Takikomi Gohan しいたけと鶏の炊き込みご飯 (Rice steamed with shiitake and chicken)

takikomi_gSpring vegetables are nowhere to be seen yet, so the only comfort one may find in the kitchen is a new exciting dish with winter ingredients that start to become boring. The discovery of takikomi gohan has not only made me forget that mushrooms and carrots have been my staples of last months, but it has also unveiled a whole new world of potential experiments with what I see as a  lazier cousin of fried rice.

Takikomi gohan (炊き込みご飯) is a Japanese rice-based dish where all the ingredients are steamed together in a rice cooker or in a pan (for those who have mastered rice steaming in a pan). Its variations are infinite, they can change according to the season, to the fridge content, one’s preferences and for me the only limit would be not using the ingredients that become too soft during the steaming process (for example, I would never use courgette or French beans here). In short, I’m enchanted by this one-pot dish that doesn’t require much attention or efforts.

I found this recipe whole looking for new ways to use up my big stock of fresh shiitake mushrooms. I stumbled upon a video on Cooking with Dog, the food channel many of you know probably very well and didn’t look anywhere else. As always, the procedure is well explained and yields delicious results. I have made several modifications, also adjusting the amounts to a dish for two, so check the original recipe here.

TIPS: Normally you will end up with a thicker or thinner sticky, slightly burnt layer at the bottom, formed by juices, marinade liquids and rice. I must say I was scared at first that maybe my European rice-cooker reacted badly to this new method, but according to my Japanese friend A. it’s normal and for many people it’s the best part of this dish, so don’t worry if it happens to you too and enjoy the crunchy bits!

Since all the marinade juices ended up in a sticky layer at the bottom, my rice was barely seasoned, so I have added some soy sauce before serving.

You can easily make this vegetarian, skipping the chicken and adding more mushrooms.

I don’t like mushy carrots, so I have cut them into thick pieces. It’s up to you how big the pieces will be of course.

If you don’t like fresh ginger (I know some people find it soapy…) you can very well skip it. It’s far from necessary here.

Preparation: about 40 minutes

Ingredients (serves two):

1 Japanese cup of rice (180ml)

200 g shiitake mushrooms

1 medium carrot

1 small chicken breast

1 piece of konbu (about 4-5 cm long)

1 teaspoon of ginger, very finely shredded

Marinade:

3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce (or less if you use normal soy sauce)

1 tablespoon sake

1 tablespoon mirin

30 ml dashi (Japanese stock)

fresh herbs to put on top before serving (mitsuba would be perfect, but you can add also chives or green onions)

more soy sauce

Cut up the chicken breast into bite-sized pieces (slices or chunks).

Put into the marinade.

Wash the rice until the water in the bowl is clear (I usually rinse it three-four times and soak it for 30 minutes if I have time, but I admit skipping the soaking stage quite often), put into the rice-cooker, add water as required and the konbu sheet.

Cut the carrot into bigger or smaller pieces, depending on how soft you want it to be.

Slice bigger shiitake caps and remove tough stalks (small shiitake have soft stalks, so you don’t have to remove them).

Add the shiitake, the carrots and the ginger to the marinating chicken and coat well.

Place the vegetables and the chicken mixture on top of the rice in the rice cooker, close and cook as usually.

Before serving remove the konbu, then stir well the ingredients in the rice-cooker.
Add soy sauce and serve.

Katsuobushi to Goma no Furikake (Dried Bonito and Sesame Seed Topping)

katsuo_furikake

“Sprinkling” would be the closest translation of “furikake”, though I guess “topping” sounds more correct. Furikake ふりかけ(“furikakeru” means “to sprinkle” is one of those Japanese food inventions that merits to be more known and practiced all around the world. If you don’t like eating plain white rice (I know many of us Westerners are not big fans) and you have already been bored with soy sauce as seasoning, then furikake is what you are looking for! It is a more or less complex condiment sprinkled on top of rice, bringing additional flavours and texture. A bowl of steamed rice, a fried or poached egg on top and some good quality furikake are a dream meal for me!

