Monday, March 22, 2010

Sake Update III: Kasu

Sake Update III.

At the end of the last post, I'd pressed the sake and bottled some as nigorizake. The rest is sitting cold in my lagering fridge, and I'll rack it in a few days, pasteurize it, and let it bulk age for about two months. Then it'll get bentonite, filtering, repasteurizing, and bottling. Then drinking! In the meanwhile, I've got cleanup to do.

One of the fortunate side effects of making sake is the lees, or sake kasu. Kasu is composed of yeast, koji, spent rice and unextracted sake left over after pressing. Fortunately it is really useful in the kitchen, a lot like its soy-sister: miso. So I made a tasty weekend dinner for my lovely wife to showcase a couple of its various uses.
  • Kasuzuke Black Cod and Halibut
First up is my favorite, a very traditional way prepare fish: kasuzuke. The idea is that you make a marinade of the kasu, as well as some sugar, mirin and miso. You leave fatty fish (typically Black Cod, aka Sablefish or Butterfish) in the marinade for several days, then grill or broil it. The salt, sugar, and sake all work to cure the fish, extracting moisture and making it dense and flavorful. The kasu, mostly but not completely wiped off, caramelizes, making the skin crispy, sweet, salty, and very, very tasty. Here in Seattle, it is a staple at several restaurants, and you can buy it fresh and ready to go in the marinade at Uwajimaya, and at Ballard's own Fresh Fish Co., where I buy most of my fish. I've used the recipe Uwajimaya before, but this time I used the nearly identical one from Tom Douglas' Seattle Kitchen:
  • 1 pound Kasu
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 T light miso
  • 1/4 cup mirin
  • 1 1/2 pounds fish, preferably 4-6 oz steaks with (well-scaled) skin on.
Brine the fish in a quart of water and 2 T kosher salt for about half an hour. Then pat it dry. This will help it release water and be firmer and more awesome later.

I used a Black Cod steak, and a nice piece of Halibut fillet. Think fatty, firm fish not oily. Black Cod, Salmon, Halibut, work great. Heck I used Pompano once and it was great. Really killer fresh Kingfish (though typically considered very oily) might work too, if it was caught that day.

Combine the kasu, miso, sugar, mirin and a cup of water in a bowl and whisk together. In a pyrex baking dish or plastic tub of some kind, pour some of the marinade on the bottom, then place the fish in and pour the rest of the marinade over. Make sure the fish is covered. Then lid it or plastic wrap it, and into the fridge for three days at least.

Mmmm smells like sake.

After three days, you can go ahead and cook it. Or leave it there for a while longer, no worries.

Preheat your oven to broil. Spray a baking sheet or broiler pan with oil. Take out the fish and wipe off most, but not all of the marinade with a brush or paper towel. Arrange on the sheet and broil for 10-12 minutes, flipping halfway, until it's golden brown and starting to flake.

Serve toasty warm and dig in with chopsticks. The fish flakes nicely, and the kasu gives it an awesome sweet-tart-salt-sake flavor that it very unique. Just watch for bones, if you're not using a boneless fillet.

You can save and reuse the marinade a couple times. Just use your nose. If it smells pleasantly of sake, it's good. If it's growing fuzzies and smells like low tide, then ditch it, obviously.
  • Soup: Kasu jiru
Yep, just like miso you can make soup using kasu. There are a lot of recipes for it out there, some with enough ingredients to make a full meal. But I just wanted a side soup, like a simple miso.

So I made one up.

Step One in a lot of Japanese cooking is the dashi, fresh fish stock that is found somewhere in many, many Japanese dishes. Basically it's a quick stock of katsuobushi, (dried, fermented, smoked, and shaved Bonito) and kombu, (dried kelp). For this round I decided to go a little more on the fish route, and instead of using katsuobushi, I made iriko dashi.

