Tokyo Snow; Tokyo carbonara

Two consecutive weekends with a foot of snow settling in Tokyo, which is very rare, means two cancelled fishing trips and me staying at home mostly cooking and eating.  My guanciale has come out very well, and I made spaghetti alla carbonara.

Compared to guanciale, which I am obliged to make myself, the other essentials – good eggs, pecorino cheese and black pepper – are much easier to come by here in Tokyo, and it took about twenty minutes to put this dish together, from start to finish.  Whilst I make no claim to making a truly authentic carbonara, there are some pretty sordid variations available here in Japan which I think I have managed to avoid.

Tokyo Guanciale

The first of three pieces of cured pig jowl in my chamber is ready after 5 weeks of drying.  I look forward to making some spaghetti alla carbonara and perhaps the slightly less unhealthy bucatini all’amatriciana soon.  At this level of drying the guanciale is perfectly safe to eat raw as well.  I also sliced the remaining goose prosciutto on my electric slicer; it is hard to cut the meat at a shallow enough angle to get nice slices like these by hand.  Whilst I would consider cutting up sashimi or other fish on my slicer as gross heresy, I do think some charcuterie comes out much better when cut like this.

Goose prosciutto

After 40 days drying I decided to eat it.  This is made with goose breast according to the recipe in Ruhlman & Polcyn’s Salumi book.  It is even better than their recipe made with duck.

Secret no more

After some considerable moral pressure to reveal the recipe to my infamous tartare sauce, here goes.  This recipe comes with the same caveat as all my recipes: it does not contain exact measurements as I tend to do my cooking by eye or intuition, so please take the stated measurements as a guideline rather than a catholicon and tweak them to suit your own preference.

Anyway, for tartare sauce for four eaters you will need:

1 cup of mayonnaise, homemade or out of a jar/tube.  If it is homemade, it should not be made with olive oil as the taste is too strong for this sort of sauce. Have the mayo in a bowl large enough to do mixing and stirring in.

Some fresh parsley, finely chopped (the classic English recipe would use curly parsely but flat-leaf makes no difference).

Generic cucumber pickles and capers in vinegar.  As a rule of thumb I go for 1/2 a pickled cucumber per person and 1/4 teaspoon capers ditto, giving you two cucumbers and one tsp capers for this recipe.  These do not have to be fancy or expensive brands.

2 hard boiled eggs.  If you don’t know how to hard-boil an egg God help you, but there is always the internet.

An ungenerous pinch of dried tarragon.  This adds a certain mellow complexity to the overall taste.  Do not add more as the taste can become too strong.

A small amount of finely chopped onion or shallot or spring onion.  This is optional.  Some people do not like the after-taste of raw onion.  In my opinion the sauce is just as good without the onion.

A bottle of English beer such as Spitfire or London Pride or anything from the Young’s brewery.

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Once you have everything ready open the bottle of beer, pour it into a glass and drink it.  Then finely chop the cucumber, pickled capers and parsley.  How fine you chop the ingredients decides how chunky the resulting sauce will be – I like mine very chunky, so they are chopped pretty coarse.  Halve the boiled eggs.  Pop the yolks onto a fine metal wire sieve and push through with a plastic or bamboo spatula into the bowl containing the mayonnaise.  Reserve the solid whites.

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The resulting sieved egg-yolk should look like this:

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It is important your eggs are hard-boiled, otherwise the yolk doesn’t blend properly with the mayo and you get unsightly yellow chunks in your tartare sauce.  The next thing to do is mix the yolk and mayonnaise until they are homogenous.  Chop the egg whites as fine or coarse as you want.  Then add your chopped egg white, parsley, dried tarragon and cucumber/caper pickles to the mayo mixture.  In my experience four halves of egg white are a bit much and I only add three halves to the sauce; I deal with the remaining half by eating it and washing it down with beer.

Mix everything well with a spoon and chill before serving.  There you have it; my infamous tartare sauce.  I have known dinner guests to secretly eat this with a spoon, and when I asked the memsahib what was the best fish dish I ever cooked for her, she replied “The one you served with the tartare sauce”.  There are numerous ways you can experiment with this, such as adding small amounts of horseradish, white pepper, chopped green chillies or mashed garlic; there is no set codex.  Those who like their food well-seasoned might feel it needs a pinch of salt.  Please give it a try and even better, let me know how it turned out.

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Tanago rod project

I’m lacquering a tanago rod for a friend (I had no part in the making of the rod).  It has some quirks but the bamboo is fairly sound and the hera-style grip is a novelty.  When working on another rod over the New Year holidays my raw urushi ran out so I ordered some more from Joboji.  This is the raw unprocessed urushi tapped from Lac trees and is the most hyperallergenic stuff I use; it also solidifies into the most amazingly rich colour and bamboo rods built using this lacquer end up with very strong, dependable joints.

New year charcuterie

After nearly three weeks hanging the goose prosciutto is probably ready to eat but another week or even longer won’t do it any harm.  I’ve never made this with goose meat before, only duck, so this will be a treat!

The Iberico pork shoulder has lost 15% of its weight in 20 days, so has plenty more drying to go.  Already the meat on the outside has taken on a nice dark colour.  Every week or so the meat needs to inspected for mould and the more  vigorous growths dabbed with a cotton bud dipped in wine vinegar.  Since my drying chamber is new and I haven’t hanged any moulded sausages in it yet, i.e., sausages inoculated with Bactoferm 600-strain, there seem to be all sorts of species of mould growing in there.  Curiously all it takes is one batch of well-moulded sausage to permanently seed the chamber with the right variety of mould, which seems to outgrow all the other undesirable species.

Still eating hirame

Despite the orgiastic feasting on hirame, there was plenty of fish left over for later use.  First up was engawa, the wings of the fillets, which I made into sushi.

One way to enjoy filletted fish without cooking it is in kobu-jime, where the fish is salted lightly and then pressed between two fronds of kobu kelp.  It comes out cured and very well flavoured and perfumed by the kelp, and you can control the strength of the flavour by how long you keep the fish wrapped in kobu; usually I go for 24 hours for a middling taste.  This I always eat with the chopped up flesh of umeboshi plums.

Filletting fish for sushi or sashimi invariably leaves you with the skin leftover.  Most restaurants and sushi chefs will toss this away (there are some notable exceptions to this) but with bigger fish like hirame or tai the skin is actually pretty tasty grilled, fried or poached.  I like mine deep-fried and send it down with a couple of cold beers.

The last remnants of the hirame were consumed in that highly traditional Japanese dish fish pie.

There are plenty of recipes and versions of this online, but mine is pretty simple: a layer of raw spinach leaves, layer of raw white fish sprinkled with a touch of salt, white pepper and some grated nutmeg, then a layer of chopped up hard-boiled eggs, a sprinkle of chopped parsley, then cover the lot in Bechemel sauce.  The whole is topped off with freshly made mashed potatoes (mine contains wasabi!) and a little Cheddar cheese sprinkled over the top.

Cook in the oven at 180°C till bubbling and nicely browned on top.  Serve with Worcester sauce and/or chilli sauce.