Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Miso Market in Cambridge, MA

Sept 24 update: It is with great sadness that I have to report the closure of Miso Market.
Hiroshi Minato is an avid cook who moved to Boston from Japan.  He took one of my cooking classes when I used to teach in Cambridge.  I haven’t seen him for years until this fall when he came to one of the gatherings I organised for my students at the Catalyst bar.  When I saw the enthusiasm with which he was talking about Japanese cuisine, I got an idea.  

“Hiroshi, can you give me a tour of H-Mart?” I asked.  Extorting food related information from innocent people is my specialty.  Hiroshi said “yes,” and we scheduled a shopping trip.  We met at H-Mart, a behemoth of a store, with his friend Mina and started exploring.  Having a Japanese native and a Korean native (Mina is Korean) with me was essential.  Not that I couldn't buy a few products I was familiar with by myself, but I would never be able to choose new products to try without some guidance.  

“You should go to Miso Market in Porter Square,” Mina said as we were faced with the endless selection of products and no one around to help us.  “People there actually answer questions.”  I took her advice and a few weeks later went to Cambridge in search of a better shopping experience than H-Mart.  After that first trip, I was hooked and Miso is now my destination of choice for all things Japanese.

Miso Market is a little engine that could.  Don’t let its diminutive size fool you.  H-Mart carries a ton of products, but only a small fraction of them are Japanese.  Almost all Miso products are Japanese, so the variety it offers is not far behind H-Mart.  But the point is not whether they have 12 types of kombu or 6.  The point is whether their staff can help you find what you are looking for, or help you try a new product.  At H-Mart, you are lucky if the staff can point you to the rice aisle.  At Miso Market, the staff knows both Japanese cuisine and English language exceptionally well and everyone I met was willing to answer my endless questions.  

If you have no idea what to get at Miso, here is my usual shopping list.  

  • Kombu -- seaweed used to make dashi (basic sea stock)
  • Katsuo-Bushi (bonito flakes) -- thin fluffy shavings of bonito (tuna’s little cousin) used to make dashi.
  • Wakame -- seaweed used in salads and miso soup.  No cooking required.  Just put it in warm water or soup for 10 minutes and watch it expand.
  • Hijiki -- flavorful and toothsome black seaweed.  Here is a recipe for hijiki braised with carrots.
  • Nori -- thin roasted seaweed used to make maki rolls, and hand rolls.  They have a big variety with different crispness levels.  It’s usually indicated on the package as 1, 2, 3.  Choose less crispy (1 or 2) for maki rolls and very crispy (3) for hand rolls.
  • Soy Sauce -- They offer organic and gluten-free options.  Out of the ones I’ve tried so far, Kikkoman Extra Fancy Whole Beans soy sauce is my favorite, but for classes I usually buy Gluten-free reduced sodium Tamari in case someone has a gluten allergy.
  • Sashimi Soy Sauce -- a little bottle with the picture of raw fish.  worth buying if you make sushi at home.
  • Mirin -- rice wine with lower alcohol content than sake and lots of sugar added.  I use it in many glazed Japanese dishes, salad dressings, and even add a bit to my sushi rice
  • Shiso leaves -- in the summer I grow my own (it grows like a weed and even my gardening incompetence can’t kill it), but the rest of the year I get them at Miso market.  Shiso is very aromatic and refreshing, somewhat similar to mint.
  • Rice -- I usually get either Tamanishiki or Matsuri brands.  
  • Pocky -- maybe you have the willpower to leave a Japanese market without Pocky, but I don’t.  Besides, my kids would not be happy if I returned home without those chocolate covered sticks.  
  • Noodles -- what a difference good soba makes!  Soba from Whole Foods tastes like noodle shaped cardboard to me, but the stuff from Miso market is great.  I prefer soba with 80% buckwheat.  They also have udon, ramen, etc.
  • Miso -- I usually look for miso without dashi or other additives.  If you are new to miso, try Shiro (white miso).  There are endless uses for miso, but here are a few to get you started.  You can add it to soups, stir it into mayo with a bit of lime juice for a killer dip, and use it to marinate fish and other proteins.  
  • Dry Shiitake -- dry mushrooms give soups and sauces fabulous depth.  For Italian cuisine, I use porcini, and for Japanese shiitake.
To get your feet wet with Japanese cuisine and put your goodies from Miso Market to good use, try making soy concentrate.  It’s the demi-glace of Japanese cuisine.  To call it an “umami bomb” would be an understatement.  It’s an umami weapon of mass destruction.  If I had to have one sauce in my fridge at all times, I’d choose this sauce over demi-glace.  It tastes great on everything from fish to vanilla ice-cream.  Don’t look at me like that.  Have you never heard of salty caramel?  Well, this is better.  The good news is that it takes about 15 minutes of active time and lasts in the fridge forever, so unlike demi-glace, it’s also convenient.