Iriko, are dried tiny little sardines. They haven't been smoked like the katsuobushi, and so their flavor makes for a fishier soup, which I thought would go well with the kasu. The recipe for the dashi came from Elizabeth Andoh's Washoku, an excellent and beautiful guide to Japanese home cooking. I recommend it highly.
  • 15-20 small Iriko, trimmed (pop off the head, scoop out the guts as best you can. As you can see I kind of forgot to do this. I don't think it really hurt anything.)
  • 4 1/4 cups cold water
  • 10-12 square inches of kombu
  • 1 dried shiitake mushroom
Put everything in a pot and soak for 20 minutes. Then put on medium heat until tiny bubbles start appearing around the edges. Lower heat and keep at that level of simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit 5 minutes. Then strain. You could keep the shiitake and kombu for other uses, including another round of stock or in a dish. The stock is best when used fresh, but it will also keep for three days or so.

Now to make the soup. Put a tablespoon or so of kasu in a serving bowl. Add a dash of stock, then whisk to get the cold kasu warmed up and dissolved. Add a pinch of dried seaweed, wakame, if you've got it. Then ladle some more stock in and add a dash of soy sauce to counter the sweet kasu. Sprinkle on some green onions or, in my case, fresh chives. Done. Soup. Like miso, but more sake-y.

You could add cubes of tofu if you wanted to, and it would be very similar to miso soup. I was fresh out. I'll probably make a more complex soup later on.
  • Madrona Smoked Scallops
Ok, so this doesn't really involve kasu but I found some Sea Scallops on wicked sale and decided to try an experiment. The previous weekend we were up hiking the Oyster Dome trail and came across a few Madrona trees that were peeling their bark. I happily grabbed a small bagful and brought it home. Madrona (Arbutus menziesii) is also often called Madrone, or Arubutus, but I've always known it as Madrona. No matter. Point is it's a plant that was traditionally eaten by the native peoples of the area, and it's getting a new resurgence in cooking. The bark is most often made into a tea, though the tree produces edible berries as well. For example, see Hank Shaw's great posts over at Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. I am covetous of his Madrone Tea Egg.

My thought was to try an wok smoke something with the bark, as you might wok smoke with tea leaves. It makes a good tea, what kind of smoke would it produce? Experiment time.

I had three large sea scallops, so I sliced them in half into six smaller scallops. More surface area for smoke, and twice the value! They went into a marinade of:
  • a tablespoon of mirin
  • a tablespoon of soy sauce
  • a teaspoon of sesame oil
  • a few minced chives
  • a bit of grated ginger
  • a bit of minced garlic.
The scallops marinated for two or three hours in the fridge. Then I washed them off, patted them dry, and left them to air a bit on a paper towel. A bit of a pellicle, formed from the cure, will help the smoke adhere later.

Put my wok on high, and put a folded over piece of aluminum foil in the bottom. Otherwise cleanup will be a royal PITA.

Next I took my veggie steamer, gave it a spray with some oil, and arranged the scallops on it. Soon as the bark started to smolder I set the steamer in the wok, put the lid on and turned down the heat to medium. Kitchen fan on full blast, I smoked the scallops for about 10 minutes until they were done.

Meanwhile I knocked up a sauce. I didn't know what the scallops were ultimately going to taste like, so I just got creative. Some decent homemade Ranch Dressing? Check. Medium-Sweet Soy Sauce? Check. Rooster Sauce (sriracha)? Check. Not bad. Not bad at all!

Arranged the scallops on a bed of the sauce, with a squirt of wasabi and some chives. Only four actually made it to the table, as two fell apart after smoking and were eaten by a hungry cook.

They were delicious, but not at all what I thought they'd taste like. Despite the heavy Asian influence of the recipe, the Madrona had a real hardwood smoke character that I reminded me more of barbecue. Honestly, you could totally give these a light dusting of BBQ rub before smoking and they'd be excellent. Or steam some duck or chicken, dust it with BBQ rub, then wok smoke it for 'BBQ on a Rainy Day.'

As it was it was still pretty great, for an experiment. Next time I'm inclined to try throwing other things on the foil with the bark. A Star Anise? Brown Sugar? Some whole Coriander and Cumin Seeds? Mmm possibilities...

Finally, to complete the dinner I made a quick salad, and steamed some rice with furikake on top. Served with the Nigorizake that gave it rise, the Kasu Dinner was a delicious success.


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