I adore homemade succotash –fresh corn kernels warmed in butter with just-picked green or lima beans. I have beans from the garden and corn from down the street, but I resisted this week. I wanted to make a new kind of succotash I saw on Japanese TV.
Tony and I get a Japanese TV station on satellite feed, and my favorite programs are the evening dramas (“World’s Best Doctor!”) and the cooking shows. I can’t understand a word, which I figure is a bonus with the cheesy dramas and barely a hindrance with the cooking shows.
Last week Tony and I watched as a beaming woman bowed to the camera and presented a plate of corn and edamame with lacy fried edges. It looked so good that I was barely daunted that we missed the part where she actually made the recipe.
“Ooooh,” we both breathed as Tony stopped the action. The corn kernels and green soybeans were perfectly separate. They did not appear to have been breaded or dunked in batter. They were bare except for the intriguing brown wisp ringing each kernel and bean.
Tony translated: “Sweet and salty,” proclaimed the young girl chosen to taste, her hand in front of her mouth like a fence (the polite way in Japan to talk with your mouth full).
I spent all evening and the next morning in the kitchen trying to figure out the recipe. I thawed edamame and slipped them from the pods. I cut corn from the cob. I dusted them with flour and deep fried them. I dusted them with cornstarch and deep fried them. I fried them naked. I coated them with foamy egg white. No dice.
Finally I decided to forget the TV recipe and create a new one. I would lightly coat the vegetables in a lacy tempura batter seasoned with togarashi (a Japanese chili-pepper powder), finely grated lemon zest and grated ginger. I would make some Japanese ponzu (lemon-soy) sauce for dipping.
The resulting dish is a far cry from the TV recipe in all but one respect: It’s salty and sweet. It’s also crunchy and gingery, with a bright tang of lemon. It may be the perfect summer cocktail snack.
“Mmm. Wonderful!” Tony pronounced.
Sometimes it pays to screw up.
GINGER-LEMON CORN & EDAMAME TEMPURA
- 8 oz. frozen edamame, thawed
- 3/4 cup fresh corn kernels (1 medium ear)
- Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
- 1 tsp. finely grated ginger (see note)
- Dash of togarashi or cayenne pepper
- Vegetable oil
- 2 tbsp. flour
- 2 tbsp. cornstarch
- 1/4 cup ice water
- Ponzu sauce for dipping (optional, recipe follows)
Remove edamame beans from the pods, discarding pods. Combine beans and corn kernels in a small, deep bowl with the lemon zest, ginger, a dash of salt and a dash of togarashi. Stir.
Heat about 1 ½ inches of the oil in a deep pan over medium-high heat. Bring to 350 degrees, or heat until an edamame bean dropped in the oil immediately bobs to the surface and furiously sizzles.
While the oil heats, stir together flour and cornstarch in a small bowl. Add ice water and stir briefly. Some lumps should remain. Pour over vegetables and stir to coat. In batches, drop by heaping tablespoons into the hot oil, spreading slightly with the spoon. Fry for about 1 minute, or until golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with salt. Makes 2 to 3 servings.
Note: I grated the ginger on the large holes of a box grater and then chopped it fine. Grating fresh ginger on the small holes or with a Microplane grater will produce ginger juice, but not much ginger.
QUICK PONZU SAUCE
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1 tbsp. rice vinegar
- Dash of cayenne
Combine all ingredients and mix well.
Tony and I are going to Japan again to visit his folks, and this time I am determined not to leave my notebook stuffed with food notes on the plane. Hopefully, that means I’ll have lots to report, from the silly to the sublime. We’ve already planned our first two meals – miso ramen and some Hokkaido pork specialty I can’t pronounce. Tony’s brother, Osam, will pick us up after we’ve chowed down and soaked in an onsen – hot springs – at Sapporo’s awesome New Chitose airport (http://www.new-chitose-airport.jp/en/). I could spend my whole vacation in that airport. Seriously.
Check it out. But first I have a request. While I’m gone will you shoot me a quick email about anything noteworthy you consumed on your vacation this summer? I love reading that kind of stuff, and I’m sure others do, too. When I get back, we’ll swap stories. The reader who sends the best email (describing the most unusual, fabulous or bizarre food) will receive a free copy of my cookbook, “Jane Snow Cooks.” Don’t forget to put “Food” in the subject line of your email.
CHIP, CHIP HOORAY – NOT!
