Welcome to the latest edition of Is My Blog Burning? hosted by yours truly, Too Many Chefs. For those of you out there who are still unfamiliar with this event (there must be someone somewhere surely?) you can visit our description of this edition or visit Alberto's site Il Forno to read about the original event. The entries are already flooding into our mailbox and it's going to be a busy but enjoyable day for us tomorrow going through them all and posting the links for your reading pleasure. But in the meantime, here is my entry...Japanese Grilling.
The Critic has only recently discovered the joys of good sushi. Initially, this was a great development for me, as I have loved it ever since my introduction to raw fish in Hyde Park, Chicago, in 1986. Initially, when we went for Japanese food the pattern was always the same: sushi or sashimi for me, brochettes (yakitori) for the Critic. But, as I say, he got over the raw fish phobia in the last year or two and one of the first good restaurants we discovered near our new apartment last year was Japanese.
Now, of course, the tables have turned and I'm the one who has to order yakitori at the Japanese restaurant. (See our announcement, if this confuses you.) And, as a result, I've gotten more interested in the various kebabs that are available and curious about making them. So this was my choice for the event this time around: authentic yakitori on the grill.
A little web research left me a lot confused, though. If you search for yakitori on its own you'll only find chicken recipes, but then if you do a search on "beef yakitori" you'll find a number of recipes. I decided to drop the "authentic" qualification and just settle for a lot of Japanese-inspired yakitori-type kebabs. I had planned on doing a fish version with either scallops or shrimp, but unfortunately the fish shop was closed for lunch when I tried to get some. So in the end I had four varieties: classic chicken yakitori, miso chicken, a vegetable mix and beef and cheese.
Classic Chicken Yakitori. I pinched this recipe from this site. It was very tasty and included nothing too exotic for me to find easily at the store: leeks, soy sauce, sake, mirin or sherry, sugar, ginger, garlic and scallions. I heated up the leftover marinade to boiling and served it as a sauce with the yakitori.
Grilled Miso Chicken Yakitori. This recipe, from Japanese Cooking for the American Table by Susan Fuller Slack, had two advantages: a) it was an original idea and b) it called for sweet miso, which I wanted to buy anyway for an accompanying dish, eggplants with miso paste (see a future post for the recipe!). The ingredients took a little more effort in the way of a trip to the Japanese food store for sweet miso paste (yellow label). The rest of the ingredients were fairly common: soy sauce, sake, mirin, green onions, ginger root, garlic and chicken. I skipped the optional seven-spice powder because I didn't realize I needed it until I got back from the store. (And I promptly kicked myself thoroughly because I had actually picked up a packet out of curiousity in the store and put it back as I didn't know when I would use it!) This marinade tasted lovely before adding the chicken and was also very good on the yakitori. However, it did have a disconcerting tendency to go a little pink-ish in the cooking, and I think this is why there were a couple of them left at the end of the evening. They were cooked, I swear! I varied from the recipe in three regards: breast meat instead of thigh, yakitori instead of grilled whole pieces and adding chunks of eggplant and leek to the sticks. All worked very well.
Vegetable Yakitori. I haven't actually seen any vegetable yakitori in any Japanese restaurant, but the essence of this event is creativity, right? I happen to think that vegetables are great when cooked on the grill, so I decided to do my own thing. I threaded shitake mushrooms, shallots, eggplant, zucchini and red pepper on the sticks and marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin and toasted sesame seeds. They turned out very well, but I have to admit that shitake mushrooms do not benefit as much as white ones do from grilling. I think it's probably because they have so much more flavour to begin with: they don't need the extra intensity. In any case, it was by no means a loss!
Beef and Cheese Yakitori. These little babies are ubiquitous in Paris Japanese restaurants. After a lot of searching I am sadly coming to the conclusion that they may not actually be Japanese in origin, just one of those things that the local population has adopted because French people love them. (The cheese naan in Indian restaurants here are like that too - nothing like them appears in England or the US and most probably India either!) Anyway, I love them. Even in my sushi-eating days I was inclined to get a side order of them. Since I could not find a recipe I had to make this one up and I think I may have even improved on the original. The recipe is as follows: cut abondance cheese (or any other dense, not too flavourful yellow cheese) into sticks about 3/4 cm by 3/4 cm by about half the length of your stick. Wrap 3-4 slices of carpaccio beef around the cheese, overlapping at either end. Marinate in a mix of soy sauce, a splash of mirin, toasted sesame seeds and dried red pepper flakes. They do not need long to cook on the grill, just until the cheese has melted - by then the meat will be cooked.
Here is a photo of the miso chicken and beef and cheese yakitori marinating (you can see the remainder of the classic yakitori marinade, the yakitori already being on the grill):
If you click here, you can see a photo of the miso chicken grilling on my grill pan (we divided the cooking indoors and out to get it done more quickly!). I would like to point out to another member of the TMC crew that despite the black grill marks you see on the chicken here, it STILL stuck to the grill. (In an earlier exchange about salmon teriyaki I got some smug advice on what Alton Know-It-All says about food not sticking if you leave it long enough so that it has black marks and essentially burns on the grill bars...)
This is a picture of the cheese and beef yakitori...mmmmmm....
And lastly, a photo of the table before we sat down and devoured. Yakitori make a nice dinner for guests in that you can make lots and lots of little servings and the guests can then pick and choose the ones they like best without feeling rude. With the yakitori we had rice (cooked with a splash of mirin and a smaller splash of rice wine vinegar and it got sticky - yay it works!), some of the "orange" pickle that Stacey recommended when we went to the Japanese store (it was okay, not as good as the pink), pickled ginger, soy sauce with wasabi (probably not authentic but good with yakitori anyway), eggplants with miso paste and a salad of tomatoes, cucumber and toasted sesame seeds. I should have taken a photo of our friends Tony, Sandra and Michael, who served as willing guinea pigs for the pseudo-Japanese dinner - sorry!
Check in tomorrow for all the exciting things the rest of our friends found to grill and barbecue!