Craving Curry

Growing up "curry" meant the boxed bricks of rich S&B or Golden Curry. It was a comfort food for many Japanese households having been introduced to Japan by westerners after centuries of isolation. Karē Raisu or curry rice is as popular as ramen though many unfamiliar with Japanese food wouldn't know it. It's the other end of the culinary scale from sushi or shojin ryori (artistic Buddhist temple food), to be sure, but it's impossible to underestimate the comfort of a curry rice plate to a Japanese person. Proust had his Madeleines, I'll take curry. 

Years back my mother had a friend, now since passed, who was one of the many Japanese women transplanted here who found themselves enjoying the freedom of life in the US over the constrictions of Japan. I used to giggle over their names: Fumiko Church; Akiko Smith, etc. Unfortunately for Reiko, her marriage was not a happy one, but she managed. She and my mother enjoyed a friendship for years. I remember my mother remarking, quite astonished, that she discovered Reiko hardly knew how to feed herself after her husband left. She'd grown up in a fairly well-off family in Japan so the cooking was done for the family. Later as Reiko's health began to fail, my mother visited more often and brought her food or cooked for her. One day she made her Kare Raisu. Reiko swooned, overtaken with emotion at the comfort food from her childhood. My mother, ever the pragmatist, was shocked "it's just a boxed mix..."

My Madaleine

My Madaleine

As I grew up and learned about the dangers of saturated fat (the boxed bricks have built-in roux - flour+fat thickener) I ate it less and less. Our spring this year has been long and wet and cold and dreary. And wet. And unending. And rainy. And grey. So guess what I've been craving? I had my hand on the box in H Mart the other day, but the memory of that mouthfeel, that fat, swayed me. I put it back. 

But cravings never go away until they're sated. Cravings are like that. So I decided to make a Thai curry. It was delicious and I want to share the recipe and encourage you to make it at home. Still, I see a Kare Raisu in my future. 

A note about Thai ingredients:

  • I use Thai Kitchen curry paste. I've also found an authentic Thai brand in Chinatown to which I added the Thai Kitchen roasted chili paste.  At any rate if you're vegetarian, you might try to make your own curry paste. I have not tried this so I cannot compare the flavors. Since many readers would have a hard time finding some of the components (galangal, Makrut) I use what I think is largely accessible here.
  • I like to add fresh lemongrass. You can now find this at most Whole Foods. Of course, if you're near a Chinatown, you can always find it there, too. We got some beautiful fresh, organic lemongrass at WFM. Use your cleaver, the back/spine of the knife and bruise the lemongrass to release the flavor. It will simmer in your curry, simply pluck it out before serving. 
  • Makrut lime leaves are a wonderful addition if you can find them. They may still be labeled as "Kaffir" lime leaves (Kaffir is derogatory slang which is not something we want to be perpetuating. Easy enough to use the actual name of the ingredient, don't you agree?)
  • Frizzled shallots - really more Vietnamese ingredient but I had some to use. 
  • Fish sauce - I used to buy the Three Crab brand, widely available in most Asian markets. Andrea Nguyen turned me on to Red Boat and there's no going back. It's really superior and clean tasting. Love it. Fish sauce is pure umami and lends that savory note that is essential in so many things. Italians have colatura. Japanese, dashi. Umami is everywhere and a major reason why something like a fresh roll can be so very satisfying, fish sauce in the dipping sauce.

With deference to Thai cooks out there, here is a version I make at home, with ingredients most any of us could find in their local grocery store or on Amazon. 

 

Thai Red Curry

Choose your vegetables based on what's in season, or what's due to be used up in the fridge. Dice according to density so everything will cook evenly. I dice carrots or sweet potato or butternut squash in about 1/2" dice. 

Assemble your aromatics: lemongrass, makrut, ginger, garlic, shallot. 

Assemble your fish sauce, chili paste, curry paste, lime, sugar. You'll be balancing the flavors of savory, spicy, sour, sweet and smoothing it all out with coconut milk. 

I recommend starting with a 3:2:1 ratio: curry paste: roasted chili paste: fish sauce. Then adjust to your taste.

Add a couple glugs of neutral or peanut oil to a large hot skillet. Add your chili paste, and aromatics, cook for a few minutes, add harder vegetables like carrots now. Bruised lemongrass, makrut leaves, then add roasted chili, and fish sauce. I often add a bit of water to help release anything sticking in the pan. 

 

Red curry mise 

Red curry mise 

Add remaining vegetables. Simmer until vegetables are tender. Taste and adjust seasoning adding more fish sauce, lime or chili as desired. 

