Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Shiitake Tsukune: Char Grilled Chicken Meatballs with Shiitake Mushrooms

Recently I wrote a review of a local restaurant for another website. This restaurant serves one of my favorite kinds of Japanese food: Yakitori. Yaki means grilled and tori originally referred to grilled chicken, but yakitori skewers can be ordered as everything from vegetables to seafood to beef and bacon. And chicken. Of course chicken. Some of the best skewers are chicken meat skewers. I'm a big fan of the crispy chicken skin skewers, crackling and deliciously greasy with fat. The delectably tender tiny chicken wings are also quite delightful. My favorite chicken skewer--in fact my favorite yakitori skewer, period--is the sumptuously tender and flavor filled dark meat chicken meatballs called tsukune. The restaurant I reviewed does a variant with minced mushrooms called shiitake tsukune. The smoky meatballs, made from the more succulent dark meat, are enhanced by the earthy, chewy mushrooms. The rich sweet yet savory tare sauce that is brushed onto them at the end makes them irresistible. Seriously. We finished these meatballs in one night. No leftovers. Granted, we had to roll to bed, but it was worth it. So worth it!

I want to share my attempt at recreating this dish at home. As a base I used this recipe from Serious Eats, with some tweaks. The amount of meatballs you can make depends on how large you make them, but I estimate you can make 10 - 12 skewers with 4 meatballs each on them. If the meatballs are too loose to stay on your skewers, add some more panko to your meatball mix and try again. Also, if you buy your shiitake mushrooms whole, as I did, the stems make an excellent stock after they've been roasted, then simmered in a stock pot for about 1 hour.

Shiitake Tsukune - Char Grilled Chicken Meatballs with Shiitake Mushrooms

For the tare sauce:
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin (rice wine, similar to sherry and different from sake)
1/4 cup sake
1 Tablespoon Rice Wine Vinegar
2 Tablespoons light brown sugar
1 Teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1/2 Teaspoon sesame seeds
1/2 Teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 cloves of garlic, pressed or minced
1" piece of ginger, grated

1. In a small heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat, toast sesame seeds for 2 - 3 minutes.
2. Add all ingredients, bring to a gentle boil, then lower heat down to a simmer.
3. Simmer for about 30 minutes uncovered, to reduce.
4. Remove from heat and pour into a storage or serving container, straining through a sieve.
5. Brush sauce on tsukune before serving

For the tsukune (chicken meatballs):
1 3/4 lbs ground dark meat chicken, preferably chicken thighs*
1/2 yellow onion, roughly diced
1 shallot clove, roughly diced
2 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
1/4 cup shiitake mushroom caps, roughly chopped
1 jumbo egg
2 Tablespoons Mirin
1/2 cup panko
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
soy sauce, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Caramelize the onions and shallots: in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat, add oil, then shallots, then onions, and a small dash of soy sauce stirring frequently.
2. After about 5 minutes, add mushrooms and black pepper. Cook until all ingredients are thoroughly cooked through and the onions and shallots leave brown residue on the bottom of the pan.
3. Add sherry to deglaze, stirring vigorously to bring the caramelized sugars up from the pan.
4. Add garlic and cook for one minute. Remove from heat, taste and adjust seasoning. Allow to cool, then pulse in a blender until the mixture forms a rough paste. About 3 pulses 3 seconds each.
5. When mix has cooled and been blended, mix all ingredients together and form the mix into meatballs.
6. Place four meatballs on each skewer. Cook on a covered grill, just indirect of the heat, for about 5 - 7 minutes at about 350. Flip skewers and cook, covered, for another 5 - 7 minutes, or until meatballs are cooked all the way through.
7. Brush with tare sauce and serve.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and I welcome your feedback!

*I ground my own chicken, using only skinless boneless chicken thighs in my Ninja blender. If you have a grinder or some way to grind up the meat I highly suggest doing so yourself.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Deep Dish Sausage, Spinach and Ricotta Pizza with Roasted Garlic

American Pizza is quite different from Italian pizza. American pizzerias form their pizzas with a thicker, chewier crust. Deep dish pizza, popular and readily available in Chicago, is yet a third take on pizza where chewy dough is formed into a delicious edible container for chunky sauce, enabling the pizza to be piled quite high with ingredients. I've combined ricotta, spinach and roasted garlic before (in my tortellonis); this pizza combines those ingredients with spicy Italian sausage, which makes for a decadent cold weather treat. I rendered the fat from the meatballs while searing them and used the spicy, delicious fat as the base for the pizza's sauce. You may find you've made too many meatballs for the dish; they taste great over pasta and keep in the fridge for the following night. I recommend making so many to use all of the fat rendered for the base of the sauce, and also because it is a matter of personal preference how much meat you want on your deep dish pizza. Likewise with the sauce, which will keep up to 4 days in the fridge and several months stored in a tight container in the freezer. In any case this is a very tasty combo and I hope you also enjoy it.

