Food is the stuff of memories. a good meal can be something recalled for a lifetime or as is the case with this meal, it can be an evocation of times past, a homage to what was, better times, better places. food is escapism at times like these.
it may seem odd given that my entire menu today is made of of japanese style dishes but this meal is a direct result of my visit with friends Gavin and Victoria in Denton, Texas. yeah, not the place you would immediately associate with japanese cuisine but we had a great meal together there, good food, great company and conversation. who could ask for more?
today, i made a seared tuna steak with wasabi aioli, cold soba noodles with chili flakes and furikake and broiled zucchini and squashed flavored with soy sauce. it was a simple menu but one that evoked memories and made a few new ones. the biggest lesson that i have learned over the past few weeks is that food does not need to be complicated to be really good. that and some nonsense about valuing where you are and what you are doing and who you are with because in all may change. but mostly that thing about the food.
Apologies ahead of time, i had an issue with my camera so there are no pictures to accompany today’s descriptions. sorry. i can sketch you a picture of a fish if you like, just drop me an email.
Chilled Soba Noodles with Chili Flakes and Furikake
I wanted a starch with the meal but nothing too pedestrian. properly prepared, these noodles stand up to any main course and serving them chilled offered a counterpoint on the plate to the broiled veggies and seared fish.
Boil a large pot of salted water, deep enough to fully submerge your noodles. dry soba noodles can be found in the asian section of most grocery stores. drop the noodles into the water and boil for just a few scant moments until the begin to soften. this happens quick so don’t start in on anything else or you will overcook them. drain the noodles, move them into a bowl and refrigerate. if you are in a hurry, a little while in the freezer will do just fine. when the rest of the meal is ready, give the noodles a quick rinse in cold water to make sure they are not sticky or clumpy. drain well and liberally season with furikake and red pepper flakes. toss the noodles to evenly distribute the spices and then drizzle with a bit of sesame oil. toss again and serve.
Broiled Baby Zucchini and Squash
i have to admit, i picked these because they were cute. something about small vegetables screams out japanese cookery to me, it’s probably just some broken association with no basis in reality but it works for me. again, we are going really simple on these. i sliced three of each vegetable in half lengthwise and put in a baking dish. salt and pepper the veg, drizzle a bit of olive oil and soy sauce over, just a touch, you don’t need to drown them. broil in a hot oven for around 20 minutes or until they are soft and just starting to turn brown. serve immediately.
Seared Tuna with Wasabi Aioli
This is the centerpiece, a dish that i had in Denton at the aforementioned meal. it makes perfect sense, all the flavors are balanced as you would expect them to be and with a good piece of tuna, its just decadently delicious. i have never before this evening made a mayo or aioli so i was intimidated to say the least. i cheated and used my immersion mixer with a whisk attachment. i still got some separation after the aioli sat for a few so obviously, take this recipe with a grain of salt and when you figure out how to do it perfect every time, drop me a line.
i started with two egg yolks and whisked them until they were very smooth with a custard sort of color. after they are well on their way, drizzle olive oil into the yolks, continuously whisking. a few drops at a time and completely integrating each addition before adding more. i worked my way up to around 1/2 a cup. still whisking, add a bit of salt and pepper and 2 – 3 tbsp of wasabi powder. i guess paste would have worked as well but the dry ingredient integrated better without changing the consistency of the aioli. i should point out that i am well aware of the fact that an aioli is made an aioli by the addition of garlic and this dish has none. yes, i am abusing the term and using a preparation without all the traditional ingredients. add some pressed garlic if you feel like it. i decided this meal didn’t need it, probably on the account of the four heads of pickled garlic that eddie and i ate between us as a snack. i am overly inundated with garlic for the time being. ok, enough of that, once you got a good consistency, refrigerate and start your fish
for best results, let the tuna steaks come up to as close to room temperature as you are comfortable with. this will allow you to have a shorter sear time but still warm the center of the fish without overcooking it. with a chilled fish, if you sear it for the appropriate interval to get the outside where it needs to be, the center of the fish would still be quite cold.
simply salt and pepper the fish on both sides, no need for anything more elaborate, you have plenty of flavor coming with the aioli. heat a scant amount of olive oil in a flat bottomed pan over a medium high heat. you want to handle the fish as little as possible once it goes in the pan so keep yourself in check, leave it alone. sear the tuna on both sides, flipping only once! i like to watch the cut side of the tuna steak and when the fish turns white about a 1/4 of the way up, its time to flip. cook the other side the same way which should give you around about 1/2 of the thickness of the fish that is warm but not cooked through. immediately plate the fish and spoon over a bit of the aioli. serve alongside the noodles and vegetable with some chilled sake or whatever other beverage of choice you may had.
the reaction: as a briefly mentioned, my aioli started to separate so i can’t call it a complete success. it is something that i will have to work at. flavor wise, i think everything came out astonishingly well. it was a well rounded meal texturally, in flavor and consistency. the counterpoint of the chilled noodles and the hot tuna was pretty nice. this one was probably a B+ but still a success overall. bottom line, seven done, forty one to go. hope you enjoyed.
i completed the loop on my meal memory by having a shiner bock after it was all said and done. i have to say that i am looking forward to my next meal with my friends in texas and all the others that i miss during my year of exile.