Every time I go to Japan, apart from the usual, well-known and loved products, I bring newly discovered food items. Last November I brought several kinds of what I believe to be high quality furikake (I was told that cheaper “supermarket” furikake tend to contain MSG and/or chemical preserving agents). I liked all of them, but one furikake particularly stood out of the whole lot. As soon as I ended the package, I decided to copy it or make something as similar as possible. I have managed to decipher only a part of the ingredients, but thanks to my Japanese friend A. and her precious help I was able to start experimenting and… I think I have succeeded! I no longer have the original furikake to compare, but my homemade version tastes almost the same and is definitely equally delicious. It is salty, sweet, slightly sour, slightly smokey, packed with umami… addictive and fantastic treat for all the katsuobushi fans!

TIPS: The below amounts should be treated as an example. Adjust the flavours to your own preferences (especially in terms of sweetness, acidity and saltiness).

Sake is not on the ingredients’ list, so you can skip it (I thought it added a very pleasant aroma).

If you don’t have shiitake powder or konbu powder, use a coffee or spice grinder to grind drired konbu and shiitake. You can also use fresh shiitake, but I’d grind them first in a food processor and dry in the oven. (Using fresh mushrooms will cut down the shelf life of the furikake.)

The ingredients on the package (and below) contain “konbu dashi” (Japanese seaweed stock). It’s very easy to prepare, but if you don’t want to bother, I guess you can use a powdered version. I have never posted a konbu dashi recipe, but luckily there is Nami and her Just One Cookbook blog!  Click here to see her very well explained konbu dashi recipe.

Preparation: about 15 minutes

Ingredients:

2 big handfuls of katsuobushi (preferably small or medium flakes)

1 heaped tablespoon toasted white sesame seeds

2 tablespoons sugar or syrup or honey

4 tablespoons konbu dashi (powdered or click here to see Nami’s konbu dashi recipe)

1 tablespoon mirin

1 tablespoon sake

1 teaspoon powdered konbu

1 teaspoon dried shiitake

3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce or 1/2 of it normal soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 teaspoon oil

(salt)

If you use sugar, dissolve it in dashi.

Heat the oil in a pan.

Add half of the kastuobushi and the sesame seeds.

Stir-fry on low heat until the katsuobushi start becoming golden.

Take the pan off the heat.

Add all the liquids, the syrup or the honey and the powdered shiitake and konbu.

Continue simmering the mixture until the liquids evaporate.

Taste and adjust the flavours (add more vinegar/salt/sugar or syrup).

When the mixture starts sticking to the pan, add the rest of katsuobushi.

Give it a stir and store refrigerated in a closed jar. (It should keep several weeks in the fridge or maybe even months, since there are no fresh products that might spoil).

New Mexico Chile Sauce

chilesaucepMJ, the specialist of New Mexican cuisine and a living encyclopaedia of local chilli (called chile in New Mexico) lives far far away from me, but when I first visited her blog (MJ’s Kitchen) I felt instantly close to her since we both share a passion for chilli peppers in all their forms. Thanks to MJ’s generosity I was able to discover green chile powder. Today I wanted to share with you the famous chile sauce which I was able to make from genuine New Mexico products, once again thanks to the wonderful gift parcel sent by my dear friend. It was deliciously hot, beautiful, smelled fantastic and was completely different from all the hot sauces I know. As the first chilli sauce without any oil it’s also the lightest chilli sauce I have ever made. In short, I couldn’t have asked for more.

As a chilli sauce addict I have at least one kind of homemade chilli sauce in my kitchen every day, not to mention several store-bought jars, so obviously I am thrilled every time I learn a new recipe. As I have mentioned, this one is completely different from everything I know, but from my short experience I can say its versatility goes well beyond the New Mexico cuisine, I am not experienced in yet. Apart from Huevos Rancheros (see MJ’s recipe here), I have used it successfully simply with fried eggs, on an open sandwich, with grilled sausages instead of ketchup and even in Japanese rice dishes! I can very well imagine it as a dipping sauce for anything and as a sauce served with grilled or roast meats. It will certainly be another staple in my collection of hot sauces. Thank you once more, dear MJ, for your generosity and for this fantastic discovery!

