Monday, September 29, 2008

9/27/08: Dashi Lecture at MTC Restaurant Show

One of the seminars held during Mutual Trading Restaurant Show was the presenation on Dashi, the Japanese stock. Dashi is one of the key ingredients that give Japanese cuisine its identity. Dashi is used in anything from base for miso soup, noodle soup, to dipping sauce for tempura.

Dashi is rich in the savory flavor/sensation called "umami." Umami is present in such food as tomato, chocolate, and fermented food such as cheese, miso, and of course, saké. On a side note, Dashi was the inspiration for the invention of flavor enhancer, monosodium glutenate (MSG).

Presenting Dashi to the audience was Mr. Masato Nishihara, who has served spent 10 years in the kitchen of Arashiyama Kitcho in Kyoto, Japan. His new restaurant "Kajitsu" in East Village is scheduled to open in January, 2009.

Chef Nishihara holds the dried kombu kelp used to make Kombu Dashi. Selection of kombu is essential, as current movement and mineral content affect the quality and flavor; the best ones are off the coast of Hokkaido.

Kombu Dashi is made strictly with kombu. To make his Dashi, Mr. Nishihara soaks his kombu overnight (recipe to follow). The flavor provided a gentle remider of the sea.

Bonito shaving is added to kombu dashi to make Katsuo Dashi. Here, a moderator/translator Harris Salat of The Japanese Food Report holds the cured bonito, before shaving. (Note the amount of dashi-centric articles at The Japanse Food Report.)

Katsuo Dashi, noticeable darker than Kombu Dashi. This is also known as "Ichiban Dashi," or the first dashi. Flavor-wise, there was smokiness and meatiness, reminiscent of a bacon. (Recipe to follow.)

Next, Chef made Niban Dashi, a pressed through second infusion. While Ichiban Dashi is commonly reserved for soup, Niban Dashi is commonly used as a base for dipping sauce for noodles.

Chef made a dashi from shiitaké by soaking the mushroom overnight. While not as common as Kombu or Katsuo Dashi, Shiitaké Dashi is often used in combination with other dashi to provide earthier flavor.

Here Niban Dashi based Soba Tsuyu, a bolder flavor sauce used for dipping soba noodles. The intense color and flavor is more common in the eastern Kanto region of Japan. (Recipe to follow)

On the other hand, Tempira Tsuyu is flavor reflective of the western Kansai region. Althoguh lighter in color, Tempura Tsuyu is strongly flavored as they use Ichiban Dashi and a lightly colored soy with high sodium content.


Konbu Dashi
1 liter water
1.06 oz. Kombu

* Soak komnbu in water for 8 ~ 12 hours.


Ichiban Dashi
Kombu Dashi from above
0.70 oz Bonito Flakes

* Remove Kombu from Dashi.
* Bring Kombu Dashi to boil
* Add Bonito Flakes and boil for 30 seconds
* Turn off heat, and let stand until flakes fall to the bottom
* Strain through a fine strainer; to maintain clarity, never forcibly apply pressure.
* (Kombu and Bonito Flakes can be saved to make Niban Dashi)


Niban Dashi
Kombu and Bonito Flakes from Ichiban Dashi
1 liter water
0.18 oz Bonito Flakes

* Add water and used Kombu and Bonito Flakes to a pot, and boil
* Before water reaches boiling point, add the unsued Bonito Flakes
* Follow the same procedure as above.


Soba Tsuyu
100 ml Mirin
100 ml Koikuchi Soy Sauce
400 ml Niban Dashi
1.06 oz Bonito Flakes

* Add mirin to sauce pan, boil off alcohol
* Add soy sauce, and bring to a boil
* Add Dashi, and turn off heat once it reaches boiling point
* Add Bonito Flakes, and let stand until room temperature
* Strain through a fine strainer without forcibly applying pressure.


Tempura Tsuyu
100 ml Mirin
100 ml Koikuchi Soy Sauce
600 ml Niban Dashi

* Add mirin to sauce pan, boil off alcohol
* Add soy sauce, and bring to a boil
* Add Dashi, and turn off heat once it reaches boiling point.

9/27/08: Mutual Trading Restaurant Show

The Saturday following Joy of Saké is the Mutual Trading Company's Food and Restaurant Show. My third visit unveiled some surprises.

