Grouse Ramen

23 Oct

Let’s start with the facts:

  1. Grouse is really very delicious, its bittersweet flavour made even more so by its fleetingly short season.
  2. Experimentation and novelty are celebrated in the world of ramen.
  3. Game birds were commonly eaten throughout most of Japanese history, many of them prized as symbolic and noble ingredients.

The first two are not news to most of us. But I’ve been reading a bit of Japanese food history recently, and one thing that’s struck me is how little today’s Japanese food resembles what it was like just 150 years ago. Much of what we now know as ‘traditional’ Japanese cuisine was really developed over the course of the 20th century, and prior to this, people ate very differently – rice, for example, was exceedingly rare and expensive for most of Japan’s population, while other ingredients that were once standard fare have almost disappeared from Japanese menus. Apparently, game birds are one of these ingredients, which surprised and intrigued me – it isn’t unheard of for Japanese restaurants to cook game (wild boar and mallard turn up here and there), but it is rare. I don’t think you’d be able to find an izakaya in Tokyo serving wood pigeon or hare without doing a fair bit of research.

I felt emboldened by this new knowledge that game birds needn’t be precluded from Japanese cookery on grounds of authenticity, custom, or ‘tradition.’ And in keeping with the well-established facts that creativity is always welcome in ramen, and that grouse tastes goooood, I figured I’d try an experiment: grouse ramen. This is not likely to appear on any menus at my events or my gestating restaurant, so have a go yourself if you like grouse and you like ramen. (I must say the grouse makes an amazing broth, almost chocolatey in its richness.) But do it soon – the end of grouse season fast approaches!

Clockwise from top: grouse confit gyoza, sous vide grouse breast, fried leeks, shiitake, white nira, onsen egg. Noodles and pickled ginger in the middle. Broth everywhere!

Clockwise from top: grouse confit gyoza, sous vide grouse breast, fried leeks, shiitake, white nira, onsen egg. Noodles and pickled ginger in the middle. Broth everywhere!

Grouse Ramen

Yield: 2 portions

1 grouse

900mL pork or chicken stock
1 star anise
2 bay leaves
10g ginger, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 small onion (100g), chopped
15g hatchō miso
pinch white pepper (to taste)
pinch sea salt (to taste)

Dissasemble the grouse: remove the breasts and discard their skin and remove the wings and legs. Vacuum pack the breasts and refrigerate until needed. Place the carcass in a pot of cold water and bring to the boil. Let it simmer for a minute or so to leach out the blood. Discard the water and rinse the carcass of any grey scum. Place into the pork or chicken stock and add the star anise, ginger, garlic, and onion. Cover, bring to the boil, and then reduce to the lowest simmer possible. Simmer for 6 hours, skimming scum off the surface as needed. The stock should reduce by about 25%; you’ll need about 650-700mL in the end. Pass the broth through a fine sieve, then whisk in the miso, pepper, and salt (note: hatchō miso is very strong, that’s why this only calls for a small amount; the rest of the seasoning will come from the salt).

reserved grouse legs and wings
150mL sesame oil
100g butter
2 white nira (Chinese chives), finely sliced
pinch white pepper
big pinch salt
pinch sanshō or finely-ground Szechuan pepper
6 gyoza wrappers

Heat the oven to 110°C. Place the legs and wings in a small pan, pour over the sesame oil, and add the butter. Confit the grouse for 4 hours, turning the meat over halfway through cooking. Leave the confit to cool, then remove the meat, strain the fat through a fine sieve, and reserve. Pick the meat off the bones, being sure to avoid any tiny bones in the leg or tough bits of cartilage. Chop the pulled meat into a rough mince and mix in the nira, salt, and peppers. Place a spoonful of this mixture in the centre of each gyoza wrapper and dampen their edges with water (use your fingers). Press the edges together and crimp them 3-4 times.

10-15g ginger, cut into a fine julienne
2.5g salt
20g mirin
30g rice vinegar
2 eggs
reserved grouse breasts
4 shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and thinly sliced
1/3 leek (white part), sliced on the bias about 2mm thick
4 white nira, thinly sliced
reserved gyoza
reserved confit fat
2 portions medium-thickness ramen noodles

Stir together the salt, mirin, and ginger until the salt is dissolved. Pour over the ginger and pickle for at least 2 hours. Discard the liquid. Heat a water bath to 63°C and carefully place in the eggs. Cook for 1 hour, then remove the eggs. Reduce the water bath temperature to 56°C. Add the grouse breasts and cook for 20-25 minutes, adding the eggs back into the water after 10 minutes to reheat them. Stir-fry the leeks until brown in the confit fat, then remove and drain on paper towel. Stir-fry the mushrooms until soft and remove. Fry the gyoza on both sides until golden brown, then add a splash of water to the pan and immediately cover with a lid so the gyoza steam through. Remove the grouse and the eggs from the water bath and let them rest for 5 minutes, then slice the grouse breast across the grain of the muscle. Reheat the broth and cook the noodles in rapidly boiling water for 1 minute and drain. To assemble: pour the broth into a bowl, then add the noodles, then the mushrooms, then the sliced grouse breast, then the gyoza, then the leeks, then the nira. Enjoy with yamahai sake or Syrah.

