Tag Archives: jiro dreams of sushi

next door

21 Sep

Five years as a pastry chef and I never learned how to poach an egg properly. It never came up. I liked crispy-fried eggs for my breakfast, when I wasn’t eating croissants at work.

And then I landed in a new place, a mixture of happenstance and good friends, and poached eggs were on the menu. On everything. My failure rate was high, in the beginning. I looked at every ‘easiest / best poached egg technique’ on the internet and I ate the disastrous ones for breakfast and lunch and snacks. I felt like Frances the badger when she is ‘Tired…of…jam.‘ And finally a friend, a French-trained chef, walked me through it. I had everything backwards. It was supposed to be the deepest pot in the kitchen, whole cups of vinegar and a light smattering of bubbles, like expensive fizzy water. The finished egg should feel like the fleshy part at the crease of a bent elbow. The chasm between reading about something and experiencing it is vast.

In Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the sushi chef’s apprentice explains that it was ten years of prep work, massaging the octopus to make it tender, before he was allowed to make omelettes. And it was two hundred failed omelettes – failed in that they did not meet Jiro’s high standards – before he made one that was worthy of a nod of approval. The apprentice cried with relief, pride.

I haven’t signed up for any classes this autumn. Last year it was illustration, before that bread, and Japanese. I like the discomfort of the steep slope on a new learning curve. This year I am working on my eggs. I still mess a few up, and still eat those ones for lunch. The rest are good.

And I get the best coffee as a reward.

black sesame shortbread

24 Nov

black sesame shortbread

Japan is all the rage in Paris at the moment: there is an extensive Hokusai exhibit at the Grand Palais, well worth visiting; a detailed look at the hand-drawn layouts for Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli films at the Musée d’Art Ludique; and Le Japon au fil des saisons at the Musée Cernuschi. The oldest department store in Paris, Le Bon Marché, is celebrating Japan too.

For our most recent Grape Leaf Club, we ate chirashi bowls with salmon, mackerel and octopus while watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi. I’d seen the film before but loved it again – 85 year old sushi chef Jiro and his sincere perfectionism, his hard-working sons and apprentices. The jolly restaurant critic who admits to being slightly intimidated to eat there. The apprentice that cries when he finally gets the omelette right.

One of the lines in the Hokusai show echoed Jiro’s determined philosophy – both wanted to keep practising their craft their whole life long, believing there is more to learn even in your eighties.

It all makes me nostalgic for working in the Japanese bakery. I loved the genmaicha tea in the morning, making yuzu Christmas logs, starting with ohayo gozaimasu and finishing with otsukaresama desu! as we left. (“You are honorably tired” is a very satisfying compliment after a long day’s work.)

And so more Japanese flavours have been creeping into my cooking. There is a jar of pickled ginger by the stove, Japanese rice in the cupboard. I have an elegant wooden box that measures exactly enough rice for two people.

I love anything with black sesame – kuro goma –  the earthy, deep flavour a perfect contrast for something rich and creamy. I made the sesame shortbread with matcha-coconut pannacottafor our Jiro evening. It is buttery and crumbly with a slight edge from the bitter seeds.

The second time I made it for a quick dinner at home. It only needs a bowl and a spoon and a tin. We ate the shortbread with yoghurt and bitter caramel sauce. To turn natural yoghurt into something more worthy of a dessert, leave it to drain in a sieve lined with paper towels for half an hour. It becomes thicker, creamier and more tart. Like homemade Greek yoghurt. Drizzle with honey, maple syrup or caramel. Simple and delicious.

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Black sesame paste and seeds can be found at Japanese or Asian supemarkets. In Paris, the rue St Anne, near metro Pyramides, has the highest concentration of Japanese shops, noodle bars and bakeries.  Or try using tahini.

Miyazaki exhibit, Paris

Black sesame shortbread

adapted from Seasonal Secrets

125g salted butter

50g caster sugar

2 tsp sesame paste

125g plain flour

50g rice flour

2 tsp black sesame seeds

Cream butter and sugar until soft. Add sesame paste and mix to combine well. Add flours and seeds. Keep mixing until the dough starts to form clumps. It can be a bit crumbly, but not powdery. If overworked, it will be too chewy rather than light.

Grease an 18cm round tin. Press the mixture firmly into it. Refrigerate shortbread while preheating oven to 175C. Bake for 15 minutes, until it comes away from the sides and is just golden around the edges.

Cool, slice into thin wedges.

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