Ice Fishing & Shishamo

March 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

Last weekend I had the opportunity to go ice fishing on Kanayama Lake.

As you can see from the number of tents, ice fishing is a relatively popular past time in Hokkaido. We were fishing for shishamo, which are a type of Japanese smelt (edit: these are actually wakasagi, which are a type of fresh water smelt – shishamo are salt water smelt). The gentlemen I accompanied had a tent complete with tea kettle, heaters, copious amounts of beer, and six relatively narrow holes bored deep into the ice.

Several large water bottles and a bucket were used to hold the fish we caught.

Me, excited to pose with dinner.

Shishamo (and wakasagi) are generally prepared whole, deep fried or grilled and salted. They are especially popular in izakaya. At the end of the day I left with about 20 smelts, hungry for dinner. I decided to cook them the way my fishing companions had recommended. It’s very simple and doesn’t really require a recipe, but I’ll detail the method.

First, wash and dry the fish.

Next heat the oil in the vessel of your preference for deep frying. I ended up using olive oil because I was out of vegetable oil, but I wouldn’t recommend it (I got splattered a lot). Coat the fish in potato starch (I think you could substitute corn starch if necessary). Fry in the oil until crisp and golden. Let drain on paper towels and salt generously.

I think the trick here is to make sure the fish are as crisp as possible and amply salted. They should be eaten while still hot.

I was a little apprehensive about preparing these. I very rarely cook fish. My fisherman friends said that if a smelt is on the larger side, it should be cut up and the feces/innards removed. But size is relative and the smaller ones also have feces. So… I’m eating fish feces. What if I didn’t cook them enough? I don’t want to be eating fish feces at all but I won’t tolerate them under-cooked (what is the correct cooking time for fish feces anyway?).

Although I enjoyed the taste (the brains were a little bitter) and I’ve had these in izakaya before and never had an issue, I think the process of catching and cooking the fish ended up being a little problematic for me. But I had been told I had to eat them all, because I killed them, and I was feeling a little guilty, so I did.


Winter in Hokkaido – Kimchi Jigae

March 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

Does your bathroom ever smell liked cooked pee? Uh, neither does mine. But well I got a small heater for my bathroom so the toilet would stop freezing and let’s just say – there are side effects. Within the first two days of being back, I had two broken sinks, a burst pipe that flooded the floor, an ice-covered toilet seat, and a frozen, unflushable toilet.

But don’t worry, this isn’t a recipe for cooked pee (how easy would that recipe be?). It is, however, a recipe for those days when your toilet seat is covered in icicles and you can see your breath while you’re peeing. These days still happen here, even in March.

Kimchi & Pork Belly Stew

This is a recipe that you can easily adjust to whatever ingredients you have, and which I’ve made a number of ways. Here are the basics, but please feel free to substitute whatever you like. It’s loosely based on several recipes for kimchi jigae.


1 onion, sliced
2 large carrots, sliced in thick wedges or rounds
1 daikon, sliced and quartered
meat! (I’ve used thinly sliced pork belly, thick cut pork belly, lamb with the skin on, and various combinations of the three – you can use whatever you fancy, but the thick pork belly and lamb get very tender with this kind of preparation and add a lot of flavor to the finished product)
package of thick shirataki (you can use thin, but I like the texture of the udon-thick variety)
package kimchi (1-2 cups)
4 cloves minced garlic
1/2 c sake
1 c water (add more if needed, depending on how much vegetables/meat you use, everything should be covered – adjust miso, etc. accordingly)
1/4 c light soy sauce (don’t use regular soy sauce, it will be too salty)
1 tbs mirin
2-3 tbs miso (adjust to taste)
2-3 tsp gochujang (adjust to taste)
2 tsp minced ginger
tofu (optional)
green onions/naganegi, sliced thinly (optional)


Fry the pork belly and/or lamb (skin side down) to render the fat. Remove from the pan and stir fry the onions. Add the carrots, daikon, and any other vegetable you’d like to use (I’ve tried sweet potatoes and potatoes before). Add the meat back into the pan along with the kimchi, shirataki, and garlic. When fragrant add the sake, water, soy sauce, mirin, miso, gochujang, and ginger. Stir to combine and adjust to taste. Bring to a boil and then cover and turn down to a simmer. Simmer for 1-2 hours or until the vegetables and meat are tender. You can also add cubes of tofu at the end and let simmer until heated through. Garnish with sliced green onions or naganegi. This is good served on rice, but with the shirataki I prefer to eat it without.