Nanban at Pacific Social Club

17 Oct

Mustard greens, fermenting away.

Mustard greens, fermenting away.

Well folks, it’s been a while since we’ve had a good old fashioned Hackney pop-up focused on one particular prefecture of southern Japan. Time to rectify that!

On Saturday the 2nd of November, I’ll be setting up shop at Pacific Social Club, filling in for resident okonomiyaki wizard Fumio Tanga while he caters a wedding. (To the happy couple who’ve commissioned an okonomiyaki stand on your big day: you’re awesome.) The menu will feature dishes from Kumamoto prefecture exclusively, including some nice, big flavors including horsemeat, lotus root, fermented mustard greens, maitake mushrooms, and orange. Pressure Drop beers and PSC cocktails will be on hand to wash everything down.

The meal will be served teishoku style, which is to say, the first four dishes will be served all at once, followed by dessert. Here is the menu:

Karashi Renkon
Lotus root stuffed with hot mustard miso paste

Horse Katsu
Horse rump, pounded, breaded, deep-fried, and served with katsu sauce

Takana-Meshi
Rice steamed with fermented spicy mustard greens

Maitake Mushroom and Pearl Barley Miso Soup

Sweet Potato and Orange Cheesecake

Tickets go on sale tomorrow, £25 a pop! Please keep an eye on my twitter feeds for the link. Hope to see you there!

Mitsukoshi Ramen: Get It While You Can

24 Jul

A lot of people ask me what I think of all the ramen shops that have opened up in London over the past two years. Truth is, I like them all. Each one is good at what it does, and each one has its own distinct personality and flavor.

But one stands out as my favorite: Mitsukoshi. It was a little late to the ramen scene, arriving many months after Ittenbari, Tonkotsu, Bone Daddies, and Shoryu. It’s had no PR blitz or social media buzz, so it opened somewhat off the radar despite a primo location on Lower Regent Street. I wouldn’t have known about it if I hadn’t glanced their easily overlooked A-board outside, and I probably wouldn’t have ventured in if I hadn’t been too impatient to queue for Shoryu one rainy evening. Mitsukoshi’s lack of press or word-of-mouth exposure means they’re rarely busy – I’ve been there five times now and I’ve never had to wait. Their clientele seems to be mostly Japanese, probably tourists, but that’s in keeping with Mitsukoshi London‘s customers in general. There’s really very little reason to go in there unless you’ve got some specifically Japanese reason to do so (I buy Japanese books and gifts there).

It’s a small space,  no more than about 25 covers. It has weird brick-red carpeting and rudimentary decor. The extraction isn’t very good, so the whole room can get a bit steamy with vaporized broth and noodle water. It’s the only place in London that I know of where you are served by the chefs themselves if you’re seated at the bar. All of these things – the no-frills design, the fog of pork, the counter service – make it the only ramen shop in town that actually feels like a ramen shop. I say this is not to disparage Mitsukoshi’s competitors (there are good, practical reason why this set up doesn’t work for most businesses) but to explain why I like it so much.

This is Mitsukoshi's shoyu  prawn wonton ramen. Note the flecks of fat throughout the broth and the slightly thick noodles.

Mitsukoshi’s shoyu prawn wonton ramen. Note the flecks of fat throughout the broth and the slightly thick noodles.

Of course, I also love the ramen itself. They have a few different options including frequently varying specials: miso, shoyu, tsukemen, etc., which are all very good and all feature different noodles to suit the broth. But my favorite is the ‘London Ramen,’ a distinctive tonkotsu-seafood blend with perfectly toothsome noodles in a complex, unique broth that has some of the glutinosity and funk of a good tonkotsu but with undertones of dried shellfish and delicately smoky katsuobushi. It’s rich (but not heavy), nuanced, deep, and vibrantly, moreishly salty. There’s probably MSG in it – more power to ‘em. And while the toppings are nothing special (bamboo shoots, spring onions, by-the-book chashu, nori, and half a boiled egg) they fit the bill to provide texture, balance, and good variation of flavor from mouthful to mouthful.

I have recommended Mitsukoshi to a few friends, and they’ve had mixed reactions – some have loved it, some have thought it’s kinda ‘meh,’ and one has called into question my taste in ramen. I will say the portion size is a bit small, but personally I don’t mind this because it helps keep the price below £10, and it means I don’t feel so bloated afterwards. But there is, of course, no universal standard for ramen perfection. Everyone has their own tastes and expectations. Mitsukoshi suits my own quite nicely, though it may not tick all the boxes for others.