Lay’s four new potato chip flavors are missing the boat. (Missing the dhow, to be precise). The flavors – bacon mac & cheese, cappuccino, wasabi-ginger and mango salsa – are tame compared to the chips we found last week at Tink Hol, a Cleveland Asian market. While the Lay’s basil chips I tried did not sing with flavor, Tony liked the seaweed-flavored chips he chose. We both passed on a third flavor, Lay’s hot chili-squid – me for aesthetic reasons, Tony because he didn’t want to come off as a hog.
Lay’s has offered exotic-flavored potato chips for years, but they’re sold mostly in other countries. Some examples: Caviar (Russia); Garlic-Prawn (Spain); crab (Ukraine) and, inexplicably, vegetable soup (Russia).
I’m glad I’m traveling to Japan soon, which has sensible potato chip flavors such as cola, salad and pickled plum.
From Tammy Jo:
I stopped at Papa Joe’s for lunch recently and saw fried “Walleye Cheeks” on special. I’ve heard of fish cheeks at area sushi restaurants but was intrigued by the fact that it was a luncheon special. My internet search revealed the fact that many types of fish yield tasty cheeks – however, walleye was not mentioned as one of them.
Could you give us some background on this delicacy? My boyfriend and I go salmon fishing twice a year in New York and when our captain cleans our catch the heads, spines and tails are tossed to the seagulls. I’d love to pipe up and order Cap’n Bob to “save the cheeks”! Are they really “all that”?
Dear Tammy: Apparently so. Tony doesn’t serve fish cheeks at his sushi bar, although he does offer yellowtail collar (the bony but delicious crescent just behind the gills. Maybe you should ask Cap’n Bob to save both the cheeks and the collar.
Many connoisseurs consider the cheeks to be the best part of a fish. They are sweet and tender, with a scallop-like texture. If Cap’n Bob gives you the whole head rather than mess with the cheeks, just dig them out with a sharpened spoon. Resist the urge to bread or batter and fry the cheeks (I’m thinking walleye) as you would a fish filet. Cheeks should be cooked simply, such as sautéed in butter, to allow the texture and flavor to shine.
From Bruce E.:
I am trying some backyard foraging. Yesterday I enhanced my ramen packet with lambs quarter and nodding wild onion. I enjoy your newsletter.
Dear Bruce: The additions can only improve those ramen packets. Although my husband loves them, I could never choke one down until I saw chef David Chang on “Mind of a Chef “ sprinkle the seasoning packet directly on a block of dried ramen and eat the crunchy noodles without cooking them. Try it. It’s weirdly good. Anyway, happy foraging.
From Cheryl S.:
Would the wines clash with each other if I served pinot noir with cherry wood-smoked rack of lamb with a cherry-merlot reduction? My husband got a great deal on a pricey bottle of pinot noir and I would rather drink it than cook with it. Or should I use a lesser pinot for the sauce? I’ve always heard that you should drink the same wine that you cook with.
Dear Cheryl: I think you have exactly the right idea. I wouldn’t cook with a pricy bottle of wine, either. When I used to make boeuf Bourguignonne, I would cook with a cheap but drinkable pinot noir and serve it with a French Chambertin. My rule is, “Don’t cook with any wine you wouldn’t drink.” That’s doesn’t mean you have to drink it with that dish, just that it should be palatable. The cherry-merlot reduction will not clash with the pinot noir; it should be delicious.
About buying too much corn and using it up – you can use a Food Saver. It comes with plastic bags – it sucks all of the air out of the bag so you can freeze the corn right on the cob. We just finished up last year’s corn and it’s just as fresh now as it was then. The cobs were a little wet but the corn was fine.
Dear Cheryl: I have a food vacuum packer and the food preserved that way does taste fresher. But unless the food is bone dry, the moisture gets sucked into the seal, which then separates. Plus, those rolls of specially made bags are expensive. I don’t need the aggravation. I usually do it the old-fashioned way with zipper-lock bag, which I finally learned how to seal.
Speaking of shortcuts in the summer–you grated your own coconut???
Lucky Vitamin www.luckyvitamin.com has Bob’s Red Mill flaked and shredded unsweetened coconut at a reasonable price — just FYI. I’m going to try your ambrosia, it sounds heavenly.
Dear Michele: Me, grate raw coconut? Those days are over. I buy unsweetened grated coconut in the freezer section of Asian food stores. But truthfully, I was too lazy to retrieve the sack from my basement freezer, so I used regular sweetened coconut in the ambrosia.