Monday, December 05, 2005

Special Donabe Dinner!

Special Donabe Dinner, Autumn 2005

It’s a good season to enjoy donabe (Japanese clay pot) dishes. Last Thursday was my day off, and I tried something I’d always wanted to make using donabe. Yes, takikomi gohan ( pilaf-like rice dish) was one of them, but what I really wanted to try this time was “horoku-yaki (food roasted in horoku).”

Horoku is a traditional unglazed cookware used for roasting nuts/sesame seeds or steam-roasting food, and it comes in different shapes according to its usage. The one used for horoku-yaki usually consists of a shallow unglazed flat bottom and a dome-shaped lid like the one in this photo.

Though I don’t have a horoku like that, I do have a donabe, and a few websites (incl. the one linked above) said that horoku can be considered as a kind of donabe, so theoretically you can use a donabe for making horoku-yaki. OK, then, why not? ; ) Fortunately at our izakaya, they have a few horoku-lids they don’t use any more, and I borrowed one of them on Wednesday. I know I could have used my donabe-lid, but I just wanted it to look more horoku-like. To accompany the main dish, I decided to make takikomi gohan, clear soup and fukiyose, oh, and dessert, too. (I once thought about trying an autumn version of quasi-kaiseki, but I just didn’t have enough energy, so this is a simplified version. ;P)

On the day before..:
Rumor has it that there was a middle-aged woman picking fallen leaves in Josei Koen (park) that day. The same woman was witnessed picking up a small pine branch on the ground near Kochi castle that night. I wonder who that was. ;)

I made yuzu moromi miso using the moromi miso that my colleague gave me last September. Then I coated two slices of raw sea bream fillet with the yuzu-miso and kept them in the fridge overnight. One slice was set aside (not coated with miso) for the clear soup.

On Thursday…:
Now my first adventure of the day was trying out a unique method of cracking ginkgo nuts that I read on so many Japanese websites recently. It is putting the nuts and a pinch of salt in a paper envelope, folding the top part three or four times very tightly so that it won’t open up when the envelope swells, and microwaving it for 1 to 1.5 minutes (or longer.) They say that you should wait until you hear popping sound four or five times, and some might burst into pieces, but the success rate is usually satisfactory. Well, if they say so, I've got to give it a try myself.

The popping sound was so big that it almost scared me to death! In my case, the success rate wasn’t so good…out of apx. 15 ginkgo nuts, 3 or 4 cracked properly and 3 burst into pieces. The rest? I used a plier to crack and removed the shell, crushing a couple of nuts. :(
* Some Japanese websites say that it is recommended to crack the shell a little (using a nut cracker, plier or hammer) before you put the nuts in the envelope.

Now, here's the menu of my special dinner :)

- Mukago Takikomi Gohan (Pilaf-like rice cooked with air potatoes)
- Sea Bream Soup
- Fukiyose (Assorted bite-size foods)
- Horoku-Yaki (Food cooked in horoku)
- Dessert: Nerikiri


Jennie Durren said...

WOW! I am really impressed with your dinner. It makes me feel like I should take the time to try to do something like that... but I don't know enough about which courses are supposed to go together!

I tried to cut some yam slices into the shape of a maple leaf for my kuri-gohan dinner last week, but they just ended up looking silly so I decided not to use them. I like the idea of the vegetable cutter instead!

I might have to try my hand at some wagashi over my winter break from school.

KT121 said...

Absolutely beautiful...
Obachan you're a great cook and also a talented artist!I really enjoyed this entry.Thanks for sharing.

Gustad said...

awsome stuff. the shimeji mushrooms looks great!

Anonymous said...

Obachan - In addition to being an awesome cook, you are so artistic! We are not worthy.....

Anonymous said...

Wow, obachan, your donabe dinner is really impressive! All the dishes are so beautifully presented, especially the fukiyose. They look delicious too. You must have put a lot of time and effort into creating this meal. :)

rae said...

beautiful presentation of the food. sure does look like a lot of work though!

obachan said...

I guess there’s no harm in experimenting.;) What I do is far from real traditional rules, but I just name it “obachan-style” or something to give it an excuse. :P When I want to have fun, no professional Japanese cook can stop me. (I mean, they have much better things to do, don’t they?)

I once tried cutting carrot into the shape of a maple leaf, and ended up something like a deformed marijuana leaf. BTW, if you’re interested in getting a maple-leaf shaped vegetable cutter, don’t be shocked if you find it ridiculously expensive! It was something I found this time: Small veg. cutters in the shape of cherry/plum blossoms or bamboo are cheaper and you can find them almost anywhere around here, even at Daiso 100-yen shop. But maple-leaf and ginkgo-leaf shaped ones are almost 10 times more expensive!!

Thank you. Actually there’s nothing creative here. I just recreated what I’d seen in Japanese cooking books before. Especially I was happy with the ginkgo nuts skewered with pine needles. I know it’s a cliché, but I just had to give it a try once.

Thanks. I hope this gave you an idea of donabe-cooking.

glutton rabbit
Actually this was more like edible crafts.

Oh, come on :) Again, this was really more like playing with food than cooking. A new skill I mastered this time was making yuzu rind looking like that in the sea bream soup photo. That is supposed to represent pine needles.

