Posts Tagged shrimp

Shio-koji stir fry numero uno

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Shio-kōji is a popular item in Japanese kitchens of late, and hence in “western” ones as well. Yusuke and I had wanted to try it for a while, so he brought back a jar on a recent trip to Japan. We subsequently found it at a local Japanese grocery; restocking will not be too arduous!

So, what is shio-kōji? Short answer: kōji with salt.

So, what is kōji? Short answer: fungus.

Here is a longer answer from Makiko Itoh in the Japan Times. (Visit the rest of the article to read more.)

Kōji (Aspergillus oryzae) was probably domesticated at least 2,000 years ago. It is used to make sake, mirin, shōchū, awamori (an Okinawan beverage), rice vinegar, soy sauce and miso – all ingredients that define Japanese food. No wonder that it was declared the kokkin (national fungus) by the Brewing Society of Japan, and the genome was closely protected until 2005. Besides Japan, it is also used extensively in China and Korea to ferment and mature various foods.

To use kōji, spores are mixed into steamed rice (potatoes, wheat and soybeans are also used, depending on the purpose), then allowed to mature for a period of time in a warm environment, about 50 degrees Celsius. The kōji turns the starch in the rice into sugar (a process called saccharification) and releases a variety of fatty acids and amino acids including glutamate, the basis for the “fifth taste,” umami. This kōji-rice mixture is called kome-kōji.

When mixed with salt (shio, in Japanese), kōji is a very tasty cooking seasoning. It can be used for a variety of purposes, but among the most popular is marinating meat, fish, tofu, or veggies.

So far, we’ve used it to marinate salmon, as well as in a few veggie stir fries. Pictured above is the first attempt.

Yusuke began by stir frying the following in sesame oil:

  • Asparagus
  • Mushrooms
  • Shrimp

When the veggies were nearly cooked, he stirred in about 2 tsp of shio-kōji and a sprinkling of black pepper. That’s it!

The concept of umami can be explained in many ways, but for me, it has to do with layers of taste and enhancing the natural flavours of the fresh veggies.

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Deep-fried harusame + veg

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Forgot to write up this dish from a while back. It didn’t quite come out as Yusuke expected, but I thought it was pretty cool.

There were two components: fried harusame and a veggie stir fry.

To begin with the routine side, Yusuke whipped up a typical stir fry with soy sauce and oyster sauce, featuring carrots, green onions, shrimp, and bean sprouts.

The main inspiration behind this dish, though, was an experiment with harusame.

I’ve mentioned harusame on this blog a few times before. Since it’s been several months, I’m copying in my usual description again:

So what are harusame noodles, one might ask?

The wikipedia article offers the translation “cellophane noodles,” which sounds pretty much unappetizing to me. But other descriptions are better: glass noodles, bean thread noodles, or vermicelli.

According to Wise Geek, they’re Japanese noodles made from potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, or mung bean starch.

The noodles are extremely thin and become translucent when cooked. Since they’re less dense or “doughy” than other types of noodles, they’re delightful in soup!

Harusame (春雨) means spring rain, and you can google for more pics.

We most recently bought a big pack at a nearby Chinese grocery. When it’s dry, it’s sort of nested in a pack, but not curly like instant ramen.

We don’t have a deep fryer, so Yusuke attempted his experiment in a fairly deep frying pan, pouring in a few glugs of canola oil and adding a pile of dry noodles over medium heat. He thought that more oil would’ve had a better effect, but I guess our pan wasn’t deep enough.

The harusame is hard, so as soon as it hits the hot oil, it starts to expand. When the whole tangle of noodles turned white in colour, he removed the batch and added another.

Some sections ended up rather more oily than others although he was quick with paper towels to soak up the oil. The final product, overall, had a rice cracker-like crunchiness.

After several batches were done…the giant mess happened.

In order to serve the dish, Yusuke wanted to make the finished tangle of noodles smaller. So, he put some on a plate, took a big knife, and went *SMACK* on top of the noodles. The result was a spectacular crunch action that had projectile consequences. In other words, the fried noodles shattered and debris went across the kitchen. But it still ended up nicely on our plates somehow in the end, and Yusuke arranged the veggie stir fry over the top.

Incidentally, lots of other crunchy little noodles escaped during various points of the process, so the clean up crew (moi) had lots to do!

Overall, it wasn’t perfect, but still tasty and kinda fun.

