My Habit

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I have a relatively new habit: Macadamia nuts.

I’ve always loved these salty, buttery treats. But in the past limited my consumption to trips to Hawaii, or to the one or two canisters I would bring home from one of those visits — those usually saved for cooking. But I’m a snacker, and looking for a healthier alternative to salty potato chips, I thought I’d purchase a bag of the Australian dry roasted macs at Trader Joes. Surely the $8+ price tag would keep me from developing a habit, I thought. More

Hara Hachi Bunme

“When the crew at el Bulli sees a tree, it is only a tree. The Japanese, however, see more than just a tree. A very small part of that vision is what we try to incorporate at el Bulli. It is not science, but Japanese cuisine that has had the most influence on el Bulli…”
— Ferran Adria

I write a lot about the Japanese. And I cook a lot of Japanese food. The Japanese aesthetic in regard to food is in many ways the strongest influence in my own cooking, whether I’m doing Japanese or something else. But especially when I’m being creative and coming up with my own dishes, free of regional influences. It is then that the lessons of the Japanese are most obvious in my food. More

Sushi 101

It took me a bloody decade to learn how to properly make sushi rice. I’m going to tell you right here and now so you won’t suffer the same fate.

Crab & matsutake dynamite

Once you’ve got the rice made, the rest is paint by numbers. Although you’ve gotta have a nice sharp knife and really fresh fish, which I get at the Japanese market. They’ve got everything I could want — toro, hamachi, albacore, uni, sweet shrimp, halibut, salmon, etc. If you live in a big city you’ll have no problem finding a Japanese market with sashimi-quality fish. If you live in a reasonably good town, you should at least be able to find some sashimi-grade ahi (Trader Joe’s has sashimi-grade ahi and frozen sashimi-grade scallops, which I’m gonna tell you how to make scallop “dynamite” with…) If you live in the country, you may have to settle for cooked shrimp.

Here’s how to do the rice:

1 cup short-grain white rice (Calrose or sushi rice)
2 cups water
1 tbsp. seasoned rice wine vinegar (or 1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar and 1 tsp. sugar, mixed)

Rinse the rice in water: put the rice in the pot you intend to cook it in, and run some tap water over it. Swish it with your hand. It will become cloudy. Pour the water out, and repeat until it’s no longer cloudy (usually takes me 4 or 5 rinsings/swishings). Then cover with water and let sit for 15 minutes.

Drain the rice (all the water does not need to be drained, just most of it), add your 2 cups of water, cover and place on high heat. Once your rice begins to boil, cook for one minute. (You may need to lift the lid once or twice to prevent it from boiling over.) After the minute, turn to low, cover and cook for exactly five minutes. Once the five minutes is up, turn heat to high again and cook for 30 more seconds. Turn off and leave sitting, covered, for 20 minutes.

When the 20 minutes is up, remove lid and add vinegar, stirring very gently with a wooden spoon or spatula without breaking the rice kernels. When done, spread the rice within the pan and cover with a damp towel until ready to use.

For sushi, you’ll slice your piece of fish width-wise across the grain into sashimi-size pieces. Then you dampen your hands, take about a heaping teaspoon of rice in one palm, place two fingers from the other hand on top of it and fold your hand around it to form a small sushi rice patty. Repeat until you have as many rice balls as you have fish slices. Smear each with a dab of wasabi and place your sushi on top. “Irasshaimase!!!”

Or, you can make the ever-popular scallop dynamite, which I might happily point out makes ample use of mayonnaise (I made it in the above picture with king crab instead of scallops, and delicious matsutake mushrooms which are available in the fall at Japanese markets or in the woods near my mom’s house):

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Scallop Dynamite

1/2 lb large scallops, cut in quarters
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sliced mushrooms
1/4 cup white onion, cut lengthwise into slivers
1/4 cup shelled edamame beans (soybeans)
Dash of chili sauce (Mexican, srirachi, whatever you’ve got…)
Dash of soy sauce
1/4 cup grated jack, mozzarella or colby cheese
toasted sesame seeds

Mix together all the above ingredients except the cheese and sesame seeds, being careful not to destroy the mushrooms in the process. Place in a small baking dish or a sheet of foil with the edges turned up. Sprinkle cheese over the top, and broil in a hot oven for 10 or 15 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and golden. Remove.

Put a scoop of sushi rice on each of two plates (four smaller scoops if you’re serving this as an appetizer) and flatten out slightly. Carefully divide the dynamite between the two plates, scooping on top of the rice (you don’t want one guy to get all the yummy golden cheesy part). Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.

Getting Crudo

Love raw fish but getting tired of soy sauce? The Italian equivalent of sashimi — called “crudo,” which means “raw”— is a perfect alternative.

Crudo comes in as many variations as there are Italian restaurants. A dish of crudo rests on three pillars — sashimi-grade fish, a tangy dressing of either lemon juice or balsamic vinegar, and the best olive oil you’ve got. Then you add various “decorations” like minced arugula, shaved parmesan, etc. As you can see from the above photo, it’s also a knock-out to serve to a date or at a small dinner party, as its beauty knows no limits.

I’ve found the best fish to use to be albacore, ahi tuna, halibut or scallops. Yellowtail works nicely too. However, it would be a nice way to serve raw oysters or clams. Or substitute shaved raw beef for a lovely carpaccio.

The following recipe tells you how to make exactly what’s in the picture above. You can do your own riffs — I sometimes add thin slices of grapefruit, dollops of pureed fava bean, whatever is good and in season and that complements the sweetness of the fish, sourness of the citrus (or vinegar) and silkiness of the olive oil. For an artistic flourish, add a drizzle of ebony kecap manis — your friends will forgive you its Indonesian origins for its indescribable sweet, anise goodness. (And when they ask what that sweet black stuff is, just shrug and say, “Dunno.”)

Albacore Crudo

To serve 4-6:

1/2 lb albacore, sashimi-grade
12-15 ripe cherry tomatoes, cut in half
extra virgin olive oil
meyer lemon
1/4 cup arugula, cut into chiffonade (little, long strips)
1/4 cup shaved parmasan
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Maldon sea salt
freshly ground pepper

Place the sliced garlic in a little pan with enough olive oil just to cover. Head over medium until garlic begins to sizzle, and turn to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic is crisp and golden. Remove and drain on paper towel.

Arrange your serving plates. (Note: for a “communal” crudo experience, you can use one large platter, and guests can all spoon bites from the platter. This is a very dramatic and beautiful way to serve it if you have a large, beautiful platter.) Make sure albacore is very cold (it helps to put it in the freezer for 20 minutes before you begin). Slice it thinly, and arrange slices in random patterns evenly over your plates. Place cherry tomato halves artfully around the fish. Sprinkle arugula chiffonade over each plate. Squeeze a little lemon over each, then drizzle with a generous drizzle of olive oil. Sprinkle shaved parmesan over each plate, then a little Maldon salt (or kosher salt, if you ain’t got Maldon). Lastly, top with a twist of black pepper, and then sprinkle a little crispy garlic over each crudo.

Wine suggestion: a crisp pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc

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