Weekends are the new Wednesdays. What used to be called ‘hump day’ is now just another time-snippet of the 24/7/365 world we live in and weekends seem like a tedious fulcrum between workweeks that we all are desperate just to “get through.” Or is that just me?
Friday night I squeezed in a family dinner with my wife at the new Fuji-Ya in downtown St Paul. The best night in town to eat sashimi is Friday nights, after the local Japanese restaurants get their largest fresh seafood orders of the week. The quirky and unusual fish all come in that day, and if you know the counterman behind the sushi bar, all the better. The himachi kama (broiled yellowtail collar) is outstanding at Fuji-Ya, and anyone who isn’t already addicted to the ginger-carrot salad dressing probably hasn’t had it yet. You should. The fish we tried was superb: madae (Pacific snapper), three types of toro (fatty tuna), mirugai (giant clam), himachi (yellowtail). But the folks at Fuji Ya source the best uni (sea urchin) in the Cities and the best batch we had all year was last week. Head down there and check it out.
Speaking of sushi, I hung out this weekend with Hiroko Shimbo, author of The Japanese Kitchen, one of the best cookbooks on Japanese food you will ever read, and she told me her next book due out in the fall will be all about sushi, an over worn subject to be sure, but I am positive that her tome will be definitive. Suvir Saran, the chef-owner of Devi, NYC’s hottest Indian restaurant, was also with us. His book Indian Home Cooking should be on everyone’s must-have lists for cookbooks. Look for Suvir to be back in town in April for some demos and book signings. He is a great teacher and a better human being and wears pink paisley pants—so the guy also knows how to have fun.
Sunday I did an Iron Chef competition in St. Louis Park against Michelle Gayer, the 2003 Bon Appetit magazine pastry chef of the year, and Charlie Trotter’s old pastry chef. She kicked my ass, but the judges in a rare showing of magnanimity declared the contest a tie. We were asked by a mutual friend to face off at the birthday party for his son, a huge reality show and Food Network fan. The six eight-year-old assistant cooks were spared the emotional injury of having to be judged a winner or a loser, but Battle Egg will forever be etched in my memory as one of my great failings. I made a chiliquile tortilla pie, a frittata, and a poached quail egg and bacon sandwich. Nice stuff, but Michelle’s chocolate bread pudding with cajeta was the best dish of the seven we made between the two of us. The event was a blast and I called for a rematch for next year. I will not be defeated! I will crush whoever stands in my way. (Consider yourself warned, Gayer!)
I would’ve crawled across a desert of broken glass to have spent one night this last weekend chowing on some great Thai food at Krua Thai, Ruam Mit, or Taste of Thailand (my favorite Thai restaurants) and then sit in a movie theater and watch some great junk for a few hours. I think I haven’t seen a movie in a year. But the Thai-food itch can be scratched easily—I’ll make these dishes Wednesday night for dinner, and so can you. Both are dishes I learned to make in Thailand two years ago, and adapted them for my kitchen.
Anyone who has eaten at Town Talk Diner should drop me a line and let me know what you think! They just opened and I am eager to hear how the jungle drums are beating.
Sweet and Sour Bangkok-Style Shrimp with Red Chilies
Serves 6 as a small entrée
2 lbs. U-15 sized wild caught shrimp, deveined with shell left on
2 t. salt
2 t. cinnamon
10 dried whole California or Mexican chilies, arbols, or other long, red thin chilies
5 fresh red Thai chilies or 1 scotch bonnet/habanera chili
8 minced shallots
8 garlic cloves, minced
4 stalks lemongrass, cleaned and minced
3 T. peanut oil
3/4 c. ketchup
1/2 c. white vinegar
5 T. sugar
1 c. diced carrots, blanched
1 c. cooked peas
40 fresh mint leaves
Toss shrimp with salt, turmeric, and cinnamon. Cut off and discard dried chili stems. Place dried chilies into a cup of boiling water and refresh for 10 minutes. Drain and puree dried chilies with fresh chilies, shallot, garlic, and lemongrass in food processor. Reserve.
Heat peanut oil in large wok over highest heat. Fry chili paste 4 minutes until fragrant and mahogany-colored. Add shrimp and cook, tossing until they are almost cooked through. Stir in ketchup, vinegar, salt, and sugar.
Cook for several minutes after mixture boils, to heat and consolidate the flavors, then add vegetables and mint.
Toss and serve.
Grilled Lamb with Green Curry
1 boneless leg of lamb, seasoned with peanut oil, sea salt, minced ginger, and garlic
3 sprigs fresh basil
1 c. fresh cilantro leaves
3 garlic cloves
2 stalks lemongrass
1 hot green chili (I like to use Serrano chilies—use 2 if you like it hot)
2 T. Madras-style curry powder
3 T. brown sugar
2 kaffir lime leaves
1 T. vegetable oil
1 c. (each) diced carrot, celery, and onion
8 oz. fresh oyster mushrooms
1 c. rice wine or sake
14 oz. coconut milk
3 T. fish sauce
Juice of 1 lime
Place lamb on a slow grill and cook for 25-30 minutes until just past medium rare, roughly 145 degrees on a meat thermometer. Let rest.
When you start the lamb, start the sauce. Puree basil, cilantro, garlic, lemongrass, hot chili, scallions, curry powder, sugar, and lime leaves in food processor.
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and sauté herb paste for 3-4 minutes. Add vegetables and rice wine and cook 6-8 minutes until rice wine is 2/3 evaporated. Add coconut milk and simmer until sauce is thick, seasoning with fish sauce and lime juice to taste.
Slice lamb, arrange on a platter, and serve with sauce.