that you can also add some to your bloody mary, and enjoy your tonsils getting hurt.

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Pizza-man, the steamed pizza bun

One thing I miss about living in the midwest, or probably any place in the United States for that matter, is not being able to stop by the convenience store to grab food. The first several weeks upon arriving in this country, I sometimes went to the gas station to grab hot dogs after long nights at the bar. The strange aftertaste that PBR leaves on your tongue becomes a wonderful accompaniment to gas station hot dogs. However, after knowing the stigma that those hot dogs bear, I stopped publicly vocalizing my appreciation for them. I still feel bitter about it.

Anyway, convenience store food in Japan has a similar reputation in terms of health, but are not insulted to the extent of US gas station food in terms of taste. Especially oden (stewed stuff in broth) and onigiri rice balls have become a staple of the Japanese diet. Another product that is widely appreciated are the steamed Chinese buns, which have comforted me on many occasions, especially the abusive practices of Japanese high school sports teams, which are not seasonal (if you join a certain sport team, you have to play that sport all year long til you graduate) hence forces you to practice in the bitter cold during wintertime.

With Japanese convenience stores being similar to Japanese fast food joints and pizza delivery stores, they often combine disparate cuisines, and produce these products that can only be explained as abominations of multiple food cultures. The pizza-man is one of those products, combining pizza filling (sickly sweet tomato sauce with some kind of ground meat) with a steamed bun exterior. Its wonderfully warm and pillowy, and actually tastes much better than you would expect. Well, maybe if you grew up eating it.

Anyway, out of some kind of misplaced nostalgia, I tried to recreate these things.

I tried out a new wrapping method, which ended up with this bun that looks like something from Videodrome.

You should stick to the traditional wrapping method.

I made the steamed buns by mixing 4 cups of all-purpose flour, 300cc of lukewarm water, and 2 teaspoons instant yeast. The filling I made by mixing some reduced Marcella Hazan tomato sauce and this sausage, which I broke up into small bits and cooked on a pan. To make the wrapping process easier, I refrigerated the mix for a night, and stuck a sliver of mozzarella before finishing them up. I got the steamer going, turned off the switch and put in the buns for a quick second rise (about 10 min), and then I steamed them on high for about 20 min.

This process made about 12  of these.

These things tasted better than their convenience store counterpart. The sauce tasted like real tomatoes, the sausage tasted great as always, and the bun was nice and chewy.

But one problem was that they tasted too much like real food. Probably adding a bit of sugar to the sauce will mute the tartness, making them closer to the pizza-man in my memory. Also, I’m going to mix in some paprika into the dough, to create that weirdly erotic pink color of convenience store pizza-man.

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Filed under faux chinese, Food

Tsukemen

I have never realized the peculiar nature of zaru-soba, zaru-udon, and somen until I started getting interested in noodles produced in other countries. The format of having a relatively concentrated sauce on the side to dip the noodles into does not seem to have too many parallels in other cuisines.

But it makes a lot of sense. Unlike soup noodles, which often results in leftover broth, not too much of the broth goes to waste because of the smaller quantity necessary for the dish. This characteristic of dipping noodles makes them ideal for people who cannot bear draining leftover broth down the drain. Since the money I receive looming over copying machines for professors barely support my eating and drinking habits, dipping noodles are something that I turn to quite often.

However, since my financial situation in Japan was somewhat similar to my current one, I rarely had a chance to eat ramen. Also, the sheer quantity of information about ramen places in Japan is enough to discourage anybody. For the rare special occasions when I allowed myself to eat food outside, I usually stuck to Kumakichi, a ramen place in Suita, Osaka, that maintains a low price point while serving extremely heavy broth and mouth-numbing homemade kimchi that creates the sensation that your anus is panting.

So I was overjoyed upon finding that Kumakichi started serving tsukemen:

Lovely stuff.

The first thing I noted was the briny quality fo the broth. It had an almost overpowering taste of fish broth, mixed with hints of pork, maybe chicken broth. The broth contained bits and pieces of char-siu braised pork.

To recreate the briny quality, I added a lot of nuoc mam and granulated fish broth. But I think you can do without nuoc mam and sub it with soy sauce instead. 

Since I was too lazy to make char-siu from scratch, I just sauteed onions and bits of pork.

So what you do is fry up some onion and pork, throw in a lot of minced garlic, and when the garlic starts to smell pretty good, throw in some nuoc mam or any other fish sauce. Add water, throw in a good portion of granulated fish broth (I use hondashi because of time and budget constraints) about two teaspoons for each serving, and add some chinese chicken broth powder, about a teaspoon or so. When its done, throw in a whole lot of sesame seeds, and add some sesame oil or chili oil. The oil is essential here, since the layer of oil functions to keep the temperature of the broth relatively high. Or so they say.

This is Japanese junk food, so don’t worry about chemical additives or MSG or artificial flavorings or the like. You can make char-siu and throw in some bonito flakes to the leftover stewing liquid to make a more “natural” version, but, well, its a lot of work.

Also, a lot of ramen places offer you some lightly flavored broth that you can mix with the leftover tsukemen sauce to drink as a soup. However, I have no idea what goes on in those brothy things, so you’re better off doing whatever than hearing my hypothetical theories.

Japanese pickled eggs and bamboo shoots will be great additions to this. The lack of Asian markets in my vicinity is the reason I do not have any of that going on.

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