Miso roasted under the broiler, enoki mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, grated parmesan, olive oil.
Little nubbins of toasted miso in a cheesy miso sauce. Miso and dairy cannot go wrong.
I bought a big bag of sesame leaves for making gamjatang. And now I’m stuck with a bunch of these things. It seems like there’s a conflation of sesame leaves and perilla leaves in English websites, but from my experience, there is a difference between the two, albeit in subtle ways.
Anyway, I decided to use them interchangeably. Otherwise, they’ll just wilt in my crisper drawer.
So this pasta dish is made by sautéing ground pork and enoki and adding a soy sauce-rice wine (or mirin)-sugar mixture, adding the pasta, and topping everything with a generous heap of sesame leaves cut into ribbons. Good stuff.
Saury are wonderful. A Korean grocery store nearby were selling 10 for $8, which meant that I was able to escape from my seafood deprived state, and that I needed to keep eating saucy for several meals. This did not pose a large problem for me, since I love blue fish and their intensely fishy flavor. If white fleshed fish were coffee made by drip systems, blues are the less refined yet robust and strong french press coffee. Blue fish are not for everyone, but people who like it, love it.
Day 1, Grilled saury
Wash, dry, salt on both sides, let sit for 30 min, create shallow incisions on both sides (as you might when baking a baguette), and broil on high, with the fish sitting at least 6 inches apart from the heating element. Common garnishes are grated daikon (highly recommended) and citrus (sudachi, if you can get your hands on it). You can gut the fish if you want, but enjoying the bitter, rich taste of the fish offals are considered to be a marker of mature taste.
Day 2, Stewed.
Lay sliced ginger in the bottom of a pressure cooker, pour some sake, sugar, soy sauce, and a bit of water. Cook under pressure for 15 min. Or, stew for a while in a regular pot. The pressure cookers thoroughly softens the bones, making the fish much easier to eat.
One added bonus is that you can add stewed saury on top of soba noodle in dashi based soup, and the soup gets enriched with saury fishiness.
Day 3, saury onion pasta with garlic, garlicky toasted breadcrumbs, and italian parsley
The whole thing tastes like a large mass of saury and garlic. Wondefully tasty, but horrible for your breath. Sauté breadcrumbs with garlic until a bit browned. Sauté garlic, add filleted saury, fry in couple tablespoons of oil. When the thing’s crisp, throw in pasta water, toss with pasta, cram everything into a dish, and sprinkle some italian parsley on top. Filleting saury may be tedious, but this dish is well worth it.
In Japan, the mixture of Japanese flavor and Italian noodles comprises a whole subgenre of pasta cooking. This strange hybrid group of dishes with ingredients like mentaiko (marinated fish roe) and marinated enoki mushrooms may sound repulsive, but are in fact delicious. The addition of umami laden condiments like soy sauce and miso introduces complexity to pasta dishes.
Making Japanese pasta dishes, especially soy sauced based ones, are extremely easy. For this one, the only thing I had to do is sauté the mushrooms in olive oil with garlic and dried chili, add some soy sauce and sake, reduce the whole thing until very little liquid remains, then add some pasta water (don’t add as much salt as you usually would to the pasta water), and toss the pasta with some green onions.
You can play around with the dish by throwing some dried shrimp with the garlic and chili for some briny flavor, or by subbing the soy sauce with menmi. My recent favorite is combining dried shrimp, garlic, and do chi (chinese fermented black beans) to flavor the oil, and finishing it with some soy sauce and shiaoxian wine for Chinese influenced noodles.
Writing about lasagna made me nostalgic of macaroni gratin, which was a staple in our house. However, we never made it from scratch. We bought frozen versions that came in aluminum dishes, and chucked them into the toaster oven for a quick dinner. Although frozen dinners have a bad reputation in the US, Japanese frozen food ranges from “not bad” to “orgasmic night snack.” Interesting thing about Japan is, it’s hard to find genuinely disgusting food that people have aversions to. For example, convenience store foods lack the stigmatization and also the layer of stale oil that are usually associated with US gas station/convenience store food. I remember my friend’s expression when I casually bought a burger from a gas station in the middle of nowhere in Kansas. The burger had developed a look that reminded me of the tortoise in the desert fable from Blade Runner, from the long days of basking in the rays of the food warming contraption.
Anyway, I sometimes crave the frozen gratin from the frozen food aisle, but lack the means to acquire them. I tried making it a couple of times, using as a reference mac and cheese recipes from the US. However, these attempts left me with a mound of squishy yet dry overcooked macaroni. Despite these failures, I never thought of reassessing my sauce to noodle ratio and kept cranking out these macaroni sponges. Once I scanned Japanese gratin recipes, I realized my mistake.
So the right ratio was about 1/4 pound of noodles (I used penne in this one) for about 2 cups of béchamel sauce, which made enough for my 6 cup pyrex dish. I think it was my 6 cup one. Or maybe the 3 cup. I’m not too sure. Anyway, it fed two people easily, despite the small amount of noodles that went in to the dish. Using this noodle-to-sauce ratio resulted in a gratin that was just like the ones I ate in Japan, creamy, yet not too heavy.
As with the lasagna, I just soaked the penne in water for about an hour, instead of boiling them.