Cooking Teriyaki in Tokyo

Before I even recovered from my 12-hour time change, I headed to a Japanese Cooking Class on my first day in Tokyo (because that’s what I do when I first arrive in a new country). After an intense walk through the crowded Tsukiji Fish Market, where “tuna fish” is more of a prized commodity than food, I arrived at a small place than didn’t look like much of a cooking school from outside.

At Tsukiji Cooking School, everyone had to take their shoes off outside the door and put on slippers, as the local tradition dictates. There was a tiny kitchen where the chef and her two assistants were prepping our recipes. In the middle of the room was a dining table and chairs. We were given an apron, hand fan and printed recipes. Our instructor did not speak much English, but she had a translator.Tsukiji cooking class

During the 2-hour class, we learned to make miso soup, chicken teriyaki, spinach salad and Okonomiyaki (Japanese pancakes) – all from scratch! Although I consider myself to be a savvy chef, there were things I had not known about, especially because I never cooked Japanese before.

This Miso soup had very strong flavors. We first made a broth using whole seaweed and dried fish skeletons.

We made a delicious dressing of freshly ground roasted red sesame seeds with soy sauce, dashi, and lots of sugar, to flavor local greens that tasted sort of like spinach but crispier.

spinach salad with sesame

Okonomiyaki was fairly easy to prepare as most of the work involved only chopping. It is a savory dough full of vegetables, topped with sauce, mayo and seaweed. Apparently, there are parties around this dish where everyone sits around and grills their own pancakes.

Okonomiyaki

Here are a few things I learned about Japanese cooking –

  1. Japanese chefs cook with chopsticks. It was actually not that difficult and more practical, since the “spatula chopsticks” are much longer than the eating sort.
  2. There are different kinds of seaweed, each with its own purpose. Depending on the texture and flavor, some are better suited for dashi (broth), others for toppings.
  3. None of the recipes call for salt or pepper. In fact, there are no seasonings, spices or herbs added to the dishes we prepared.
  4. Soy and sugar always find their place in most dishes. Contrasting flavors add enough seasoning to satisfy Japanese palates.
  5. Teriyaki is a sauce added at the end, not a marinade. Common myth we have in the West since we tend to grill our meats.
  6. You taste food with your eyes first. I was fascinated by how much time and effort the chefs put into making each component on the plate look perfect. Presentation is definitely very important.
The smell of seaweed remained on my hands the rest of the day, but I surely learned a lot at the Tsukiji Cooking Class. Once I returned to Atlanta, I tried all of the recipes and a few more.

Chicken Teriyaki Recipe (authentic Japanese style)

Ingredients:
2 large pieces Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs
1 tablespoon Vegetable or Canola Oil
1 1/2 tablespoon Dark Soy Sauce
1 1/2 tablespoon Mirin (rice cooking wine)
3 tablespoon Sake
1 tablespoon Sugar
2 tablespoon Green Onions, sliced
Directions:
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Place the chicken in the skillet and remove excess grease using a paper towel. Cook for 8-10 minutes until golden brown on both sides.
chicken teriyaki recipe
Combine the soy sauce, Mirin, sake and sugar in a small mixing bowl. Pour the sauce over the chicken, cooking on low heat with a lid on. Flip the chicken few times so that it absorbs the sauce thoroughly.  When the sauce is thick and well coated, remove from heat and travel to a plate. Slice the chicken into bite size pieces. Garnish with green onions and more sauce, if needed.
chicken teriyaki

Must have kitchen equipment for healthy eating

As I teach cooking classes across the US, often times students ask me about “must have” kitchen equipment. While you don’t need to have all the handy-dandy gadgets that have come about on the Home Shopping Network, there are a few things that do make life easier. Here are my recommendations specially if you are looking to cook and eat healthier food at home. Continue reading “Must have kitchen equipment for healthy eating”

Cooking with Herbs

Spring is around the corner and the garden will be in full bloom again. I grow my own herbs in my backyard. There is rosemary, lavender, mint, thyme, chive, parsley, cilantro and sage always at my disposal! It is a wonderful experience to cook with fresh herbs that have been plucked within a few minutes. The other great quality of herbs is that they are so diverse. Every country has it own herb of choice that is incorporated in the local cuisine. Like people, places, and cultures, herbs are also international.

Last year I was invited to speak at a garden party. I demonstrated how one can cook with fresh herbs and which herbs paired well with which recipes. We played a “guess the herb” game where you had to identify the name of the herb by seeing and smelling it. The person with the most right answers won a gift bag of gourmet goodies.

Basically, there are three ways in which you can use your herbs:

1. Cooking – If your recipe calls for a herb, chances are it needs to be added towards the end of cooking. You don’t want the herb to wilt and cook for too long or else it’s flavor would be lost. If you are using dry herb instead, the quantity used will be a lot less than if you were to use fresh sprigs.

2. Presentation – I like to take a few sprigs or leaves of fresh herbs for presentation. A parsley leaf adds color to a risotto or pasta marinara. A few sprigs of rosemary can be plated under a roast chicken. Fresh chives can be chopped and sprinkles over mashed or baked potatoes. Think mojitos!

3. Ambience – When I have too much fresh herbs and don’t know what to do with them, I put them in a vase with a little water. It gives the room a nice herby fragrance and makes a cheap arrangement.

Can you think of any other ways to use fresh herbs?

Here is a recipe for Salmon Satay. It is one of my favorite grilling recipes. The marinade is made entirely of herbs. Even if you don’t have these exact ones, you can mix and match whatever is available.

  • 2 teaspoons ginger , peeled and minced
  • 3 cloves garlic , peeled and smashed
  • 1/2 jalapeno chile , seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cup lightly packed cilantro
  • 1/4 cup lightly packed mint
  • 1/4 cup lightly packed flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh lemongrass
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon grapeseed or canola oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (1 1/4-pound) skinless center-cut wild salmon fillet
  • Vegetable oil cooking spray

Combine all ingredients in a small food processor or blender; blend until smooth.

Lay salmon fillet on a cutting surface with a short end facing you. Cut fillet in half from top to bottom. Make 6 equal cuts across fillet, creating 12 pieces. Insert an 8-inch bamboo (or other wooden) skewer through the short ends of each piece. Arrange salmon in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Brush both sides evenly with pesto. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Spray a nonstick griddle or large skillet with cooking spray; heat over medium-high flame. Lightly coat salmon with cooking spray. Cook until browned on each side and just cooked through, carefully turning with spatula, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side.