Jason Truesdell : Pursuing My Passions
A life in flux. Soon to be immigrant to Japan. Recently migrated this blog from another platform after many years of neglect (about March 6, 2017). Sorry for the styling and functionality potholes; I am working on cleaning things up and making it usable again.

More from Shin-Marunouchi Building

April 28: Just after my first brief visit on opening day, Hiromi and I made our way back to the Shin-Marunouchi building again in search of a late breakfast. It was still a madhouse.

Point et Ligne Bakery, Shin Marunouchi Building, Tokyo

We couldn't help but buy a lot of bread here. Point et Ligne bakery carefully illuminates the bread, but prefers to keep the staff as a background feature, assiduously assembling your order.

Yes, you want these olive-oil anko-filled baguettes

Many bakeries in Japan skip over the savory breads in favor of sugar-laden pastries... There's some sweet stuff here, but I was pleased that even the sweet treats like these olive-oil laden sweet red-bean paste baguettes avoided sugar in the bread itself in favor of an ama-sioppai experience. And there are some savory mini-baguettes just to the left of these for those who want to go straight for the butter...

Oven porn

 

Point et Ligne's extremely open format doesn't hide the guts of the operation. I wouldn't want to be the one responsible for keeping those beasts sparkling clean...

Contemporary wagashi at Kanou Shoujuan

Ume zerii presented at Kanou Shoujuan, Japanese apricot jelly, available for takeout in a bamboo-shaped cylinder. We took some home to Hiromi's parents, along with a matcha jelly.

Monaka

 

Monaka, typically sweet bean paste-filled crispy cakes (the outside texture resembles an ice cream cone), also from Kanou Shoujuan.

14 Juillet Debutante

All dressed up for 14 Juillet's second day of courting new customers.

Cassis eclair at 14 Juillet Tokyo

Black currant eclair. You must have one. We did. We will never be the same.

14 Juillet Sorbet

In case pastries don't suck you in...

1F Cafe that spells like Emeril

Although the photos of their coffee look pretty, I can't bring myself to go inside a place that spells espresso like this. And no, I don't think it's a Japanese mistake... it's far more difficult to make an "ekkuspuresso" sound in Japanese than to say "esupresso." Some highly paid consultant is clearly responsible.

 

Kyoto Weekend

In front of Kyoto station
Hiromi and I departed to Kyoto Saturday morning... it was a trip full of amazingly close calls. We arrived at the Haneda airport just in time, after missing a connection. We had a few other complications involving catching buses, trains, and even the airplane back... Hiromi went to retrieve some items from a locker in Osaka station, which she had trouble finding because we turned out to be on the wrong side of the station. Already on a tight return schedule, I further messed things up when Hiromi and I were readjusting the two pieces of luggage, camera, and two shopping bags we were carrying back to Tokyo. Somehow, a strap on my backpack or maybe Hiromi's camera bag caught my eyeglass frame as I was removing heavy things from my body inside the train... My eyeglasses popped off my face, slid across the train car floor, and landed in the gap between the train and the platform, essentially unreachable to the most dexterous and skinny of human bodies. The station attendants suggested we wait for the train to depart before retrieving the items, and we lost about 10 minutes between trains, missing a monorail connection, and again arriving just in time for the return flight.

As for the trip itself, it was both pleasant and reasonably productive. We stopped at a yuzen fabric dye and painted fabric decoration workshop, and chatted with the someone who makes pillows, purses, and other fabric-based crafts. Although I suppose these items would be quite expensive if imported in the US, I like the work and would like to try to find a way to make it possible to bring into the US.

The labor involves traditional dying and decoration processes but the look would fit in with contemporary lifestyles. Hiromi bought a purse (pictured here) that has a pretty interesting cut and looks pretty good when worn...

