Shoyu Chicken with Gochujang (Chicken Simmered in Soy Sauce and Gochujang)

shoyu_goch_chickIf you ask me what I have been eating most often for the last three years, Shoyu Chicken would certainly be among the top ten. The frequency with which I prepare it is not only due to its irresistible taste and texture, but also – and maybe most of all – to its extremely low difficulty. Actually, I cannot recall any other equally effortless warm dish. Even though, after dozens of times, the original recipe is still my favourite in my house, I have obviously twisted it more than once. This gochujang (Korean chilli paste) version has also become a staple and is always welcome whenever the chilli addict in me requires an urgent dose of spicy food.

This recipe is based on the original Shoyu Chicken, a Hawaiian recipe found on a wonderful, inspiring blog Humble Bean, which is unfortunately no longer continued. “Shoyu” means “soy sauce “in Japanese and even though this dish comes from Hawaii it does have a Japanese influence of course. Since the first time I prepared it I have cut down on the soy sauce amounts (and always use the low-sodium version), but otherwise I still prepare it the same way and never get tired of it.

If you cannot find gochujang or don’t feel like having a spicy meal, try this mild version:

Shoyu Chicken

Shoyu Chicken

TIPS: If you like soft chicken skin, leave the skin on, but for me the result was much too fatty, so I did it only once and have always skinned the legs since then (it’s really very easy and takes maximum five minutes for two legs).

Try to use chicken pieces with bones, which add lots of flavour.

I strongly advise using low-sodium soy sauce. You will have less salt in the final dish, but more of the wonderful soy sauce taste.

Do not skip the vinegar. The dish will not be sour, but the vinegar adds a certain je-ne-sais-quoi you will like. (You can use any vinegar you have, unless it’s something like raspberry vinegar, etc. of course).

It’s obviously delicious served with kimchi.

Preparation: about 1 hour – 1h30

Ingredients (serves 2 – 4 people depending on the size of the legs):

2 chicken legs (cut into two pieces) with or without skin

100 ml (about 3 fl oz) low-sodium Japanese soy sauce (or 70 ml of “normal” soy sauce)

300 ml (about 10 fl oz) water

60 ml (about 2 fl oz) agave syrup or honey

2 tablespoons rice vinegar (or any other vinegar)

2 heaped tablespoons gochujang (Korean chilli paste)

2 big garlic cloves chopped or sliced

toasted sesame seeds

(1-2 tablespoons sesame oil)

Bring all the sauce ingredients to a boil (apart from the sesame seeds and oil).

Lower the heat, put the chicken into the sauce, cover (add more water if needed) and let it simmer for at least one hour until the meat falls apart from the bones.

Finish cooking it uncovered until the sauce thickens.

Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and with sesame oil.

Serve with rice (and kimchi, if you have it).





Eringi Mushrooms, Buckwheat Groats and Teriyaki Sauce

eringi_buckpSome dishes suffer from even the tiniest modification, but sometimes what seems a daring crazy fusion idea proves one of the most natural harmony of flavours and textures. Such was the case with buckwheat groats with eringi mushrooms, both seasoned with teriyaki glaze.

Buckwheat grains/groats (sometimes labelled “kasha”) are dried, slightly triangular seeds of a plant (Fagopyrum genus) which is not a grass, nor a cereal, even though it looks like one and is not related to wheat. They are very rich in protein, contain minerals, antioxydants, iron and are gluten free, so they can be consumed by people who don’t tolerate it or try to reduce it. They are particularly popular in certain Eastern and Central European countries, usually consumed in a toasted, nutty tasting version. Reduced to flour, buckwheat is consumed in other countries too and soba noodles are probably now the best known product.

Even though soba noodles are widely consumed, all the Japanese I asked have never tasted untransformed groats. Porridge-like dishes, made with non-toasted groats do exist in Japan (thank you, Hiroyuki, for the links), but I guess it’s difficult to find their fans… Meanwhile, in several Eastern and Central European countries buckwheat groats have been a part of traditional diet for a long time, often served with dishes in sauce, as a carb side-meal, instead of potatoes or bread. Their toasted version is the one most people prefer and know (actually I discovered the non-toasted one only some years ago, finding it utterly bland and pointless). When cooked, they have a smokey, nutty aroma, a slightly crunchy texture (there is a certain resemblance to quinoa or barley) and are perfect with mushroom dishes.

