Japan Eats

Recipe: Asian chicken salad

This coriander-packed Thai salad makes a great appetizer, but it’s just as good as a spicy sandwich filling.

To give the salad a fresh, crispy texture, it’s important to rinse the sliced vegetables in ice water. It’s also best eaten within 24 hours.

When you mix the ingredients in the bowl, use both hands. The taste will be much better than if you mix using utensils (wood, metal or otherwise).

Asian chicken salad

Asian chicken salad

Ingredients (for 4 – 8 people)

  • 500 g of chicken breast
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ½ teaspoon of black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of sake
  • 200 – 250 g cabbage
  • 120 g cucumber
  • 50 – 60 g red onion
  • 40 – 50 g celery
  • 20 g of roughly chopped fresh coriander
  • 2 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh mint

Dressing

  • 2 red peppers (dried and finely chopped)
  • 4 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons of nam pla (Thai fish sauce)
  • 1 tablespoon of finely chopped garlic
  • 3 tablespoons of peanut or vegetable oil
  • A pinch of salt

Garnish

  • Roughly chopped fresh coriander
  • 4 – 5 tablespoons of crushed peanuts

Method

First we’ll prepare the chicken. Remove any excess moisture with a paper towel then sprinkle ½ teaspoon of salt and black pepper onto all sides of the chicken breast. Place the chicken on a plate then rest it for 5 minutes. Pour 2 tablespoons of sake over it then wrap the plate with cling film (2 layers) before cooking it in the microwave for 5 ½ minutes. Take the plate out of the microwave and allow the chicken to rest until it is cool enough to touch.

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the dressing. Mix all of the ingredients other than the peanut oil and salt in a large bowl. Now add the peanut oil. Do so slowly stirring the dressing with your other hand. Check the flavor and add salt to taste.

As the chicken cools, prepare the vegetables. Rinse the cabbage then slice into pieces 1 – 2 mm thick. Rinse the cucumber and cut into slices approximately 1 mm thick. Peel the red onion then slice thinly, following the grain. Remove the strings from the celery and slice the stems diagonally into 1 – 2 mm pieces. Cut the leaves into pieces 1 – 2 mm thick.

Fill a large bowl with ice water (enough to cover the cabbage, cucumber, red onion and celery) and rinse them for 5 – 6 minutes before draining.

Once cool, break the chicken breast by hand into bite-sized pieces (follow the grain). Add this together with the liquid on the plate into the bowl containing the dressing.

Now add the vegetables to the chicken/dressing mixture.

Add 20 g of roughly chopped coriander and 2 tablespoons of finely chopped mint to the bowl. Combine all the ingredients by hand.

Decorate the salad with fresh coriander and crushed peanuts before serving.

Recipe: Deep fried eggplant with sweet chilli sauce

This Thai style appetizer balances sweet, sour and spicy.

As the weather becomes warmer, I find myself preparing Southeast Asian dishes. Deep fried eggplant with sweet chilli sauce is a favorite.

A note on the preparation: the pieces of eggplant will be smaller when they are cooked, so its worth cutting them into pieces slightly larger than bite-size.

Deep fried eggplant with sweet chili sauce

Deep fried eggplant with sweet chili sauce

Ingredients

  • 400 g eggplant
  • 4 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon nam pla (Thai fish sauce)
  • 2 tablespoons of finely chopped mint

Method

First prepare the ingredients for the sauce in a bowl – mix the sweet chili sauce, lemon juice and nam pla together.

Next, heat approximately 3 cm of vegetable oil in a deep fryer to 180 degrees Celsius. Cut the eggplant diagonally and immediately deep fry the pieces for about 1 minute without batter. Note that if the temperature of the oil is too low, the eggplant will absorb too much of the oil. When they have browned and are cooked right through (use a skewer to check) fish them out of the oil and drain on a tray.

Add the eggplant to the bowl containing the sauce. Stir so that the eggplant is fully coated. Cool in the fridge for roughly 15 – 20 minutes.

Finally add 2 tablespoons of mint and mix well. Be sure to let the eggplant cool down first or you risk changing the mint’s color and aroma.

Serve.

Restaurant review: Bills (Odaiba)

The third incarnation of this Australian café will win over the kids.  But will adults see past the shopping center location?

The Irish have been putting up with it for years. Wherever you go, there’s an Irish pub to tempt you with a carefully packaged cultural experience that has little, if any relationship to what you’d find on the street corners of Dublin. With their unread copies of W.B. Yeats, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, and embossed plaques proclaiming the virtues of Guinness, such places are little more than pastiche, inducing a longing for a simpler time, even if that never existed in the first place.

Ricotta hotcakes, fresh banana and honeycomb butter.