Our first night in Kyoto was a kind of multicourse meal involving fresh yuba, skimmed by hand from the surface of thick soy milk. We had yuba in various preparations, yubadoufu, and other pleasant things. The entire meal was pleasantly sappari, although we decided to tempt fate and order a sort of spring roll made with yuba as the skin and what turned out to be typically Japanese processed cheese inside. This was pleasant, though if I did this back home I think I'd probably be using some camembert or raclette cheeses.

We met up with Sachi, who visited me in Seattle during Golden Week, Sunday afternoon, but not before a breakfast that included a soy milk warabi-mochi. Warabi-mochi are a chewy confection which I think are actually made with kuzu (arrowroot) starch. Hiromi discovered the shop in a guidebook, and when we arrived, we realized it should have been in Fremont, were we in Seattle and if the King County Health Department didn't have an aversion to pets in restaurants. The shop was actually mostly selling dog toys and baked items for dogs, and the cafe was just there as a diversion for their customers. We had two orders of Warabi-mochi, and some Japanese interpretations of the Korean drinks soo jeong-gwa (persimmon punch with cinnamon and ginger) and yuja-cha (yuzu tea). The rest of the short menu was multiethnic and rarely Japanese. The soymilk smoothed out the texture of the warabi mochi and what we had were much creamier than the typical confection by the same name... I suppose that might be meaningless to most folks who don't spend a lot of time eating Japanese sweets, but it's the best I can do to describe it... Our dish was adorned with a maple leaf and dressed with kuromitsu (black sugar honey syrup) and kinako (toasted soybean powder).

With Sachiko, of course, we spent most of our time walking across the Kumo-gawa river toward Gion, eating nibbles at other Japanese confectioners and senbe-makers. We even sampled some usu-jio umeboshi that are typically sold for something approaching JPY 300 each (a shy $3). She had to head off within a couple of hours due to a fairly long train ride back to her home in Wakayama, and, I think, trying to match the schedule of her friends that she had visited Arashi-yama with earlier in the day.

After wandering around in search of an exciting dinner option, we backtracked to Gion and picked a restaurant where we had more tofu and yuba dishes, in addition to some stuffed Kyoto eggplant (almost Italian), grilled mushrooms with butter, salt, pepper and garlic), and some salt-roasted ginnan nuts. We had a nigori-sake (unfiltered) which was slightly effervescent, and some excellent pickled daikon served with a little grated ginger. 

Monday, we made a pilgrimage to Del Cook, in Nose, a rustic area in the north end of Osaka. We were perhaps too focused on eating and enjoying the view to take any photos of the food, but it suffices to say that everything was as beautifully presented as the rest of the scenery. We had the fancier of the two available lunch courses, and mine was altered to be suitable for a vegetarian. We started with a small bowl of chopped persimmons served, in my case, with unsweetened yogurt, some black sesame seeds, and, I think, ginnan or similar nuts. A little coarse salt provided a little contrast to the light sweetness. 

We had a creamy gobo (burdock root) soup with a little bit of milk foam, served in cute little cups and small spoons, providing a bit of an espresso machiatto deception. Some naturally leavened breads made by Del himself provided a nice accompaniment, which we soon devoured and of which we declined an offer for a second serving. The next course was a baby organic leaf salad, served with some charcoal grilled fish for Hiromi, and some similarly prepared Kyoto-sized eggplant halves in my case. Hiromi also had a course of risotto and grilled hotate (scallops), and mine was a similar risotto and some grilled matsutake mushrooms which had been hand gathered by an older woman who operates a similarly rustic Japanese restaurant next door.

Before dessert we had something of a palate cleanser course of black currant sorbet and finely chopped pears in a light syrup. A rustic apple tart was accompanied by chestnut ice cream.

After our lunch, we were able to stop in Del's kitchen and chat a bit. There was no dinner meal planned for the evening, so he was able to talk with more leisure than otherwise, although it was clear he was exhausted. He also gave us a sample of some very nice yuzu mascarpone sorbet which went out on the dessert plates of those in the second seating.

