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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Hatch Chiles and Chicken Tacos

Sticking with this side of the Pacific Rim, it is Hatch chile season, and for many, these are special peppers. Although the actual variety of the pepper is not distinct, the region of Hatch results in a chile that is revered amongst chile eaters. I enjoy the complexity and rich flavor, and will grab a few, fire roast them and freeze them for use throughout the year. But, since I was doing that, I opted to go ahead and prepare one for dinner as well.

I used some Mary's chicken thighs, partially butterflied them and marinated them in a simple citrus based mixture.

Simple Citrus based marinade:
Juice from 1 lemon and 1 lime
2 tablespoons mild vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon Lucky Dog Green Label hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 small onion, sliced
salt and pepper to taste

Just mix all of this together, and add in the chicken thighs. Marinade for 4 hours.


I had the kettle fired up with a full load of lump charcoal, it was very hot, and the chiles took no time at all to blister and start to peel. Pulled them and throttled back the kettle to grilling hot. At no time did I do that hand test, it was just hot. In fact, while turning the chiles, the tongs I was using became dropping on the ground hot even though I had BBQ gloves on.

No human flesh was harmed, okay, a little was

From the time the chicken was ready, I had decided to save the chicken skins, and these were placed on the fire. It was still ripping and the chicken skins fried in their own fat, chicken cracklins! The chicken was placed on the edge of the kettle and grilled until done. I was shooting for the minimum for chicken, right around 155°F, as I intended to reheat the chicken prior to eating.

Note pepper and chicken craklin'

Look at those thighs

The chicken was coarsely chopped and reheated along with the cracklin's, this was then placed on the tortillas along with some avocado salsa, the julienned pepper and a little cheese.

Almost there

And finally a little snipped cilantro to freshen the dish and dinner is served. I opted to drink some sake straight from the bottle for this one, all that Fusion cuisine and such...

Ta da!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Tsukune with Pirikara and Tomatoes

So, a Facebook group I am in has issued a challenge, to cook a dish with ground chicken, tomatoes, peanut butter and cayenne pepper. Simple, and the obvious choice would be to go Thai with it, or perhaps something more fusion. I decided to stick with something more along the Japanese lines that I am thinking of moving towards. Ground chicken really says Tsukune to me, Tsukune literally means 'to knead', but, in the world of cooking, it most often refers to ground chicken cooked 'yakitori' style on skewers over a Konro. I decided to riff off of that, by cold smoking a chicken breast, then grinding and making the Tsukune, and frying them into an appetizer. I wanted to make sure the texture was light, as opposed to grilling, the frying would be best with a fluffy meatball and a crispy panko texture.

What I ended up with

Once the chicken was cold smoked, I removed it from the smoker, and placed it back into the refrigerator for 4 hours to let the smoke settle. I also smoked the skin and bones, which was simmered to create a stock, along with celery, red pepper and onion trimmings.

Tsukune Chicken:
2/3 pound skinless chicken breast, cold smoked
1 teaspoon each grated ginger
1 teaspoon finely minced Mitsuba
2 tablespoons Panko bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon lemon rind
1 teaspoon sake
1/8 teaspoon cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

Cube chicken into 1/2" chunks and combine with all ingredients except for bread crumbs. Process in pulses in food processor until chicken forms a medium textured paste, add bread crumbs and combine. Form into balls about 1" to 1-1/4" in diameter and chill to harden. Note that the mixture ios very soft and will slump if not very cold. Once chilled, coat with egg wash and panko, let sit in refrigerator until cold, while heating oil. Fry at 275°F until golden brown. Much hotter and the center will not cook, and this is chicken, it needs to cook.

 Pirikara Pickles:
 These are nothing more than salt, sugar and cayenne pepper powder tossed with cucumbers, and then allowed to sit in refrigerator overnight. The cucumbers remain crispy, but, take on a sublte sweet-hot flavor along with the cucumber flavor.

Tomato Pickles:
Peeled 6 grape tomatoes, then prepare a vinegar and sugar mixture that consisted of:
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar syrup
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon shoyu (Japanese soy sauce)

Soak peeled tomatoes in the vinegar solution overnight. The tomatoes will have a sweet and sour flavor and have a fresh tomato texture. Obviously the fresher the tomato, the better, but, the harder to peel. It's worth it, I actually did 12 of them, so I have a few extra.