Obviously, I wasn’t surprised that eringi (also called king oyster mushroom, Pleurotus Eryngii), as a particularly versatile mushroom, went well with both buckwheat and teriyaki sauce. Luckily the latter also proved a dream seasoning for buckwheat groats. In short, a simple but delicious autumn recipe I’ll be making with other mushrooms too.

In case you wonder what else to do with buckwheat, you can also fry it like you do with leftover rice:

Fried Buckwheat Groats

Fried Buckwheat Groats

TIPS: Buckwheat groats are not such a crowd-pleaser as white rice, for example, mainly because of their texture, but also because of the strong flavour, so don’t be surprised if you don’t like them (if you are a quinoa/barley fan, there are more chances you like them).

I strongly advise against buying non-toasted, light greenish buckwheat groats. Most buckwheat groats lovers (including me) hate this bland, softer form. Toasted buckwheat groats are luckily easy to recognise: they are simply brown.

Buckwheat groats are easy to overcook (mushy ones are not good at all…), so respect the cooking time and don’t worry if it doesn’t work for the first time. Sometimes it depends on the brand, on the pan, etc..

I prefer my teriyaki sauce less sweet than the one usually served in Japanese restaurants, but feel free to add more mirin or sugar.

Preparation: about 30 minutes

Ingredients (serves two):

150 g/about 5,3 oz toasted buckwheat groats

1/2 teaspoon salt

300 g/about 10,5 oz eringi (king oyster) mushrooms, sliced

Teriyaki sauce:

9 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

3 tablespoons sake

3 tablespoons mirin (sweet cooking sake)

(freshly ground pepper)

Put the buckwheat groats into a cup.

Measure the double of the buckwheat’s volume in water.

Pour the water into a pan. Bring it to a boil, add the salt.

Throw the buckwheat into the pan and let it cook partially covered at medium heat for about ten minutes.

Lower the heat and let it simmer, fully covered, for about 5 more minutes.

The water should be completely absorbed by the grains. If it’s not absorbed yet, put the pan aside, leave the cover on and it will get absorbed without cooking too. (If it’s absorbed, cover the pan anyway and put it aside keeping it warm).

Heat the glaze ingredients in a pan until it thickens.

Put aside.

Grill the mushrooms on a grill or hot pan brushed with oil.

Turn them after 5 minutes and cook 3 more minutes.

Warm the teriyaki glaze while grilling the mushrooms. Mix 2/3 of it with buckwheat groats and 1/3 with mushrooms.

Taste the buckwheat and add some more soy sauce if it’s not salty enough.

Serve the mushrooms on top of buckwheat.

(Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper).


Hira Yachi (Rolled Okinawan Pancake with Green Onion and Canned Tuna)

hira_yachipThe abundance of chives and green onion on my balcony garden has led me once more to look for new dish ideas. As a result I found one of most original ways to cook canned tuna and made my very first Okinawan dish. This deliciously addictive pancake proved also an excellent occasion to take out the rectangular pan previously used only for Tamagoyaki (Japanese rolled omelette) and practice the tricky rolling process.

Encouraged by the fantastic Udon and Spring Onion Burgers, I decided to continue browsing through Japanese recipe sources. When I read this pancake had Okinawan origins, I was thrilled to learn a Japanese regional dish. I learnt from this website that “Hira Yachi” (ヒラヤーチー) is the Okinawan dialect version of the term “hirayaki”, which means roughly “flatly fried”. In fact, all the other Hira Yachi I saw on internet are fried in one thin layer, so I guess I was lucky to stumble upon this unusual rolled version published on Cookpad by Kirakira. Of course, this pancake can be made flat and then rolled on a plate, but finding a second use for my tamagoyaki pan was such an exciting perspective, I wouldn’t even consider skipping this step!

It’s difficult to describe the flavours of this pancake, but it tasted much better than I imagined. Most of all it is really pleasantly chewy and slightly bouncy, so a pure delight if, like me, you are a fan of such textures. I love dried bonito flakes, but instead of adding it into the batter I sprinkled them on top.  The author suggests Worcestershire-style sauce or okonomiyaki sauce, but I found thick chilli oil (taberu rayu) the ideal pairing. I have also used much less flour, so go to Cookpad to see the original Kirakira’s recipe and the step-by-step photographs (here is the Japanese version in case you are interested; strongly recommended for all the Japanese learners who are also passionate cooks).

