Friday, November 15, 2013

Contribution to a Potluck Dinner

A good friend of ours invited us to their house for a potluck dinner recently, during which each family - there were 6 families of us - would contribute one dish and a matching wine each. I thought long and hard about what to make and decided on a small dish inspired by Japanese kaiseki cuisine. That was served as one of the three appetizer courses that evening.

Umami is known as one of the five basic taste elements and what I made was loaded with that savory, fresh sensations on the taste buds, by combining umami-rich ingredients such as crabs, shrimps, kelp, bonito flakes and miso. It's a shrimp dumpling in crab miso soup.

The deep-fried shrimp dumpling (Ebi-shinjo) came (loosely) from a recipe in the Kikunoi cookbook. Kikunoi is a reputable restaurant based in Kyoto (with branch in Tokyo) specialized in delicate Kaiseki cuisine. The book has been sitting on my shelf since forever and I think this is the first time I used it for cooking (previously I was just admiring the beautiful pictures inside) The original recipe combined the dumpling with pea soup and I omitted some key ingredients too since I don't have them (lazy me!)

The soup base is a common dish from Hokkaido known as Teppou Jiru - which literally meant Iron Cannon Soup, by combining crabs and miso paste with dashi broth. You may be surprised that much of the taste of the soup actually came not from the crabmeat but the shells. In the version I made I used a combination of frozen Hokkaido king crab legs and also flower crabs bought from local market.

And to bring everything together, I put in vegetables such as carrots, daikon and okra - not only for their tastes but for a colorful touch. And recently I brought back some sudachi - the Japanese lime - from our trip to Shikoku, and I used its zest and juice for the dish as well.

This is not difficult to make at all - just takes time and good ingredients.

The portion listed yields 6-8 servings as a substantial appetizer dish. For the soup, I suggest making extra for future use - it can keep in the freezer for months - instead of adjusting the portion if you are preparing for less people. Just as an idea, the soup is perfect for ramen too.

Kaiseki-inspired Crab and Miso Soup with Shrimp Dumplings

Ingredients: (6-8 servings)
2 dried kelp
300g dried bonito flakes
2.5 quart of water
Crabs - 3 to 4 medium sized ones, or use cooked crab legs, or a combination

Shrimp Dumplings
1 kg of shrimps - cleaned, de-shelled and de-veined.
300g of white fish meat (I used garei bought from Japanese supermarket)
2 teaspoon of corn starch or potato starch
1 tablespoon of ponzu sauce
egg white from one medium-sized egg
2 tablespoon of dashi broth

2 okra
1 carrot
half daikon
Sudachi (Japanese Lime) - can substitute with lemon


Dashi Broth
1. You start off by making the dashi broth. Gently wash the dried kelp and soak in cold water for 15 minutes.
2. Put 2.5 quart of water in a pot and the soaked kelp and bring the water to boil in medium heat.
3. Remove the kelp just before the water reaches boiling point. Once the water start boiling, put in the bonito flakes.
4. Let the water and bonito flakes boil for 10-15 minutes, or until the flakes began to sink to the bottom of the pot.
5. Use a strainer to remove the bonito flakes. It may be tempting to press hard on the cooked bonito flakes to squeeze as much soup out as possible but don't - that would leave the soup with a bitter aftertaste.
6. Set aside 2 tablespoon of dashi broth for the shrimp dumplings

Teppou Jiru
1. I used a combination of cooked Hokkaido king crab and live local flower crab and I intended to serve the king crab meat with my soup, so I removed the meat first and save them until later.
2. I also had the fishmongers removed the lungs and unwanted part from the live crab for me, so that saved me the trouble of doing that myself. If not, clean the crabs, remove the lungs and cut the crab into pieces.
3. Put the crab shells and pieces into the pot with dashi broth, slowly simmer for 4-6 hours with the lid opened. Make sure the broth won't get dried up and burn. I also threw in the shrimp heads which I removed from making the shrimp dumplings in the broth for additional flavors. 
4. Remove the crabs from the soup, gradually stir in miso paste until completely dissolved. Taste as you put in miso paste in batches so it won't get too salty. Add more water if it does. Set aside.

Shrimp Dumplings
1. Roughly cut shrimp and fish fillet into smaller, manageable pieces
2. Put all ingredients into a food processor and pulse to mince together until it's turned into a paste-like texture.
3. Shape the shrimp paste into ball-shape (around 30g each)
4. Heat up a pan of oil, and deep-fried the shrimp dumplings until it's turned into golden color - about 5 minutes. Use kitchen towel to drain the extra oil from the dumplings.

To assemble
1. Reheat the Teppou Jiru soup. Slice carrot, daikon and okra crosswise, and put them into the soup while boiling. (I cut carrot and daikon into flower petal shape) Cook for an additional 15 minutes.
2. Remove the cooked carrot, daikon and okra
3. Put deep-fried shrimp dumpling into a small rice bowl, pour soup into the bowl, and garnish with carrot, daikon, okra, lemon zest and juice. Serve immediately.

Oh, forgot to mention the wine pairing. A dish like this called for a rich yet delicate white wine with good body and lasting after taste to stand up against the intense umami seafood flavors - we brought along a Meursault which I believe would just be the right kind. (Domaine Faiveley Meursault 1er Cru Boucheres 2007). It's refreshing on the nose with good vanilla aroma, and opened up to a good buttery, nutty taste - rich enough for the dish yet easy to drink in a warm early autumn evening.

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