Now, if there was one element of this cook that was going to be problematic, it was the peanut butter, and surely, not a typical ingredient, Thai would have been so much easier. In any event...

Peanut Miso Sauce:
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons peanut butter, smooth
1 tablespoon shiro miso
1/2 teaspoon sugar syrup or honey
1/2 teaspoon Togarashi oil
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon sudachi juice
sake, not sure how much, a healthy splash

Heat it all over low heat until it starts to combine, raise heat to medium and whisk until smooth and slightly thickened. Remove and use quickly. It will thicken on cooling. You will want to adjust sweetness and heat to reflect the peanut butter and miso flavors.

Pirikara, tomatoes and peanut-miso sauce

And the texture was excellent, I think just the touch of baking powder and lemon juice aided that texture greatly. The cornstarch improves the texture of the chicken as well.

Fluffy Chicken Balls

These totally worked out as a riff on the traditional and the smoke, citrus and even the peanut butter worked well together. The cayenne which would have seemed likely to over-power the other elements worked to create a subtle and somewhat random piquant quality to the dish.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Tofu thoughts

I was asked about tofu, and I know that many of my BBQ friends generally eschew tofu as a tasteless and horrifically textured food item. However, for many of the world’s population, tofu forms a staple of their diet. It is actually rather a versatile ingredient once it is understood.

First thing to understand is that fresh tofu should always have a slightly sweet taste, tofu that has no taste is old, tofu that tastes sour is spoiled. There are some more advanced tofu preparations that require some getting used to, such as fermented tofu and stinky tofu, I highly recommend avoiding these unless you have a strong affection for powerful flavors and interesting textures. Tofu will have a very faint aroma of beans, however, unless you are eating it cold, that aroma is a non-factor.

There are three textures that are commonly found in most Asian stores, ranging from soft to firm. The soft tofu is very similar to a soft custard, and is most often eaten plain, or in preparations that do not require a lot of handling. The medium texture is probably the most common in Japanese cooking and many other Asian kitchens, it is rather unique in its texture, being firm to the touch, but yielding easily to the bite, Finally, there is firm, which is much like a firm cheese. This is often the most commonly found tofu in American stores, as it mimics cheese, and this is how most Americans have learned to use tofu. There are also pressed tofu’s, these are often found as flavored tofus, and are the most common style made in American companies, these are meant to mimic the texture of meat.

The idea of using tofu as a mimic of cheese or meat is what had given tofu such a bad name for many people who were not raised on tofu. It is a terrible substitute for cheese, as it lacks the fermented qualities that cheese has, and it truly does not have the taste or structure of meat. Tofu is at it’s best, and it’s most common best, when used as an extender for a dish that if flavored with other flavor elements. Using the right texture for a given dish really makes eating tofu a much more enjoyable dish.

My favorite use is as a cooling element is spicy stir-fry dishes, which are heavily seasoned with chiles and pork or lamb. The use of a medium tofu allows the tofu to not break down and that allows it to function as a cooling element in the dish. Most Asian dishes are based upon balance, for a hot element, a cooling or numbing element is added. The most famous of these dishes in Ma Bo Dofu, which is an incredibly hot yet flavorful dish from Sichuan Province in China, which balances heat from chiles, with numbing from Sichuan pepper corns, it uses tofu to carry the flavor, while providing a cooling texture. Taking hints from that, you can build any number of dishes in which you build strong flavors, and counterpoint those flavors with the tofu.  One of my favorite quick uses is to use some chopped up smoked chicken or pork, do a quick stir-fry with some greens, like Swiss Chard, then use a spicy BBQ sauce, some sugar and a little soy sauce to create a little interest, tossing in the tofu to function not unlike potatoes might.

To my sense, the key to making tofu more palatable is to understand that it is its own type of food, not a substitute for cheese, meat or vegetable, but, as a means to balance and enhance a dish. I highly encourage using the freshest product you can find and taking a small taste before using it. It should have a faint sweet taste.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Roasted Chicken with Sudachi butter

Just discovered that a local store carries my favorite chickens, they are frozen, but, from this farm, I am willing to eat frozen birds. A whole small chicken set me back $4.00. This was such a great deal, roasting a bird on the kettle is one of the best ways to get a low cost meal.