Ricotta hotcakes, fresh banana and honeycomb butter.

Odaiba, the man-made island in the middle of Tokyo Bay, is the Japanese home of foreign-inspired kitsch. Forget theme parks, chain restaurants or resorts – Odaiba has enough to make even a cryogenically frozen Walt Disney wince. Whether its the VenusFort shopping center, the ‘life-sized’ Gundam or the “Oh-god-what-were-they-thinking” replica of the Statue of Liberty, Odaiba successfully blends commercial interests with cultural naivety.

So we come to Bills. Named after Australian owner/chef Bill Granger, Bills sets out to be “a warm, open interior inspired by Bill’s own home, accompanied by friendly service and a simple yet lively menu centered around the freshest ingredients.” This is Granger’s third Japanese venture, the first being in Shichirigahama, followed by a second branch on Yokohama’s waterfront. A fourth restaurant baring the name opened April 18th in Tokyu Plaza, Omotesando.

When we arrive, the staff quickly guide us to a long bench in the center of the main room. Our waiter is all smiles when he takes our order.

Friendly service“? Check.

At 11.30, the menu is yet to switch from breakfast to lunch, but  no matter. We go with the scrambled organic eggs with toast and a serve of Granger’s signature ricotta hotcakes, fresh banana and honeycomb butter. I order a black coffee, which the Japanese waiter repeats back in impeccable Australian: “One long black…” Granger, it seems, likes a hearty start to the day – there’s also a ‘full Aussie breakfast’ with toast, mushrooms, bacon, roast tomato and chipolatas, and lengthy list of sides to be had with your eggs. At lunch, you can opt for a wagyu burger with lettuce, beetroot, zucchini pickles, tomato relish, and herbed french fries. Room for more? Try the pavlova with passion fruit and cream. The menu is high on calories, and in that respect, very Australian.

Scrambled organic eggs with toast

Scrambled organic eggs with toast

A simple yet lively menu“? Wagyu burger aside, it’s a fair claim.

But as for “a warm, open interior inspired by Bill’s own home“? Well…

Here’s the problem: Bills is at one end of a giant shopping complex. While the restaurant may aspire to bringing the atmosphere of an Australian café to Tokyoites, it struggles to overcome the sterile confines of its location. Clearly a lot of money has been poured into the fit out, but it’s more IKEA cafeteria than suburban coffeehouse. It’s hard not to view Bills as yet another theme park concession.

When the food arrives, it doesn’t disappoint. The rich scrambled eggs are excellent, although I could have done without the extra pill of butter on the toast. The famous hotcakes are pretty darn good – much lighter than anticipated. And that honeycomb butter is the kind of thing you’ll want to recreate at home. Be warned, though: order hotcakes during the lunch hour crush and they will take at least 20 minutes to appear.

Everywhere there are mums and toddlers. Indeed, Bills may be the most child-friendly restaurant of its kind in Tokyo. There’s no smoking section and they offer a kids menu. For a time, I realize I’m the only male customer not under 18 months.

Look past the packaging and there’s a lot of good here. The food’s excellent (although frankly overpriced – lunch will set you back close to 2000 yen), the staff professional and it’s one of the few restaurants in Tokyo that not only welcomes children but goes out of its way to be family friendly.

If only it weren’t in a 600 ft long shopping center.

Directions: Exit Kaihin Koen station (Yurakamome line) on the water side and follow the signs to Decks. Bills is just inside the glass doors in the building to your right.

Tel: 03-3599-2100
3F Decks Seaside Mall
1-6-1 Daiba, Minato-ku
Hours: 9:00-23:00 (daily)
http://bills-jp.net/


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Recipe: Shinjaga no teriyaki (baby potatoes in teriyaki sauce)

The Japanese potato season may be early summer, but now’s the time to take advantage shinjaga – baby potatoes.

Shinjaga is short for shin jagaimo, or baby potatoes. Currently in season, they are outcasts of sorts: farmers sell them to make room for their larger brothers and sisters. They taste delicious, however, and are particularly suited to sopping up sauces like this combination of garlic, butter and soy.

Today’s recipe makes either a great appetizer or a main course. Two tablespoons of olive oil instead of butter will result in a lighter dish. Add pancetta or bacon, on the other hand, and it can stand on its own as a main meal.

Shinjaga no teriyaki (baby potatoes in teriyaki sauce)

Shinjaga no teriyaki (baby potatoes in teriyaki sauce)

Ingredients

  • 800 g baby potatoes
  • 40 g finely chopped garlic
  • 20 g butter
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons of finely chopped parsley

Method

First, wash the baby potatoes. You don’t need to peel their skins as they’re very thin. If you use a brush when you wash them, the skins will come off easily.