Here's what transpired:

My first stop was Nanbu Bijin booth, hoping to pay my respect to Kuji-san. Unfortunately, he was still on a plane. What had arrived, however, were two versions of All-Koji, the 2004 and 2008 vintages. The 2004 was smooth and mild, while 2008 showed more earthiness and briskness.

It didn't take me too long to find a friendly face in the form of Aisawa-san. Also shown is the Hakuro Suishu Nama Daiginjo, recipient of the Gold Medal for National Saké Appraisal. This was an excellent saké, with outstanding softness, depth, and balance.

Unlike last year where he brought his entire Hakuro Suishu Nama Genshu series, Aisawa-san showcase a more focused portfolio. From JOS, I gained much appreciation for Hakuro Suishu Junmai Ginjo made in Muroka style using the local Dewa San San rice (pictured left), while Také No Tsuyu Junmai is one of the best-valued saké on the market. The 10 year Koshu was a pleasant surprise (2nd from the left).

"Onigoroshi" is one of those ubiquitous label on the market. Michinoku Onigashima from Miyagi is one of the standouts, with a very light and dry style suitable for both chilled and warm serving conditions.

As it was approaching 11:00 am for the Dashi Seminar which I was dying to attend, I was going to leave the saké room and head to the seminar room. However, right on the way was Hakkaisan, with Kubota on the next booth. I could not say "no," and tried those selections as well as Kikusui, Sharaku, and Tengumai. Tragically, as I was in the rush, I didn't have the luxury of taking the picture, and forgot to take the picture after the seminar.

After the seminar, I stopped by Komachi Shuzo from Gifu, creator of Nagaragawa "Symphony" Sparkling Nigori Namazaké. Like the famous Shirakawago from Gifu, Nagaragawa was a richer and drier style of Nigori. What is fascinating is that the brewers play music throughout their brewing process. The music, kind of repetitious "healing music" sends constant vibrations to the water rearranging molecules in organized manner. The brewers believe this is an ideal condition for fermentation. As a result, their heavier- style Nigori is light and clean on the palate.

It did not take long for me to spot this perennial powerhouse, Born's Yumé Wa Masayumé Aged Junmai Daiginjo. The careful aging process over five years is reflected in the very smooth, mellow, and delicate flavor.

Any time I see Kato-san, he is with beautiful women. This time, he is with his daughter. (Must be the water!)

Another pretty thing was the packaging for Hyozan, where 3 bottles create a mini-iceburg.

I was introduced to Muromachi Shuzo two years ago, and really introduced me to the wonders of Omachi Rice. This time around, they even had Shochu made from Omachi to try (fruity elegance on the palate, with soft minerally finish.)

The famed Tama No Hikari from Kyoto also has saké made from Omachi, in the form of their Junmai Daiginjo. Tama No Hikari was notable for their softer, earthier approach.

Around the corner, with a nice view of lower Manhattan, was the bar area with Shochu selections.

There were quite a few selections to choose from...

I opted to try two different Hozan series. Beniazuma (left) was cleaner style with pronounced depth and driness, while Shiroyutaka was milder, softer, and rounder in style.

Another new discovery today was Synchro Coffee Shochu. Tasting full of coffee beans with dry finish, it mixed well with Japanese yogurt flavored beverage, Calpico.

Next to the Shochu Bar was seminar room. Upon entering the room, I found Toshi from Saké Hana getting ready to conduct a presentation.

The topic of the lecture was on increasing saké sales. Opening remark was made by Kohiyama-san from Takasago Brewery in Hokkaido.

One of the many highlights is tasting sakés from the oldest brewery in Japan and maker of Sato No Homaré label, the incomparable Sudo Honké. The new discovery was Hana Awase Junmai Ginjo Nama. Gentle and subtle in style, yet slightly more expressive than Yusura also made in the Junmai Ginjo Nama fashion.

Before long, some very prominent figures gathered around. From left to right: Sudo-san, Mukai-san (food blogger, author), Ishiguro-san (consultant), Sakurai-san Sr. (Dassai), Kato-san (Born), and one lucky saké blogger. (Mr. Urban Saké is behind the camera.)