Serve with rice or rice noodles. 

 

Next up: Japanese Kare Raisu - Curry Rice!

R you crazy? Eat oysters in August? Yes, yes you can!

We'll be gathering at favorite oyster bars around town this month to enjoy oysters without regard for the old "R Month Rule" you know, "never eat oysters in a month without an R". While oysters are at their plumpest in the fall and winter, we can enjoy them year round.

This month we're enjoying them without concern, know why?

  1. Oysters from reputable sources are taken from clean waters.
  2. They're transported safely (i.e. proper refrigeration).
  3. Many are triploids and don't spawn. "Triploid" may sound scary but it's an oyster bred to carry an extra gene, so it won't reproduce in the summer months, when the warming water temperatures make diploids spawn. (A spawny oyster won't hurt you, it's just milky instead of briney.)

In the past, each of these aspects could be problematic. Not so much now. If you love oysters as I do, no reason to deprive yourself just because it's summer!

  • By the way, have you liked our Oyster Century Club Facebook page yet? Check out my shucking video there. Tips for buying, storing, and shucking. 

     
  • JOIN US: Thursday Aug 4 @ The Merchant! Free admission to members (bring your card!), join us for specials and free admission to more events. We'll have 1/2 price oysters, gather entries for raffle of great swag. 

 

Oysters at the Old Port Sea Grille, Portland Me.

Oysters at the Old Port Sea Grille, Portland Me.

Love those shells! 

Love those shells! 

Here are some other great oyster shots from my weekend in Portland.
 

Eventide

Eventide

Eventide

Eventide

At our event at Merchant, we'll cover some tips for warm weather enjoyment. Here are some great resources for anyone tasting along in Brussels, San Fran, Seattle, Toronto...everywhere our OCC members are.
 

  • Pangea Shellfish has a great video course which is quick and fun. Warning: it will make you crave oysters! Check it out here.

 

Homemade Tonkatsu Sauce

Tonkatsu is a Japanese fried cutlet, usually made from pork, dredged in panko and deep fried, it gets served with a sauce that is widely called "bulldog sauce" after the popular brand of tonkatsu sauce. Bulldog sauce or tonkatsu sauce is drizzled over the cutlets and the shredded cabbage that typically accompanies katsu. Think of American fried chicken and coleslaw as a rough analog. 

It's the winter-without-end here in Boston this year and one of the best things about winter is cabbage. I'm sure you hear that all the time. Seriously though, this time of year you can get some of the tastiest, sweetest, crunchiest cabbages. I can't get enough. Purple, napa, green, savoy...bring on the brassicas! Cabbages are loaded with Vitamin C, they're probiotic (which means they help your gut generate the good bacteria that supports immune health) and they're satisfyingly crispy crunchy with a bittersweet flavor that is a perfect foil to many of our winter braises. 

Coming off the Seafood Expo I brought home a salmon skin from a whole side of salmon we were sampling. Today's lunch was rice, miso soup, roasted crispy salmon skin with grated daikon, shredded cabbage and homemade tonkatsu sauce. 

 

I developed this recipe for you to enjoy at home. Using ingredients that you'll either have on hand or be able to get at any grocery store, this sweet and savory Japanese condiment is now within reach. 

Cabbage

Bulldog Sauce - DIY style

tonkatsu sauce

This sweet and savory sauce is perfect for fried cutlets or something roasted or broiled. It would also be fantastic on a hamburger. Drizzle over cabbage and tomato slices for a Japanese "sarado" (salad). 

If A1 sauce and ketchup had a beautiful baby, it would be this sauce. With a tomato base, some fruit, some fish sauce, it's packed with umami. It's sometimes described as Japanese barbecue sauce but I've never seen it used that way here. Now that I think of it, though, could be great.

With any simple dish, the quality of the ingredients is paramount. Here I include the brands I like for reference. This has so much umami, I'm sure it would be great with regular supermarket brands, too. 

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 C organic ketchup
  • 3 TBSP apple butter
  • 2 TBSP worcestershire sauce
  • 1 TBSP Mirin (go with the best you can find)
  • 1 tsp Red Boat fish sauce
  • 2 tsp soy sauce (Kishibori is fantastic, check Dean & Deluca)
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp horseradish (Bookbinders)
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder

Directions:

  1. In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients and whisk to blend thoroughly. 
  2. Store in jar for a month or so, if it lasts that long.

Drizzle over cabbage, fried cutlets, serve on burgers. Maybe bake some chicken legs with this as a basting sauce.