Christmas Dim Sum

February 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

Over the years, our Jewy Christmas traditions have evolved into an annual day of dim sum. This year we made our usual pork buns, potstickers, shui mai, and green onion pancakes.

Pork buns pre-steaming filled with Chinese BBQ pork.

Filling the shui mai. Usually we make a shrimp and pork filling but this year we did lobster. Unfortunately the texture and the flavor of the lobster didn’t quite hold up to the steaming process.

Finally the potstickers. Regional Cooking of China by Margaret Gin and Alfred E. Castle is our go-to cookbook for dough and filling recipes but this year I used a recipe for pork filling from Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen. I was definitely apprehensive about taking a departure from what we usually do, but these were great.

Momofuku Kimchi, Spider Stake-Out 2011

September 3, 2011 § 2 Comments

The motherfucking spiders nested across my front door again. They aren’t the most subtle spiders, their webs have been increasing in size and strategic placement over the months and I am aware of their designs on me. When I came home and saw the motherfucker spinning its web across the door (again!) I leapt inside and, once safely secured, contemplated the best dissuasion tactics I might use to abort any future web-traps. All I could think of was mace, which is what the other white person in town uses for bears, although I think by the time he’s close enough to actually spray the bear the bear is close enough to disembowel him. Well, I didn’t have any mace, so I settled on my next best option. CLEANING SPRAY. From the relative safety of my doorway, I sprayed the shit out of the spider before tearing back inside. I then realized that I now had a web directly across my front door and a spider waiting in it, who was probably pissed as shit. Terrified that I would forget and walk directly into it in the morning, I wrote myself a note SPIDER and taped it directly to the front door.

This one

In the morning, I cautiously peered out but saw no sign of my furry, pissed-off friend. I HAD FINALLY SHOWN HIM MY DOMINANCE. I swept the web and a mostly dead moth aside. As I left the house, I turned to contemplate my victory and saw that NOT ONLY was angry cleaning-spray spider concealed next to where my head had been moments before, but he had brought two, significantly larger friends. The only option that occurred to me was throwing rocks at them, but I couldn’t be sure I wouldn’t be leapt on and outnumbered so I sprang from my house with some haste. I lived the following days in fear of their waiting wrath. The stand off lasted four days. By day two, the numbers of spiders had increased to SIX. I couldn’t keep leaping in and out of my house like this. It was going to give me a jumping tic or something. I finally decided to resort to chemical warfare. As of today, the spider stake-out of 2011 is over.  But won’t their ghosts return to haunt me? you ask. Yes, I’m fairly sure that they will.

This is a dish that you can make when you’ve had an intense stand-off with several large spiders culminating in a chemical raid and are experiencing the subsequent fear of returning, vengeful spider spirits. David Chang’s Napa cabbage kimchi. Mincing 20 cloves of garlic and 20 slices of ginger is sure to sooth you gently. It also made everything within a 20-foot perimeter of my house smell like garlic (spiders hate garlic right?).

I have the Momofuku cookbook (two copies), but you can find the recipe online here. I used half cabbage, half daikon. And while this turned out really well, it was about 10x spicier than when I’ve had it at any of the Momofuku restaurants. I think the culprit was my kochukaru substitute (the only thing in the store I could find that looked like chili powder, clearly it was a lot spicier than expected). I also can’t get kosher salt here so I used regular rock salt and I didn’t have a problem, but I didn’t age it too long because I’m impatient and prone to snacking (usually while drunk — by the time I realize my mouth is buring it’s too late). I also made some very fine pork belly and kimchi stir fry.