In retrospect, there aren't too many better ways to spend a Saturday afternoon, that's for sure!

9/25/08: The Joy of Saké

The Saké Week reaches its climax when once again, the biggest show on saké rolls into town courtesy of World Saké Importers. Once upon the time, I used Joy of Saké as a vehicle to make tasting notes on as many sakés as possible. It's a good and noble concept, but let's face it, taste bud goes out the window after tasting 20 competition grade daiginjos or so. Then, you realize that you still have 280 sakés to try...

In reality, Joy of Saké is a grand ol' party for people in the industry.

Here's the photo-essay from JOS:

The event began with Kagamiwari, a traditional barrel breaking ceremony to kick off JOS. The featured saké was Taiheizan's Tenko, Kimoto Junmai Daiginjo that has won an unprecedented 8 consecutive Gold Medals in National Saké Appraisal.

The event was spread over three floor. I began at the top, and found one of my old time favorites Minowamon Jumai Daiginjo made in traditional Kimoto style by the incomparable Daishichi Brewery.

Most of the selections on the top floor was very intense, competition-type sakés.

Third floor with its open center offered a nice vantage point for a shot at table layout on the second floor.

On the second floor, I located a very interesting saké... the one that share the same name as yours truly. Fortunately, the saké was very good!

I came across an interesting looking bottle, made by one of the top producer Okunomatsu.

Second floor also featured Akita Brewers.

The first floor featured some nostalgic selections, including Dassai 39.

In addition, I came across a rare bottle by Shichiken

There were plenty of friends, including Aisawa-san from Také No Tsuyu and Midori-san of Sushi Samba in Miami.

Chad Beverlin of Vine Connections and Toshi from Saké Hana.

Here I am with Midori-san from Joto Saké.

After JOS, I headed to Rai Rai Ken for some of their gyoza...

...and in observance of the Japanese drinking culture, their Miso Ramen to finish off the evening.

9/24/08: Akita Saké Tasting at Sakagura

On the eve of Joy of Saké, Sakagura hosted an event hosted by Akita Saké Promotion and Export Council (ASPEC). As the name suggest, the event involved five following fine selections: Naba Shoten (那波商店), Akita Seishu (秋田清酒), Suzuki Shuzoten (鈴木酒造店), Tenju Shuzo (天寿酒造), and Hinomaru Jozo (日の丸醸造).

In terms of prefecture-wide promotion, noone does it better than Akita. With their efforts, their events tend to be very popular, and this event was no different as attendees filled the rear area of Sakagura.

Here's what transpired:

Mr. Ohi from Tenju Shuzo, producer of Chokaisan, my perennial favorite at Akita Saké Club Tasting Events.

Manabito Junmai Daiginjo, made by Hinomaru Brewery.

This is a local fish from Akita. Related to sardine, the fish was high in fat with juicy plumpness. Paired well with crisp honjozo or a ginjo.

Brewers in action.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

9/15/08: Joto Tasting at Sakagura

One week before the Saké Week, Sakagura welcomeed two brewers from Joto Saké's portfolio. Mr. Marumoto of Marumoto Brewery(Chikurin label) reknown for harvesting their own organically grown rice, and Mr. Kato from Fuji Shuzo from recently discovered Eiko Fuji label.

As if having these two brewers wasn't a treat in itself, Sakagura offered a "Special Gift" for those who ordered a bottle of one of the sakés being served. The Gift turned out to be a masu with the Sakagura logo, branded by Mr. Kadoi himself. Here's what transpired over the course of the evening:

Meeting Mr. Kato.

Bottle of Eiko Fuji.

First course was Sakagura's intoxicating Masutaké Tempura. The liveliness of nama was perfect complement to the tempura texture. This dish was followed by another dish that pairs well with nama, hiyayakko (chilled tofu, not pictured.)

Next up was Jidori Shio Yaki (salt grilled free-range chicken) and Gindara Yuan Yaki (cod steamed in sweet soy sauce).

My friend Hideo just had to have Chicken Kara-age (crispy fried chicken).

The final dish was Nihachi Soba (soba made with 80% buckwheat and 20% wheat flours). Needless to say, all the dishes paired well with the saké... and that's not alcohol talking!