TIPS: If you cannot get garlic chives, use normal chives or green onion leaves and grate one small garlic clove (this is what I did).

If you don’t want to roll this pancake, simply fry it flat making several thin pancakes (the amount will of course depend on the pan size).

Preparation: about 15 – 20 minutes

Ingredients (serves two as a snack):

sesame oil (or any cooking oil) to fry

100 g flour

1 egg

pinch of salt

150 ml Japanese dashi stock (I have used this “emergency” shortcut dashi recipe)

80 g (a small can) drained tuna (I buy only white tuna, but any tuna would be ok here)

katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes)

several leaves of garlic chives (nira); I have used green onions and small garlic clove instead (see the TIPS)

(chilli oil with sediments, aka taberu rayu)

In a bowl combine the flour, the egg, the stock, the salt, the tuna and the chopped garlic chives.

You should obtain a pancake batter consistency, so adjust the flour or stock amounts accordingly.

Heat some oil in a pan and heat it (the best would be rectangular, but a round pan will do the job too).

Pour a thin layer of the batter and cook it al low heat; when it’s half set, lift the pan from the heat and start rolling the pancake. (I found that rolling in the direction towards me was easier.)

(Either finish here your rolled pancake and continue the same way with the rest of the batter or, like me, roll the second layer.)

Push the roll towards one side of the pan (the the handle side is more practical).

Grease the pan once more, holding the soaked paper towel in chopsticks.

Pour once more the same amount of the batter. Spread it evenly, moving the pan.

Make sure it arrives under the rolled first part of the pancake (lift the roll slightly while spreading the mixture).

When this portion is almost cooked, lift the pan from the heat and roll the pancake, starting with the roll you have previously made. Take the roll out of the pan.

(Do not make a third layer or the pancake will become too thick and soft – I have tested it -, so if you are left with some more batter, make a second rolled pancake.)

Squash slightly the roll with a wide spatula, transfer it onto a chopping board.

Let it cool down slightly and cut into equal pieces.

Serve with katsuobushi, green onions and chilli oil if you like it.



Thai Red Curry of Scallops

scallopcurryForget all you have ever heard about scallops having a fragile taste or being easily spoilt by strong and hot seasoning. This fiery dish, bursting with bold flavours – like every Thai curry – proves exactly the opposite. After years of eating my beloved mollusc prepared in various ways, I can say without hesitation this is by far my favourite scallop dish.

I have found this jewel of a recipe in David Thompson’s Thai Food, a beautifully edited, high-quality cookery book I have been reading and testing for the last few months. Until now, I have only posted Squid Salad (a dream treat for squid lovers), but all the other dishes I tried proved also fantastic and highly superior to what I have ever had in any Thai restaurant. These results are not accidental: they are obtained thanks to the use of genuine fresh ingredients and, in the case of curries, a homemade paste is the crucial reason of the stunning difference. This scallop curry is the perfect example of the elegance and sophistication only a homemade paste can yield.

Even though David Thompson has completely changed my way to see the Thai cuisine (for example I will never even consider using a commercial curry paste), I must confess I do not follow all his recommendations… I do not prepare fresh coconut milk, as the author urges everyone to do, and I allow myself to reduce significantly the fat content in coconut milk/cream – based curries. Served in my house as the main course with rice and some vegetables, they are much too rich and, anyway, it’s an old habit of mine to lighten dishes as long as they remain delicious. In this recipe, I have also used more scallops (and in general indicated this recipe, normally for four, as serving two, since I have it only with rice and vegetable side dish, which is less than a typical Thai meal). Even though I’m a coriander fan, I didn’t like it here; sliced kaffir lime leaves and chilli seemed a sufficient “fresh touch” at the end. For the original recipe, check David Thompson’s wonderful book.

TIPS: Since every curry paste I prepared was different from the previous one, every ingredient is of a high importance and cannot be skipped, so if you embark on a curry paste making adventure (though, since it takes me about 5 minutes, I don’t know if “adventure” is the right word), make sure you have ALL the required products. You will be thrilled to recognise them, afterwards, one by one in the finished dish.

I am able to buy all the fresh ingredients necessary for Thai pastes in Asian grocery shops and I know these are available in many European countries, so I hope you can get those in your city too. (Some can be sold frozen, for example kaffir lime leaves).

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 (not coconut milk; see below), which makes it easier to obtain a smoother paste.

