Eric Gower (gower) Sat 4 Oct 03 09:52
Japanese women tend to get very nervous when they're in the kitchen with me, mostly because they worry so much about measuring and "getting it right," not realizing that it's the subjective "right" that counts, not the objective right, as they've been taught. That's the hardest part to teach, and the concept that seems most radical to them. The measurement thing is a real problem. <aud>, thanks for the kind photo words. We were lucky to get Watanabe, who is one of Japan's best food photographers. What I liked best about him is that he didn't "fuss" at all; there was no stylist there, removing individual pieces of chive or rice. He just encouraged me to plate the dishes exactly as I would serve them, which is what we did. Your hear these nightmare stories about stylists spraying food with hair spray (and worse), but we didn't do any of that. The dishes were consumed by the staff the second Watanabe-san gave the final OK. And btw aud--don't wait for rubies! You can just use regular grapefruit, or oranges, tangelos, pomelos .... I'm off to the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association gig in Oakland, today and tomorrow. Will report back!
raisin d'etre (peoples) Sat 4 Oct 03 11:21
I'm soooooo with you on the idea of flexibility as far as your recipes, Eric. Inspired by frako's comments about the cauliflower-in-saki dish, I bought a cauliflower yesterday and made that dish last night. Except I didn't have an orange, so I used a tangelo. And I didn't have saki (I thought I did but when I got home from my shopping trip I discovered I didn't) so I used pineapple wine (! Somebody gave it to me, I didn't buy it) with a splash of sweet vermouth, "just because." It turned out great. What a great combination of flavors!
Berliner (captward) Sat 4 Oct 03 11:58
Pineapple wine, though, is a deeply frightening concept. Still, better to cook with it than to drink it. Gack.
beneath the blue suburban skies (aud) Sat 4 Oct 03 13:36
I also love the sweet-savory-boozy concept, one that I've been using for ages but now have a name for ;-) My local produce market is owned by a Korean family, and they said they'd get shiso for me! cool!
Dennis Wilen (the-voidmstr) Sat 4 Oct 03 14:49
How about <gower> shares one or two recipes here, if possible!
Berliner (captward) Sun 5 Oct 03 02:55
There are some on his admirable website <www.ericskitchen.com>, which looks like the art direction for the book transferred to the Internet. There's enough there to get you going, anyway.
Get Shorty (esau) Sun 5 Oct 03 10:13
Thanks for that pointer. I enjoyed reading Eric's essay, "Why I Like Chopsticks, Even for Ice Cream," at http://www.ericskitchen.com/selected_essays03.html
Berliner (captward) Sun 5 Oct 03 10:15
Oh, man, I didn't read that one yet. Hmmm, am I interviewing a madman here? I like chopsticks because they make me eat slowly, something which, eating alone, I tend not to do, and should.
mother of my eyelid (frako) Sun 5 Oct 03 12:09
Eric, I just read your essay about chopsticks over forks. I totally agree with you about preferring wood in your mouth (please, no jokes). When I was a kid summer meant sucking on a popsicle stick long after any quiescently frozen treat was gone. Give me wood (bamboo) over metal anytime. Forks feel counterintuitive. Stabbing and scooping are always less sure and more violent than plucking. I remember reading some long treatise about how chopsticks represent a nonaggressive, uniquely "Japanese" way of choosing and introducing food into oneself. I didn't believe all of its claims. One thing I have to disagree with you about, Eric, in your essay is that waribashi (the disposable wooden chopsticks you snap apart) are not necessarily made from scrap wood. That's what their makers would like you to believe, that they're made from wood that was left over from temporary wood forms for pouring concrete or some such. Actually, one of Mitsubishi's subsidiaries actually mines Canadian forests specifically for waribashi. That's why, whenever I ordered noodles or sushi for delivery to our home in Japan, I told them to hold the waribashi--I don't like to use them. They ARE wasteful.
Eric Gower (gower) Sun 5 Oct 03 17:40
Whew, just back from the two-day bookfest in Oakland. Book people are so *appreciative* if you make them good food! The chefs at the Marriot made the tarragon squash dish, four gigantic plates of it, I tasted and added extra salt and pepper, and skewered the pieces and schoomzed up the book buyers (trade people/bookstore owners). Kodansha gave away about 40 signed copies, which disappeared quickly! All in all a pretty fun two days, made even better by the large box of tasty new books I brought home (no one wants to schlepp books back, so they tend to give 'em away freely).
Eric Gower (gower) Sun 5 Oct 03 17:51
Yeah, there's something relaxing eating with chopsticks; you take a bit, set 'em down, talk and drink some more, and then later take another leisurely bite. Tho I have seen plenty of speedstickwolfers in my day (ramen shops are famous for salarybots downing scalding hot bowls of soup in record time)..... I wanted to make ALL the recipes in the book available online, but KI balked annd said only a handful. So sorry for the paltriness of recipes. There are plenty of new recipes though, in the section called "recent dinners" : http://www.ericskitchen.com/recent_dinners01.html Most of the "recipes" there aren't official recipes; they're more like prose descriptions of stuff I've been cooking lately. I like writing them in this format much better than the whole ingredient list thing. It also encourages people to read the recipe before beginning! I think of it as providing a kind of framework ,on which people should substitute freely.
