So, less talking about things, more doing, eh? A good plan, says Val.
Chef Tim Anderson, mentioned here on previous occasions, has a new book coming out in October, called “Your Home Izakaya“.
It looks another definite buy, covering, as the title goes on to indicate, “Fun and Simple Recipes Inspired by the Drinking-and-Dining Dens of Japan” and will be added to the book-shelf of already purchased items authored by him:
Nanban: Japanese Soul Food (2015)
Japaneasy: Classic and Modern Japanese Recipes to Cook at Home (2017)
Tokyo Stories: A Japanese Cookbook (2019)
Vegan Japaneasy: Classic and Modern Vegan Japanese Recipes to Cook at Home (2020)
In advance of that, I booked an online class with him via the very fine folk at The Wasabi Company, in an attempt to sharpen up my chicken butchery break-down skills. Mind you, when he says “simple”, you kind of expect the butchery to be equally easy. Not true. And I’m still at the Carl Clarke (he of Chick ‘n’ Sours and Future Noodles fame) end of things when it comes to sectioning a chicken carcass. In his recent book, “The Whole Chicken“…
…Carl aims to get it divided into 10 pieces. No slouch he, as a cook (ex-Fat Duck and DJ as well), this is nonetheless totally fine, if you’re only aiming for the larger chunks needed for fried chicken or grilled wings but….
…once you start looking at the yakitori experts, just getting 10 out onto the cutting board is really rather pathetic.
…whose menu I crave everyday…
…who manages 39 pieces from one bird and that’s not including cartilage or any unfertilised eggs you might find.
Then there’s Toshi Sakamaki of LA’s Yakitoriya, who even seems to find sections within these sections.
So, some way to go for me, I think you’ll agree? But, determined to make a good fist of this, I’d got all my mise in place by the hob & the binchōtan charcoal hot in the grill, in plenty of time, ready for the off. And I’d had a couple of drinks to start the evening off. Which may, on reflection, have had a little to do with how quickly I fell behind Tim. How the rest of the class did, I have no fucking clue. It went to Zoom full-screen Tim shortly after the start. And that’s how it remained for the next 2+ hours. And me, so deep in the weeds, that they were blocking out the light, decided to just kick back, cut what I could, cook what bits I fancied on the grill and have a few more drinks and watch as Tim proved that making things look easy is what experts do.
Luckily, they recorded the whole thing (recorded Tim I mean, not me, thank fuck) & there’s a video available here which I am slowly freeze-framing my way through, determined to eventually recognise and isolate the parts he so easily removed.
Mind you, the tare I put together — the recipe I used via Yardbird below, a little involved, but really worth the effort — was banging. And that, brushed over my skewers of various ‘cuts’ (some, unkindly, might call them ‘hacks’. They can do one), meant I recovered a little from the battering I’d inflicted on my bruised ego.
I’ve another book I bought some time back, Andrea Fazzari’s “Tokyo New Wave“; it’s more than a little high-end, the stuff I’ve less and less time for now, highlighting the very cream of the Tokyo cooking scene — no simple izakayas here — but some of the yakitori photos just had to be clipped into this piece, these via Yoshiteru Ikegawa…
whose 1-star Torishiki restaurant in Meguro uses chickens resembling a cross between the French Bresse but a domestic Japanese breed (called Nagoya Cochin名古屋コーチン), from a farm near Iwate Prefecture, in the heart of the mountains, where they roam the open grassy spaces; the water is pure and the insects plentiful and the chicken houses are layered in sawdust made from domestic cedar and mulberry trees.
There’s a very simply shot one that I particularly love.
Working from left to right, there’s some lovely skewered cuts, ready to go onto the grill inc. tamahimo たまひも — also called kinkan キンカン or chochin, lantern 提灯 — eggs. These are unfertilised eggs, harvested from the hen when she’s slaughtered & can be found at various stages of development. Older ones come with egg white and an almost fully formed shell, whilst the more immature eggs are basically just yolks with a firm layer enclosing them which allows them to be handled and pressed without bursting. I’m told they taste like a concentrated duck egg yolk, with a much brighter orange colour and a richer and sweeter mouth feel when compared to standard egg yolks.
They are usually supplied by the butcher with the Fallopian tube intact and these too are skewered on a bamboo stick along with other cuts of chicken meat and/or the liver. The eggs are only lightly grilled and then placed off to the side — to prevent it from overcooking — whilst the tougher Fallopian tubes have earlier been pre-cooked in a soy, sake and mirin sauce, before they’re added to the skewer for their final charcoaling.
Next comes a well used shark-skin wasabi grater. Following that is a knife, a honesuki, a boning knife, specifically designed for de-boning and breaking down poultry, but also very capable of filleting fish and red meat (although it’s recommended you don’t try to split poultry or cut through thicker bones) or the larger garasuki which shares the same overall blade profile as the honesuki, but thicker and heavier, making it a better choice when tackling the larger sized poultry and other carcasses. With both, the reverse tanto tip design increases the tip strength, whilst still allowing it to easily pierce skin or make precise cuts in tight spaces such as when wiggling into complex joints to ‘pop’ them apart. It is also narrow enough to be able to turn quickly when cutting around or along the bone and is great for trimming connective tissue (‘silverskin’) and fat.
Lastly comes the Saibashi (long cooking chopsticks), traditional in Japanese kitchens, these ones more designed for industrial use, metal and topped with wooden handles.
None of these utensils are cheap. A large grater can come in at close to £150, the honesuki upwards of £120 whilst the saibashi is a more modest £75.
My recent purchases have been (comparatively) cheaper. A small but beautifully formed wasabi grater from Osaka for less than £20 inc. postage
…and some stunning stainless steel BBQ spikes and skewers and two ‘black’ stainless steel butter knives via blacksmith Alex Pole. ‘Black’ stainless is created when the steel is heated to over 850° forming a dark oxide on the surface, which is then lightly polished and oiled but not completely removed. He’s got some fascinating YouTube videos on the various processes he uses for these items, which are well worth your time.
One last thing: I think the right-wing fever swamp obsession with ‘diet as masculinity’ is pretty fucking hilarious. Like, the diet of the samurai was primarily vegetarian and heavy with soy. I mean, if you wanna go back in time and call Oda Nobunaga a “soy boy” to his face, you’re more than welcome. Knock yourself out. Because, sure as shit, he’d have so, so easily taken you down. Go find out. And for fucks’ sake, stop pretending that eating meat somehow makes you a real man…
And finally, finally?
Finally, the daily piece by Tatsuya Tanaka entitled “Steakphone” that came out on my birthday yesterday. Sheer delight.