Even though I was lucky to use genuine New Mexican chilli and oregano, I am certain that they can be replaced with dried chilli of any origin and “standard” oregano too (see the TIPS below). As a serial recipe modifier, I couldn’t stop myself from making some changes here too. First of all I made only a tiny batch because I was afraid of spoiling the precious products I have received (I obtained about 200 ml of sauce). Since MJ has posted two different versions of chile sauce (one made with whole dried pods and another made with powder), after tasting the extremely hot 100% pequin chile sauce I obtained, I have decided to add mild chile powder and thus combined both recipes. I have also added some agave syrup and vinegar used by MJ in powdered chile sauce… and am not sure how far I went away from the original New Mexico flavours, so make sure to check here MJ’s original chile sauce recipes.

Other homemade ideas chilli addicts might like:

Italian Peperoncini sott'olio

Italian Peperoncini sott’olio

Japanese: Easy Taberu Rayu

Japanese: Easy Taberu Rayu

China: Salt-Pickled Chilli Peppers

China: Salt-Pickled Chilli Peppers

Japanese: Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

Japanese: Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

TIPS: You can use only whole chilli pods here of any variety (see below). If you must do it with chilli powder only, follow MJ’s recipe here because the procedure will be different.

Mexican oregano is much more aromatic than European oregano, so I suggest doubling the amounts if you have the latter and adding the second half after boiling the sauce, when it is cooling down (otherwise the sauce might become too bitter).

You can use water or stock her, but bear in mind that if you only refrigerate the sauce, it will keep longer if prepared with water (if you freeze, it doesn’t make any difference).

Special equipment: food processor (with this amount a baby food processor works best); spice or coffee grinder

Preparation: about one hour (including the time to make the liquid cool down and a second mixing process)

Ingredients (yields about 200 ml):

13 dried short red chilli pods of your choice, especially in terms of heat level (if you have only very hot chilli pods, add some mild chilli pods or chilli powder; I have used 7 very hot pequin chile pods and added 3 tablespoons mild New Mexican chile powder) 

300 ml water (or stock, see the TIPS)

3 tablespoons mild New Mexican chile powder

1/3 small onion (I have used shallot), roughly chopped

1/2 garlic clove, roughly chopped

1/5 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground

1/5 teaspoon Mexican oregano or 2x more “normal” oregano (if you use “standard” oregano, don’t add all of it at once; see the tips above)

salt to taste

1/4 teaspoon vinegar (or more to taste)

1/2 teaspoon agave syrup

Remove the green stalks from the chilli pods, shake them to remove the seeds (you might need to squeeze them a bit to do it).

Place the chilli pods, the onion, the cumin, the oregano and the water in a small pan.

Let it simmer for about 20 minutes until the pods are well softened.

Put aside and let it cool.

Mix the solid parts (chilli pods, onion, spices, garlic) in a food processor with half of the water from the boiling process. If using chilli powder, add (to start) 2 tablespoons of it.

Add the remaining water slowly to obtain the desired consistency.

Taste the chile sauce. Add salt, vinegar and agave syrup.

If it’s too hot, add more mild powder and mix. Taste once more, add more syrup, vinegar or salt if needed.

Let it stand about 10 minutes. Mix once more.

The sauce keeps for one week (at least) in the fridge.

If you used stock instead of water it might have a shorter life though.