Hiromi and I took a little walk with Del and his dogs, meeting the neighboring restaurant's ducks and walking past a backyard garden. We had a beautiful view of the Nose valley facing down the hill. One of the dogs jumped into a reservoir and swam a bit, then delighted in shaking off the water as close to his human companions as possible. As we returned to the restaurant to gather our things and settle our bill, we saw the obaasan (granny, respectfully) who runs the neighboring restaurant ride up on a motorcycle after apparently running some errands. Del says that she's been known to dive for abalone herself and share the bounty with his restaurant.

Jason, Del & one of the assistant chefs de dog

The neighbor ducks

Nose valley

 

Matcha-Matsu-White-Choko Cookies

Continuing my Matcha theme, I made these cookies with cooking matcha, white chocolate and pine nuts.

Matcha Pine Nut White Chocolate cookie

Jason's Matcha-Matsu-White Choko Cookies

½ cup (113 g) unsalted butter
¼ tsp salt
½ cup unprocessed cane sugar (blond) (roughly 80g)
1 egg
½ tsp. pure vanilla essence (some may want to reduce this to avoid competition with green tea flavor)
1 tsp. Matcha for Cooking by Three Tree Tea
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup flour (roughly 150 g)
3.5 oz. (100g) white chocolate, chopped
2 tbsp. raw pine nuts (matsu-no-mi in Japanese)

Cream butter with salt and sugar. Add matcha, egg and vanilla and mix until consistent. Stir in baking powder and flour. Stir in pine nuts and white chocolate.

Drop in 1 tbsp. portions on a baking sheet with room for 3" diameters. Bake at 375F (190C) 12-15 minutes until edges are lightly browned. Rest before removing from sheet. Yields 16-20 cookies.

Because of the potential for oxidation of the matcha I don't recommend storing a supply of the dough, but you may consider freezing in an airtight container. I have made similar cookies without the white chocolate before, but with a touch more sugar.

If it’s more convenient, you can use Three Tree Tea’s Matcha Latte mix instead of the cooking matcha. Use 4 teaspoons of the matcha latte mix and only use 3 level tablespoons sugar. In the pictured version, I used Grade A or “gold” Three Tree Tea cooking matcha, but with something crispy and low-moisture like a cookie, you should get good results from the Grade B.

Kiri-tampo

A specialty of northern Japan, and particularly popular in Iwate and Akita prefectures, Kiri-tampo are usually made with uruchi-gome, which falls into the category of everday rice. The other two categories of rice are mochi-gome, the pearly glutinous rice, and saka-mai, which is riced used for brewing sake.

Miso-dare kiritampo

Kiritampo on a stick, with miso-mirin sauce

We stopped at a small lake-front gift shop while between cities in Aomori. We weren't in any hurry to do any actual shopping, but we started looking at the types of things offered as fancy Aomori omiyage so that we could be suitably jaded by the time we were actually ready to buy.

I was sucked in by a little storefront window where a woman was busy grilling kiritampo over hot sumi, Japanese oak charcoal.

We had to have one. Each.

Although breakfast was heavy, we hadn't really eaten a real lunch, so this was a nice light snack, and very reasonably priced. We placed our order and the obachan handling the grill suggested we head upstairs to sit down, where we could sit in relative comfort facing the lake.

Middle of nowhere, Aomori

Middle of nowhere, Aomori prefecture, Japan

Five or ten minutes later, our kiritampo arrived, dressed with a sweet-salty miso flavored tare (sauce). It was far more than we ever hoped it to be.

We found, but did not make use of, this helpful device...

Tabletop fortune-teller

For just 100-yen, you could use this old-school tabletop device to obtain an all-knowing omikuji, complete with horoscope.

 

Debugging my not-so-labor-saving script, relieved by apples

I remember when I could be fascinated by solving a computer problem, and I’d happily whittle away hours and hours, usually for the gain of just a few minutes of labor from time to time.