This recipe will yield more paste than necessary; the remains can be stored in the fridge for several days and then used once more (I experiment with other ingredients). Do not add coconut milk to the paste before refrigerating because it will spoil quicker.

Do not freeze the remaining curry paste! You will completely spoil its aroma and texture.

I have realised that – purists might criticise me here – certain Thai ingredients freeze quite well (though they 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. Do not freeze homemade curry paste, Thai basil or coriander leaves. Frozen ingredients are obviously better than no ingredients at all and definitely better than dried ones (do not even try to dry kaffir lime leaves).

Preparation: about 40 minutes

Ingredients (serves two):

Curry paste:

5-8 dried long hot red chillies (deseeded, soaked until soft in warm water and drained)

a big pinch of salt

5 thickish slices of galangal

4 tablespoons chopped garlic

3 tablespoons chopped lemongrass (remove the outer tough leaves, the upper 1/3 of the stalk and also the lowest toughest small bit)

3 tablespoons chopped red shallot

1 tablespoon chopped coriander root

10 white peppercorns

1 heaped teaspoon roasted shrimp paste

14-16 scallops (depending on the size and your appetite, of course)

500 ml (about 2 cups) coconut cream (I have used only 250 ml coconut milk instead)

1 tablespoon palm sugar

2 tablespoons fish sauce

250 ml stock (or coconut milk; I have used homemade chicken stock because I prefer a cleaner taste)

4 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced (I always remove the central vein)

1 tablespoon thick coconut cream

1 fresh red chilli, sliced

(coriander leaves, torn; I don’t like their presence here, so I have skipped them the second time I prepared this curry)

Prepare the paste, grinding all the ingredients in a mortar or mixing in a food processor, adding some water in order to obtain a more or less smooth paste (see the tips above).

Heat the coconut cream (or milk, if you opt for a lighter version), add 3 tablespoons of the paste (mine were well heaped) and stir-fry for about 5 minutes.

Add the sugar, the fish sauce, the stock (or coconut milk) and let it simmer until it thickens.

Add the scallops and 2 sliced kaffir lime leaves.

Let the scallops simmer until they become opaque (if they are not completely covered in liquid, you might have to flip them once).

Taste the seasoning and adjust so that the flavours are at the same time salty, hot and fragrant thanks to the kaffir leaves.

Serve the individual portions or on a serving plate, sprinkle with the fresh chilli, the remaining sliced kaffir leaves and coriander, if using.

(Refrigerate the remaining paste for several days and use it with other ingredients.)


Chawan Mushi 茶碗蒸し (Japanese Egg Custard) with Chanterelle Mushroom

chawan_girppChawan Mushi with Chanterelles crossed to my mind a couple of days ago, when I was still half asleep, taking first sips of my morning coffee. This gives you an idea about how much I love this mushroom and, accidentally, how often I think about cooking…. I followed my plan the same evening and must proudly say that it turned out the best chawan mushi and, at the same time, the most sophisticated chanterelle dish I have ever tasted.

Chawan Mushi (茶碗蒸し) is a very light savoury egg and stock custard, steamed in special cups and one of the most versatile (and delicious) Japanese dishes I can imagine. The traditional version calls for a precise list of ingredients, but I have never managed to assemble them and have experimented with the basic custard recipe so many times, I even don’t remember the details of the “standard” version. During my numerous tests I discovered chawan mushi is best served with crusty buttered bread and I definitely prefer it made with chicken or vegetable stock, rather than the Japanese dashi. (The chicken stock version was suggested by renowned Shizuo Tsuji in “The Japanese Cooking. A Simple Art”, so I feel entitled to say this without feeling I have spoilt a genuine recipe). 

I must have prepared chawan mushi several dozens of times and tested at least a dozen different versions, but this one is by far the most surprising of all. The delicate custard, made with homemade chicken stock, was an ideal company for chanterelles, in terms of both, texture and flavours. A simple seasoning of salt, pepper and butter were all the chanterelles needed. A pinch of turmeric added a certain je ne sais quoi, without hiding the delicate flavours and I must say I was surprised at how well fresh mitsuba – the usual chawan mushi herb – went with chanterelles. If you like chanterelles, try this combination before their season ends. Having tried different – Asian and European – mushrooms in chawan mushi, I can say that chanterelle beats easily all of them.

