Japan Eats

Sharing Shochu in North America

The Shochu Handbook

The Shochu Handbook is available now from all good bookstores.

Shochu is only just beginning to appear on diners’ radars outside Japan, even though it outsells nihonshu (sake) on its home turf. More often than not, people are introduced to the drink when they set foot in a Japanese or Asian fusion restaurant in a major metropolitan area.

Others come across it for the first time in liquor shops or markets, and although curiosity abounds, there has been precious little information available on the subject in a language other than Japanese. Enter Japan Eats contributor, Christopher Pellegrini, a Shochu Sommelier certified by the Sake Service Institute. Pellegrini’s new publication, The Shochu Handbook, was published last month and it’s the most comprehensive English language reference on shochu to date.

It was a long time in the making. Pellegrini spent more than three years researching and writing the book. He recently returned from a brief book-signing tour, which took him to three venues in two countries. He talked shochu in New York City at SakaMai on August 19th and Sakaya on the 20th before jetting to Vancouver for an event at Legacy Liquor Store on the 23rd.

The book was well-received, but Pellegrini insists that promoting awareness of shochu was the most important goal of his trip.

“To a certain extent, I was preaching to the choir in New York. There are a bunch of decent Japanese restaurants and bars there, and I actually piggybacked on an established shochu lovers’ event. I had a great time talking shochu with the members of that community.”

Pellegrini (r) and Stephen Lyman (l) conduct a lively round of shochu trivia from behind the bar.

Pellegrini (r) and Stephen Lyman (l) conduct a lively game of shochu trivia from behind the bar.

He highly recommends Shochu Tuesdays at SakaMai for anyone that wants to learn more about shochu in New York City. Shochu expert Stephen Lyman organizes the weekly events and there are usually two or three shochu available at happy hour prices. Uminoie is another great place downtown to try a variety of shochu along with some good Japanese cooking.

One pleasant discovery from the book tour was that shochu has significant potential worldwide even if many people haven’t heard of it yet. Bartenders are beginning to catch wind of the variety of flavors available, and bar managers are beginning to add shochu cocktails to their menus. Cherry Izakaya, a new addition to the New York City scene, has a refreshing list of Mizu no Mai-based shochu cocktails that are definitely worth a taste. The creative work of mixologists is beginning to help spread shochu to a wider audience.

Pellegrini’s events, though, focused on some of the more standard serving styles, at least as far as premium shochu fans in Japan are concerned. The events at Sakaya and Legacy featured potato shochu served maewari (blended beforehand with cool water) while most of the shochu at the SakaMai event was served over ice.

“Many are surprised that shochu is often served on the rocks in an old-fashioned glass rather than something more akin to a shot. Shochu is a sipping drink with layered flavors to be savored,” quipped the longtime Tokyo resident.

Pouring and talking shochu in Vancouver.

Pouring and talking shochu in Vancouver.

“I had a lot of fun revealing shochu’s complexities to customers at Legacy in Vancouver. Several people said the shiso and potato bottles I poured were like nothing they had ever tried before. They were really into it, and several bottles left the shelves even though it retails in British Columbia for more than five times the price that you’d pay in Japan.”

Pellegrini is now eyeing an official launch party for the book in Tokyo in November. After that, he’s planning to head to Honolulu for a book event in February of 2015. He said he is also working to develop a new website that will provide valuable information to consumers and shochu manufacturers alike.

The Shochu Handbook, available in both e-book and paperback, can be purchased on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at many other global retailers.

 

Recipe: Agedashi nasu

Agedashi nasu may look harmless enough, but each slice of eggplant comes packed with flavor.

A variation on the popular agedashi dofu, the principal ingredient in agedashi nasu is eggplant. In some ways, using eggplant is preferable to tofu as it soaks up much of the dashi’s flavor. For those wanting to experiment further, try preparing mochi (rice cakes) or satoimo (taro root) in this way.

This dish is a good example of aburanuki, a technique by which hot water is poured on the ingredients in order to remove excess oil.

