Sunday, September 18, 2011

Amattare Udon (Sweetened Sauce) Udon - 甘ったれうどん

Sorry I've been missing for a while.  I have been busy planning my next trip to Japan in 6 weeks.  Most of my planning is finished now.  Yeah!

 I love all noodles.  Especially the Japanese style.  I sometimes make my own udon.  This came about because I was told by my mother that my grandmother was an excellent udon maker.  Knowing that, I had to teach myself. It wasn't really hard because I was used to making Italian style pasta and found udon making very similar.  With pasta, I was using the machine (kind you crank) to roll and cut.  But with udon making, no machine is used.  I also sometimes make my own soba.  Soba making is hard.  It's been 75% successful and other times 25% unsuccessful.  But, when it's made correctly, it is a taste like no other.  I will at later times make posts on making homemade udon and homemade soba.  But, this post is on making very popular sauce or tare used in udon called amattare udon (sweetened sauce).  It is most often served over chilled noodles with the sauce and sometimes with raw egg.  I'm not into raw eggs so I don't use it.  I never use same toppings.  This time I used cut up tomatoes from my yard and blanched Chinese garlic green onion.  

This is what the package of amattare udon looks like.  It comes with 2 servings of dried udon and 2 packages of amattare sauce.  

I like this very much.  Unfortunately, it's not available in the US.  So, like many things I do, I wanted to recreate the tare or the sauce.  I've done similar things with hard to purchase or expensive items here in the US. I do lots of taste testing. 

The middle one is the original sauce from the package:

To test the taste with udon, I boiled udon, rinsed very well in chilled water and drizzled some of the sauce on each plate.  I topped with my favorite seasonal vegetable - cut up tomatoes from my yard.  The verdict?  Well, I like all three of them equally.  The two I made are not the same as the original one.  The original one has much more salt than my versions and much more taste of saba - or dried mackerel for the stock.  But,  tasting it by itself, I did not care for it.  With udon, it works though.  So do my versions I made.  I may still continue to work on other versions, but for now I am happy with the results.  

Amattare Sauce - Version 1

3 T soy sauce
2 1/2 T sugar
2 1/2 T sake
1 T mirin
1 tsp dashi granule or powder (if you have saba or mackerel flavor it will be closer to the original)

Place all ingredients in a small saucepan.  Heat to boil.  When it comes to boil, take it off and on the burner to control the heat so it does not burn for about 3 minutes.  The sauce will reduce to maybe 2/3 the original amount.  It is ready when the sauce is thickened somewhat and shiny.  Let it cool.

Amattare  Sauce - Version 2

4 T mentsuyu - Japanese noodle sauce (commercial or make your own - see note on link to my recipe)
2 T mirin
1 T sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cornstarch mixed with 3/4 tsp water

Mix cornstarch with water in a small bowl.  In a saucepan, combine mentsuyu, mirin, sugar and salt.  Le it come to boil for about 1 min - take it off and on so it does not burn.  Add cornstarch mixture and combine well.  Let it cool.  

This is what the udon would look like without the sauce

**Note:  You can find my own version of mentsuyu posted in - check 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tomatoes Galore!!

Every couple years, I seem to go through a blockbuster year for different vegetables and fruits I grow in my yard.  One year was grapes - 4 different kinds of grapes.  One year was Japanese cucumbers.  I went crazy looking for ways to use up Japanese cucumbers.  I did find out Japanese cucumbers do not make very good dill pickles though.  Came out too soft.  This year, it's tomatoes.  I've probably made more tomato based foods this year than any other year.  I'm slowly freezing fresh tomatoes whenever I get some free space in my packed freezers.  In addition to fresh tomatoes, I've stored pizza sauces, marinara sauces, and tomato soups that I continue to make.

I like to caramelize tomatoes a bit before making soups, marinara sauce, or pizza sauce.  I'm making tomato soup here.  Just cut up, salt and pepper, and drizzle of olive oil.  Goes in 425 F oven for about 45 minutes.  And it looks like this.

For making soups, I normally don't follow recipes unless I'm interested in certain recipes and go by taste test.  After making countless soups, you get the feel for what to use and what to avoid.  For this particular soup I minced garlic, onion, carrot, celery and saute them in olive oil until soft.  Added the baked tomatoes, 2 C of beef broth, drizzle of more olive oil, some sugar to counteract the acidity, salt and pepper, and handful of basil leaves from my garden.   Bring to boil and simmer for maybe 1 1/2 hours. Use immersion blender until well blended or can use blender.  If it seems too dry, add more water.  What I wanted was tomato soup that announced itself with lot's of tomato flavor without addition of cream, milk, etc.  The result is this.

