Salmon Extraordinary

Soon it will be salmon season! (I know you’re not buying that farmed Atlantic salmon that’s dyed orange and is ruining natural salmon runs worldwide.) And rather than that ol’ standby of slapping giant olive oil-and-soy-marinated fillets onto the grill and cooking them until they turn into chalk, I’d like to show you another — I like to think better — way of cooking salmon. (Especially if you’ll be inviting me over for dinner during salmon season.)


To Market, To Market…

I do a lot of driving around going to markets.

One of the greatest things about living in (near) Los Angeles is the number of great markets we have. (Do YOU have an Indonesian market near you!?) I once told a non-food-obsessed friend about all the markets I go to. He said, “You have a problem.” My biggest problem is that they’re not all lined up next to one another in a strip mall. So like I said, I drive.

I have been accused of being bourgeoise for my relentless proselytizing about eating fresh and shopping often. And I do realize that I am fortunate to work for myself and actually have the time to drive around to markets. More

Tokyo Tempura Bar

I was in Tokyo for business on my thirty-somethingth birthday, and my friend Joe who was traveling with me took me out to dinner to celebrate. We went to the tempura bar in the lobby of our fancy hotel. I had never been to a tempura bar before. Have you?

I’d always loved tempura, ever since I was a kid and we’ d go to the Tempura House. Over the years I’d grown used to the Big Five of tempura – shrimp, broccoli, sweet potato, green pepper and carrot. Supplemented if the tempura cook really wanted to go out on a limb with perhaps an onion ring or spear of asparagus. And I was perfectly happy with those. But the tempura bar in Tokyo was a revelation. I ordered nothing. The chef simply presented things before me — a tiny shrimp, a small butterflied fish, a leaf as light as air, a chili pepper, a piece of eel squeezed with lemon, sea urchin wrapped in shiso leaf. One after another, bites of tempura emerged from the hot oil encased in a delicate, crisp shell of batter you could see right through. No green bell pepper, no onion rings.

I like to impress my friends at home by doing tempura bar. It’s surprisingly easy and makes an even funner evening than fondue! I like to discover my own favorite things I can batter and drop into the oil — whole soft shell crabs, small bundles of snow white enoki mushrooms, chunks of king crab. And I like to offer up different dipping sauces for the different types of tempura.

You can do tempura bar at home like me! I’ll teach you. It’s best done with a small group of friends — maybe you, your spouse and your favorite other couple. And it’s the most fun if your kitchen has a bar like ours. But if not, a table will do, so long as you’re close to the kitchen. Pick up a nice cold saké and have some Sapporo on hand. Here’s how, knock yourself out:

for batter:
6 oz ice cold water
4 oz. flour
1 egg yolk

Set mixing bowl in larger bowl filled with ice. Mix together ice water and egg yolk. And flour and stir until mixed.

for tempura:
(note: you can improvise and fry almost any seafood or vegetable)
3 cups canola or peanut oil
1 cup flour, spread out on a large dinner plate
4 shrimp, cleaned with tail left on, and flattened with the flat side of a large knife
1/2 lb king crab legs, meat removed in large chunks from shells
1/2 lb boneless black cod or other whitefish fillet, cut into quarters
1 Japanese eggplant, cut into four pieces
1 small sweet potato, peeled and cut into four pieces
4 shiso leaves (or substitute spinach leaves)
1 bunch enoki mushrooms, cut into four small bundles
4 green onions, trimmed of dark green ends

Have your guests sit wherever you’re going to serve them, with plates and dipping sauces ready. You will serve each guest immediately as the tempura emerges from the oil. Give each guest a bowl of steamed rice, and have soy sauce on the table too.

Heat oil in a large wok over medium high heat until a drop of batter sizzles and floats. Cook tempura a few pieces at a time — you’ll probably want to do your tempura in stages, cooking all of one item before moving on. (i.e. start with mushrooms and shiso, move on to shrimp and crab, then eggplant and onion, etc.) Quickly dip each piece first in flour, then in the batter. Then drop in the oil. Cook for about 3-4 minutes, or until golden and crisp. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels, and serve to your guests while hot. Continue until all the tempura is cooked.

You will want to have a skimmer on hand to skim out bits of tempura batter from time to time as you go, as they will burn and lend an unpleasant taste to your tempura.

Dipping sauces:
Dashi Soy
Mix 1/2 cup water with powdered dashi stock to taste. Add 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce and 1/4 cup mirin cooking wine. Heat until warm. Serve with vegetables, shrimp.

Ponzu Butter
Heat 2/3 cup ponzu and juice from one lemon until warm. Remove from heat and stir in 1 tbsp. butter. Serve with crab, shrimp and other seafood.

Spicy Dipping Sauce
Heat 1/4 cup soy sauce and 1/3 cup sweetened rice wine vinegar. Remove from heat and stir in 1 tbsp. Srirachi or other chili pepper sauce, 1 tbsp. sesame oil and 1 tbsp. minced green onion. Serve with vegetables and seafood.

Japan’s Crack Snacks

We call them “crack” snacks, because they’re so good that they’re addictive. And you’ll find yourself plotting ways of hiding the half a bag that’s left from your spouse and kids because you want them all for yourself.

In short, they bring out the worst in you. But man, are they tasty.


Some crack snacks I bought yesterday that my wife has already gotten into


Why is it that the Japanese make snacks that are so much better than our snacks? I don’t know. They’re sometimes salty and sometimes kinda sweet and sometimes both at once. Sometimes they have a little MSG in them, which unless you’re allergic to you can live with.

I first encountered these rice cracker snacks when I was in Tokyo. I went into a convenience store and bought a whole bunch of bags of them to bring home. I didn’t know what any were, since I can’t read Japanese. Some had strange things in them like busted up little crabs or powdered squid. (You can usually avoid those kinds if you want to because they’ll have little pictures of crabs or squids on them … I realized later). Some are spicy with chili, others made with sweet nori seaweed.

How do you know which ones to get? You don’t. Just get the ones that look best to you. And where do you get them? I get mine at the Japanese markets here in Los Angeles — the Nijiya Market on Sawtelle or in Little Tokyo, and the Mitsuwa Market on Venice and Centinela. If you’re in a city you can find them in your own Japanese market. Otherwise, have fun online at (look under “Pocky, Snacks & Candy” and click “Rice Crackers”).

In the meantime, come Japanese snack shopping with me:

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