Various kinds of garnish will suit the dish. Select your favorite among grated ginger, dried bonito flakes, thinly sliced miyoga or chopped green onion.

Agedashi nasu

Agedashi nasu: serve alongside somen or udon noodles.

Ingredients (serves 2 people)

  • 170 – 180 g eggplant
  • 100 ml of dashi soup
  • 1.5 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of mirin
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of ginger (grated)
  • 200 ml of boiled water

Method

First prepare the dashi-based stock. Mix the dashi soup, soy sauce, mirin and sugar in a pot and warm it on a low heat.

Pour vegetable oil into a frying pan, filling to a depth of roughly 3 cm. Place the pan on a medium heat.

Remove the calyx from the eggplant and cut it into half lengths.

Place each half on a cutting board skin up and slice the skin diagonally at 2 mm intervals. Each slit should be about the half thickness of the eggplant.

Now to quickly deep-fry the eggplant. Make sure that the oil temperature is 179 – 180℃. Remove the moisture from the eggplant with a paper towel then deep fry skin down for 1 minute. Turn over and cook the other side for the same length of time.

Once cooked, carefully remove the oil by draining the eggplant on a metal rack. Place all of the pieces in a colander and pour 1 cup of the hot water over the eggplant to rinse away any remaining oil.

While they are still warm, place the slices of eggplant into a serving dish and drizzle on the dashi stock until it makes a pool around the vegetable. Garnish with the grated ginger and serve.

Recipe: Takenoko no mazegohan (Japanese-style mixed rice)

This typically Japanese mix of textures is an ideal addition to any bento.

Takenoko no mazegohan is a seasonal rice dish which features takenoko (bamboo shoots) mixed with chicken and a selection of Japanese vegetables.

The preparation of the bamboo shoots takes place the day before, and follows the same process as that used in our recipe for Tosa-style bamboo shoots).

For an interesting variation, mix the ingredients with vinegar rice to create gomokuzushi. Detailed directions for vinegar rice can be found here. The dish is also easy to adapt for vegetarians: simply omit the chicken and use kombu dashi rather than the regular kombu and katsuobushi variety.

Takenoko no mazegohan

Takenoko no mazegohan (Japanese style mixed rice). Eat it freshly prepared, or add to a Japanese bento lunch.

Ingredients (serves 6 – 8 people)

  •  100 – 120 g of chicken thigh
  • 70 g of carrots
  • 70 g of shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 deep-fried tofu pouch (aburaage)
  • 250 g of boiled bamboo shoots
  • 125 g of konnyaku (aka devils tongue)
  • 10 g of kanpyo (dried gourd strips )
  • 150 ml of dashi soup
  • 4 tablespoons of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of sake
  • 4 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of mirin
  • Several pinches of roughly cut mitsuba (Japanese wild chervil) or ginger pickles as a garnish

Method

The bamboo shoots need to be prepared one day ahead. Wash them and scrape off the tough base of each shoot. Slice off the tips and make a shallow incision the length of the section covered by skin. Next, place the shoots in a pot of water together with 2 handfuls of rice bran and 2 red peppers. Bring to the boil, then cover with a drop-lid (the instructions for which can be found here). The bamboo shoots need to be covered with water the whole time. Keep the pot on a low heat for about 1 and a half to 2 hours, until the hardest parts of the bamboo softens. Take the pot off the heat and allow it to soak and cool overnight.

The rest of the ingredients can be prepared the following day. Ready the chicken by removing the skin and fat, then chop it into bite-sized pieces. Cut the carrot it into strips 4 to 5 cm long, so that they resemble matchsticks. Remove the stems of the shiitake, then cut the mushrooms into slices 2 mm thick.

Next, place the aburaage in a colander and pour 100 ml of hot water over the deep-fried tofu pouch to remove any excess oil. Cut into pieces 5 mm thick, 3 to 4 cm in length.

