Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Best cookbooks 2008 - Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook

Posted By on Tue, Nov 11, 2008 at 4:55 PM

For next week's Holiday Guide, I'll be writing a roundup of the best cookbooks of the year with the hope that it will help with all your foodie gift-giving needs. I thought it would be a fun project to preview that roundup with daily blog posts this week chronicling each book as I read and cook from it.

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I was planning on starting out the week with The Complete Robuchon, but I picked a rabbit recipe to test and couldn't find any rabbit yesterday. So hopefully I'll come across a bunny today and have that report tomorrow. Instead, I turned to the drool-inducing pages of Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook by Mark Robinson (Kodansha International, $25). If you never cook a thing from this book, it's still worth buying and reading, as long as you don't mind the side effect of overwhelming travel lust. The book serves as a guide to Tokyo's best izakayas (pubs), as well as a repository for those establishment's recipes and a history of the izakaya. Author Mark Robinson says in his introduction, "I believe that the izakaya is overdue to become one of the biggest Japanese cuisine trends abroad since the sushi bar." This book certainly makes me hope so. The recipes cover simple, snacky Japanese bar food, from a version of candied walnuts to shark fin aspic. Almost every page of the book inspired me to want to get my hungry butt to the Asian grocery store and start shopping - who wouldn't want to eat fresh corn tempura, or simmered eggplant and pork loin, or sauteed small squid and celery? I settled on creamy crab croquettes, and greens in dashi and soy sauce.

If you've never made dashi before, it's an incredibly satisfying and very simple thing to do. After making it last night I've pretty much decided that it's worth doing every week or so just to have some on hand, much like I do with chicken stock. The crab croquettes were also easy - basically a mixture of crab, sauteed onion, hard boiled egg and a very light bechamel, breaded in panko and deep fried. They were crispy on the outside and melty in the middle - wonderful for soaking up beer. The greens recipe was for komatsuna greens, but I substituted spinach, as the book suggested (it said you could also use swiss chard or mustard greens). We boiled then shocked the spinach, and topped it with a 50/50 mixture of dashi and soy sauce - the perfect foil for the rich, crispy, slightly oily crab cakes.

This is a book I'll turn to again and again, to cook from and just to drool over. I'm thinking it would make a great template for a izakaya-themed dinner party as well. For anyone on your list with a passion for Japanese food, this would make a fantastic gift.

Mark Robinson's Dashi recipe, from Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook

1qt water

Three 2x3 strips of kombu kelp

1/4 cup cold water

2 oz. bonito flakes

To make about 1qt. (1L) dashi stock:

Heat 1qt (1L) water until tepid (86 degrees Fahrenheit/30 degrees Celsius).

Add three 2x3 in. (5x7.5 cm) strips of kombu kelp (about 0.7 oz/20g).

Bring slowly to a simmer over 20-30 minutes. When simmering, immediately remove the kombu, skim the scum from the surface and bring to a boil.

Add 1/4 cup (60ml) of cold water to quell the bubbles and immediately lower the heat.

Add in 2 oz. (60g) bonito flakes. When all bonito flakes have soaked up the liquid and the liquid has barely returned to the boil, turn off the heat.

Leave for five minutes and strain through a sieve lined with a fine cloth, or a large coffee filter. Cool at room temperature without covering.

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