Eric Gower (gower) Sun 5 Oct 03 17:53
Those popsickle sticks were tasty and comforting, weren't they? I didn't know that about Mitsubishi clearing off Canuck forests. Ugh. I dunno though, I still don't feel that bad about using them sparingly--I use waribashi probably several times per year, always when picnicing or camping or something, when I don't have access to my "permanent" set of sticks. It's using them more or less constantly, like many Japanese do, that creates problems.....
onTheGetDown () (belly) Sun 5 Oct 03 19:48
Chiming in late here. Getting a chance to try these recipes out has been a real pleasure, Eric. We've found them easy to put together at the end of a workday, and economical for a diversely stocked pantry. It's a comfort to come home to the thought of a bowl of Edamame Mint Pesto being 15 minutes away. Which is as good a place to start as any; Edamame Mint Pesto is a terrific dish. The smoked almonds and soybeans play perfect counterparts; they combine to fill the dish with a full but delicate nuttiness. Combined with a good fruity olive oil, the message of full flavors and simplicity couldn't be more clear. Has this helped to ingratiate foreign flavors into the Japanese palatte? What kinds of flavors stick in Japan and which ones fail?
Eric Gower (gower) Sun 5 Oct 03 22:24
>Has this helped to ingratiate foreign flavors into >the Japanese palatte? No, I don't think it's helped at all! This kind of cooking is not well-known (let alone practiced) in Japan. The mindset of doing one thing with edamame--boiling them and eating them as a snack for beer--is so strong . . . it doesn't occur to a lot of people to do something else. Japanese people tend to like the new thing, but often look at it as just wildly radical. It's not radical at all, in fact, but somehow it takes a different set of eyes/sensibility to "play" with edamame, and other Japanese ingredients. That's where all the fun is. But it's not "fun" to most Japanese home cooks--it's very serious business, and you tend to follow the tried-and-true. Not wholly so, of course, but enough so that it dominates a lot of behavior (culinary and otherwise). That said, Japanese tend to go for pretty bright flavors--creamy complex French will be admired in top restaurants, but it's not what Japanese home cooks reach for when they're faced with putting dinner on the table; light, bright, and airy is good, and heavy is not so good . .. .
Nettie Hendricks (nettie) Sun 5 Oct 03 22:44
"uniquely Japanese" what about those few million Chinese who use chopsticks?
David Freiberg (freemountain) Mon 6 Oct 03 08:55
Whenever we get waribashi in restaurants, we just take them home, throw 'em in the dishwasher and re-use them. Feel less guilty.
onTheGetDown () (belly) Mon 6 Oct 03 14:13
If Edamame Mint Pesto causes a stir among Japanese, I can only imagine what Umeboshi Pork with Walnuts and Dates must do... So far it's my favorite in the book, because it plays contrasting flavors against each other in the Chinese tradition (and because it's damned delicious). Again, the economy of time is observed; in most cookbooks, the one braised dish typically takes so long to cook it's relegated to Sundays, yet we had this put together in around a half-hour. Two questions: did you consider a cut of pork (shoulder roast, perhaps) that would have made this a Sunday all-day kind of dish? And, how do the Japanese view Chinese techniques used to prepare Japanese ingredients?
Eric Gower (gower) Mon 6 Oct 03 16:45
The umeboshi pork dish might be my personal favorite too. I like using loins because their relative low fat content somehow mingles best with that combination of tart/sweet/nutty. I think a shoulder cut might weigh it down considerably, but I encourage you to try and report back! Im so happy to see all cuts of pork available here, after living in Japan so long and only seeing a few. The most popular is probably the tonkatsu-cut loin, meant to be breaded and deep-fried, followed by the usukiri (thin-cut; almost razor thin) buta (pork), used in sukiyaki and shogayaki (wokked with ginger and some liquids). Its hard to find a HUNK of PORK. They do sell something they call momo (thigh) burokku (block), but its hard to make it taste good because there is almost zero fat on it. I used it in slowcooking, which it seemed to like, and it took to pressure well (in a broth of ginger, a ton of onions, usually a hab or red savina, supplied by <sashkenaz>, naturally, and white wine or stock or fruit juice). Along with ground pork, which was always somehow really scary, that was about it. But I love all the cheap-cut piggie choices here! Shopping at the Mexican and Chinese butchers on Mission and Clement is kinda like a personal Exploratorium for me. I get special satisfaction of cooking cheap cuts of pork and beef; I like to try and coax the maximum amount of flavor out of cuts that most people dont bother with because they take too much time, and braising is a fairly active process (its hard to walk too far away and get lost in other things, as its cooking). Thats an unBreakaway approach, in that the time factor does count for Breakaway food, so maybe Ill start keeping a log of new things to do with el cheapo cuts for Those Who Have The Time. I think most Japanese cooks, the wild popularity of gyoza and ramen aside, would disavow the presence of much of a Chinese influence on Japanese cuisine (and certainly vice versa). Chinese get squicked out about raw stuffyou gotta blast it with heat or steamyet Japan probably takes the worlds top slot at savoring, even worshipping, the raw. It never fails to delight my Japanese friends when I call this a nama fecchi. (a raw fetish). Japanese also have what I call a kome fecchi (a rice fetish), and cant understand how the world can eat its inferior, possibly dangerous rice, and that Japanese rice is so clearly superior in every way conceivable. My last day of vacations all over southeast Asia were inevitably spent in the largest markets, loading up a dedicated suitcase with seven or eight kinds of rice, since japonica is pretty much the only thing available in Japan (for those about to point out that other kinds ARE available, I grant you that one or two stores in Tokyo will carry some exotic rice, but only at prices that shall we say severely discourage its purchase, so I dont count those places).