If you cannot get chanterelle, you might like some of these chawan mushi versions:

Chawan Mushi (Egg Custard) with Asparagus

Chawan Mushi (Egg Custard) with Asparagus

Shungiku no Chawan Mushi (Egg Custard with Chrysanthemum Leaves)

Shungiku no Chawan Mushi (Egg Custard with Chrysanthemum Leaves)

Chawan Mushi with Shrimp and Green Peas

Chawan Mushi with Shrimp and Green Peas

Chawan Mushi with Chicken and Thai Basil (Horapha)

Chawan Mushi with Chicken and Thai Basil (Horapha)

and you look for other ideas to cook chanterelle, these two might be useful:

Filo Rolls with Chanterelle and Goat Cheese

Filo Rolls with Chanterelle and Goat Cheese

Chanterelle and Goat Cheese Tart (Tartlets)

Chanterelle and Goat Cheese Tart (Tartlets)

TIPS:  I don’t know about every country in the world, but for me, whether you pick the chanterelle in the forest or buy it, it’s definitely not an everyday fare. If bought, it’s probably not the cheapest food item, so make an effort and prepare your own chicken (or vegetable) stock. Given the delicate ingredients, the stock’s taste is quite pronounced and its quality will make a huge difference (it’s not as important in the above versions of chawan mushi, in my opinion).Don’t skip the butter and under no circumstances do not replace it with margarine!

Even though chawan mushi is easier to prepare in a steamer, Shizuo Tsuji’s suggestion to use a water bath in the oven gives excellent results. Actually this is the way I prepare it because the steamer plate in my rice cooker is too low for my favourite heatproof cups.

If you don’t have a nearby Japanese grocery shop, individual, but high heatproof cups may be difficult to get. I have found very good ones at IKEA (even though without lids, which can be substituted with tightly wrapped aluminium foil), but as soon as I got hold of the beautiful Japanese chawan mushi cups you see above, I stopped using the old ones.

Remember to pre-fry the chanterelles: they are quite firm anyway and you will reduce to a minimum the liquid they might release. Moreover, the final stage of frying with the addition of butter and ground pepper is an important flavouring step.

Chawan mushi can be served with a salad and bread (or rice and pickles) as a light main course, but it’s also a fantastic starter, a delicious breakfast or snack for any time of the day.

Chawan mushi can be reheated in a microwave. Depending on the ingredients it will lose more or less of its flavours (this one was almost as good reheated for my afternoon snack).

Special equipment:

individual heatproof cups (at least 6 cm high, mine were 6,5 cm high, with a 7,5 cm diameter) with lids or without lids + aluminium foil to cover them

Preparation: 45 minutes

Ingredients (yields 4 cups):

1 tablespoon oil or butter

500 g/a bit more than 1 lb chanterelles

salt, freshly ground pepper

2 teaspoons of butter

(a pinch of turmeric)

(mitsuba leaves)


2 eggs

300 ml/about 10 oz homemade chicken stock or, if you are a vegetarian, a vegetable stock (normally I would say you can use also dashithe Japanese stock, but I believe here it will not enhance the chanterelle’s flavours) 

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sake or mirin (with mirin the custard will be slightly sweetish)

1 teaspoon soy sauce

Preheat the oven to 220°C (or prepare your steamer).

Clean the chanterelles. Cut the big ones into pieces and keep the smallest ones intact (for decoration).

Heat the oil or butter in a pan and fry the chanterelles until their size has reduced and they start sticking. Season with salt, pepper and stir 2 teaspoons of butter into the pan.

Put aside.

Boil a lot of water and prepare a big baking dish at least as high as the heatproof cups.

Mix the eggs very delicately in a bowl. In another bowl combine the chicken stock, salt (it depends on how salty your stock is), sake/mirin and soy sauce. Pour the stock mixture over the eggs and stir well, without beating.

Divide the chanterelles equally into the four cups, leaving about a dozen of the smallest ones for decoration.

Strain the custard mixture and pour into the garnished cups.

Cover the cups with aluminium foil or the lids if you have special cups with lids.

If you use the oven, place the cups in a big baking dish. Fill the dish with hot water (not boiling). The water should arrive up till 3/4 of the cups’ height.

Put the dish in the oven and let the custards bake for 15-20 minutes until they are wobbly but already set.

If you use a steamer, steam for about 20 minutes.

If you have mitsuba, garnish with mitsuba leaves just before serving and add the small mushrooms you have kept aside.

Serve hot or cold with bread/toast for breakfast, with a salad for a lunch, as a snack or as a starter.