i’ll admit it, i loved summer break as a kid. summer meant making nachos everyday in the microwave, playing video games, and frolicking outside until i got so sunburned my skin started to peel. ah, memories.
but looking back, i never truly appreciated summer for what it was when i was a kid. it was just a long period of time without school, which made it inherently good. i could have spent my summers in a junkyard or on the sub-zero front lawn of a gulag and i probably still would have had a blast.
in other words, summer isn’t for the kids. it is for the teachers.
here’s a quick list (in no particular order) of what i did this summer vacation.
- hopped on a plane and went to the good old usa
- saw my family for the first time in six months
- spent as much time as i could with my best friend/love of my life
- drank cheap beer
- enjoyed top-notch missouri humidity
- ate a truly appalling amount of meat and starch
- evened out my heinous farmer’s tan
- played with my cats
- fired up the smoker
and so, as summer draws to a close here in japan, i figured i would cook a tremendous (see: over-sized, far to big for one human to finish) meal to celebrate all the good times i had. and here’s what i came up with.
nothing says summer like some nice fresh spider mustard, thinly sliced shabu pork, grated daikon, ponzu, and some super thinly sliced green onions. if your ingredients are fresh, you don’t need no dressing.
- japanese spider greens (aka mizuna)
- kaiware (daikon sprouts)
- about half a white onion
- a few stalks of green onion
- half a daikon radish
- shabu pork
- cut the very bottom off of the mizuna and chop the stalks into thirds. make sure you evenly distribute the leafy portions and the stalky portions between dishes, otherwise you are going to have some whiny dinner guests.
- boil some water. once it reached a boil, add the pork a few pieces at a time. make sure it doesn’t stick together by giving it a quick stir. the thinness of the pork will allow it to cook super quickly. remember, reishabu is all about textures, so you need to make sure you don’t overcook the meat. tough, leathery, crumbly pork is the last thing anyone wants. hardly refreshing.
- wash and drain the kaiware. slice off the roots at the base of the bunch and sprinkle them over the top of the greens.
- slice some white onion so thin it is transparent, and layer it on top of the mizuna.
- once the pork is finished, pour the contents of the pot into a strainer. immediately run cold water over the pork; this will stop it from cooking any more. besides, hot pork on a cold salad is just no good at all.
- lay the pork on top of the onions and greens.
- here comes the best part. put about a half inch of oil in a pan and get it nice and hot. peel about four cloves of garlic and cut them into thin slices. add the slices to the oil and make sure none are stuck together. watch them closely. garlic has a tendency to burn under high heat, and if it blackens it will become bitter and gross. your goal is to make fried garlic chips. when you think they look sufficiently crispy, remove from the from the pan and onto a paper towel to drain off some of the oils.
- cut the base off of three to four stalks of green onion, fold in half twice, and slice as thin as humanly possible. this is another essential part of the texture of reishabu, so make sure you use a knife that is good and sharp.
- peel the daikon. half a radish will make enough for about two large salads. use an oroshi board or a fine grater set over the top of a bowl to grind the entire thing. the result should be a white, watery paste. drain as much water from the paste as you can by gently squeezing with the side of your hand. replace the water you drained with ponzu. slice some onions so thin they are transparent.
- spread the daikon-ponzu mixture onto the top of the pork, then garnish with huge handful of green onions and a smattering of fried garlic chips. yes, it is as good as it sounds.
herb smothered pork chops
oh, pork chops. you are so good in so many different ways. pan-fried with garlic, slathered in sauce and barbecued, breaded and fried, seasoned and grilled, and even slow-cooked. but when i think summer, i think fresh flavors. and when i think fresh flavors, i think herbs and olive oil. and when i think herbs and olive oil, i start to salivate uncontrollably.
- some pork chops
- garlic powder
- dried thyme
- dried basil
- dried parsley
- olive oil
- black pepper
- aluminum foil
- you can use almost any pork chops for this recipe, but i tend to like the little guys that are about a quarter to a half inch thick. they tend to cook a little faster, and i find they have a better spice rub to meat ratio than the super thick chops. set the chops on a plate and smear them with a liberal drizzle of olive oil.
- next, rub both sides of each chop with salt, black pepper, garlic powder, dried basil, dried parsley, and dried powdered thyme (preferably in that order). generally, you want make sure you can’t see much of the unadulterated meat. the only spice you really need to make sure you don’t overdo is the salt. the reasons should be obvious. remember, you can always add more salt to taste once everything is finished, so if you know you have some guests who are not big fans of salty foods, try to salt lightly.
- once your chops are covered in delicious herbs, place them a large piece of tin foil rubbed on one side with a little bit of olive oil (just to prevent sticking). fold the foil over on itself to create a tightly sealed packet. place the seam of the packet face down on another large piece of foil and repeat. the result should keep the juices in and the heat indirect.
- place the packet in a toaster (or conventional) oven at around 200ºc for about 30 to 35 minutes.
- remove the chops and carefully unwrap the first piece of foil. please, please, don’t spill the juice. that would just be a dang waste. put the still piping-hot chops onto a plate, then use a spoon to ladle delicious herby pork au jous over the still steaming meat. stand back and appreciate your craftsmanship. once you are finished patting yourself on the back, go get a knife and fork.
poor man’s mashed sweet potatoes
here’s the deal with potatoes. yeah, they are delicious and smooth and hearty when you mash them. but have basically no nutrition to speak of once you remove the skins, and they don’t really taste like much. so i thought, what would go better with some amazing slow-cooked herb crusted pork chops than mashed sweet potato? it turns out, nothing.
- a few cloves of garlic
- a whole sweet potato
- half an onion
- black pepper
- dried thyme
- heavy whipping cream
- chicken stock
- first comes the bacon. any bacon will do. i tend to use the stuff my buddy makes at home just because i know exactly what flavor i am going to get (i was there when it was made, after all). get a few slices out and start cooking them in a frying pan that is nice and hot. when they start to get extra crispy, set them aside on a layer of paper towel. save that bacon grease, it’ll be important in a little bit.
- peel a whole sweet potato, then cut it into bite-sized pieces. add just enough chicken stock to cover the potatoes to a pot and bring it to a boil. once boiling, add the potatoes, lower the heat, and cover.
- get out half an onion and about five cloves of garlic. mince them as finely as you possibly can. remember that bacon grease? yeah, this is happening. add the minced onion and garlic to the bacon grease and saute them until both are very soft. make sure to get any left over flavor that may have accumulated on the bottom of the pan while you were cooking your bacon.
- once you can easily pierce a piece of potato with a chopstick or fork, they should be ready for mashing. drain off almost all the stock. you can leave a spoonful or two if you like, but you shouldn’t need it.
- pour the contents of your frying pan (i.e. bacon-infused garlic and onions) into the potatoes and use a masher to bring it all together. add a little bit of black pepper and thyme as you work.
- pour chilled heavy whipping cream into the potatoes a little bit at a time while mashing and/or stirring. they should thicken up nice and fast. if you are worried about them getting cold, you can always do this over low heat, but remember to keep stirring or your taters will burn.
- the bacon has been waiting so patiently this whole time, so we should indulge it. use a sharp knife (or your hands if you prefer crumbles) to finely chop the bacon.
- put some garlicky mashed sweet potatoes on a plate. crown them with chopped crispy bacon. remind yourself that life is beautiful.