Monday, March 22, 2010

Chef Jules Talks About Japanese food

Hello Friends,
My interest in food is universal and includes many different ethnicities. Italian will always be number 1, but I also love Japanese, Thai, Chinese and French cuisine, and usually in that order.
I want to talk about Japanese food in this post. With a population of 4.3 million in New Zealand, Japanese people make up approximately 0.6% of that total. Koreans, virtually all from Southern Korea, out number Japanese, so it shouldn't come as any suprise that many "Japanese Restaurants" are owned by Koreans. Therefore authenticity cannot be guaranteed. I certainly have my favourites, in fact I often decide what I feel like on any given day, or night and go to the place that I know will deliver the best result. For example, it is usually one place for poached eggs, another for omelettes and yet another for Bagels, and that's just for breakfast! Talking of Japanese food, I break it down even further by going to one place for Sashimi and Sushi, another for tempura and another for Unagi or eel. It's the curse of being a chef. I am lucky enough to live within walking distance to a Japanese takeaway/cafe, situated off the main street in a courtyard. It's called  Wild Onion, a rather unlikely name for a Japanese place, is very casual and only opens during the day. It is a one man operation, run by a very stressed Japanese man, often seen hurrying towards the main street with his sandwich board, obviously running late. He is friendly enough, shows pride, attention to detail in his work and certainly makes the best Unagi Nigiri, ever! He assured me the eel was imported from Japan and is extremely tender. The rice is well cooked and sticky, his miso soup is also very good. Wild Onion only has 4 tables and one gets the impression that the owner prefers to have customers take the food away, for example, even when dining on the premises the food is served in a takeaway container and the miso soup comes in a cardboard cup. He also acts as the waiter, thereby inconveniencing and slowing his food preparation.
The eels are fresh water (Anguilla Japonica) and are pre-cooked and finished off when required. I have tried eel in many places and usually it is very tough, but not the Wild Onion product.
Eel is commonly available in Japanese supermarkets, usually a Chinese product, boned, filleted, glaze-grilled and vacuum sealed, or frozen, known as Unagi-no-Kabayaki. Kabayaki refers to the sweet basting sauce which is similiar to Teriyaki sauce. This product is available from Tokyo Foods . Evidently, in Japan eel is cooked differently, the East being more tender as the eel is grilled, steamed and grilled again, as opposed to the West where it is simply grilled. I have also tried eel without the basting sauce, which is called Unagi
Shira-yaki, "shira" indicates the whiteness of the eel.
My other favourite Japanese dishes include, Edamame; which is young green soy beans, boiled in salted water and served in the pod. Great as a side dish to stimulate the appetite. Gyoza; dumplings filled with minced vegetables, ground meat and fried. Tempura; apparently introduced to Japan by the Portuguese in the 16th Century and is basically  fish, prawn or vegetables, coated in a very light batter and deep fryed. Soft shelled crab; deep fryed and served with a sweet chilly sauce. Sushi; a roll containing rice, and a variety of other ingredients wrapped in Nori (seaweed sheet) and sliced. Sashimi; thinly sliced raw fish, shellfish or crustacean.Yakitori; a variety of meats skewered and char-grilled. Nigiri; hand moulded rice, with a touch of wasabi paste and topped with a thin slice of raw fish or cooked eel and sometimes wrapped with a thin strip of seaweed. There are many more favourites, too numerous to mention and I haven't even talked about the Sake, hot and cold, of varing qualities!
Japanese food is all about freshness, quality ingredients, simplicity and presentation, which is why  I love it. In the photo we have Chef Jules favourite eel nigiri on the left and on the right there is a tuna sushi roll from Wild Onion, Mairangi Bay, Auckland.

Ciao for now

   

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