Now for the takenoko, or bamboo shoots. Rinse theshoots in a bowl of cold water to wash away the bran. Peel the skin of the shoots along the shallow incision you made the day before, so that you have only the soft, fleshy part of the shoot. Cut into slices 3 – 4 mm thick, then again into bite size quarters or squares.

Prepare the konnyaku by cutting it into thin squares 2 – 3 mm across and 1.5 – 2 mm thick, then boil them in a hot water for 2 – 3 minutes.

Wash the kanpyo in a bowl of cold water then squeeze out the water. Put the kanpyo back in a bowl, add 1 teaspoon of salt then rub it with the salt well for 30 seconds. Then wash the salt out with a cold water. Place the kanpyo in a pan containing 1 liter of cold water and bring it briefly to the boil before reducing  to a low heat. Cook the kanpyo for 15 minutes in total. Once cooked, rinse in a bowl of cold water then squeeze out any excess liquid. Cut it into squares 2 cm wide.

Place the casserole with 1 table spoon of the vegetable oil and warm it on medium heat. Once it becomes warm, add chicken and carrot and cook for 2 – 3 minutes till the color change of the chicken. then add deep-fried tofu pouch, shiitake mushrooms, konnyaku, kanpyo. Mix and cook the whole ingredients  for another 2 – 3 minutes then add the bamboo shoot at the end and mix them entirely.

Add 150 ml of dashi soup to the casserole, once its boiled add 4 tablespoons of sugar, 2 tablespoons of sake, 4 tablespoons of soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of mirin. Mix and place a drop lid on the ingredients. Maintain a medium heat and cook for 20 minutes until the sauce is almost gone.

Prepare Japanese rice using the instructions for your particular rice cooker.

You’re finally ready to mix the rice and ingredients for the dish in a bowl. A good balance is 4 – 5 tablespoons of the ingredients for every 150 grams of cooked rice. As you do this, be sure to remove as much liquid as you can before moving the ingredients from the casserole dish.

Serve with mitsuba as garnish or ginger pickles on the side.

Kickstarter Campaign to Publish “The Shochu Handbook”

Hello foodie friends!

The Shochu HandbookI hope you’re having a fantastic day. For the past three years I’ve been pouring my energy into my first publication, “The Shochu Handbook.” Remember when I talked about the project while touring distilleries in Kyushu, and then again when I talked about the process of becoming certified as a Shochu Sommelier?

Yup, it was all part of the plan to get to this point.

Today I’m unveiling the fruit of all that labor, and I hope that you’ll take a moment to check it out:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/pellegrini/the-shochu-handbook-an-intro-to-japans-alcoholic-s

It’d mean the world to me if you’d spread the word by simply clicking the Facebook and Twitter buttons under the video. Just two clicks will make a HUGE difference!

Many thanks,

Christopher Pellegrini

Japan Booze Blind: Vodka

Is there any real difference between so-called premium vodkas and the cheap stuff? Albrecht Stahmer and Junko Wada join Christopher Pellegrini to test three different brands.

Guests Junko Wada and Albrecht Stahmer sit down with host Christopher Pellegrini to blind-taste three kinds of vodka: Suntory (Japan), Skyy (U.S.) and Okuhida (Japan). Once again, the show was recorded at Kokubunji’s The Lighthouse.

Thanks once again to Duncan Sculpher and The Lighthouse team for inviting us to film there.

Recipe: Sweet potato kimpira

Satsuma imo, or sweet potato, is used in Japanese cuisine for both sweet and savory dishes.

Kimpira is a Japanese cooking style in which vegetables are sautéd, then simmered on a low heat. Kimpira is most commonly associated with gobo (burdock roots) or other root vegetables such as lotus roots, carrots, and sometimes daikon (Japanese radish).

The basic approach is to cut the vegetables into thin rectangular strips, and sauté them in the sugar and soy sauce. The saltiness of the soy sauce will bring out the natural sweetness of the potatoes, so there’s no need for much added sugar. For colour, sprinkle black sesame seeds over the sweet potato as a garnish.