This is not so satisfying now that I am trying to build a business of my own not related to software. However, I let myself spend an insane amount of time debugging some quite simple database code and forms code, meant mostly to save some repetitive data entry work. Had I just done the tedious work, I would have spent far less time overall, but now I have a solution that should benefit me whenever I need to add a batch of similar products.

The good news, though, is that i now have all of the photographs Rob Tilley sent me online at YuzuMura.com, and I have some reusable code that will benefit me when I add other batches of products.

In the afternoon I indulged in eating most of a tremendously large apple given to me by a Nikkei-jin apple farmer on Sunday… it was so flavorful… crisp, lightly acidic, aromatic.

Ringo

Five days in San Francisco

I returned from San Francisco late last night. I took the Metro bus from the airport, which is a bit of an adventure after 10pm; this time it featured wannabe tough guy antisocial kids. The downtown transfer involved listening to a verbose guy conduct a mostly one-sided conversation with me, waxing proud about his well-behaved pitbull puppy, as his dog sniffed my luggage curiously.

When I arrived in downtown San Francisco on Friday, I checked in at my hotel, the Serrano, dropped my luggage off, then walked toward the ferry terminal to meet an old friend from college. I grabbed some food I could eat on the way, and about 25 minutes later met Jen out front of the Ferry Building. We obtained our preferred caffeine sources from the Pete's inside, and sat on a bench outside facing the bay, chatting about all sorts of things that have happened in the years since we've last seen each other, facing a stellar view.

My plane had been delayed almost two hours due to fog but it finally burned off by the time I made it this far. I had run into Greg, a colleague I had previously worked with on ad-related things at Microsoft, in the waiting area at the gate in the airport; he was headed to the Bay Area for some meetings. I learned about a job that had opened up related to a bunch of work they are having done in Shanghai.

Friday night I met my friend Sally, who works in apparel import, for dinner. We ate at a Catalan restaurant in an alley full of restaurants trying simultaneously to be large and cozy. We had some nice salad with olives and caperberries, a baked eggplant dish, an unseasonable butternut squash soup, a vegetable paella with pine nuts and currants, and a plate of cheeses with a quince-lemon paste. It was pretty decent, though I'd skip the squash soup for sure.

On Saturday, Sally took me to Japantown and Chinatown and I noted what kinds of weekly/monthly type papers were circulating targeting Japanese and Chinese immigrants and for Asian Americans. We also took a look at all kinds of stores and thought about which kinds of places might be best to approach for my Hong Kong sweet.

We had lunch at a place that serves Japanese-style western food, yet again modified to suit locally available ingredients. I had a doria, which is a rice casserole, with spinach and mushrooms and tofu. The scale was a little more American... it was too much food, and eventually a little monotonous. I just had this strange craving for doria after seeing the menu outside.

In Chinatown we looked through dozens of stores and chatted with a few shopkeepers. After a few hours we stopped at a dingy Hong Kong style cafe and bakery; my friend had some warm soy milk and I drank some strong milk tea. We ate a simple late dinner at Millenium, a pretty decent vegetarian restaurant closer to my hotel. We shared some salad and a quinoa croquette over lentils, which was adorned with a surprisingly refreshing green pea puree with lemon.

I splurged on some La Maison du Chocolat filled chocolates which I found at Nieman Marcus's food section. Apparently that's the only location of Nieman Marcus allowed to sell the chocolates; the only other places to buy are in New York, Paris, or Tokyo stores run by La Maison itself. I really wanted to see what people are paying for, since I will be selling a premium confection myself. The quality is really nice; it's very sparing with the sugar and is based on really good, carefully treated chocolate. My friend plowed through a number of them as well.

Sunday I met Sally again at Berkeley. Before she arrived by car, I wandered around and discovered that the town basically shuts down on Sunday. I did find a little soap shop called Body Time, which according to the employee working when I visited was created by a family that later sold their company name to the company now known as Body Shop.