The butter and herbs

I made a compound butter from some unsalted butter, some minced chives, chopped flat leaf parsley and some garlic, crushed with salt. No measurements, but, that picture sort of show what I did. This was all made into a compound butter to which 1 tablespoon od Sudachi citrus juice was added. The Sudachi is a very aromatic citrus from Japan and adds a great aroma, as well as acidity to any dish.

Trussed bird

There are a lot of ways to cook a whole bird, of late, a lot of people are into slashing the meat, or spatch-cocking (butterfly) the bird. For me, trussing is the tried and true method, it takes little times once you've done a couple and will result in a more juicy bird. Because the bird is tied into a lump, cooking is more even and the meat remains very juicy. I do place seasonings into the cavity of the bird and tie it to minimize any openings. In this case, I also added compound butter under the breast skin and into the leg joint, this is done just by loosening the skin and working the butter under it. I had a small silicone spatula for this, it works great.

Rubbed and resting

Decided to mix up a couple of west coast BBQ favorites for this cook, equal amounts of Simply Marvelous Cherry rub and The Rub Company Original BBQ flavor, as well as some fresh medium grind black pepper. This was patted on, then left to rest in the fridge for 2 hours. When it was time to cook, I loaded a couple of pounds of lump, fired the kettle up with all vents wide open and let it rip. When the thermometer I stuck in the vent read well past 400°F, I placed the chicken in there, butt to the fire, along with my new mini-cast iron skillet full of potatoes and compound butter for Potatoes Anna. This was allowed to cook for 30 minutes, then the lower vents were closed by half, the chicken rotated 180° and left to cook for another 20 minutes. Then the chicken was removed and tented glazed with a little of the compound butter and foil tented for 30 minutes.

Rested and ready

Upon carving, it was clearly juicy and done just to the point where there was no pink at the joint. The skin rendered nicely and the aroma was what I was hoping for. When you loosen the skin, and add the butter, and with the high heat, the skin will crisp up nicely, and even after the rest, it remained delicate and crisp. I was really happy with the texture and flavor.

Artsy breast shot

Artsy leg shot

Some steamed broccoli, and the Potatoes Anna, which are just some potatoes severely caramelized with butter and herbs, and you have a fine dinner.

Potatoes Anna

And really, the measure of a good kitchen in my mind, every cook should be measured by their roast chicken. One of the most simple dishes, and hence the challenge.

Yes, that was dinner

Texture shot

I am really happy with the texture of the breast, it was quite moist, dense but tender to the tooth. A very satisfying cook. No sauce was needed, this was great chicken.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Mizutaki of a sorts

After enough time, of eating ridiculous food, it was time to make something a little more homey. And since I was going by the Japanese food store, I stopped in to grab a few items. Mizutaki was on my mind, this is a fairly simple dish, that ends up being quite a bit more than one might think, for a boiled dinner. I secured some veggies, and some shaved pork loin. I figured that along with my staples of shiromiso, shoyu, rice vinegar and rice, and I would be in business.

The vegetables were an odd blend, basically what looked good at the market. Some Nappa cabbage, some green onions, some sweet peppers, and some Maitake mushrooms (Hen of the Woods). These were simply broken down into small chunks that would be easily handled with hashi.

The veggie players

The pork was rinsed, which aids in separating the very thin slices. And yes, I could have sliced them myself, but, this was easier. The meat would be added last, and one of the beauties of shopping at the Japanese food store, is that they have small chunks of beef fat, wrapped up for sale, that I was able to use, in a manner similar to Sukiyaki, to grease the pan.

Shaved pork loin, sure, I could have done this by hand

The pan duly greased, the scallions were quikly fried, as well, the stems of the nappa cabbage. When that was all about ready, I added the rest of the veggies for just a quick few minutes, then drizzled about 1/2 teaspoon of shoyu and a sprinkle of sugar, over the veggies, then poured water, just plain water over the entire pan until everything was covered.

