Sunday, August 5, 2012

Braised Carrots with Hijiki Seaweed

I've been cooking from Washoku cookbook a lot lately.  A friend of mine asked me why I was ruining all the fun.  If I was planning to go to Tokyo to study with Washoku's author, Elizabeth Andoh, why take all the surprise out of what I would be cooking with her?  Yes, I tend to take all the fun out of my own culinary education.  For example, what better way to ruin the CIA boot camp program than work in a restaurant for a year before going?  But there is method to my madness.

The students who make the most of my classes are the ones who have tried the cooking techniques on their own before coming to class.  Even if their pre-class attempt at making pasta dough or deglazing a pan was a disaster, they couldn't have invested their time better.  By the time they were in class, they knew what could go wrong, so they knew what to pay attention to.  If their pre-class attempt was successful, they could free their mind from worrying about the basic procedure and focus on the subtle points that could help them improve further.

No matter how hard you try to pay attention to everything that happens in class, you can't.  There is too much visual and audio input.  But if you already have info in your head about some topic (doesn't matter if the info is right or wrong), the new info you are bombarded with in class has something to stick to.  Otherwise, it goes in one ear and out of the other.  Of course, it can take some of the surprise element out of being in class.  I remember how most of the guys I went to college with were complaining how boring the classes were the first two years.  While I was desperately scribbling notes and "paying attention," they were taking a nap.  Yet even in their nap state, they could absorb the occasional tid-bits that were new to them better than I could absorb anything in my awake state.

Does watching food TV count as class prep?  Nope.  Sorry.  Can watching the Big Bang theory make you better at physics?  You don't need to be Sheldon Cooper to know the answer to that.  Unfortunately, even watching the best culinary educators, like Julia Child or Jacques Pepin does absolutely nothing unless you are deboning that duck on your coffee table along with them the way Amy Powell did in the Julie/Julia movie.  The guys who were bored in my computer science classes were the ones who spent 10 hours a day coding, not watching TV shoes about other geeks.  To make a long story short, I am cooking a lot of Japanese food right now to make my time in Tokyo as productive as possible.

Hijiki Seaweed is not something you see on many Japanese restaurant menus in the US.  Not sure why.  Is the black color off-putting to most diners?  I had it in my pantry from my unsuccessful attempt to use it in place of wakame in miso soup.  Turns out hijiki needs much more soaking and cooking time than wakame.  Elizabeth Andoh's recipe for braising it with carrots turned out great!  Hijiki pieces have plumper middles and tapered ends resulting in an interesting textural contrast.  Iheir deep sea flavor is nicely balanced by the sweetness of the sauce and earthiness of carrots.

Where to buy Hijiki:  I found a bag of it in H-Mart, but I am sure most Japanese grocery stores carry it.  Here is what it looks like dry -- kind of like black tea.

Don't let the lack of English on the front of the package scare you off.  The back of my package labels it "Me Hijiki."

Soy-Braised Hijiki and Carrots
adopted from Washoku cookbook by Elizabeth Andoh

You can buy hijiki in Japanese grocery stores.  About Sake -- please don't use "Sake for cooking."  It's as nasty as "Cooking wine."  I was able to find real Sake at my wine store.  For cooking, you don't need anything expensive.  I only spent $12 on mine and am now keeping it in my fridge for further use.  For sesame seeds, it's best to buy them white and roast them in a skillet right before use.  But I only had roasted sesame seeds on hand this time.

1/4 cup dried hijiki
2 teaspoon vegetable oil
1-2 carrots, peeled and cut into julienne strips (about 1 cup)
1 Tbsp sake
1 cup dashi (basic sea stock)
1 Tbsp sugar
1-3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp roasted sesame seeds
  1. Put hijiki in a bowl (at least 2 cups in capacity).  Add warm water (about 105F, but exact temp is not important).  Soak for at least 20 minutes, drain, rinse, and pat dry with paper towels.
  2. Heat 1 teaspoon of oil in a 12 inch skillet (preferably non-stick) over high heat.  When oil shimmers, add hijiki and cook stirring constantly until aromatic, about 1 minute.
  3. Add carrots and another teaspoon of oil and cook stirring for another minute. 
  4. Add sake and cook stirring until absorbed.
  5. Sprinkle evenly with sugar.  Add dashi and bring to a gentle simmer.  Lower the heat, cover with the lid askew, and cook until all the liquid is absorbed, 12-15 minutes.  Taste a piece of hijiki.  If it's not tender enough to your liking, add 1-2 tablespoons of water and cook until absorbed.
  6. Stir in soy sauce to taste.  Start with 1 Tbsp and add more as needed.
  7. Let rest covered for 20 minutes.  Can be served warm or at room temperature.  Before serving, drain off excess liquid and sprinkle with roasted sesame seeds.  Leftovers will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for a few days.

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