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Thai-ish stir fry

First step: boil snap peas with sea salt for about 2 minutes and then drain.

Next it was the potatoes‘ turn to be cut into strips and soaked in water for a few minutes.

In a frying pan, he sauteed ginger and fresh garlic in a bit of oil. He then added the potatoes, followed by the snap peas, and finally defrosted frozen shrimp.

He then turned off the heat and added 1/2 tsp of nam pla and a tiny bit of maple syrup. The sweetness very nicely balanced the salty taste.

The unique flavour of nam pla (Thai fish sauce) comes from fermentation, which brings out a richer taste in the food to which it is added—the famous concept of umami.

I must note, though, that nam pla made our apartment stink, especially in combination with the fresh garlic. However, the smell disappears as soon as the sauce is heated and mixes with other flavours. The food itself was delicious, with no trace of fishiness.

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Chinese-style shrimp melange

Yusuke described this stir fry as “Chinese style.” He began by quickly boiling thin strips of zucchini—for about 3 minutes. The shorter the time, the crunchier the zucchini. He then drained the water.

The original recipe that inspired him called for carrots and pork, but we didn’t have either; he opted for shrimp and crimini mushrooms instead. He boiled the mushrooms for 1 minute and drained well.

He combined the three chief elements in a bowl and added:

  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • a pinch of black pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp of lime juice
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil (olive or canola would also work)
  • a tiny bit of ajinomoto flavour enhancer (MSG! use with caution!)
  • a pinch of white sugar

As Yusuke put it, cooking is chemistry!

He just mixed everything up, and that was it.

On the side, we had a nice consommé soup, the picture of which I seem to have misplaced. He used a consommé powder, which I was surprised to note was produced in Israel. I wasn’t really familiar with what consommé actually is, and I’m still not exactly sure how it’s different from other stocks and bouillon. The label said that it was “chicken style,” but chicken isn’t listed in the ingredients. Instead, the word “celery” is in bolded font on the package. Even better. Yusuke said that it’s much easier to find in Japan; he has had a hard time locating it in Canada.

To the broth, he added a pinch of white sugar, a few drops of soy sauce, and ginger. The veggies were bok choy, cubed potatoes, and white onions.

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Lettuce soup

Our summer organic food baskets have included lots of lovely iceburg lettuce grown here in Quebec.

I had never had lettuce in soup before, to the best of my recollection, but it was fantastic: very smooth and sweet. According to Yusuke, it’s common in Chinese cuisine, at least as it’s prepared in Japan.

So here are the assembly steps:

Boil the loosely torn lettuce for about 10 seconds and then place portions in the serving bowls.

Prepare a broth:

  • chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • cooking sake
  • minced ginger
  • tiny pinch of salt

Add cubed firm tofu and shrimp and boil until cooked.

Spoon into the bowls with lettuce and eat!

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Shrimp and asparagus goodness

Omm nom nom shrimp.

First, Yusuke defrosted frozen shrimp and soaked them in a beaten eggs with a pinch of salt and pepper. The original recipe that inspired this meal called for egg whites only, as well as katakuriko to make the shrimp crispy when fried, but Yusuke said he was too lazy to do this. (He’s too hard on himself.)

Next, he sautéed sliced white onions and sliced asparagus in a frying pan. [Aside: It seems that it’s asparagus season somewhere: I keep finding beautiful specimens at the grocery store.]

Next into the pan went a healthy dollop of minced ginger and then a “soup” of 3.5-4 cups of chicken stock, a pinch each of sugar, black pepper, and sugar. Finally, he added the shrimp and cooked everything for a while longer. Finally, he reduced the heat and mixed in 1 tbsp of katakuriko.

We also had miso soup with eggplant and green onions. But I suck at photography.

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Soba

I’ve written about soba before… à propos of nothing, here’s another.

Soba noodles—made of buckwheat—only take about 5 minutes to cook. Overcooked soba = disaster!

To eat the soba, we filled our bowls with soba sauce (soy sauce, sake, mirin, and dashi) and mixed in a selection of mushrooms, chopped okra, shrimp and chicken. This time we also mixed in crumbled nori (seaweed) and wasabi. To eat the soba, you grab a bunch of noodles, swirl it in the bowl, and slurp it up.

I put rather too much wasabi in my bowl, leading Yusuke to offer an important wasabi tip: when your eyes start to water, inhale. DON’T exhale!

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