Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Japanese-style Food, and Fino Sherry

I've been trying to cook Japanese food lately, and I've succeeded in cooking Japanese-style food. It's amazing how far you can get with a couple of miso pastes, some kombu (dried kelp) and dried shaved bonito flakes, some mirin and shoyu.

Here is one recipe that my daughters and I have been enjoying - Japanese-style stew with beef and potatoes. Disarmingly simple, and very satisfying, especially in this cold weather. You are essentially braising beef and potatoes in a mixture of Japanese sweet rice wine and shoyu. Here's what you do:

1) Watch the Shogun miniseries in it's entirety. This is 10 hours of your life well spent. And it gets you into the right frame of mind, as a foreigner attempting to do something Japanese.
2) Slice against the grain 1 pound of flank steak (but you can use other similar cuts) into pieces 1 inch thick, but leaving them the width of the steak. Brown the meat and remove from the pot.
3) Cut a large onion in half and slice it with the grain into long thin strips.
4) Peel two russet potatoes and cut them into chunky half moons, chunky enough to hold together in a braise. 
5) Peel a decent sized knob of very fresh ginger and grate it finely.
6) Mix together a quarter cup of good quality mirin with a quarter cup good quality shoyu, and 1 cup of good quality hand-poured water. This is the ratio that I like, but you can add more shoyu or mirin - they are strong flavors though and this combination is nicely balanced.
7) Saute the onions in the beefy pot, but don't brown them. After they have cooked for a few minutes, add the ginger and mix well.
8) Add the braising liquid and bring to a simmer.
9) Add the beef and the potatoes, bring to a boil and immediately turn down the heat to a simmer.
10) Cover with a Japanese drop-lid, or if like me, you don't have one, cover the pot with a damp piece of parchment paper and a tight-fitting lid. Every 15 minutes or so move the stew around the pot to make sure that all the meat and potatoes have a turn being submerged.
11) When the meat is very tender, maybe 90 minutes, turn off the heat and let the whole thing rest for 10 minutes or so.
12) Top with scallions and serve over rice.

Would it surprise you if I tell you that this dish is fantastic with Fino Sherry? A lot of Japanese food is great with Fino Sherry. There is the umami factor - Japanese home cooking and Sherry both have it, and they compliment and elevate each other tremendously. But it's more than that. As I understand it, one of the ideas in Japanese cooking is to bring out the essence of the ingredient, to accentuate the beef's beefiness, or the radish's radishiness, if you will. Fino Sherry, with its very pure chalky saline and savory flavors somehow enhances the purity of the flavors in Japanese dishes.

One night I drank Emilio Hidalgo's beautiful Fino called La Panesa with this dish, and I swear to you it was as good a pairing as any I've had in a very long time.
On another evening I made a simple Savoy cabbage, daikon radish, and pork dish, simmered again in a light mixture of mirin, shoyu, and water. First of all, this is seriously delicious. My young daughters were happily eating Savoy cabbage, that's how good it was. There was half a bottle of La Panesa leftover, and surprise surprise, it was a wonderful pairing.

Tonight I made tofu with snap peas, carrots, and onions simmered in a mixture of red and light miso pastes, mirin, and water. Again, the daughters lapped it up - these girls like the savory.

And I drank the old reliable Valdespino Inocente, a spirited little half-bottle. I'm telling you, if you're into Sherry and you haven't tried it with Japanese (or Japanese-style) food, you really should.

One day I will learn to make oden like this. Probably not, actually. But at least I had the sense at this restaurant to pair it with the very grand La Bota de Manzanilla No 22. As Morgan Freeman said at the beginning of the movie Se7en, "This isn't over - there are going to be more of these."


Asher said...

"Watch the Shogun miniseries in it's entirety."

Although it's been twenty years since I read the book, I still remember it as being fascinating. I was a new exchange student, arriving on December 30 to a Chinese university that was closed until Jan 4. I read Shogun in three days.

Anonymous said...

NWR:Had the same experience with the book. The devil of it was that he'd end every chapter with a crisis, so you just said "I'll read one more chapter until I get to the end of this crisis, but...." Locked myself in my apartment for a couple of days....

WR: the Sherry thing is wine's greatest recent revelation....just fantastic food pairings.....thanks, BG

Smell My said...

I know how to hand pour and I know water. But seems that simply putting water into a cup and hand pouring it makes me wonder why you didn't just say 1c H2O.

Pedro said...

I *will* have the recipe for the cabbage/daikon/pork thingie. I was going to threaten for it, but because, you know, Interwebs, I'll beg instead - pleeeeeease?

Anonymous said...

I enjoy your blog. Sherry is great, but to make this meal even more authentic try it with some imo (sweet potato) shochu. The kuradashi genshu shochu mentioned in this post ( diluted with some hot water will go fantastically with this meal. I was fortunate enough to pick up a bottle in Kagoshima, Japan - the Jerez of shochu. I don't know if this is available in New York, but you are fortunate to have some stores in NYC that might carry similar products. Please note that imo shochu is even more of an acquired taste than fino sherry.