pork and kimchi: beer’s best friends.

i’ll admit it.  there are times when i don’t really feel like spending an hour or two making a spread large enough to feed the russian army.  sometimes i just want to cook something quick and easy, and in this weather, the less i use the stove the better.

yesterday was one of those lazy days, and i found myself with an abundance of kimchi on my hands.  while normally i would default to kimchi hot pot (one of my favorite autumnal foods in japan), the “hot” part of hot pot didn’t sound that appealing in the 34ºc heat.  instead, i decided to go for something with which i could enjoy an ice-cold beer.

and as soon as i thought the words “ice cold beer,” buta-kimchi sprang to mind.

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raging lamb curry: not for the weak of heart (or stomach)

a lot of people like to generalize about japanese cuisine when it comes to heat.  most people assert that “japanese people can’t handle spicy foods,” and for the most part, i would agree with them.  but i am also of the firm opinion that we (those of us who hail from countries like the usa and canada) have a completely different concept of what “spicy” means.

we are friendly neighbors with central and south america, which means that for a lot of americans, our first introduction to spiciness is through foods like pickled jalapenos and hot sauce.  because both contain spicy chili oils, they leave a lasting capsaisin-based burning sensation in your mouth.  japan, on the other hand, regularly consumes foods like wasabi and ginger, which have a very fresh, short-lived, and intense heat akin to horseradish that builds up in the sinuses.  both chilis and wasabi are spicy, just in different ways.  sure, most japanese people would cry if they ate a raw jalapeno, but i think most americans would cry if they took a bite out a wasabi radish, too.  if you ask me, it depends on what you are used to.

still, capsaisin-based spicy foods can be a little hard to find in japan.  most options for true raging heat come from korea, japan’s neighbor across the sea.  gochujang and doubanjiang are great options to kick up the heat a little bit when cooking, and i regularly implement them when making salad dressings.  but because they are imported foods, they can tend to drive up the price of your dish a little more than you want sometimes.

my staple when i comes to spice is good old fashioned piri piri (a.k.a. capsicum frutescens, african bird’s eye peppers).  during the summer months, these little guys can occasionally be found fresh in huge plastic wrapped bouquets for a pittance in most japanese grocery stores.  in the non-summer months, they can also be purchased in small packages pre-dried and just as potent.

and it is these piri piris to which today’s lamb curry owes its rage.  if you have a pace-maker or chronic acid-reflux disease, you may want to navigate away from this page right now.  just reading the recipe could be dangerous to your health. Continue reading

a rouxed awakening: curry week on pmk.

yeah, i’ve been eating like a king.  i’ve made ceviche, prepared boatloads of raw food, made nine sauces from scratch in a single week, and eaten enough smoked meat in a single sitting to kill a lesser man.  i’ve made a three-course dinner and eaten it all by myself more times than i can count.

but that isn’t what pmk is about.  making a huge quantity of food that tastes so rich you can feel yourself getting gout is all well and good, but the point of pmk is to show that the average person can create kingly meals with a normal person’s salary.  i’ve haven’t truly been living like a peasant to the greatest extent possible, and for that, i apologize.

so in an effort to get in touch with my own slogan, i have officially declared this week “curry week.”  cheap, delicious, and almost infinite in its varieties, curry is the perfect dish to showcase what pmk is all about.  can i feed myself this week for less than ¥2000 (about $20) and still make food that would make your average diner jealous?  i don’t know, but i’m going to do everything within my power to make it work.

most of my money saving efforts will be concentrated on roux.  in japan, your average grocery store has so many different varieties of prepackaged roux it would make your head spin.  mild curry roux, spicy curry roux, beef stew roux, cream stew roux, tomato beef stew roux, hayashi rice roux.  you get the idea.

“wait, did he say prepackaged roux?”  yes, i did.  most people in japan use this roux for exactly what it was intended, namely to make a thick and delicious sauce with none of the waiting, ingredients, or know-how normally required.  is the flavor way too salty?  of course.  is it terrible for you to just eat vegetables boiled in a concentrated high sodium sauce?  you bet you butt it is.  so why, as a person who has no problem spending the time and using the know-how required to make a good sauce, would i choose to use a prepackaged roux?

two reasons.  one, they are crazy cheap.  two, they are one of the best thickeners on the market.  a few cubes of roux eliminate the need to reduce or dilute the flavor of your food with flour/corn starch.  think of japanese roux like condensed soup in the usa.  starting to make a little more sense?  great.

now go look into opening a new bank account, because we are about to save some serious money.

