October 26, 2004

breakaway not-so-Japanese cooking

Saturday, October 23

When I found and tried "boozy potatoes" about a month ago, I came to know of cookbook called The Breakaway Japanese Kitchen: Inspired New Tastes (Kodansha International, 2003) by Eric Gower and was instantly interested with the concept of the book. I later ordered a copy (along with a couple of other cookbooks) had it delivered a few days ago. The book didn't belie my expectation - or it might have, in a way that it breaks away our conventional idea of Japanese cooking. I eagerly turned the pages and almost all recipes were appealing to me - I wanted to try them all but I didn't know where to start. (Table of contents of the book can be seen in Eric Gower's website: here)

Eventually, circumstances let me to decide on one recipe to start; shiitake pesto. I came to choose this one because it was a rainy day outside and couldn't go out for shopping, and I happened to have (almost) all the ingredients at home for this particular recipe. The technique used in this recipe is marvelous; you mill dried shiitake mushrooms into powder to make a base for pesto, instead of reconstituting them with water, which is, like Mr. Gower points out, a single most common way to use shiitake mushrooms in Japan. This certainly fascinated me, besides the fact that I loathe shiitake mushrooms. I can eat them if they are in miniature pieces, but will rather do anything to avoid them. I just can't stand their taste, smell, semblance, everything.

So I wasn't going to make shiitake pesto straight away (I'd faint away if I do) but was keen to try the method of cooking, using other kinds of dried mushrooms.

I had a plenty of dried mushrooms including porcini, black trumpet, and oyster mushrooms, as well as black truffles which I had sort of wondered what to do with. I put a large handful of these assorted dried mushrooms in a blender and ground them, then mixed in other ingredients, namely, roasted almonds (I added walnut just because I didn't have enough almonds), garlic, cream cheese, olive oil, etc. The recipe says several tablespoons of carrot juice will help the blender run better and also adds some complex flavor to the pesto, so I shredded some carrot to make carrot juice - then I thought that it shouldn't hurt if I put the whole carrot in the pesto, instead of just the juice of it. So I did.

The pesto was ready in a matter of five minutes or so, and as I cook pasta I grilled some sliced shimeji mushrooms, which I arranged on top of the pasta with pesto. The finish-up parmesan was "optional", but of course I grated some parmigiano reggiano over my pasta.

Considering the amount of dried mushrooms used in the pesto, it had to have quite strong flavor of mushrooms. I mean, for dried mushrooms like porcini, a small amount goes a long way in making a broth, and you rarely ever need to use a large handful of them at one time. The pasta, it turned out, had a robust, earthy taste yet with surprisingly delicate mixture of flavors. The taste was sure pretty strong, but nothing too much. A dish with a lot of mushrooms tends to make me associate it with autumn, but this one would be more of a winter dish; it would make a very filling and satisfying meal on a rainy, chilly day like this.

Come to think about it, by the way, last time for the boozy potatoes I used white wine instead of Japanese sake, and this time I substituted mixture of mushrooms for shiitake mushrooms, which basically means that for both times I replaced the "essence" of Eric Gower's recipe that adds the a taste of Japanese to the dish with something not at all Japanese-y, making the dish falling into no particular category... even so, both of the dishes were great and I am excited to try another recipe from the book.

Thank Renee for introducing me to such a lovely book.


Eric Gower said...

Hey, thanks a lot! I was pointed here by an old friend, and I appreciate your kind comments. You totally keep the spirit of the book by adapting the recipes with whatever you have on hand. I will definitely try the shiitake pesto with juiced carrot pulp -- looks fantastic!

Thanks again,


chika said...

Hi Eric,

wowwww, how often could I get a comment from the very author of a book I have mentioned in my blog? NOT very often, I guess... Thank you very much for stopping by and leaving a comment (I want to thank your old friend, too), I am really thrilled with this.

I really like the way you use "Japanese" ingredients in "Western" cooking and vice versa. For some of them I can imagine how they would taste, and for some I have little idea how they would be like... I guess I can only try and see it myself!

Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

hi Chika,
oh my! this looks wonderful!
this was one of the first recipes that appealed to me from the book, and I've been meaning to try it, though I have yet to get round to it.
I'm so glad you made it, and I love the idea of using a mix of dried mushrooms.

isn't the book quite lovely? almost every recipe calls out to be tried : )


Anonymous said...

Hi Renee,

yeah you really should try this one out, especially if you don't mind using shiitake mushroom... I'm really curious how it would taste like!