David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Mon 6 Oct 03 17:37
The umeboshi pork dish is what really won Miz Becky over: She loathes both umeboshi and dates, but loves that dish.
a meat-vessel, with soul poured in (wellelp) Mon 6 Oct 03 19:01
Eric, what bookstores in San Francisco are carrying your book?
speedstickwolfers (chrys) Mon 6 Oct 03 21:38
Hi Eric! I've been so busy I almost forgot about this interview! To give you an idea of how beautiful this book is: when I recently went to the bookshelf, I was alarmed because Eric's book wasn't there. I looked and looked and got frantic. Then I noticed I'd shelved it with my art books! (I'm pleased to hear how the photography was done and especially glad to hear everything was eaten up!) I am a complete novice to this cuisine, so I must ask the elementary questions, like what is oborodofu and how does it compare to the organic firm tofu I typicaly pick up at the health food store? (And thanks for the pseud.)
Eric Gower (gower) Mon 6 Oct 03 22:36
Hi Eleanor--I think that pretty much every bookstore has it, or at least that's what I'm told, and I have been in a few small ones that had it . . . all the large ones, for sure . . . . I'm in a quandary about amazon: it's the little bookstores that seem to want to promote it the most, yet the $8 difference in price ($27 cover price, $18.90 at amazon) is significant for lots of my friends . . . .
Eric Gower (gower) Mon 6 Oct 03 22:45
Thanks Chrys.... Oborodofu is sort of the panna cotta of tofu. It's creamy and and a little custardy, except the "custard" sense comes not from dairy but from the soymilk. It's what tofu is before they start putting heavy weights on it to squeeze out moisture and make it "firm," and, god forbid, "extra firm." It's sort of "extra silken" tofu. It's a wonderful blank palette on which to paint things that delight your own palate. As I said above somewhere, that combo of sweet, piquant, and savory really does it for me, so it's natural for me to add some fruit, vinegar or citrus, and fresh herbs + olive oil to it. It's another fairly radical break from what Japanese do with tofu, but, to my delight, most Japanese seem to really like it. IT's almost as if someone in Tuscany or Umbria, someone interested in good food, discovered some new ingredient, and applied local goodies to it. That, in contrast to the standard ol' soy sauce/ginger/dried bonito/scallions thing. More wine-friendly, maybe. Here's a sympatico piece on one gaijin's delight in discovering that there's more to tofu than what is typically done with it: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/shukan-st/articles/op20030912/op20030912main.htm
Berliner (captward) Tue 7 Oct 03 06:54
Grrr, I hate typos! And there's a big one in the book, Eric: I went to look up this "umeboshi pork" people were raving about because umeboshi are one of the few things I managed to find here, and then I saw why I hadn't marked it: it was headlined BROILED, and I don't have a broiler. But it's not: as you indicate above, it's braised, and, being pig and all, it's something I can actually do here. The carrot juice is going to be hard, but I can probably find some bottled at a health-food store. (No question of fresh, I'm afraid...and I don't much like the stuff as a drink, but I'm willing to go on faith that it makes a nice subtle sweetener). As a timid improvisor, I was thinking of posting the recipe I referred to in the bio up there, the fake "Burmese" hamburger curry, and seeing what you thought you could do with it, what suggestions you might have for changing or transforming it. It's not really a curry, and there's definitely nothing like it in Burmese cuisine, but this was the '60s when this book came out, and who knew from Burmese cooking anyway? So, you game for this experiment?
mother of my eyelid (frako) Tue 7 Oct 03 08:37
Reporting here from Richmond, Virginia, where I'm visiting my parents and brother's family. I was astonished to hear my sister-in-law mention edamame--of course she pronounced it eat-a-Mommy--but at least she knew of its existence, and that it was a "health food" that would help her "lose weight"! I know edamame has arrived in America when my sister-in-law knows about it! Also my Japanese mother perused Eric's book and said it looked "very, very interesting" and "possibly good." This was astonishing to me because, although she's been in the U.S. for 40 years now, she's still very conservative about the Japanese food she eats.
Members: Enter the conference to participate