Seconds before the water

Once the water is coming to a simmer, the veggies will wilt, and the pork will cook very quickly. Don't want to simmer for more than a few minutes. This would be complimented with a dipping sauce, and I am not at all sure this is traditional, although it was for my family, consisting of mayonnaise, shiro miso, rice vinegar, shoyu and I add some rayu (I use a Togarashi pepper blend spice infused sesame oil). This is about equal parts of the mayo and miso, with just a dash of the other ingredients to smooth things out. I decided to serve this with a chawan of Hijiki-flavored rice.


Oh, and those noodles, those are from a little experiment which worked out great. I tried making my own udon, which worked out fantastically. More on that later.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Cooking for a Cause

I don't much cook at a commercial scale anymore, and every once in a while, I get to revisit the long lost skill set and experience of working over a large, hot, stove for a few hours, just for kicks. Today, was one of those days. The church I grew up in, does a few fund raisers every year, and today and tomorrow, they are doing what they call Choir Blast, where the youth and adult choirs sing and entertain folks. And then there are the food sales, the gospel is free, but, you gotta pay for the SPAM musubi.

In my case, I was asked to help with some kitchen work, as many of the regulars are either in the choir, or couldn't make it. Naturally, I said no. Then ended up going and helping Reverend Naomi despite that, as apparently she and I have a totally different understanding of my saying no to her. And so, I was tasked with cooking the yakisoba, which would be served in Bento-style boxes. This means warm, not hot, and that is a hard sell with fried noodles. Plus, a brand new pan, one equipment I have not used, and noodles that are the hardest to use for this purpose (despite what the label says). So, an 8-burner Wolf Commercial range, nice, with an 8" high, and 12" wide ledge built for the fact that everyone else that uses this stove is under 5'-2" tall. So far, by back is okay, but, reaching over that ledge, hmmmm...if I am going to do this more, we need to see about moving that thing.

Yes, I wore a hachimaki

It was hot, as are all commercial stoves when going full blow, and I prefer to cook full blow when I can. So, a hachimaki was fashioned, as I forgot a cap, my toque would be a little over-the-top, and let's face it, I rock a headband. The other beauty of this, is that as the celebrity cook, all of the prep was done, all of the mis was done, all I had to do was cook. Easy job, if a little toasty.

Brand Spanking New

Ever cook in a brand new, uber-shiny pan? Truly, I hate it, I much prefer my oddly greasy, well seasoned and worn out looking pans, as I know they cook with little stick. This thing was so new, and yet, here we are, several pounds of onions to saute, then many more pounds of cabbage, and then carrots. Prepare the chicken bits, along with a tare for flavor. It all goes along so swimmingly.


There were actually four service tubs of vegetables and three huge colanders of noodles, all needing to be combined in my brand spanking new pan, sticking like duct tape every step of the way. One of the problems with this all, is that since these were to be served Bento-style, the noodles had to be lower in grease than normal, and a new pan wants more grease. Still, there was the job to do. Frying up the overall dish in 8 batches, things moved along nicely, with the final result being not too bad.

Done and ready for packing

My schedule goal was to have it all done by 3:00 p.m. for packing and sale. I hit that with about 5 minutes to spare, and things were looking good for all. And I did manage to do this, managing a few different pots, with just two grabs of a hot oven door, three scalding splashes of water onto my forearm, two dips of my hand into the boiling water and maybe three incidents of grabbing a very hot handle. Not so bad really. I have some chops still, I think. Incidentally, for those wondering, it was all kept very hot, well above Safe-serv standards. (I found myself thinking "I could totally do a ramen pop-up out of this kitchen")

And why would I do this anyways, it's not like I am all that religious, sort of religious, well, religious at all, okay, I am amazed the windows don't blow out of the chapel when I enter the church. But, I grew up in this building, a lot of who I am came from the people who are a part of this church, and who loved this old institution. They are the only people who are not family, who can call me Bobby and I will answer. And if they call, I will answer, as in the end, it isn't about the building, the Book or even about the food, it is about the people and what they mean to me.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Chicken Curry on the Grill

Wanted to do a cook that took a few of my current interests and combined them into one cook. In this case, a peek at a traditional Japanese food, a more popular street food and a little grilling along the way. The end result, some good chicken curry, one of the most popular street and diner foods in Japan, and something I grew up with.