You can get everything you need for this sauce at Miso market except for Sake.  Go to a wine store (may I suggest Wine and Cheese cask in Somerville?) and ask them for affordable sake that you can use for cooking.  I buy it there for about $12.

The thick shavings of bonito you see in the picture are sadly not available in the US (or at least very hard to find) and I am almost out of the bag I brought from Tokyo.  The recipe below assumes you’ll be using thin bonito flakes which should be added in the end.  If you get your hands on some thick bonito shavings, add them to the liquid to soak from the very beginning with all the other ingredients.

Soy Concentrate
(adopted from Washoku Cookbook by Elizabeth Andoh)

20 square inches kombu (5 g)
1/2 cup dry shiitake mushrooms (8 g)
1 1/3 cup soy sauce (10 oz)
2/3 cup sake (buy the real stuff, don’t use “sake for cooking”)
1/4 cup mirin
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup, plus 2 tsp sugar
1 cup lightly packed katsuo-bushi (or 10 large slices of thick bonito shavings, atsu kezuri)

  1. In a small saucepan, combine everything together except for katsuo-bushi (unless you are using atsu kezuri, in which case, add it right in).  Let sit for 1 to 12 hours at room temperature.  
  2. Bring to a boil on the stove top and regulate heat so that the mixture bubbles, but doesn’t bubble out of the pot (watch out, this sauce gets foamy, so don’t leave it unattended).  Simmer until syrupy and reduced to your liking.*  Take off heat.
  3. If using katsuo-bushi, stir them into the sauce and let sit for 3 minutes.
  4. Strain the sauce through a fine mesh strainer forcing it through with the back of a ladle.  
  5. Cool until barely warm and move to a jar or squeeze bottle.  When the sauce cools completely, cover tightly and store in the fridge.  This sauce doesn’t spoil, but is best if used within 3 months.

*Judging doneness with this sauce is tricky.  Luckily, it will still be good whether you make it thicker or thinner.  After you make it a few times, you’ll develop your own preference for how thick and syrupy you like it.  I like mine very thick (after refrigeration, I want it to feel like molasses) and this recipe only yields about 2/3 cup sauce for me.  You might like yours thinner.  The thicker you like it, the harder it is to push the sauce through the paper towel, so you might want to reduce it only in half, add katsuo-bushi, strain, then return the sauce to a clean saucepan and continue to reduce it.  Keep in mind that the sauce becomes a lot thicker as it cools.  To help you make a guess about its texture as it cooks, put a few drops on a cold plate and wait a few minutes.  Touch the drops with your finger to see how they feel.  You are aiming for the consistency of maple syrup.  

Seared hamachi, cauliflower puree, maitake and hedgehog mushrooms, soy concentrate

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Salad Olivier with Salmon and Caviar

You don’t think I gave up on my attempt to update Salad Oliver, do you?  I sometimes give up exercise routines, or resolutions to wear make up and hair products on daily basis.  But when it comes to cooking, I don’t give up.  Ever.  I finally have a version that I love, everyone in my family loves, and you might love too if you keep an open mind about what salad Oliver is.  

For my non-Russian readers, let me do a quick overview of this salad.  This potato salad was invented by a French chef in pre-revolutionary Russia.  Although there were as many versions as there were cooks, they all included potatoes, various vegetables, pickles, and luxurious meat and/or seafood bound with mayo.  After all, this was a special occasion salad.  In the Soviet times, luxurious meat and seafood were hard to come by, so people used whatever they could get their hands on.  Tough cuts of beef that were simmered long and slow to help them soften were the best case scenario, bologna was the next best, and hot dogs were not unheard of.  Surely, to contemporary cook (particularly living in the US), this does not say a special occasion.  Yet, the basic idea is a sound one and merits exploration.  After my first misguided attempt to use beef tenderloin cooked sous-vide, I decided to dump the meat in favor of fish.  Cold salmon tastes tremendously better than cold meat, so I settled on that as my protein.  

