Autumn #16: Spaghetti Tacos?!?!? / 秋#16:アメリカ料理の波に乗る

Trendspotter The New York Times alerted the over-thirteen demographic to a new trend in October of this year: Spaghetti tacos. You may wonder about the wisdom of heeding both the Times and the whims of 'tweens. But it kind of sounds like fun. Right? Riiiight?
最近ニューヨークタイムズまで注目されたトレンドで、タコスにパスタ。子供のテレビ番組で冗談作られたス パゲッテイ入りタコスがアメリカの子たちに大人気!えええええっ?

The news reached me just as I was becoming fascinated with another child-geared food trend. After researching Kewpie mayonnaise for this experiment, I was haunted by Kewpie's advertisements for tarako pasta sauce. When it comes to advertising, I'm as impressionable as any child.
こ のニュースを読んだ時に、もう一つの子ども向き食トレンドに夢中だった。たらこパスタ! 

It is probably a sign of my advancing age that I'm so fascinated by these childish whims. In any case, that is the outline of the backstory of what brought me to try my hand at tarako spaghetti tacos.

Tarako is one of the many kinds of fish roe that greets the casual consumer at Japanese supermarkets. It is the roe of salted walleye pollack, to be specific (who named this fish?!?!??!). Once I was perusing my local market's roe selection, however, I was drawn instead to tobikko. Tobikko is the roe of flying fish, and it sure did look spry!

Lovely little bubbles of fishy saltiness.

I set about making this cream sauce to pair with the tobikko, and drench my spaghetti in. I substituted hakusai for celery, sake for white wine, and shiso for dill, to make it a little more local.

A little less local is my undying devotion to avocados. I decided to crisp some up with batter usually used for making Japanese fried chicken. To the batter, I added some julienned shiso leaf.

These crisped up to look like this:

The sauce started to simmer:

And simmered:

And it was finally ready to be blended up and run through the sieve.

In the meantime, pasta's boiling, and I'm rolling out fresh tortillas with a shochu bottle.

Rotating two pans and one pot of boiling water, watching that my toaster oven avocado don't burn... Childish as the inspiration may have been, this meal's preparation is certainly not for kids.

Okay: Add tobikko to the cream. Sear some scallops, and get prepared to assemble the tacos.

 First: the tortilla.

Then, crispy avocado.

Tobikko cream linguine.
With a garnish of sliced cucumber, topped with seared scallops...
キュウリ、ホタテ. . .

And, what the heck: more tobikko!
. . . ともっともっととびっこ!

And then, finally...
やっと、子どものように手でタコスをつかんで . . .

I let my inner child destroy the taco.

I read about it, but had to try it for myself. Happily, I report that my idiosyncratic and fishy version was a success.

Even without tortillas, the pasta with tobikko cream sauce stands up very well on its own.
Ah, the joys of indulging in a little culinary innocence. The cream and carbs may shave years off of my life, but the taste sensations just added that much more wisdom to my tongue.


Autumn #15: Thanksgiving - Boiled, not Baked / 秋#15:アメリカの伝統、日本の材料

Thanksgiving! The gloriously secular celebration of eating! However suspicious its originating mythology may be, I have to admit that I can't suppress my enthusiasm for collective gluttony. And what else is Thanksgiving?

Last year, it was two ducks in place of a turkey. This year, lacking both turkeys and ovens, I decided that I'd take the opportunity to give thanks for the bounty of the shitamachi -- the "low city" -- in which I reside.

Tokyo's shitamachi comprises the eastern neighborhoods of Ueno, Asakusa, Yanaka, and Tabata. It is here, according to Donald Richie, that "still retains what little is left of the feel of old Edo -- distinctly plebian, also fun-loving, less inhibited than those remains of areas where the military aristocracy, the shogunate, observed its rules of decorum." The most significant manifestation of this "fun-loving" shitamachi character is the street food. There are breaded and fried glories to be taken in hand, sweet bean paste of every imaginable configuration, and even -- if you are lucky -- the occasional "scotch egg": a hard-boiled egg ensconced in minced meat and fried. All this and more.

So I got a bone from a local butcher shop to start a mellow soup base for our hotpot Thanksgiving party of nine hungry people.

Broken open, of course, so the marrow can seep out.

I blanched the bone, and put it in a pot to simmer with an apple and star anise.

I let it go for eight hours or so, adding bits of vegetables along the way.

For example, I added some daikon -- a kind of radish, the name of which translates literally as "large root."

This particular "big root" was about the size of my arm.

The daikon is pretty benign as radishes go.
So once the bones had simmered and simmered and simmered, I added a touch of soy sauce and sugar, and assembled the shitamachi bounty we'd use for our tableside hotpot thanksgiving feast.

Napa cabbage. Of dinosauric proportions.

Tentacles peeking out from a fishcake casing. This is getting very Jurassic.
To distract my arriving guests, I had prepared some crudites (And yes: I still like to pronounce them to rhyme with "Luddites." Croooo-deee-teh, la deee da).

