tanabata: festival of stars (and barbecue, apparently).

for most people in japan, tanabata is a time to go to festivals, eat food that comes on sticks, and drink beer or other refreshing beverages.  for my friends, however, it is a time to go out in the middle of the nature, fire up the shichirins, and cook so much food that we could feed the russian army twice over.

everybody brought a little something to the party, and while we all thought what we brought was humdrum and average, somehow the sum of all of our dishes made for one of the most elegant and refined meals i have had in a long time.  the following is a list, in order, of what we cooked.

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an ode to yudai-kun.

yuudai

while farming was an excellent way to get sunburned, it occurred to me that there had to be a faster and more physically taxing way to get the same results.  and then i was invited to go fishing, and everything fell into place.

i got to the port around 8:45 on saturday morning, and fished until around 4.  it was super hot, smelled like fish and bait and sweat and sea water, and i had pretty much no idea what the heck i was doing.

in other words, i had a freaking blast.  we caught about 250 little mackerel (which were delicious), two giant pacific saury, one or two horse-mackerel, and two baby splendid alfonsino (which we threw back so they could become more delicious as adults).  but that isn’t the point of this post.

the point of this post is to pay homage to one of the greatest people i have met in japan so far.  his name is yudai, and i can only describe him as the japanese huck finn.  is he a little portly?  yup.  does his crack show every time he bends over the put bait on his fishing pole?  heck yes, it does.  and it is pretty darn endearing.

i won’t go into the details, but yudai-kun doesn’t exactly have an easy life.  due to the dubious nature of his parent’s work, they are not always around (and sometimes incarcerated), which means he has to do most of the looking out for his crazy (but adorable) six-year-old sister.  he’s a good kid, and although he gets into trouble in school, he spends every spare hour he can at the port developing his skills as a fisherman.  not that they really need developing.  he made me look like a moron, and he’s eleven.  seriously, towards the end we had to tell this kid to please stop catching fish because we couldn’t gut them fast enough.

he knew all the best spots, all the best lures, all the best fish, and had the perfect attitude for fishing.  he had an air that screamed, “hey, i’m fishing.  and so are you.  let’s just fish, and maybe in between we’ll say some stuff to each other.”  and somehow, over the course of eight hours of not really talking that much, we became friends.

here’s to you, yudai-kun.  you are the man, and i’m proud of you.  i can’t wait until next we meet.

a fish, a man, and a super sharp knife.

i like to tell my friends that, when it comes to cooking, there are three kinds of people in this world.

first, there are the people who have a million different knives, none of which are sharp or useful.  second, there are the people who use their knife until it is no longer sharp, and then throw it away and buy a new one.

last, there are people who have one knife that they keep so ridiculously sharp it is at risk of cutting through the food, the cutting board, and the counter beneath.

while this categorization is a little bit cut and dry (no pun intended), there is some truth to it.  i admit, i used to be the second type of person.  but i can confidently say that now, i am the third type through and through.  in my opinion, one knife is all you need as long as you care for it and know how to use it properly.

and when it comes to using a knife properly, japan takes the cake.  not only are their knives incredible, the people who wield them command incredible respect and admiration.  i have been to a few sushi restaurants that consist of nothing more than a counter and chairs, but left with the feeling that i had been to a five-star restaurant.  the flavor of sashimi, maybe more than any other food in the world, is determined entirely by freshness and the knife used to prepare it.

so i thought, why not make sashimi at home?  and then i thought, “i’m not a 85-year-old japanese man who can slice perfect sashimi in his sleepo, that’s why.”  and then i thought, “even those guys had to start somewhere.”

and then i went and bought some fish.  my knife did not disappoint.

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wizards, ben franklin, and raw food week.

it’s imagination time.

let’s say a guy with a beard and a sweet hat shows up on your doorstep and politely informs you that he is a wizard.  as skeptical as you are of his claims, you probably do something nice somewhere in the story (like give him an ice-cold glass of lemonade or massage his feet or something) and he tells you that in return he will magically place you into any socioeconomic class you like.  i think most people, including myself, would swallow their guilt and go with “filthy stinking rich.”  and poof, just like that, happily ever after.  foie gras, black truffles, the finest aged cheeses, filet mignon, and black caviar every day until you happily die of gout.

and now, back to the real world.

do you have a socioeconomic wizard on your doorstep?  yeah, i didn’t think so.  it’s okay, i don’t either.  and while disney’s alladin, the tale of king midas, and many other non-fictional stories verified by hard, factual evidence lead us to believe that magic is the fastest road to riches, some trail-blazing individuals believe saving money is a far more effective solution.  at least that is what benjamin franklin thought.  and he was kind of like a wizard, only in real life.

so in the spirit of super long esoteric introductions (and saving money), i have decided this week to abstain from using my stove.

while the cheapest option would be to not eat food at all, dying of malnutrition is not in the best interest of my blog.  so instead, i will do all my cooking this week without the use of heat.

no stove, no toaster oven, no hot water.  in other words, raw foods or no foods.  will i be severely limited in my ability to prepare delicious food?  you bet your bottom dollar i will.  will i be hard-pressed to find any way at all to eat meat?  you know it.  will i give up and have a steak in less than 24 hours?  there is a distinct possibility.  but you know what, challenges make us stronger.

raw food mode: engage.

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mahimahi, pan-seared and swimmingly sauced.

sauce week continues uninterrupted.

sauces 4, 5, and 6 called for a slight change of pace.  sauces 1 through 3 were given the honor of adorning chicken breasts, and i think that may have been a little too easy for me.  so tonight i decided that only my favorite fish would do.  mahimahi, referred to by the japanese as shiira, has a super fresh white meatiness that is second to none.  moreover, it is notoriously tough to cook well.  the whiteness of its meat carries a downside; when cooked too much, it becomes heinously dry and nearly inedible.

i decided to challenge myself.  for the past few days i had been thinking about which sauces would be able to transform such an already magnificent fish into a masterpiece.  i decided on a garlic cream sauce, a shiso pesto, and a spicy mango sauce with mint.  i think everything went swimmingly.

feast your eyeballs.

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pesto + salmon = excellence.

whoever tells you that color has nothing to do with cooking was probably from britain.  in the movie Matilda, Danny DeVito says “appearance in 95% of the law,” and while i don’t know if all that is true, i certainly believe that taste has to do with more than the tongue.

we taste with our eyes, our ears, and our noses as well.  and truly excellent cooking takes advantage of these facts.