OMG! Omakase!

In Japan, “omakase” means “I’ll leave it to you,” or more precisely, “I trust you.” It’s a common phrase in fine sushi bars, when you put your meal in the hands of the chef and let him make you whatever he feels inspired to moment by moment.


In Topanga, “omakase” means my pal Don Schneider shows up at my house at 10 a.m. to drop off seven or eight different seafoods for a sushi dinner that evening, before he and family leave for a month to Israel to visit an ailing mother. He trusts me.

Add that to the five or six types of fish I’d already picked up at the Japanese market myself, and I was facing a potentially intimidating proposition.

Fortunately, I am not in the least intimidated by large quantities of food — I simply roll up my sleeves and get to work.

Spicy scallop ceviche on crispy rice

Spicy scallop ceviche on crispy rice

Among the Donnie leave-behinds were four rather large and difficult-to-open clams, and a jar of raw oysters. These I dredged in liberal amounts of flour and lightly fried to a crisp, then drizzled with ponzu and lemon juice for an appetizer.

Our pal Andras, lurking dolefully about the canyon awaiting dinner invitations while his wife and kids are away, showed up with a splashing tub of green liquid. “Matcha panna cotta,” he announced, dashing past us toward the fridge. “It didn’t have time to set. I didn’t account for the windy canyon roads. It’s all over my car.”

Andras digs in

Andras digs in

After the crispy bivalves were gone, I passed a platter of raw sweet shrimp drizzled with yuzu citrus and truffle oil, served with the crisped heads on the side. And then, I directed people to the table — it was time for the Big Show to begin.

An omakase-at-home is a wonderful way to do a dinner party, if you’ve got the gumption. Make a big bowl of sushi rice, buy a bunch of fish, and send out eight or nine courses of tasty little Japanese bites — your guests will be on the floor with awe. And it’s really quite easy. Much of the work — preparing the rice, slicing the fish, making simple sauces, frying garlic and shallots to sprinkle on top, even making your rice balls — can and should be done ahead.

Seared bluefin tuna with jalapeño and fried shallots

Seared bluefin tuna with jalapeño and fried shallots

Our omakase began with crispy rice cakes topped with raw scallops in a chipotle citrus mayonnaise. From there, it was a parade of small bites of fish — albacore with ponzu sauce, halibut with lemon juice and truffle oil, hamachi with artisanal soy sauce, salmon with sweet onion, monkfish liver in ginger soy, sea urchin with yuzu, seared bluefin with jalapeño and fried shallots.

While at the Japanese market, I had found a beautiful piece of Wagyu beef on sale. It was a very, very lean cut, with no fat visible at all. So I did what I like to do when I’m dealing with very lean beef — I served it raw. The dish — a Japanese-style carpaccio inspired by Nobu Matsuhisa, with crispy garlic, scallions and a drizzle of hot oil that gave it just the slightest sear — came toward the end of the meal, and was sensational.

Japanese-style carpaccio

Japanese-style carpaccio

There was only one thing left to do — check on Adras’ panna cotta in the hopes that another three hours in the fridge had done the trick.

Sure enough, the confection had set from a soupy thing to a jiggly thing. We scooped out the luxurious silky tea-green cream into bowls to make a startling discovery: Why, that creative Andras had buried beneath the panna cotta a gorgeous magenta compote of raspberry! The dessert was as beautiful as it was delicious.

Andras' green tea panna cotta

Andras’ green tea panna cotta

I encourage you to plan an omakase for your friends — go ahead, trust yourself. And even if you don’t, here’s a recipe for the beef carpaccio.

I know you can do it, I believe in you.

*    *    *

Japanese-style beef carpaccio
serves 4-6

1 lb. lean wagyu or prime beef
3 garlic cloves, halved and cut lengthwise into thin slivers
1 tbsp. capers
3 scallions, chiffonaded
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup canola or grapeseed oil
1 tbsp. sesame oil
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Place the beef in the freezer about 1 hour before you are planning to prepare the carpaccio.

While the beef is freezing, heat 1/4 cup of the oil over medium-high heat in a small butter pan or saucepan. Drop in the garlic, stir, reduce heat to medium-low and let cook until golden and crisp, usually 5-10 minutes. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels. Repeat the same process with the capers, until they are crispy. Keep oil when you’re done.

Mix together the soy sauce and lemon juice. Remove the steak from the freezer. It should be about half frozen, firm to the touch, but not rock hard. With your best knife, slice very thin slices from the beef, against the grain, and arrange artfully on each of four plates (or six plates for a smaller appetizer-size serving).

When all the meat has been sliced and arranged, reheat your oil plus the tablespoon sesame oil over high heat until it begins to smoke. Drizzle soy/lemon sauce over each of the plates. Then, drizzle each with a tablespoon or so of the piping hot oil. Sprinkle with fried garlic and capers, and scallions, and season to taste with pepper.

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cheryl "Cheffie Cooks" Wiser
    Aug 15, 2015 @ 13:46:45

    Greetings Sean looking great!


  2. Michelle
    Aug 16, 2015 @ 00:14:59

    Gumption indeed.


  3. Trackback: Structural Crab | skinny girls & mayonnaise

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