This dish is hashi-yasume, which literally means “rest for the chopsticks”.

Sweet potato kimpira

Sweet potato kimpira

Ingredients (serves 3 – 4)

  • 200 – 250 g sweet potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
  • 1/2 table spoon of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of sake
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of mirin
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
  • 2 – 3 pinches of black sesame seeds

Method

Wash the sweet potatoes. Slice them diagonally into pieces 3 mm thick, then again lengthwise into strips 4 – 5 cm long and 3 mm x 3 mm wide.

Soak the strips in a bowl of cold water and rinse them, changing the water in the bowl 3 – 4 times to remove some of the starch.

Place a frying pan with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil on a high heat. Add the sweet potatoes to the pan after removing some of the the moisture with a paper towel. Sauté for 3 minutes, stirring every so often.

Turn the heat down to medium, add sugar, sake , soy sauce and mirin then continue sautéing the ingredients until the sauce is almost gone. Add the sesame oil at the end, turn off the heat then mix well.

Place the slices of sweet potato on a plate, sprinkle the black sesame seeds, then serve.

Recipe: Hayashi rice

Hayashi rice, or hashed beef in demi-glace sauce, is classic yoshoku. But what is the origin of the recipe?

Based on European dishes introduced by visitors to Japan during the late Edo and early Meiji eras, yoshoku is Japanese-style western food. At that time authentic ingredients were hard to come by. As a result, Japanese chefs replaced certain ingredients or rethought the recipes, resulting in dishes know today as Japanese curry, hayashi rice, pork cutlets, omrice, Hamberg steak, etc.

As Japanese comfort food goes, hayashi rice is up there with indigenous dishes such as niku jaga. Typically, recipes call for strips of beef and sliced onion cooked in a thick sauce of red wine and demi-glace. Here, I’ve added shimeji mushrooms for added flavor.

The recipe’s exact origins are unclear. Some say that hashed beef was introduced by visitors to Japan, and the name evolved first into haishi, and then into hayashi. An alternative history has Yuteki Hayashi, founder of the Maruzen chain of bookstores, inventing the dish. According to this version, the dish is named after him.

No matter where the recipe originates, it is today a staple of Japanese home cooking.

Hayashi rice

Hayashi rice

Ingredients (serves 8 – 10)

  • 500 g of onion
  • 300 g of thinly sliced beef
  • 180 g of shimeji mushrooms
  • 2 pinches of salt
  • 2 pinches of black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 50 ml of red wine
  • 580 g of demi-glace sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon tonkatsu sauce

Method

First, cut the beef into bite size pieces and season with 2 pinches of salt and black pepper. Slice the onion (with the grain) into pieces 1.5 cm wide and remove the roots of the shimeji. Tear the mushrooms into small pieces.

Warm 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a frying pan on medium-high and sauté the beef until browned. Next, move the beef to a casserole dish and pour in 50 ml red wine.

Add the demi-glace sauce and 1 and 1/2 cups of cold water to the casserole dish. Warm on a medium heat. Once it has come to the boil, stew for 20 minutes on a low heat with the lid on.

While you’re waiting for the beef, prepare the onion and the mushrooms. Add 1 table spoon of vegetable oil to the frying pan, warm on high heat, then sauté the onion. When the onions start to soften, add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Add the sautéd onions and mushrooms to the casserole and stew it for another 20 minutes.

Mix the 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, tablespoon of soy sauce, tablespoon of sugar and tablespoon of tonkatsu sauce in a small bowl, then pour the mixture into the casserole dish.

Stew for another 10 minutes. Check the taste and adjust the flavor with the salt and pepper.

Serve with rice and pickles.

Recipe: Basil no tempura (basil tempura)

Dried shrimp and basil in a delicate tempura batter.

Basil works remarkably well in tempura. Here, the herb is combined with a handful of dried shrimp which adds some weight as well as texture to the dish.