Deep Dish Sausage, Spinach and Ricotta Pizza with Roasted Garlic

Makes one medium sized pizza

8 ounces pizza dough
5 spicy Italian pork sausages
12 ounces baby spinach
¼ cup olive oil
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced thinly
8 cloves of garlic
½ medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
¼ cup ricotta cheese
4 ounces good red wine 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes*
salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Remove casings from sausages and form into small meatballs. Each sausage should make 8 - 9 meatballs.
Heat a medium sized heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat and pour in olive oil to cover the bottom. Add sausage meatballs and sear, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides. Remove meatballs and set aside.
Add onions and salt (to taste) to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions begin to caramelize (about 5 - 8 minutes). Crush 3 cloves of the garlic and add it to the pan. Allow to cook for one minute.
Next, pour in wine and scrape the bottom of the pan to deglaze. Add crushed tomatoes and ¼ cup water; if they’re not already seasoned with basil and oregano add ¼ teaspoon each of those also.
Bring the sauce up to a slow boil, then turn heat down all the way. Cook for 20 minutes to allow the flavors to marry. When the sauce has finished set aside to cool and eventually puree sauce.You’ll have made more sauce than you need, but it’s lovely on pasta for the next night and will keep for a few days chilled or a few months, frozen.
In a large pan saute spinach up in batches: cover the bottom of the pan in a thin layer of olive oil and a small sprinkle of salt, then place spinach in and cover with another sprinkle of salt. As the batches finish transfer the spinach to either a sieve or a cheesecloth lined bowl. When it cools, press the moisture out of the spinach.
Chop the remaining garlic into large pieces and dress with a little olive oil. Chop the mini meatballs into quarters or thirds, depending on size.
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Roll or stretch out dough large enough to line a 9 x 13” baking dish. Grease your baking dish, then press pizza dough into the dish and about 1 - 2” up the sides. Poke dough all over with a fork and brush olive oil all over the dough. Bake for 8 - 10 minutes.
Now we’re (finally) ready to assemble our pizza! Spread ¼ cup of the sauce over the pizza surface. Sprinkle roughly 1/4 of the meatball pieces over the pizza. Spread spinach evenly over sauce and meat. Drop teaspoon sized dollops of ricotta cheese across pizza. Sprinkle garlic pieces over pizza. Top all over with mozzarella slices. Sprinkle more chopped meatballs over the pizza.
Bake for another 10 - 12 minutes, then cut into slices and serve.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and I welcome your feedback!

*if you can find them with basil and oregano that’s the best, otherwise add ¼ teaspoon of both to the sauce when adding the canned tomatoes

Friday, January 2, 2015

Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette, Maple Candied Pecans and Chevre

My first blog post of the new year! I hope everyone has a happy and healthy joy-filled year in 2015! This is a post about the warm brussel sprout salad I served for my Christmas dinner. How to describe this dish? Well, it's packed full of bold flavors that somehow all end up coming together harmoniously. Earthy sprouts lose some of their cabbage-y funk when roasted with orange zest and they are a perfect, slightly sweet compliment to the tangy orange-thyme vinaigrette. Maple toasted pecans add a sweet crunchy pop that perfectly compliments the mildly sharp chevre crumbles. Try it. It may make a brussel sprouts convert out of you.

The recipe makes just about twice the maple toasted pecans needed for the salad. I've doubled the amount because they make an awesome snack!

Orange Roasted Brussels Sprouts Salad w/ Orange Thyme Vinaigrette, Maple Roasted Pecans and Chevre Crumbles

Makes 4 salad bowl sized servings

2 lbs. brussel sprouts, cleaned, trimmed and cut in half
2 large naval oranges
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot clove, roughly chopped
4 sprigs thyme
1 cup pecans
3 Tablespoons chevre crumbles
2 Tablespoons maple syrup
1 Tablespoon sherry or rice wine
2 Tablespoons white wine or champagne vinegar
1/2 - 1 Tablespoon stone ground dijon mustard
salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 375. In a mixing bowl pour the maple syrup onto the pecans and toss to coat thoroughly.
2. When oven is hot, bake pecans for 3-5 minutes. Meanwhile, zest one of the oranges into the brussel sprouts. Season sprouts with salt and pepper. Toss sprouts, zest and seasonings with 1 1/2 Tablespoons of the olive oil.
3. Set toasted pecans aside to cool. Turn the oven up to 400. Spread sprouts in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the sprouts are thoroughly tender.
4. Zest the other orange and squeeze the juice from both oranges into a blender or food processor. Add shallots, remaining olive oil, stripped off thyme leaves (discard woody stems), dijon mustard, rice wine/sherry and vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pulse in 3 second bursts until shallot has been thoroughly incorporated into the dressing.
5. Toss sprouts with dressing and sprinkle with chevre crumbles and 1/2 cup toasted pecans. Serve as a starter or side dish and enjoy.