Pork & Shiitake Fried Rice

August 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

Let me preface this recipe, which I made up today and makes possibly the best fried rice I’ve had, with a story. A brief story of my day today, which is also the story of a cat defecating and a thundergale. On my way to work today I noticed, trotting before me on a rather deserted uphill stretch of road, a very reasonable black-brown cat. He was moving as some speed. Having waited for such an opportunity for several months in which I might take advantage of some quality cat-socialization, I was afraid he might run off before I could catch up with him. Imagine my luck when he pranced aside into the long grass running along the roadside. How opportune! I was in view of no house or person and my fears of arousing some secret cultural custom forbidding foreigners from making free with cats was silenced. As I drew up alongside this very nice cat, I realized he had stopped to enjoy a bowel movement.

What I anticipated

I stopped and looked at him. He looked at me. We looked at each other awkwardly. I realized that I couldn’t exactly pat him while he was taking a shit. Standing there watching and waiting for him to finish seemed equally out of the question. Yet in those few seconds I had for contemplation, this is exactly what I did. I proceeded to exchanged awkward eye-contact with a cat shoving feces from its bottom. When he was finished I didn’t even have the opportunity to contemplate the appropriateness of a post-dump pat. The cat sprang away from me, horrified. I’m fairly certain I made such an impression on this cat that soon all the cats in the village will know me, wise to my cat-dump-watching-ways, allowing me nowhere near them and their furry, pat-inviting little heads. The damage has been done. I only hope others can learn from my mistake. If you ever find yourself in such a situation, I strongly recommend doing the cat the courtesy of pretending to be ignorant of its bowel activities by continuing on your way. This will save yourself and the cat some embarrassment.

When I got home there was a violent thundergale. This was, perhaps, God’s Judgement.

Afterwards the hawks were drying their feathers in the sun above my front yard.

Here follows a recipe for pork & shiitake fried rice. I really love using Japanese rice in this because it sticks together in clusters, allowing the outsides to crisp while the inside remain pleasantly chewy. The crackly fried garlic and ginger (inspired by Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s fried rice) balance the flavor and texture of the crisp, chewy rice, sweet naganegi, and plush, meaty mushrooms.

5 shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 naganegi, cut in 1/2 inch long lengths
3 cloves (or more) garlic, minced
equal amount ginger, minced
thinly sliced pork (belly meat preferable)
2 eggs
1 1/2 c (approximately) leftover, cooked short-grain rice (if clumped together, break up)
soy sauce
sesame oil
cooking oil

Heat oil in frying pan or wok till hot. Add garlic and ginger and stir fry until golden brown and crispy. Remove from pan and let drain on paper towel. Salt.
With oil left in pan (add more if necessary), stir fry the naganegi and shiitake mushrooms until soft and starting to change color. Add salt. Remove from pan and reserve in bowl.
Fry the meat until cooked. Place in bowl with naganegi and mushrooms, salt lightly.
Fry the two eggs, scrambling them in the pan until almost done, then remove to bowl.
Add oil to the pan. When hot (very hot!), add the rice and stir fry for approximately 5 minutes. Don’t worry if it starts to stick together, break it up as much as possible with a spatula and make sure to flip it so it cooks evenly and doesn’t burn. When it starts to crisp, turn the heat down and add the vegetables, meat, and eggs back into the pan. Mix together and add approximately 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce (to taste), salt, pepper, and finally a drizzle of sesame seed oil. Once combined, serve immediately, sprinkling with the reserved garlic and ginger.

Cream Cheese Pancakes and Lemon Curd

August 15, 2011 § 1 Comment

I made pancakes on Sunday. These pancakes, to be precise. Or, basically anyway. The stores are closed on Sunday and really I was in no mood to leave the house, so I omitted the lemon and blueberries (blueberries are also $1 a berry here). Of course, there is no buttermilk to be had in the northern reaches of Hokkaido. I substituted half whole milk and half heavy cream. Honestly, I will substitute heavy cream for any liquid, in any recipe.