Sally showed me another area along Fourth Street which has a stretch of gift shops and chain store concepts, and a yuppie food store. Actually the specialty food store looked like it might be an appropriate place for my Hong Kong sweet, so I'm going to try to set up an appointment with them the next time I'm in town.

We ate lunch at an inexpensive but nice taqueria; they had freshly pressed corn tortillas. I got a decent vegetarian chile relleno with fresh asparagus, and a nice fresh corn tostada. My friend had an omelette with nopales (cactus paddles). Thankfully they eschewed cheddar; they sparingly used a few types of Mexican cheese and some jack, depending on the dish; the only flaw I'd complain about is that their condiment bar didn't offer any fresh salsa, just stuff in bottles.

After I took BART back to downtown San Francisco, I met Jen, originally for a coffee, but due to a change in her evening plans we went to eat dinner at some Thai place instead. We stopped for coffee afterward. We parted around 9pm and I went back to my hotel, incredibly sleepy but I stayed up a little longer and chatted with a friend in Japan.

Monday morning I met with a soap supplier in the lobby of Courtyard Marriott in Oakland. We talked about different positioning strategies, and about which products I thought would be the most interesting. We also talked about packaging options to make the products look more compelling.

I had a little trouble getting there because I relied on my mapping software to find the place where she was staying in Oakland, and the mapping software was oblivious to the newer location of Courtyard by Marriott. I ended up having to spend money on a taxi fee to get back downtown after having changed trains to go to toward the other Oakland location of the chain.

Afterward I walked around downtown again and trekked on foot up to North Beach via Telegraph Hill; I wondered what kind of retail shops were in the historically Italian neighborhood. After wandering around fruitlessly in the area South of Market, I ate a late dinner at an Indonesian restaurant near my hotel on my own... vegetable martabak and gado-gado.

Tuesday I followed up on a couple of things I wanted to do in Japantown and Chinatown, but I was able to stop and meet Sally for lunch. She took me to the Gap corporate cafeteria and we ate typical corporate cafeteria fare facing the Golden Gate Bridge.

I also made a few media contacts when I was in town, mostly to get rate sheets and demographic information.

I basically met my objectives for this trip, but it was a fairly humble set of goals. Since I mostly wanted to get a feel for the market and see what kinds of venues might be best to approach, and my primary objective was to meet with the supplier, it didn't take much. Before I my next trip, I'll schedule some meetings to talk with potential customers.

Some indulgences, part 1, Tokyo, March 2006

Biwa

Biwa1

Mountain peach, loosely. A bit out of season.

Sakura kintsuba

Sakura Kintsuba

Wagashi filled with cherry blossom seasoned shiro-an.

Nagare-zakura

Nagarezakura

Painted, sculpted shiro-an with a cherry blossom theme, filled with koshi-an.

Three kinds of umeshu

Umeshu-nigoriKokutou umeshuRyokucha Umeshu

Nigori (unfiltered) umeshu, kokutou (black sugar) umeshu, ryokucha (green tea) umeshu. No, I didn’t drink them all; we went to a restaurant in Futako-Tamagawa, Tama-no Baiken, that featured a lot of house-made umeshu variatons and each of us ordered a different one. Mine was the nigori on the far left, and I stole a sip of Hiromi’s kokutou, both of which I would recommend.

Umeshu, frequently mistranslated as plum wine, is made by infusing a kind of green Japanese apricot in a neutral spirit such as shochu or vodka.

Nanohana and hamaguri

Nanohanatohamaguri

Hiromi and her mother ordered this clam and nanohana (rapeseed plant) dish.

Haru no yasai no tempura

Haru-no-yasai-no-tempura

Fuki, bamboo shoots and other spring vegetables, prepared as tempura.

Kuromame tounyuu toufu to yuba no nabe

Kuromamenabe

Black bean “soymilk” hotpot, with custardy tofu, yuba, leeks, and greens. We were wanting the benefit of some yuzu-koshou to enhance the experience, but this is basic Japanese homestyle comfort food with a bit of a twist.