Here is the list of ingredients and my take on them.

  • Boiled potatoes, peeled and diced -- I used baby yukon gold that I steamed whole with skin, peeled, and sliced.  That’s what I’d use for Salad Nicoise and any other potato salad, so why not Oliver?  
  • Diced Onions -- I used thinly sliced shallots
  • Canned Peas -- I used frozen peas as would any reasonable Russian cook if they had them available.  Frozen are green, sweet, and delicious.  Canned are brown and mushy.
  • Carrots -- didn’t seem necessary to me
  • Hard boiled eggs -- keepers.  I probably cooked mine a bit less than most Russian cooks would
  • Cooked meat -- replaced by slow roasted and chilled salmon and a topping of salmon caviar. It definitely says special occasion. The problem is my 5 year old is now asking for it in her school bento box, caviar and all.
  • Pickles -- that’s the best part.  I used pickle brine in the dressing too.  The important thing is to use Kosher Dill and not some other type of pickle.  They need to be salty and not sweet/sour.  If pickles are not available, capers are another good option.
  • Mayo -- I made a vinaigrette enriched with cooked egg yolk, which is practically the same ingredients as a mayo, but feels lighter.  Using mayo works well too.  
Salad Olivier with Salmon and Caviar

Serves 6-8 as the first course

1 Lb salmon fillet with skin
1 Lb baby yukon gold, white, or fingerling potatoes (whole with skin)
3 large eggs, “hard boiled” (see link for instructions)
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar for dressing, plus 2 tsp for potatoes
2 tsp Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp sour cream, plus more for serving (optional)
1/3 cup thinly sliced shallots (cut crosswise 1 mm thick)
1/4 cup pickle brine, plus more to taste
1 cup frozen peas
1 kosher dill pickle, cut into 1/6 inch dice
1/4 cup minced fresh dill (or parsley, chives, tarragon, cilantro)
1/2 cup salmon roe (optional)
Salt and pepper

Cook salmon, potatoes, and eggs 4 - 24 hours before making the salad

  1. Preheat the oven to 250F.  Line a small baking dish with foil.  Set a flat rack on top if you have one.  If not, put a few thick lemon slices on the bottom of the dish.  Sprinkle salmon generously with salt and pepper and place skin side down on the rack or on top of lemons.  Place in the oven and cook until salmon flakes when prodded asse, but is translucent in the center, 18-20 minutes per inch of thickness.  Cool to room temperature and refrigerate until cold.  You can also use salmon leftovers cooked any way you like.
  2. Bring a few inches of water to a boil in a pot, set a steamer insert over the pot (it shouldn’t touch the water).  Put potatoes into the steamer in a single later.  Cover the pot and steam potatoes until tender when poked with a tooth pick, 20-40 minutes depending on the size.  Cook until warm, peel, and refrigerate until cold.

Make the dressing
In a small bowl, combine 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar, 2 tsp Dijon mustard and whisk with a fork until mustard dissolves.  Add 3 Tbsp olive oil while whisking.  Add 1 yolk from hard boiled eggs and mash with a fork until the dressing is completely smooth and creamy.  Keep the egg white to add to the salad with the remaining 2 eggs.  Stir in 2 Tbsp sour cream (if using) and whisk until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Assemble the salad

  1. Put shallots in a small bowl, add the pickle brine and let sit while assembling the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Slice potatoes 1/4 inch thick, put in a large bowl, splash with about 2 tsp red wine vinegar, sprinkle generously with salt and toss to combine.  
  3. Put frozen peas in a bowl.  Add boiling water to cover and wait 5 minutes for them to defrost.  Drain.  
  4. Cut eggs in half and slice 1/4 inch thick.
  5. Add pickles, shallots with their brine, peas, eggs, and dill to the bowl with potatoes.  Dress with 3/4 of the dressing and fresh ground pepper.  Mix thoroughly, taste, and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, pickle brine, and more dressing.  
  6. Remove the skin from salmon and break into large chunks.  Add to the salad and toss gently.  You want salmon to break down some, but not shred completely.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  
  7. Can be served immediately, but is better after sitting in the fridge for a few hours.  If desired, top with a small dollop of sour cream and salmon roe before serving.