I’d wanted to keep Mitsukoshi Ramen Bar something of a secret because I don’t like queuing and I don’t generally like loud, crowded restaurants. But now it has been announced that the whole Mitsukoshi London operation is closing down in a few months (probably about time, really), so I feel like people should give it a go while they still can. It’s a damn good bowl of noodles, and I’ll miss it. At least until Nanban opens.

P.S.: The gyoza here is good too. Really garlicky. I can’t recommend the karaage because it is not good, although on my last visit they had made some improvements to the recipe. If you fancy a before- or after-dinner drink, the bar adjacent to the ramen shop provides a relaxed, quiet space to have a Kirin or a shochu on the rocks.

‘The 20 Shocking Secrets Every Diner Should Know’ (EDIT)

15 Jul

This morning, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail published a fascinating list of insights from hospitality expert Imogen Edwards-Jones regarding the diabolical practices that go on behind closed doors in the restaurant business.

As an industry insider, I was blown away by some of Imogen’s findings. Truly appalling. Even so, much of what she said rang true with my own experiences. Inspired, I decided to amend her list with some of my own dirty restaurant secrets. Let the diner beware!

Read Imogen’s list first.

1. Restaurant food will contain the chef’s sweat, which is soaked up with tea towels and then wrung out onto fish dishes for a special ‘seawater seasoning.’

2. Staff, ingredients and prep time have to be factored into the cost of a dish, with a pizza the quickest way for restaurants to stay solvent so you can keep dining out on delicious pizza, you greedy fuck.

3. Restaurants love side dishes as much as they love a vegetarian option or a bowl of soup as they cost pennies and you find them delicious.

4. Scared to look like cheapskates, customers always order the second cheapest bottle on the wine list, which is given a higher mark-up. So always order bottles priced above £90 to ensure you’re getting good value for money.

5. Sometimes ‘The Specials’ are only ‘special’ because of their long-lasting influence on pop music around the world.

6. Top restaurants keep a little black book of incidents and some of the more exclusive will put a black mark against the names of obnoxious, self-serving food writers.

7. The business lunch is a restaurant’s bread and butter but as everyone wants to be in at 1pm and out by 2.30 the waiter will offer complimentary Sambuca shots to get you drunk faster. DO NOT BE TEMPTED.

8. Restaurants often keep some choice wines out on show and a few less choice ones below eye-level at the bar, so beware that the house wine is usually just dirty mop bucket water.

9. Don’t drink the wine if it is laid on its side under spotlights, as it is a lazy wine just trying to get a tan while the other wines toil away.

10. Since it has become more socially acceptable to order tap water, you may find yourself having to pee frequently throughout the meal. Avoid embarrassment by always carrying an empty Thermos or resealable plastic bag.

11. Men, be forewarned: menus are designed for women. If the restaurant doesn’t offer a Ginsters Steak Slice or Yorkie bar, you may be getting hoodwinked by the whims of the fairer sex.

12. Restaurants know women are easier to sell to and they’ve committed to sit there longer, which explains why you’re always running late for the opera.

13. Nobody ever checks their bill properly, so beware the infamous £20 ‘unobservant nitwit’ surcharge.

14. Seating the clientele is an art form, with skinny white girls in thongs seated near the front, skinny white men in hot pants nearby, and unkempt minorities somewhere near the back. Japanese businessmen, as always, come at the bottom of the pecking order.

15. Nothing matters more than getting a Michelin star. One star puts them on the map, two stars means they don’t even have to serve food anymore, and three stars means customers’ cash is hoovered directly into a swimming pool full of money in which the management play Marco Polo while quaffing Harvey Wallbangers.

16. Restaurants will re-use your half-drunk bottle of wine, serving it to kitchen staff to make them feel slightly more appreciated/less homicidal while working 100-hour weeks for £16k a year.

17. Restaurants hate email bookings as their computer keyboards are too clogged with duck fat and human blood to respond properly.

18. Drugs use is rife amongst workers, mainly caffeine.

19. Theft is common, and some is accepted including taking the odd bottle of wine. But others examples of theft, including stealing money, are not accepted. Whiskey and old lettuce are sort of a grey area.

20. It is still a sexist society, and of the 187,000 chefs currently working in the UK today, only 20 per cent, or some 37,000, are women.

Matsuri in London

15 Jul

matsuri in London

Summer in Japan means many things. Humidity. Cicadas. Cool biz. But most importantly, matsuri – festivals.

Fumio Tanga of Shofoodoh and I were lamenting the lack of matsuri in London, and ‘we should do this’ quickly became ‘omg we’re doing this’ after securing an awesome venue in Dalston Roof Park. Essentially, it will be a celebration of Japanese food and drink (for many, the main attractions at any matsuri) with a little culture thrown in for good measure. Kikkoman is sponsoring and we will have their delicious soy sauce on hand as part of the nagashi sōmen (flowing noodles) activity.