I used a pastry blender to incorporate the cream cheese. It shouldn’t be completely blended, you want little pockets of  cream cheese in the finished product. A bite into these perfectly fat little pancakes rewards with silky mouthfuls of cream cheese. These are thick and fluffy and really really rich. I ate two, and two was too many. Really, when considering making these (meaning my heavy cream-filled version), you just need to ask yourself what kind of pancake girl, man, or horse you are. I like the thick, creamy, but not overly dense variety (yogurt pancakes being my favorite), so these suited me.

I think a nice, tart strawberry reduction and some crisp bacon would have provided the appropriate balance and cut through the richness, but they’re more than satisfying with warm maple syrup and a pat of sweet Hokkaido butter (don’t think about skipping the butter, I’m watching you…. is fattly an adverb? Can it be? It’s so much more sinister and obese than fattily). I cooked the rest of the pancakes and dolloped some of my leftover lemon curd in the middle, They’re in the freezer, waiting. Fattly, if you will.

The many uses of lemon curd. Generally, to be put upon a spoon and inserted into the mouth. I like this recipe a lot, Alton Brown generally being my go-to for everything, from carrot cakes to being a psychic wizard. I’ve actually made this recipe a lot and, like the people in the comments, never had the curd thicken properly (although honestly this isn’t a problem, it will thicken fine when it cools). This time it actually thickened when it was supposed to. This may or may not be beneficial, but I think the difference was using a metal bowl and also properly whisking it the entire time instead of just stirring. Worth a try!

‘Smoke on Sundays when you’re drunk and dressed’

July 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

Grey, grey Hokkaido mornings. 70 degrees and almost August. These typical grey days are full with storm bursts, sudden downpours. I’m sitting at my chabudai nursing a headache (wine-induced) listening to Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago, which is for me somehow and in all ways perfect. Back to the headache, but let’s start earlier.

For dinner last night I made katsu kare, which I love but have never made before because, once upon a time, hot oil scared me (tonkatsu isn’t actually deep-fried). I used a recipe from No Recipes, which I think is a really lovely website. I don’t have a thermometer so I was kind of winging the cooking time and temperature. I tested the heat of the oil by throwing some panko in and waiting until it sizzled, then kept the flame around medium high to keep the temperature level. I ended up cooking the pork for a couple of minutes on each side until nice and golden. Just keep an eye on it.

 The meat was really juicy and flavorful and the panko was nice and crisp.  I laid it out on some rice with a quick curry sauce (made from curry roux cubes). The curry sauce would obviously be better if you made it yourself, but in a pinch the roux cubes work. I personally like them because they remind me of the curry my host grandmother made when I lived in Toyohashi. Continuing with my menu of nostalgic tastes, I made somen for lunch.

Somen, somen dipping sauce, sesame seeds.

Over the course of yesterday I watched Half Nelson, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and the Notebook. Over the course of the week I also watched Taxi Driver and Saturday Night Fever. Can you tell I miss New York? It was hard to see Veselka and the other places in my city and not be there. I miss New York nights, the possibilities, the mornings. It’s Sunday morning, I should be at Veselka with a bowl of borscht, a mug of hot black coffee, and the newspaper. This called for wine.

Cute, right? A birthday gift (along with whole potatoes in shrink wrap…). It’s called Higuma no Banshaku (brown bear’s nightcap), 2007 vintage, from the Furano Winery. To be honest, I am a little skeptical of most Japanese wine. I generally stick to nihonshu. It was hard for me to decipher what varietals this was made from, definitely a mix (I looked it up on their website, from what I can understand it’s a mix of mountain grapes and Seibel grapes). It’s very fruity with a sour punch. It tasted young, I think the acidity needed to be better balanced, but it was definitely drinkable and I drank the entire bottle. I needed it to get through The Notebook (an otherwise insurmountable task).

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