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the flavor of summer.

when june rolls around in japan, the weather takes a turn for the worst.  these few weeks between spring and full-fledged summer are characterized on this side of the world by rain almost every day, intense heat, and truly ridiculous humidity.  the japanese call this weather tsuyu, which is of course their word meaning “to die of asphyxiation because the air is so laden with moisture you could drown whilst walking to the grocery store.”

that being said, atrocious weather isn’t the only herald of summer.  because of the amazing raw food culture that japan has, all kinds of tasty and extremely fresh foods start appearing in the mom and pop small restaurants all over the country the moment june swings into full-force.  while it may seem strange to most of us in the west (with the exclusion of pasta salad, which i was never really that big on anyway), cold noodle dishes like zarusoba and hiyashi chuka become very easy to consume in quantity when the mercury goes through the roof.

and in my mind, there is no cold noodle dish that can hold a candle to sōmen.  these japane

se noodles are made from wheat flour and have a milky white color to them, much like udon.  but sōmen stand alone in that their diameter is extremely thin (less than 1.3 mm by definition), which makes them super delicate and incredibly fast cooking.  once cooked and flash chilled, the noodles are generally added to a deliciously salty broth and topped with all manner of awesome fresh produce.

yesterday, i got to hankering, and decided to give it a go.

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fried chicken with a side of fried chicken.

you know those meals that make you feel like you could smash a cinder block with your forehead, or ramp a jet ski over a wrought-iron fence into a pool, or do some other heinously dangerous and extremely manly activity?  even if you answered no, just pretend like you answered yes for a few minutes.  humor me.

in my world, those meals that make you feel like a reckless man more often than not begin with fried chicken.  and most of the time, they end with fried chicken, too.  sometimes, in the middle i eat something other than fried chicken, but those occasions are rare.

in the usa, fried chicken and arnold schwartzenegger’s commando is about the manliest night i can think of.  so last night, when i decided to watch toshiro mifune in yojimbo, i thought that because my action movie had taken a decidedly japanese turn, i would be remiss if my fried chicken did not follow suit.  and so i made an immense batch of kara-age.

put on your fried food pants and get some napkins ready, because we are about to get messy.

kara-age

japanese fried chicken.  this ain’t no kfc, let’s just put it that way.  the skin is crunchy and the meat is juicy, piping hot, and jam-packed with flavor.  why, you say?  well, because you marinate it, silly.

you’ll need:

  • 2 chicken thighs (or breasts) skin on
  • ginger
  • garlic
  • black pepper
  • soy sauce
  • sesame oil
  • seven-spice (or chinese hot pepper)
  • a little bit of mayo
  • japanese sake
  • oil for frying (vegetable is probably best)
  • katakuriko (potato starch)
  1. rinse your chicken and pat it dry with some paper towels.  use a really super sharp knife to cut it into non-bitesized pieces.  the goal is to have pieces big enough that they require two or more bites.  chomping into a giant nugget of super crispy delicious chicken and being able to see the delicious succulent white meat you are about to dig into on bite number two is nothing short of bliss.
  2. go to town with a fork.  puncture a bunch of holes all over the chicken.  tenderizing will make your bits of chicken soak up the flavors of the marinade a lot better.
  3. peel the garlic and the ginger.  you are going to want to use about 3 or 4 cloves of garlic and about a thumb of ginger.  grind them on an oroshi board, a microplane, or a very fine grater.  put them into a large non-reactant mixing bowl.
  4. add seven-spice, black pepper, a dash of sesame oil, and soy sauce and sake in a 2:1 ratio.  add a touch of mayo to firm up the marinate just a little.  remember, if you firm it up too much the chicken won’t suck up the flavor like you wanted to, and all that tenderizing will go to waste.  stir to combine all the ingredients.
  5. add the chicken, and stir with your hands to coat.  cover with some saran wrap and set it in the fridge to marinate for about an hour.
  6. once the chicken is about finished marinating, add enough oil to deep fry to a frying pan and bump the heat.  you want to oil to be hot enough to fry the chicken, but not hot enough to smoke or burn.  test the oil with a little piece of chicken if you aren’t sure of the temperature.  on my stove, which has temperature markings that read “off, 1, 2, 3, high,” i got the oil to the temperature i wanted using the “3” setting, and kept it from getting too hot by reducing to “2” once i started frying.
  7. pour some of the potato starch onto a plate.  one thin layer at a time is best (as opposed to emptying the whole bag at once).  dredge each piece of chicken in the starch and pop it into the oil.  the marinade on the outside of the chicken should make the breading stick super well.  try to keep from adding so much starch to the chicken that it becomes crumbly.  you really only want to add enough to coat each piece, and no more.  too much starch will make a dusty, starchy layer between the fried outside and the juicy chicken meat, effectively ruining the texture and flavor of all your hard work.
  8. the oil should bubble, but not spit.  you will probably want to turn each piece one or twice in the course of frying.  once the chicken is golden brown and done all the way through, take it out and put it on a few sheets of paper towels to soak up the extra oil.
  9. dig in and eat until you can feel the flow of your blood slowing from cholesterol intake.  or, if you are generous, share with your friends, and watch them become lethargic under the weight of the epic cholesterol.  your choice.