Kisetsu no nimono

Harunoyasai no nimono

Spring vegetable nimono (simmered vegetables), with some not-quite-so-seasonal kabocha and satoimo.

Agefu

Agefu

Deep-fried wheat gluten.

Tsukemono no moriawase

Tsuke-moriawase

Pickled napa, Japanese cucumber, mustard eggplant, aka-kabu (red turnip), daikon.

Nama-fu no dengaku

Dengakunamafu

Broiled “fresh” wheat gluten, with a sweetened miso sauce. On the far right is one with yomogi (mugwort) and a dark miso. 

Paneer two ways

I thought it would be fun to do something else for Is My Blog Burning again, but this weekend I think today is my last chance. I am planning to drive to Portland tomorrow and will probably be a bit exhausted upon my return.

Yesterday I bought a big brick of paneer cheese. I never got around to cooking a real dinner last night, so except for nibbling a bit and eating the paneer with a little harissa, and eating some snacks, I never got the energy to do anything more substantial with my ingredients.

Today I came home relatively early because today’s promo event was an outside thing at Uwajimaya Bellevue, and everything shut down around 4pm. I brought the luggables from that event back to my office and went home and relaxed a bit. I’m afraid I’m a bit pink… I didn’t remember to bring sunscreen today.

This month’s theme was “Let’s Get Frying,” and although I was inclined to do another matcha fritter recipe, I’ve eaten a lot of sweet stuff in the last few days, so I decided against it.

I remembered that I have a couple of peaches still, so I made quick peach chutney, seasoned with a bit of lime juice, ginger, and various spices. I thought the bittersweetness of toasted fenugreek and the aroma of a little clove would work well, so those were the dominant accents. I did add a bit of sugar after tasting to balance the acid and spices.

I cubed paneer and coated it with some seasoned katakuriko; I had mixed in a bit of salt and garam masala, plus a bit of cayenne pepper. After coating, I let the cubes rest a bit in the freezer, atop the remaining katakuriko to prevent anything from sticking.

It might seem strange to use katakuriko when chickpea flour would be far more typical for such a dish, but I love using katakuriko for frying tofu and I just wanted to see how it would turn out. It was quite nice because the coating was very light and crispy, whereas chickpea flour tends to produce a dense and not all that crispy result. I might have used a thicker coating than would really be required, though… my fried tofu is not usually this well-covered. The most interesting thing about this little experiment is that the cheese seems to have browned inside, but the katakuriko remained mostly translucent.

Fried Paneer with Peach Chutney

Paneer Age with Homemade Peach Chutney

The chutney was better than I expected, and was a very suitable accent for the mild paneer. Unlike European cheeses, where the compliment to the cheese would tend to be either mild, such as quince paste, or salty, like olives or almonds, the paneer benefits from something a little more aggressive; in this case, sweet, acidic, fruity, and moderately spicy.

I don’t know what’s possessed me to be doing so many spicy cream sauces lately. Actually, this is only the second one this week, but I can count the times I’ve otherwise made anything resembling a spicy tomato cream sauce in the last year on one hand. This one I cut a bit with some milk, but it was still quite rich.

This second dish isn’t meant for the “frying” event, but I was actually looking forward to making this ever since the idea to pick up some paneer popped into my head on Friday.

Paneer in a spicy tomato cream sauce

Paneer with a spicy tomato cream sauce

The dish also proved a fair way of highlighting the paneer’s texture while allowing flavors from the sauce to coat each little piece.

I was surprised at how durable the paneer was. Although it softened, it didn’t show the slightest hint of melting, either in the fryer or simmering in my sauce.

Of course I ate leftover rasam and grilled eggplant from a couple of days ago. I couldn’t finish everything today by myself, and my roommate is not around, so leftovers will likely languish in the refrigerator until Monday.

Spicy nagaimo (ma) with gochujang

Yesterday, I mentioned a spicy nagaimo dish I served with that pretty tofu dish.