When you mix the basil, tempura powder and ice water, be careful not to mix them for too long. There should still be pockets of dry powder in the mixture. In order to prevent the leaves from separating in the oil, hold the ingredients with the chopsticks until the outside of the ingredients become solid for 10 seconds.

As soon as you find the tempura are crispy, take them out of the oil. Deep frying for too long will kill the aroma of the basil.

This dish pairs well with a dry white wine like chardonnay or a sake such as Tateyama Junmai Ginjo.

Basil tempura.

Basil tempura.

Ingredients (for 2 people)

  • 25 g of fresh basil (leaves and buds)
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons of sakuraebi (dried shrimp)
  • 3 – 3.5 tablespoons of tempura powder
  • 2 tablespoons of ice water

Method

Wash the basil leaves, shake off any water and place them in a bowl. Add the dried shrimp.

Gently sprinkle the tempura powder over the ingredients and add ice water. Mix  roughly so that the ingredients will hold together in the cooking oil.

Place a deep-frying dish containing 2 – 3 cm vegetable oil on a medium high gas and heat it to 170℃.

Next, separate the tempura ingredients into 5 – 6 portions. Deep-fry one side of each portion for about a minute. Once the ingredients become crispy, turn over and deep-fry for a further 30 seconds.

Remove the tempura from the oil and place on a paper towel so any oil drains away.

Sprinkle a pinch of salt and serve.

Recipe: Teriyaki pizza

A culinary mashup found on pizza menus throughout Japan.

Long before the ramenburger or the matcha croissant there was teriyaki pizza, an East-meets-West hybrid destined to become a staple of delivery menus across the country. Who would have thought pizza topped with chicken in a sweet and ever-so-slightly salty sauce would have proved so popular?

Teriyaki sauce is a combination of soy, mirin and sugar. In Japanese cuisine it’s traditionally paired with chicken (see our recipe for teriyakidon) or sometimes blue fish. It’s also delicious on baby potatoes or as a tare for meatballs.

This recipe for teriyaki pizza doesn’t require a great deal of time in the kitchen. We used a bread machine, but you can knead the pizza dough by hand if you’re so inclined.

To prevent the topping from being too dry, we recommend a dressing of  yuzukosho mixed with olive oil and lemon juice when pizza comes out of the oven.

Teriyaki pizza

Teriyaki pizza is a year-round favorite.

Ingredients (for 6 people/3 square pizzas)

Pizza dough

  • 280 g of hard wheat flour
  • 15 g of butter
  • 180 ml of cold water
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of dry yeast

Sauce

  • 3 – 4 tablespoons of mayonnaise
  • 1/2 tablespoon of soy sauce

Topping

  • 300 g of chicken thigh
  • 2 tablespoons of sake
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of mirin
  • 100 g of eringi mushrooms and maitake mushrooms
  • 150 – 200 g of shredded cheese
  • 1 cup of thinly cut nori (3 – 4 cm length, 1 mm thin)

Dressing

  • 1 teaspoon of yuzukosho
  • 1 tablespoon  of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice

Method

Prepare the sauce and topping first.

Mix the mayonnaise and soy sauce together in a small bowl. Tear apart the mushrooms with your hands. This shouldn’t be difficult if you’re using eringi mushrooms and maitake mushrooms. Otherwise, slice whatever you use thinly.

Remove the skin from the chicken thighs, slice the chicken into pieces 1 – 1.5 cm thick and then again into bite sized pieces. Evenly sprinkle 2 pinches of salt across the surface of the chicken, wait for 5 minutes and then remove any excess liquid with a paper towel. Place a frying pan with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil on the medium heat and sauté the chicken for 2 minutes. Once the pieces have browned, turn them over then sauté another 2 minutes with the lid on. Next, remove any liquid remaining in the frying pan with paper towel. Mix the sake, soy sauce and mirin in a small bowl, then pour the mixture into the pan. Turn the chicken over frequently until the sauce has reduced.