Well, not as long as the time I did the quasi-kaiseki last spring. This time I didn’t have to worry too much about properly seasoning food. Like this horoku-yaki…all I had to do was sprinkling sake over the ingredients and that was it! The biggest adventure was actually microwaving the ginkgo nuts in an envelope. ;)

This was a real good chance to use the black, square plate (though what I really wanted was a dark-brown one). I’m so happy that my new camera shows the green color much better. It couldn’t show the true color of the ginkgo nuts, though --- the color they call “jade green.” It turned out much yellowish in the photo.

It was fun, and didn’t take very long actually. And the best thing about this dinner was the cost-effectiveness. I guess you can see that the same ingredients were used here and there, everywhere?

OMG!! :O Thank you, Melissa, but I can’t believe my photos are that good…
Anyway I’ll call my parents and tell them that someone in this whole world voted for my blog --- if I could manage to make them understand what “blog” is. ;)

Anonymous said...

Hi Obachan,
I totally agree with the others that the food is truly authentic. If I understand your post correctly, perhaps you should have emphasised that most, if not all, dishes are prepared in clay pot. It is in this sense that, collectively, the dishes should be recognised as a clay pot meal, rather than just an assortment of dishes. And oh gosh, you have just triggered my inexplicable nostalgia for clay pot rice with aubergine. Oh, and also clay pot rice with yam.

Jennie Durren said...

Oh, I forgot to ask my question about gingko nuts. There's a gingko tree just outside my house, and it drops its fruit all over the sidewalk. It makes the whole area STINK. But are these the same gingko nuts you would use in cooking, or is there a special variety for that?

obachan said...

Oh, thanks. I’m flattered. Well, actually, horoku-yaki and takikomi gohan were the only thing cooked in the clay pot, so the dinner was more like an assortment, but since donabe dishes were the main thing, I called this “donabe dinner.” Sorry my English is so confusing.

Yep! They’re exactly the kind we eat. Are you thinking about eating them? If so, you’ll need quite a bit of preparation. I have never done it from scratch, but summarizing what I’ve read on the net…
First, make sure you wear rubber gloves when you touch them. Or your hands would feel very itchy and may even develop a rashe afterwards. Some say you need to bury the fruit in the ground or soak them in water to let the flesh rot, but others say you can just remove the flesh by hand (wear gloves!) right away on the spot, because it stinks too much if you do it at home. If possible, you could wrap the removed stinky flesh in old newspapers and throw it into a trash can there, if it was a park or something.

Next, you wash the nuts thoroughly at home and dry them for a few days. Then you crack the shell. The microwave method could be easy, but it does make a big popping sound so be careful. If used microwave, the nuts are already cooked when they come out, and you can just season them with salt and eat, or you can use them for other dishes. To experience their best taste, though, it is better to remove the shell (with a plier or something) of raw nuts and then fry them in a frying pan with a little veg. oil, or deep fry them. BUT, it STINKS terribly when you remove the shell, and if you crush and break some nuts and juice splashed, you won’t love it. I know it very well because I've experienced this part. So be very very afraid. ;)

Anonymous said...

Oh, Obachan, please don't say so, your English is indeed very good! Perhaps I was confusing myself with a very similar dish back home. Back at home, there were occassions when we had essentially everything cooked in clay pot. But really, some things are just so much better cooked in clay pot. My sister claims that pork sauteed in clay pot with shoyu and spices, left in fridge overnight then warm up and consumed the next day, is THE way to eat pork, or certain types of pork. And about the ginkgo nuts, I was very amused. Sorry, I was restraining myself not to laugh too much lest I fall off from my chair. I can imagine it must be a very exciting, yet scary, moment watching them popping in the microwave oven. For some reason it has never occurred to me that preparing ginkgo nuts could be such a hassle. I think to avoid the pungent smell, one could let them dry for a certain period. Back at home, the way we prepared ginkgo nuts was very primitive. Simply hammer (or nutcracker) and bare hands. We would crack the nuts and peel off the shell using bare hands. We used them very often for festive dishes and is one of the ingredients which will definitely make its way into the Lunar New Year menu. For instance, we have this dish, or rather dessert, which we have to eat the first thing in the morning on the first day of Lunar New Year, that is essentially just ginkgo nuts and longan (there are fancier variants with more ingredients, but this is how it is traditionally served in my family). As such, we usually have to process them in bulk, and en masse, which means employing every member of the family who is old enough to use a hammer, properly. The messier part comes only when one has to remove its internal sprout using toothpick. Even so, I never recall being put off by its pungent smell. Perhaps it is an acquired smell that one grew used to it?

obachan said...

Thanks for sharing your story. Ginkgo nuts and longan sound really tempting, and must look nice, too.
Again, sorry about my poor English. I meant to say that it is recommended to wear gloves when you touch the flesh of the ginkgo fruit. They say it’s something contained in the flesh that makes you feel very itchy. I’ve never worn gloves when I crack the shells (but those who really hate the smell might want to).

I guess we can get used to smells by being exposed to them a lot, especially when they are associated with good taste. ;) I used to hate the smell of cheese and kimchii, but now I love them both a lot.