Chili-miso and yuzukoshô dipping sauces... just to tide us over until...

Everybody in the pot!

Alongside this hotpot, we also simmered a pot of this chicken broth, to which I had added ginger.

Holy hotpot! Nothing secular about my feelings toward this food. Hotpot as a communal meal does have something of a primal urgency. We were stripped down to our natural state: just a tribe collecting around the fire, literally grunting into our food. Never mind that the fire was fueled by propane, or that our appetites were whetted not through vigorous cooperative hunting, but through the consumption of cans and cans of beer and malt liquor.

Plucking our dinner from the primordial ooze.

First, a little from pork-bone pot.

Then a little from chicken hotpot...

And when the nine hungry pilgrims feared that they were at the end...

Udon noodles descended into the broth like manna.

For the pork-bone pot, rice and eggs soaked up the last of the broth real nice.

Just one last little detail really set this rite right...

Fried garlic shards. Happy thanksgiving!


Autumn #14: In the Soup / 秋#14:I love ゆ

Winter is creeping up on us here. The days are shorter, skin is drier, feets are colder, moods are heavier.

Time for soup.

I've been reluctant to attempt any ambitious broths here, since I can literally walk out the front door and eat a cheap bowl of noodles bathing in a well loved soup of bones and other various choice tidbits that has been stewed for days. The details of such potions can be found here, at my favorite ramen blog. But since I'm celebrating Thanksgiving with nabe -- Japanese hotpot -- I thought I'd try my hand at loving up some soup.

My idea was to pair chicken with yuzu, to flatten any ambitious cold viruses. Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit. It's kind of the ugly cousin to the beloved mikan -- mandarin orange. Its juice is similar to that of the grapefruit, but it is certainly unfriendly to the casual curious eater.

As you can see, it is humorlessly jammed full of seeds.

I'd also add some fragrant mitsuba, which is not dissimilar to parsley.

Mitsuba is also a little unfriendly. Be sure to at least blanch it, or it pricks the mouth.

A wonderful pot of soup requires a certain kind of commitment. It's not a particularly high maintenance relationship, but it does require a long period of tending to, even if with just a bit of one's energies. It's more like a steady, healthfully rooted relationship, that still needs someone to skim the goop off of the top and keep the fire lit.

Hours of tending the hearth yielded a light and tasty broth, brightened by yuzu.

Perhaps more gratifying still was the stewed chicken meat I extracted from the soup, sliced up and served over rice with mitsuba and chili sauce.


 Also have to eat your vegetables...

Napa cabbage in sesame vinegarette...

And grilled asparagus.

They seem happy to have each other.

Oh... and those mysterious bits on the rice: Those are the chicken skins I grilled on top of the asparagus.

I have to fatten up for winter, you know.



Autumn #13: Strictly Roots / 秋#13:ルーツに戻ろう

Cashing in on the carb-hungry 1980s, my parents supported their young family with a pasta restaurant.

This meant that my earliest memories include not only eating spaghetti with my hands, but also learning how to separate egg yolks from the whites. In retrospect, I'm not sure what the Health Department would have made of snotty nosed kids in the food prep area. Also, I'm really curious what the Department of Labor would have made of Cheru, age 9, standing on a turned-over milk crate and pre-rinsing dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. Aside from an accelerated education of swear words from the staff, it was here that I first learned the bitter dynamic inherent to labor and management. I demanded more than 25 cents an hour, threatening a tantrum strike. My parents threatened to charge me for room and board. I remained on that overturned milk crate.

This is a long way of saying that I feel I have an intimate connection with pasta.

So please forgive me if a lot of my improvisations are pasta-centric.

Tonight, I decided to add some spice to my pasta dough with ichimi togarashi.

Lovers of Japanese soup noodle dishes will recognize the package, although the more common expression is not this just-chili powder, but the seven spice -- shichimi togarashi -- version. After adding a little heat, then, I rolled out the dough and roughly cut myself some broad noodles.

While my lovely, albeit roughly hewn, noodles stood by, I then contemplated another root. This one had nothing to do with metaphors; it was a total stranger to me.

Having an irresistible affinity for strangers, I picked this one up at the farmer's market. The name read yurine: lily root. It was supposed to be both similar to, and yet unlike, a potato, according to the farmer.

Once I loosened it up a bit, it fell apart into these lovely petal-like segments.

In the soup with it! To match the floral theme, I brewed it up with chrysanthemum leaves in a light consomme.

Save the flowers for the romantics. I'm a realist, happy with the roots and the leaves. As long as they are edible.

And what of my patient pasta? It got treated right, pan-fried with butter and fragrant eringi mushrooms.

Whether the epiphany comes from eating a hot yam on an Harlem street, or pasta in my tiny Tokyo kitchen, there's something to be said for roots. Especially the delicious ones.