Next, prepare the pizza dough. We used a bread maker to mix the ingredients, following the machine’s instructions. If you don’t have a bread maker, you’ll need to modify the ingredients and knead the dough by hand.

Once the dough is ready, lay it out on a wooden board coated in a thin layer of flour to prevent the dough from sticking. Separate the dough into 3 even portions, then use your hands to work the dough into smooth and round balls. Set them 10 cm apart on the board then cover with a slightly damp tea towel. Allow the dough to sit for 10 – 15 minutes. Use a rolling pin to flatten the dough into rectangles 2 mm thick and 25 cm x 15 cm. Do this on a sheet of backing paper. Lastly, puncture each rectangle roughly with a fork.

Now it’s time to dress the pizza with its topping. Coat the dough with a thin layer of the mayonnaise and soy sauce. Next, add the teriyaki chicken then the mushrooms. Finally, sprinkle the shredded cheese evenly onto the top of each pizza. Bake them at 200℃ preheated for 12 – 15 minutes.

Serve the pizza with nori as a garnish. Add yuzukosho dressing and serve.

Recipe: Shiso pesto

It may surprise you, but green perilla is an excellent substitute for basil when making pesto.

The dish the world has come to know and love as Pesto alla Genovese is traditionally prepared with fresh basil, pine nuts in olive oil, garlic, and Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan cheese). In Italy, many recipes also call for the addition of Fiore Sardo cheese (Pecorino Sardo) to give the paste an even sharper, saltier flavor.

What you may not know is that fresh shiso leaves (also referred to as green perilla) can be used in place of basil. The result: a texture that’s very similar to the original paste, but with a wilder, spicier flavor.

This particular recipe makes enough shiso paste for 6 – 7 servings. If possible, try to use wild rather than supermarket-bought shiso – this will guarantee maximum flavor. And like any vegetable dish, look for the freshest shiso leaves available.

Eat the pesto fresh over pasta or refrigerate for later (in which case, cover with a thin layer of olive oil to prevent discoloring).

Shiso pesto

Spaghettini lightly coated in aojiso sauce.

Ingredients

Shiso paste (makes 6 – 7 servings)

  • 120 ml of extra virgin olive oil
  • 10 – 15 g of garlic (1 clove)
  • 40 – 50 g of aojiso (green shiso, also known as ooba)
  • 2 – 3 sheets of aojiso as a garnish
  • 40 g of pine nuts
  • 1 teaspoon of salt

 Pasta (for 2 people)

  • 160 g of spaghettini
  • 4 – 5 tablespoons of aojiso paste (refer to the following method)
  • 4 – 5 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons of the broth leftover after boiling the pasta

Method

First prepare the aojiso paste. Place the pine nuts in a frying pan and roast them on a low heat for 3 – 4 minutes before allowing them to cool. Wash the aojiso and then remove any moisture with a paper towel. Next, remove the stems and then roughly tear the leaves into pieces.

Chop the garlic roughly, then place the pine nuts, aojiso, garlic, salt and olive oil in a bowl and blend with a hand mixer (e.g. Bamix)  until the ingredients combine to form a paste.

If preparing the pesto ahead of time, pour the paste into a clean transparent container and seal the surface with 2 tablespoons of olive oil (not included on the ingredients list) to prevent discoloration.

Now for the pasta. Place a large saucepan with 2 liters of cold water on a high heat and bring it to the boil. Add 20 g of salt, then cook the spaghettini based on the particular pasta’s instructions.

While cooking the spaghettini, prepare the aojiso sauce and garnish by pouring 4 – 5 tablespoons of aojiso paste and 4 – 5 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese into a large bowl and mixing well.

Next comes the garnish. Slice 2 – 3 aojiso leaves into strips 1 mm thin and rinse them in a bowl of cold water for 2 – 3 minutes. Drain.

Once the spaghettini is cooked, drain and quickly add to the bowl with the aojiso pesto. Mix well and adjust the thickness of the sauce by adding a tablespoon or two of the water used to cook the pasta.

Plate the spaghettini, garnish and serve.