Place a pot with a liter and a half of cold water, 2 – 3 pinches of salt and the potatoes on a high heat. When the water comes to the boil, turn the gas down to medium. Allow the pot to boil for 10 – 15 minutes.

Check if the potatoes are cooked by using a skewer on the largest one. When they are done, drain.

Place a large frying pan containing butter and finely chopped garlic on the stove. Turn the heat to low and sauté for 1 minute, taking care so that the garlic doesn’t burn.

Once the it begins to produce a strong aroma, add the boiled baby potatoes to the pan and sprinkle a pinch of salt. Sauté on a medium heat until each potato is coated with butter and garlic.

Mix 1 tablespoon of mirin and 2  1/2 tablespoons of soy sauce in a cup. Add this sauce to the pan. Flip the pan so that the potatoes are completely coated in the sauce.

Once the liquid has been reduced, turn off the heat and sprinkle finely chopped parsley over the potatoes. Mix well and serve.

Bar review: Teppei (Kagurazaka)

Escape busy Waseda Dori and discover one of Kagurazaka’s best kept secrets.

Teppei offers a wide variety of shochu and umeshu.

Teppei offers a wide variety of shochu and umeshu.

Getting there is half the fun. Across from Zenkokuji Temple in the center of Kagurazaka, between a fire escape and a clothing store, there’s a claustrophobic alleyway just wide enough for a person to squeeze through. Walk twenty meters along this narrow path and you’ll come to Teppei, a bar which combines serious drinks with obanzai style cooking.

The interior is attractive wood panel affair, and while somewhat cluttered, it wouldn’t be out of place in small-town Kyushu. A wooden counter runs the length of the downstairs area. Directly opposite, shelves lined with some two hundred bottles of shochu. Take a seat at the bar and not only can you nod to your drink of choice, but you can look on as the staff work the charcoal grill in the kitchen. Behind the barstools there’s also a raised tatami section with shoes-off table seating for about a further dozen or so.

It’s a safe guess that for many customers, Teppei is all about the shochu. Devotees of Kyushu’s famous spirit will have no trouble locating familiar favorites – all of the top Kyushu distilleries are represented. Those seeking something sweeter will no doubt be happy with a three page umeshu selection. Elsewhere, there are beers, four types of sake and five types of chuhai on offer. Oh, and let’s not forget Teppei’s range of seasonal sours (right now it’s sudachi, yuzu and daidai from Tokushima, squeezed by hand and served with honey). Suffice to say, the bar is well stocked.

Cucumber with homemade rayu.

Cucumber with homemade rayu.

But what elevates Teppei above most of Tokyo’s other shochu bars – in fact, Tokyo’s bars in general – are its vegetable-oriented otsumami. Yes, meat on a stick may be Tokyo’s go-to bar snack, but there’s a lot to be said for pickles, fried vegetables and salads when you need something to cut through all that alcohol. Few bars take their finger food as seriously as this one, and if you’ve dropped by for a drink rather than a full-blown meal, there’s plenty to choose from. Teppei specializes in sun-dried fish, some of the more eye-catching items being the anago, nodokuro, kinki and sardine nukazuke. Then there’s the yasaiyaki (grilled vegetables) which customers select from a basket of fresh vegetables brought right to your table.

On the night we visited, still recovering from a lengthy lunch, we’d planned for nothing more than a quick drink. All that changed when we saw what our neighbors at the bar were eating. We promptly ordered the chopped cucumber with homemade rayu, followed by the spring cabbage seasoned with jako (dried baby sardines) and sesame seeds. Both were excellent, the rayu lending the cucumber dish plenty of flavor and the ‘salad’ the kind of dish you can imagine your Kyushu grandmother preparing alongside family meals.

Salad seasoned with jako (dried baby sardines) and sesame seeds.

Spring cabbage seasoned with jako (dried baby sardines) and sesame seeds.

The bar does have its flaws – our barman radiated ‘new guy’ and more than once had to be directed to a particular bottle on the shelves. Then again, it’s probably not everyday some Australian comes in and starts ordering off menu. A slight lack of space between the bar stools and the tatami area was our only other gripe.

Teppei offers excellent food, a lengthy drinks menu and plenty of atmosphere. Those who prefer their bars neither rowdy nor restrained will find much to like in Teppei’s brand of stiff drinks and unpretentious cooking.

Directions: From Kagurazaka station (Tozai line) follow Waseda Dori down toward Iidabashi station. When you reach Zenkokuji Temple turn left at the tiny alley hedged between the wine bar and the clothing store. Teppei is 20 meters ahead, on the left just before the T.U.C window.

Tel: 03-3269-5456
4-2-30 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku
17.30 – 23.00 (L.O.)


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