In addition to Background Bars serving beer, original cocktails, and matsuri staples chu-hai and umeshu soda, we’ve got a killer lineup of Japanese food traders:

Nanban (me): Whippy-San Japanese soft ice cream (banana miso on Saturday, matcha melon on Sunday)
Shofoodoh: otōshi (small salads and snacks)
Tonkotsu: karaage and karaage burgers
Pom Pom: takoyaki and potato-yaki
Petit Gateau: taiyaki, castella, and various sweet breads
Doya: Osaka-style okonomiyaki (choice of pork belly, squid kimchi, mochi cheese, or spring onion)

TimAndersonWhippySanBO_X1zTCMAEMVON.jpg-large

We’ve also got DJs spinning Japanese music throughout the day: Comadisco on disco, Chop Shop on Japanese psychadelic and soul, and Howard Williams on enka and other Japanese classics. We’ve secured a shamisen player and are hoping to book a taiko performer or two as well! The artist Haruhito Tomi will be creating origami and facilitating his ‘Exquisite Godzilla’ drawing workshop as well. Plus, we’re showing an anime film (which we cannot advertise) in the evening on both nights.

The weather’s looking good and everything is coming together. Lanterns and happi have been delivered, drinks have been sampled (and sampled again), and we are all really excited. Hopefully this will become an annual thing.

Advance tickets are now sold out, but you can still come on the day, although it will be one in/one out if and when the venue reaches capacity. (If it’s full when you arrive you can always chill out at Cafe Oto downstairs).

It’ll be matsuriffic!

Matsuri in London sponsored by Kikkoman
20 & 21 July, 2013, entry 15:00-late
Dalston Roof Park
18 Ashwin Street
London
E8 3DL

For enquiries please contact Emmanuella at Dalston Roof Park or myself.

Zainichi: Kimchinary-Nanban Mash-up!

11 Jul

UPDATE: Tickets and info here!

 

There are an awful lot of street food traders in London I love. But one I particularly love is Kimchinary, whose Korean tacos and ‘kimchini’ rice balls make me very happy indeed, transporting me simultaneously to both Los Angeles and Seoul. So I’m very excited to announce our upcoming collaboration, an offal-centric Korean-Southern Japanese dinner to be held on the 3rd of August at Platterform near London Bridge! Here is the awesome menu:

Makgeolli-Shochu Cocktail

Trio of Offal Skewers
Gopchang (tripe), soondae (blood sausage), gyūhatsu (beef heart)

Brawn-katsu with Sukjunamul
Deep-fried pig’s head, bean sprouts, katsu sauce

Beef Cheek Taco Rice
Slow-cooked spicy beef cheek, rice, lettuce, pickles

Kongguksu Hiyajiru
Chilled soy milk and miso noodle soup

Sweet Potato Sorbet with Tteok and Candied Crackling
Rice cakes, brown sugar ginger syrup, peanuts and sunflower seeds

Watch the Twitter feeds of Kimchinary and Nanban for info and tickets. It’ll be OFFALLY delicious!

Independence Day

2 Jul

Independence Day has always been one of my favourite holidays, not because I’m particularly patriotic, but because there’s just so much to do. See the parade, eat some barbecue, set off (barely) controlled explosions, drink beer and sangria. Plus you aren’t obligated to spend all day with your family. I like my family but it’s nice to have options.

So when Peyton and Byrne, the people behind the National Cafe, asked me to cater an Independence Day supper, I was honoured, and eager to oblige – on one condition. In order to recreate fond memories of summers past, I said I’d do it only if they’d let me serve 100% authentic Wisconsin food. They loved the idea.

So what, exactly, is Wisconsin food? Well here’s the menu:

Welcome Drink
Pressure Drop Brewing Wisconsin Wheat Cranberry Hefeweizen

Cheese Ball
With Great Grandmother Casanova’s Beer Bread

Firecracker Chicken
Spicy Chicken Wings with Lime-Cilantro Slaw and Firecracker Seasoning

Beer Bratwurst
With Caramelized and Crispy Onions and Homemade Sauerkraut
Served with Mom’s Lime and Thyme Potato Salad and Grandma’s Orange Pecan Salad

Summer Berry Kringle

The only thing on here that isn’t something I actually grew up with is the Firecracker Chicken, but that dish is awesome, so there it is. The beer is a one-off brewed by Pressure Drop specifically for this event, and it is goddamn delicious. Oh and I’m not attributing dishes to my relatives just to be cute. They really are their recipes.

So if you’re not doing anything on Thursday, come check it out. It’s good food from a happy place.

Tickets and info here.

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