Red Curry with Pork and Green Fresh Peppercorn

pork_currypAs many foreign Thai cuisine fans I am impressed by the number of ingredients used in every curry, not to mention the mystery of their combinations. I keep on wondering how the cooks cited by David Thompson in Thai Food (THE book to buy if you are seriously interested in this cuisine) decided on the composition of a curry. First of all, the items used to create numerous pastes, but also herbs, roots and other condiments. In this curry I had no doubts at least about the presence of fresh peppercorns: not only do they go perfectly with the paste and the remaining ingredients, but, most of all, they are ideally suited for pork.

In fact, if it hadn’t been for this curry I would have probably never discovered fresh peppercorns.  Until very recently, each time I saw them I assumed it was another exotic vegetable I had no idea how to use… I had known pickled green peppercorns for long years (I suppose they are popular in many Western countries), but would never suspect the grape-like clustered grains to be the raw version of what we buy bottled! Now that I think how much I love the very popular French pork pâté with pickled green peppercorns, I shouldn’t be surprised I have appreciated so much the Thai combination of tenderloin with fresh ones.

I’m not a peppercorn specialist and I’m sure you can find detailed information on Wikipedia, but for those who have doubts: black, white and green peppercorns are exactly the same fruit of the same plant. They are simply processed (or not, in case of raw ones) in a different way. It’s a bit like black and green olives or green and black tea…

As usually, I tried to follow the recipe as closely as possible, but, as always, I have seriously cut down on coconut milk and cream because of the taste (I simply preferred a less rich, sharper version ) and for dietary reasons (just like I try to cut down fat in many Western dishes). Another thing I do is thicken most curries; they end up still liquid, but not as soupy as they probably are in Thailand. I have also doubled the amount of meat and adapted the ingredients to a dish for two. I have used pork tenderloin and its use forced me to change a part of the cooking process. You can use any cut you prefer, but if you have a fatter or/and tougher pork cut, check David Thompson’s steps to follow (and of course to see his unaltered recipe).

The missing holy basil is the only not intended change. Unfortunately, the only day I had a chance to take the photograph of this particular curry (not obvious during the rare daylight hours I’m at home during the winter…), I didn’t have holy basil, cited in the ingredients list. If you can find it, definitely buy it! (Holy basil, or graprao, is pungent and has green serrated leaves, while the more popular Thai basil is totally different: it has dark violet hues and smells like liquorice or anise seed).

TIPS: 

Fresh peppercorns
I know some of you cannot find fresh peppercorns (though do not despair! if I find them easily in several shops in my Swiss city, I’m sure you will find it in many other much bigger Western countries; sometimes fresh produce is sold also online, especially in the USA). Look out for Vietnamese, Thai and generally Asian shops (here even a big supermarket for restaurants sells fresh peppercorns in the Thai section) and ask about the ingredients (sometimes they have small batches arriving once a week). Using rinsed pickled green peppers is another solution, though the taste changes a lot (I have seen these sold in several different European countries, so I hope it’s a universally acceptable tip) and I’ve also seen on some blogs the use of dried green peppercorns, but I’d go rather for the pickled version if the fresh ones are impossible to find.

Curry paste
If you cannot find the products to prepare a curry paste, it’s better to buy a ready-to-use one (in this case red curry paste is the right solution) rather than skip such crucial ingredients such as galangal, coriander root or lemongrass. Your dish will end up closer to genuine Thai cuisine. This being said… if you have all but kaffir lime zest, skip it. Do not substitute it with lime zest which has a completely different aroma and taste. To be frank, I once forgot this ingredient and the difference in the served dish was tiny… (I will probably get angry looks if a Thai visitor reads my post…).

If you find the curry paste preparation tiresome, you can easily make it the day before (or even several days) and store in the fridge for several days (tightly closed; David Thompson advises to cover it very tightly with plastic film and then close the jar/box). Do not freeze it or it will become mushy (some ingredients at least).

Curry paste can be prepared in a mortar (an optimal solution, apparently) or, quicker and easier, in a food processor (I use a small baby food mixer). The author recommends to add some water if you opt for the latter (not coconut milk which would make the leftover paste spoil quicker in the fridge). Water makes it easier to obtain a smoother paste in a food processor.