The first thing, was to get a little meat preparation done, so I could create a flavorful base for my curry sauce. Sure, the simplest thing would have been to toss a couple of S&B curry blocks into some water, but, well, blaaaa!

Skinned some chicken thighs, anyone who does competition chicken BBQ would recognize this unappetizing stuff. Oddly trimmed and naked chicken thighs and scraped skin. Yum!

Skinned, trimmed and defatted

Defatted and trimmed

There were bones and wings, these were to be grilled until browned. Now, I know that many folks think, why would you use wings for curry stock, because, wings are densely packed with connective tissue, the dark meat lends flavor, and with small mass and large surface area, it is the fastest and most useful cut for making stock. The gelatin release alone, makes these ideal for uses where a highly rendered stock is desired (such as in soup dumplings).

Must. Not. Eat.

Roasty bones

I would have liked a little more color, but, I ran out of charcoal, and time, so this had to do. The bones had plenty of char and smoke, as did the wings, which, to be honest, were hard not to eat. These were fully seasoned, having gotten a rub of Simply Marvelous Sweet and Spicy before hitting the fire. Then into the stock pot.

Chicken Soup
 Just three cups of water, the three wings and three roasted thigh bones, then a sheet of konbu, some cilantro, onions, carrots, shoyu and one clove of garlic. I added a pinch of salt to the stock, this is really a necessity. After a 20 minute steep, the konbu was removed and a vigorous boil was started. I reduced it to a rolling simmer, adding water to maintain 3 cups total liquid. After 15 minutes, I removed one cup, to fortify the water for the barley. Pearl barley was to be the starch, and it requires a 45 minute boil for the 2/3 cup of dried barley I had. With two cups water and one cup stock, the barley was boiled to al dente, and chilled for later. The stock took two hours, then was chilled and defatted.

Grilled Shishito Peppers

The peppers were grilled, to add a bitter component to the final dish. Japanese style curry is a sweet/piquant affair, and the takuan that traditionally accompanies the dish is also sweet. These peppers have a mild, actually non-existent heat, but, a great bitter/herbal note.

English Peas

I found some local English peas, which were a surprise in the store, these are so much better than frozen or canned. And Japanese curry really needs them. I was happy to get these, as they add a much needed texture that canned or frozen just lacks. I added these about 10 minutes before serving, just to heat through, the stove wasn't even on.

Grilled over oak lump and apple wood

The chicken was brined in a simple and light brine consisting of 3 cups water, 1 teaspoon of sea salt and 1 tablespoon of maple sugar. This was allowed to brine for 4 hours. It was far less salty than most brined chickens, not even as salty as a store bought chicken. The flavor of the maple was there, my plan for a Vermont Curry knock-off was Golden (you would have to be a fan of S&B curry to get that).

The finished curry sauce, with peas, potatoes, carrots

I put the chicken from the wings back into the sauce, and heated through, adding some cornstarch to thicken. The peas were added last. Slicing of the chicken from the grill and final assembly...oh, I forgot to mention, I made a quick tempura batter from 1/2 cup ice water, 1/8 cup each of AP flour and cornstarch, and fried the skins, strips of skin actually. I ended up only using one skin, I mean, who needs all that fat, and tasty, tasty, fried skin. The bowl was filled with the barley, which I reheated with some finely diced onion and celery, as well as some left over chicken stock.

Garnished with tempura skin, takuan, grilled peppers

A note about barley, as you are probably wondering about that. Although the Japanese diet is nearly synonymous with rice, and for most these days, sushi rice, in fact, rice has been a pricey commodity, and was not always available to all of the people in Japan. The milled and polished rice was a luxury for many, and impossible luxury for quite a few. The use of barley, either rolled or milled, was common for the lower classes in Japan. Many dishes, such as barley and rice, or barley tea survive in modern Japanese diets, but, at one time, barley was the staple for the poor.

de Mille moment

In fact, barley adds a wonderful toothsome texture to this dish. I have always loved the addition of barley to soups and rice, and this 'throw back' was quite welcome. I try to add dimensions to every element of a dish, and barley work beautifully for this. It has a very low glycemic index in the body. It has been shown to aid in lowering blood pressure, lowering serum lipids and aiding in dietary control. Not at all a bad option.

Yeah, I know, that is fried chicken skin on top, probably negates the barley benefits completely.