I drizzled some more of my favorite California Olive Ranch olive oil before serving.  BTW, I highly recommend their olive oils.  I like to drizzle some over my favorite Greek style plain yogurt with some black pepper.

Along with tomato soup I made bacon, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and egg sandwich for dinner.  Yes, more tomatoes being used. We are very fond of Japanese style breads and purchase our breads from our local Japanese markets.  Our favorite is their raisin bread.  A little pricy, but just like breads found in Japan. 


Monday, September 5, 2011

How I Came to Love Tsukemono and Nukamiso Zuke

I should talk a little about my cooking experience.  My mother was an excellent Japanese cook.  Her Japanese foods always tasted the best to me and I try to remember what her foods tasted whenever I cook Japanese foods. My mother's tsukemono (pickled veggies) was food made in heaven.  My relatives and long time family friends in Japan are all what I consider excellent traditional cooks.  That is, they make many things most Japanese women no longer make such as umeboshi, rakkyo, tsukemono, jams, jellies, sesame tofu, tofu, etc.  My grandmother was apparently known for her udon making skill and I grew up listening to many interesting stories of her kitchen skills.

My mother considered her kitchen her own domain and did not like me hanging around which was ok when I was small since I would rather be anywhere else than in her hot kitchen. This slowly started to change in my last year in high school.  She let me fix salads.  As I sliced and cut the vegetables, she would watch my knife skill intently and correct it.  She was a harsh critic!!  She told me how to hold the knife, how to pull or push the knife depending on what was being sliced or cut.  Did you know that you can tell if you are Japanese or Western trained cook/chef by how you hold your knife or which way you pull or push with a knife? 

Then same year, I learned to make tacos from our next door neighbor on military housing we lived on Okinawa.  I fell in love with spicy foods and to me, very exotic taste of Mexico.  So, my mother would let me make tacos for the family.  That was the extent of my cooking in my teen years.  But, throughout the high school years, I always liked to look at food magazines.  Whereas my contemporaries were looking at fashion mags, I looked at food mags and started writing down all the recipes in a notebook I always carried around.  I also started buying food mags and cutting recipe clippings.  I still have my recipe notes and clippings from those times in a huge box under my computer table.  Do I look at them?  Not really, but I keep them just in case I need to find "that" particular dish.  It's like a security blanket for me I think.

I'll stop here about my awakening to food world and will continue at later times.  As you can see when I start talking about food it's hard for me to stop.  Back to Tsukemono and nukamiso before you fall asleep.  This is my mother's nukamiso or rice bran mash most treasured in Japan.  She made this in 1973 when she returned to the US from Okinawa.  Our second time in the US.  So, it would make this nukamiso almost 40 years old.  I've heard of 100 year old nukamiso in Japan that is past from one generation to the next. As you add vegetables, the mash get watery and liquid needs to be removed periodically and new rice bran mash added.

I placed Japanese cucumbers and Japanese turnips yesterday in  the mash.  It's ready in a day.  Best in two days.  Here it is.

Nukamiso Zuke - 

4 1/2 lb (2 kg) rice bran - nuka
10 oz salt, 300 gram
15 C water
8 " kombu (dried sea kelp), dusted off with a wet tissue
6 red chili peppers, preferably Japanese
2 oz ginger root, sliced
2 slices white bread, optional, torn in pieces
1/3 C dried soy beans, optional
6-8 garlic cloves, optional
1/2 - 1 C yellow mustard powder, optional
1 - 2 handful of vegetable scraps such as cabbage, carrots, any greens

1.  Heat salt and water in a pot and dissolve salt.  In a large pickling container (I use plastic container that fits into refrigerator), combine all ingredients including the water/salt mixture.  Vegetable scraps are used to flavor the mash in the initial phase and will be removed after 3 weeks.

2.  Mix well and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least 3 weeks before removing the vegetable scraps and adding fresh vegetables for pickling.   Every day mix the mash to get the air into the mash. 

3.  Nukamiso will be ready in 3 weeks and you can add whatever vegetables you like.  I like mine pickled between 1-4 days only.  Some people prefer longer pickling period. 