Although I tend to respect the traditions of the cuisines I borrow from, I'm not above mixing cuisines from time to time. I just don't tend to like the excesses of self-conscious fusion cuisine, often created by people who know next to nothing about the food or aesthetics of the countries from which they are borrowing.

I'm no genius in that regard... Although I'm reasonably well-traveled, I tend to rely on classic flavor pairings and a consciousness of the nature and function of my ingredients. While I might do some unconventional things, I don't really do fusion for the sake of shock or drama. Mostly I'm just adapting available ingredients to my situation (dinner tonight), which is pretty much how Italians figured out how to use the tomato or Koreans figured out how to make use of the chili.

Fortunately, Japanese and Korean ingredients and techniques can often be combined in simple ways without creating a culinary fiasco. It's not surprising to find some form of kimchi on a Japanese dinner table, for example.

Nagaimo with gochujang

I had some nagaimo, a starchy tuber, also called ma in Korean. Although I'm quite happy just to serve nagaimo with a little nori and soy sauce, I thought it might be nice to make use of the artisan gochujang I picked up in Korea recently. This is a fermented sauce made with Korean chilies, rice, salt, and soybeans. It's a really great way to season any number of otherwise simple vegetable dishes.

Nagaimo is very sticky, or nebaneba, and the glutinous rice in gochujang also has a kind of sticky quality. I thought it would contribute some natural glutamates (umami) and a modest heat to the nagaimo, so I simply stirred it together with the nagaimo until the sticks were relatively evenly coated. As the nagaimo is stirred, its nebaneba qualities become increasingly apparent: small strands of starch stretch into longer strands.

Because of this, it's better to serve the nagaimo in a small bowl rather than on a plate. As you eat it, the strands tend to want to stay where they started, and you might find a bit of a trail if you try to pick them up... the edge of the bowl will help head that off, and an individual serving in a little bowl that you can pick up will help minimize any embarrassment that might be caused by spreading your food around the table.

I added a little scallion and toasted sesame seed to provide some simple flavor contrast.

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Warabi no ohitashi

It's a sure sign we're in the middle of spring.

Warabi no ohitashi

I found these forest treats at the University District Farmer's Market on Sunday. The season is mercilessly brief for fiddlehead fern fronds... They'll probably be impossible to find by the time I return from my trip to Japan. So, even though I have been trying to reduce the perishable contents of my refrigerator as fast as possible, I couldn't resist picking up some fiddleheads before I go.

Warabi, as fiddleheads are called in Japanese, are typically briefly blanched in Japan to remove aku (roughly: bitterness, astringency, the "unclean" parts of food) before they are incorporated into other dishes. Often a bit of baking soda is used when blanching this type of spring mountain greens, which slightly softens them and also removes more of the traces of enzymes that, given long term heavy consumption of the plant, can lead to some health problems. This blanching technique is always used in Japan, though I think it's sometimes neglected in the US where we seem to want to immediately toss these in a pan with olive oil.

In the Pacific Northwest, my understanding is that the Chinook tribe traditionally cooked these with oil extracted from oolichan fish, which also run in the spring.

For me, I'm happiest with a simple Japanese-style preparation.

Warabi no ohitashi - close up 

I like zenmai, a similar frond common in Japan, on top of a bowl of warm soba, but for warabi I usually just make a kind of simmered ohitashi.

This is just Japanese soup stock (dashijiru), seasoned with the typical combination of mirin, Japanese soy sauce, salt, and a bit of sugar, all done to taste. Once the sauce comes to a simmer, I just add the warabi and simmer for a few more minutes. The prior blanching will also help preserve the color during the second exposure to heat.

Warabi is a little bitter, but the overall flavor is reminiscent of asparagus, if perhaps a bit more intense in flavor. Unlike most ohitashi, I serve this warm. As a result, the dish is almost like nimono, even though it's not cooked quite as long.

 

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