Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Improve your Japanese and Eat your Vegetables

I learn things about food and Japan that can only happen in cooking class. When my sensei instructed us to "wash the shrimp in potato starch," I wondered is this step necessary.

This is what she did: she peeled the shrimp, poked a hole just behind the head with a small bamboo skewer, pulled a small loop of the black vein out, grasped it with her fingers and removed it.  The tails were scraped clean with a knife. When the shrimp were all cleaned in this manner, potato starch was sprinkled onto the shrimp, squished about with her hand to distribute it, and rinsed off with running water.
Removing the vein through a small hole- clever!
Still perplexed, I asked, "Why do you wash the shrimp in potato starch if all you do is wash it off?" The answer, "Purri purri." Except no one could explain what purri purri meant. My friend made motions with her mouth, but she couldn't come up with an English translation of the term. Another term then came up "katakuri" but there was no translation for that either.

Later, with a bit of sleuthing, I was able to form this idea: purri purri is about a mouth feel that is fresh and springy. Katakuri is a starch traditionally used from a lily native to Japan but recently potato starch is  substituted because potatoes are cheaper than lilies. Using a starch on foods before frying protects them from too much heat.

Frying the shrimp with a takegushi bamboo skewer in them keeps them straight- a method often used in Japan where presentation plays a part of every serving. You remove the skewer before serving. Portions are smaller in Japan than in America- two fried shrimp are served per person.

It is sometimes frustrating to have a new recipe and no idea of what to serve with it. Figuring out how to round out a new dish has to take into account experience, taste, and suggestions. Consider this healthy and flavorful option: Five Color Boil with Sesame Paste Dressing and a bowl of hot rice. If you can’t find all of the suggested vegetables, consider what is in season where you live and try them with the sesame paste dressing. Dashi stock is best homemade, but many a Japanese cook does indeed use instant, and, if you prefer, substitute with your preferred stock to experiment. Cornstarch can be used instead of potato starch. Cutting the vegetables into attractive shapes, like the carrot into a flower, aids in both the presentation and in stimulating the appetite. It's oyshi, healthy, attractive, and it just might be the thing to keep you in your jeans during the holiday season.

Itadakimasu, I humbly receive,
Fried Lotus Root Shrimp Ebi Renkon
Fried Lotus Root Shrimp Ebi Renkon
Lotus Root Renkon, 350 gm
Vinegar, dash
Shrimp, medium sized, 8
Potato Starch, a spoonful as needed
Sake, dash
Salt, dash
Egg, 1/2
Salt, dash
Sugar, 1/2 tsp
Potato Starch, 1 Tbsp
Panko or Bread Crumbs, as needed
Fry oil, as needed
Bamboo skewers Takegushi- trim as needed, need 2” handle at most

Prepare lotus root: Soak lotus root in a bowl of water with a dash of vinegar before using (helps with the color). Grate the lotus root and squeeze to remove excess moisture.

Prepare shrimp: Remove shrimp shells, devein, leave tails intact, but scrape them clean with a knife, trim as necessary to even (1 person, 2 shrimp), wash in potato starch, rinse with running water, drain, pierce through with a bamboo skewer. Sprinkle with sake and salt. Set aside.

Prepare coating. Mix together drained grated lotus root, half of an egg, dash of salt, sugar, and potato starch. Take a small handful of the lotus root mixture and squeeze it onto a shrimp. Drop the shrimp into a bowl of bread crumbs and shake until it is covered. Set aside.

Fry the shrimp in fry oil over medium heat until golden brown. Drain. When cool to touch, remove the skewers. Garnish plate and serve.
Lotus Root Renkon soaking in water with a splash of vinegar
Grating lotus root Japanese style
Shrimp with bamboo skewers takegushi
Squeeze lotus root mixture onto the shrimp
Five Color Boil on Sesame Paste Dressing
Five Color Boil
Nagaimo Japanese mountain yam, 300 gm, peel, 3 cm cut rings
Carrots, 150 gm, 5 mm slices, flower cut
Renkon lotus root, 5 mm slices
Kabocha Japanese pumpkin, 400 gm, mintori cut large square like chunks
Broccoli, 1 bunch, cut into large pieces, boiled until tender, drained and set aside
Dashi stock, 2 1/2 cups
Sugar, 2 Tbsp
Mirin, 2 Tbsp
Soy Sauce, 2 tsp

Cut and prepare vegetables. Put everything except the broccoli into a pot and boil until the vegetables are just tender. Remove the vegetables and allow to cool. Serve one of each vegetable on top of a spoonful of the dressing below.

Sesame Paste Dressing
White Sesame Paste (Tahini will work), 2 Tbsp
Sugar, 1 Tbsp
Salt, 1/4 tsp
Soy Sauce, 1/2 tsp
Niban Dashi Second boil dashi stock (after removing the vegetables, bring the broth back to boil and then cool- use this here), 2 Tbsp

Mix all of the ingredients for the dressing thoroughly. Serve as a base for the boiled vegetables- place a spoonful of dressing on a plate and arrange one of each vegetable on top.

In case you have no idea what a nagaimo Japanese mountain yam looks like, here is a picture:
nagaimo Japanese mountain yam

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