You can keep the mash going forever.  Japanese method is mixing the mash every day.  I don't.  I mix whenever I remember but when I go on trips, I cover the mash with more salt and let it wait until I return. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Annual Flu Shot and Anniversary

Yesterday morning we got our annual flu shot.  I thought about postponing because I think I have come down with a bug and feeling a little under the weather.  But, went anyway.  The whole process was quite painless -  even the shot itself.  I don't think it's the effect of the shot, but I was not feeling good all day yesterday and this morning.  But, that did not stop us from going to Beard Papa to pick up some cream puffs.  Two each of vanilla, chocolate, and matcha.   The cost is $12.99 for half a dozen.  While waiting to be boxed up, I spotted something new - well, at least new to me because I don't buy too many sweets anymore.  These were called cheesecake sticks.  Asked the store clerk to pack up two for me.  One tiramisu and another strawberry at a cost of $1.95 each.

So why did I buy sweets?  It was our anniversary yesterday.  We were planning to go to a neighborhood izakaya called Kappo Nami Nami for our anniversary dinner but we are usually too full to eat desserts right after eating and wanted to have something sweet at home with good coffee.  We used to be able to eat desserts anytime, but as we have gotten older, we are normally too full after dinner to enjoy desserts. 

Lets see if i can remember what we ordered at the restaurant.  Grilled salmon yuzu-yaki, hamachi no shio kama-yaki, uni and hotate no sashimi, squid fry with tartar sauce, cabbage roll, and beef tataki.  For drinks, I had their nihonshu (sake) sampler of junmai, ginjo, and daiginjo - not the best, but okay.  Food was ok, but I was disappointed in their cabbage roll.  I expected Japanese style cabbage roll which is usually cooked in light Japanese dashi stock.  This one was soo sweet and red.  Red is ok because I certainly love tomatoes and I love cabbage rolls made the traditional Eastern European way using tomato sauce or fresh tomatoes.  But, I noticed right away the taste of tomato soup can - you know, the one we all grew up with.  But, not only that, they added too much sugar to the sauce and the result was very disappointing.  The presentation was simple too - just 4 small cabbage rolls without any embellishment.

Since I'm not feeling too spunky, I plan on using some leftover beef and green pepper stir fry from two nights ago to make ramen for lunch.  This is what I had two nights ago.

The plate consists of beef, Japanese green pepper and bamboo stir fry, curry flavored chicken kara age and simple salad.

Curry Flavored Chicken Kara Age -

Serves 4

4 boneless chicken thigh, cut into bite size big pieces
1 egg, beaten
2 tsp curry powder
1 1/2 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sesame oil
5 tsp katakuriko, cornstarch, or arrowroot starch
vegetable oil for frying

Combine chicken with beaten egg, curry powder, soy sauce, salt, and sesame oil in a bowl.  Massage the chicken pieces well and refrigerate for about 20-30 minutes.

Add katakuriko, cornstarch, or arrowroot starch to the chicken mixture and mix well. 

Heat vegetable oil to about  355 F or 180 C.  Fry chicken pieces until nicely browned.  Remove pieces and let drain before serving.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Coping with the exchange rate

I went to my local Japanese market today and was floored by the prices of ready-made sauces and dressings from Japan.  For a small bottle of sesame sauce, the price was over $6.50.  Ouch!!  Dollar yen exchange rate is certainly making everything from Japan that much more expensive now.  I think 100 yen is hovering around $0.76 right now.

I wanted to make a fried rice recipe I saw on Japanese TV.  Nothing too different about the recipe except it used sesame sauce in lieu of soy sauce or oyster sauce for flavoring fried rice.  Never had sesame fried rice.  Have you?  Often sesame sauce along with ponzu sauce are used for shabu shabu and other ohitashi which is boiled, steamed, or grilled vegetable simply dressed with soy sauce or other sauces.

Sesame sauce is not hard to make and my version is a little different in that it also has a smidgen of rice vinegar. This sauce keeps for at least a month in the refrigerator.  Speaking of a refrigerator, I have to show you sometime how packed mine is with all the sauces, pickles, condiments, etc.  I make lots of homemade Japanese pickles and they keep forever.  That means, my refrigerator is forever packed haha.

Japanese Sesame Sauce

6 T white sesame seeds
1 T sesame paste or tahini
3 T soy sauce
1 C dashi
1/3 C sake
1 T mirin
1 tsp sugar
2 T rice vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp hichimi togarashi or red pepper flakes (optional)

Toast sesame seeds in a frying pan until you hear 4-5 pops. Remove from heat. Grind sesame seeds in a mortor or a coffee grinder until partially ground.  Do not over grind.   Place in a bowl.

Add all the seasonings and mix thoroughly.  You may have to use hand mixer or blender to combine if sesame paste is not mixing well.  Place the mixture in a microwave and cook off alcohol for 15 seconds. Place the mixture in the refrigerator to keep.

Here I am lightly dressing steamed green soy beans with the sesame sauce as ohitashi.