Coriander root
Coriander root appears practically in every curry paste ingredients list, so it’s a very important product. Thai and Vietnamese shops sell (at least here) coriander with roots, but if you cannot get it, you might ask for roots at any farmers’ market (vendors will be surprised, but you will probably get them for free next time you come!) or buy potted plants (it’s really worth it!) or grown your own coriander or, at worst use the lower parts of stalks, but they will be much much more pungent.

Freezing fresh ingredients
I have realised that – purists might criticise me here – certain Thai ingredients freeze quite well (though they do lose some of their aroma, so I advise using a bit more of these; I usually use 50% more kaffir lime leaves for example). I have been freezing kafir lime leaves, grachai, galangal (this one loses quite a lot in the process, but is still acceptable), coriander roots and fresh pepper corns. Frozen ingredients are obviously better than no ingredients at all and definitely better than dried ones.

Do not freeze homemade curry paste (certain ingredients become mushy when defrosted).

Special equipment: a mortar and pestle or a small food processor (baby food processor is perfect), coffee/spice grinder (if you don’t use a mortar)

Preparation: about 60 minutes (if you use tenderloin)

Ingredients:

about 300 g pork tenderloin in one piece

300 ml coconut milk

2 tablespoons coconut oil (or about 500 ml coconut cream according to the original recipe)

pinch of salt

offcuts from the lemongrass used in the paste

1 teaspoon palm sugar

2 tablespoons fish sauce

2-3 tablespoons green fresh peppercorns

3 kaffir lime leaves, finely sliced (or more, if you use frozen leaves)

a handful of holy basil (graprao) leaves

1 long red chilli, julienned

Paste:

6 long dried chillies (or more!)

large pinch of salt

6 tablespoons chopped lemongrass ((remove the outer tough leaves, the upper 1/3 of the stalk and also the lowest toughest small bit, use the offcuts in the “stock” at the beginning)

2 tablespoons chopped coriander roots

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

First prepare the paste.

Soak the chillies for about 15 minutes in warm salted water.

Drain and cut into pieces.

Roast the cumin and the coriander seeds (don’t burn them).

If you intend to use a food processor, grind the cumin and the coriander seeds in a spice or coffee grinder. If you use a mortar, start grinding them in a mortar, adding one by one the remaining paste ingredients, starting from the toughest. If you use a food processor, simply put the ground spices and the remaining ingredients and mix everything, adding water if necessary to make a smooth paste.

Combine 200 ml of the coconut milk, the lemongrass offcuts and the salt.
Boil for about 20 minutes.

Add the pork loin and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Leave to cool in this “stock”.

Remove the cold meat from the stock and cut into bite-sized pieces or slices.

Fry the paste in the coconut oil + the remaining coconut milk (about 100 ml) or in coconut cream for several minutes.

Add the palm sugar and the fish sauce.

Add the pork, the kaffir lime leaves, the peppercorns and as much of the coconut “stock” as you need to obtain the desired thickness of the curry.

Just before serving add the holy basil leaves and sprinkle with fresh chilli.

According to the author the curry should taste hot and salty at the same time, so adjust the taste accordingly.

 

 

Pork Roast with Fresh Chilli and Green Chilli Powder

chilliroast_I have never managed to make a satisfactory roast photograph and this one was particularly difficult, so if I dare showing it here, there are important gustatory reasons. The crazy idea of stuffing pork with fresh chilli peppers came from my husband, who sincerely hates my beloved prune stuffed version and I must admit he had a good intuition! It might look clumsy and messy, it might not be photogenic, but this delicious fiery roast is a revolutionary discovery for the big chilli addicts we both are.

Apart from the unusual stuffing, another novelty in this roast was the presence of green chilli powder, which I happily own for the first time in my life thanks to MJ, my dear New Mexico blogging friend. I have been reading about green chilli powder on MJ’s Kitchen for years, so when she kindly sent me this wonderful gift (together with some other treasures I won’t mention here yet because you will all get extremely jealous!), I jumped on the first occasion I had to use it. If you don’t know it yet, green chilli powder (or rather “chile” as it’s called in MJ’s region) it of course made from green (unripe) chillies and has obviously a green colour. It’s surprising not only visually, but from the aromatic point of view. It smells incredibly fresh, it has a delicate tingling effect on nostrils (sneezing guaranteed if you inhale too much) and the smell is so complex, it’s hard to believe it comes from one ingredient only. Thank you so much, MJ, for this wonderful discovery!

Replacing my usual red chilli powder with green one in my pork rub resulted in a much cleaner, more elegant and fresh result and I simply loved it! Even though slightly drier than a prune roast, this one was amazingly good warm on an open sandwich with… pickled chilli pepper, making it a triple chilli treat!

TIPS: If you use lean meat (like I do), do not expect a moist result, like in the case of prune stuffing (though chilli does moisten the meat slightly, of course). The drier result is the reason why I preferred it sliced in a sandwich (not necessarily cold!) rather than as a part fo a warm “standard” meal.

It is usually advised to roast pork for one hour per 1 kg of meat. For our everyday meals I usually buy a small piece of loin (about 600 g), brown it first in a pan and this process reduces also the further time of roasting. Feel free to apply your own roasting method here.

Stuffing pork with anything is not difficult, though if you want to make it neatly, it might be a bit tricky with fresh chilli (it was easier to achieve a more or less aesthetic effect with prunes for example).

You can use any fresh chilli you prefer, its hotness level depending on your habit and resistance.

It has nothing to do with chilli, but I strongly discourage you from stuffing pork with garlic, unless it’s a fatty meat cut and you bake it for hours. Garlic will not soften quickly (I think it needs at least two hours inside of meat or maybe more) and you will end up with harsh-tasting, tough bits of garlic in your roast (I did it once).

If you want to learn more about green chile powder and its use, visit MJ’s Kitchen and discover her fantastic New Mexico cuisine.

Preparation: about 1 hour (+ marinating time, but it’s not necessary)

Ingredients (serves two – three or makes about ten big sandwiches):

600 g/about 21 oz pork loin (or any other pork cut you prefer; the fattier, the juicier it will be)

Rub:

salt

dried garlic powder (see the super easy home recipe here)

a very generous amount (I have used two tablespoons because the chillie was not extremely hot) of green chillie powder (of course use red one if you don’t have it, but you should probably reduce the amounts)

4- 5 long green or red (or a mixture of both) fresh chilli peppers; use medium hot chillies of you don’t support very hot food

oil

Start with the stuffing.

First of all wear gloves to protect your skin from chillies.

Remove the seeds and cut the chillies into long thin strips (not thicker than the blade of the knife with which you will make the “tunnel” cuts)

Make about 8-10 long cuts (tunnels) with a rather narrow-bladed knife inside of your roast (lengthwise).

Using your fingers stuff them with the chilli strips (do this after each cut, so that you remember well where you did them).

Leave some space at the end of the tunnels: the chilli strips will swell slightly and stick out of the roast otherwise.

Rub the meat on all sides starting with salt, then rubbing with garlic and then with the dried chilli powder.

Put the roast into the fridge (covered or wrapped) for several hours or overnight (or even more if you wish). (You can skip this step if you are in a hurry, though the taste will not be as good).

Heat the oven to 180°C.

Take the meat out of the fridge about 30 minutes before browning it.

Heat some oil in a pan and brown the roast on each side (about 1 minute per side).

Place the roast into a greased baking tin, pour some water at the bottom (several tablespoons).

Bake for about 30 minutes, pouring (use a spoon), once or twice, some of the juices on top of the roast (make a test after 20 minutes: if you insert a skewer the juices should be clear, without any reddish traces).

Take out of the oven and make it rest for about ten minutes before serving.

I thought it was best on an open sandwich (warm or cold).