Sunday, February 18, 2007

Steak and Sesame Night

Sun 18 Feb 2007

While I had hoped to be bringing you a review of Hansa's, Leeds' oldest vegetarian, Gujarti restaurant, circumstances beyond my control have dictated otherwise. We actually had floated a weekend alternative to Valentine's Day, but found ourselves left with our third option - a night of Japanese food, sourced exclusively from one of Andy's Christmas presents.

Andy had suggested that he make me the steak in roasted sesame seed marinade from Cooking Japanese. Of course, you always need side dishes (even hardened omnivores like me acknowledge the necessity of some greens), so I had a quick flick through the "Sides and Salads" section and we came up with something approaching a menu.

The first thing that needed to be done was to put together the marinade for the steak. Although the recipe called for ribeye, Andy opted for the far more readily available sirloin (or porterhouse). A generous 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds were toasted in a dry frying pan until they started to brown. These were then crushed in a mortar and pestle and to this paste was added a 3cm piece of ginger, a clove of garlic, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, some rice vinegar (in place of sake) and a dash of sugar. This mixture was beaten together and formed the marinade for the steak.

At this juncture, the meat needed to rest for 30 minutes. This meant we disappeared to the pub.

On returning to the kitchen, it was a focussed effort to produce the side dishes. I had chosen green beans with a sesame miso dressing and spinach with sesame dressing. You may sense a predominant sesame theme.

We topped and tailed the beans and dunked them in boiling salted water a whole minute before the spinach was treated the same way. A minute later, and the mix was drained, doused in cold water and Andy was given the very important job of separating beans from spinach.

Meanwhile, I'd been toasting a good pile of sesame seeds. Once browned I divided the mixture in two and set to work on the spinach dressing. Firstly, I crushed the sesame seeds in the mortar and pestle. I then added a tiny amount of plain white granulated sugar, followed swiftly by a dash of vodka (yes, I appreciate that Grey Goose vodka in lieu of sake may be construed as misguided - but you have to make do with what you have in the kitchen), a tablespoon+ of dashi (again - the instructions on the dashi - while no doubt explict in Japanese, were scanty in English) and a tiny splash of soy sauce. While the recipe called for tamari we simply do not cook often enough (or in enough bulk) to warrant about 5 different types of soy sauce. Anyway, crush all of this together, tasting all the time.

While the head chef is doing this, the sous chef should be draining and squeezing out the spinach, sprinkling it with soy sauce (in this instance, shoyu) and wrapping it in a bamboo mat.

When you are ready, give a final twist to the bamboo mat to drain any last minute moisture and slice your spinach into tidy bundles. Top each bundle with some sesame paste, sprinkle with a few reserved sesame seeds and serve.

At the same time, you can easily fit in the preparation of the sesame paste for the beans.

Crush the remaining sesame seeds in your mortar and pestle and add a sprinkle of sugar. Add 2 tablespoons of red miso paste and a generous splash of mirin and combine to form a thick paste. The beans, which you've previously separated from the spinach, can now be dressed in the sesame paste, sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and served.

It's important to note that because both the beans and spinach are lightly cooked they can, and indeed, should, be served at room temperature. This allows you to prepare them in advance.

At some point, you also need to make your dipping sauce for the steak. The recipe calls for 125mL of soy sauce (shoyu), mixed together with strips of fresh ginger, shichimi togarishi (seven spice mix - for those in Leeds, available at Wing Lee Hong), and two teaspoons of dashi granules. Since you should always read instructions from start to finish, you'll know to keep some apart from the spinach dressing! Add extra water as required for taste or texture.

When you're ready to eat, you're ready to cook the steak. Heat a griddle pan and cook your steaks to taste. Set them to one side to rest, and then add remaining marinade and some spring onions to the pan, to form a thick paste.

Serve and eat.

Although the original recipe suggests serving with steamed rice, we decided our side dishes provided us with plenty of extra food. At a dinner party, I would offer rice as well as an additional side dish, to make sure everyone was well fed. I also appreciate that the instructions look long and perhaps rather complicated. Let me reassure you that, marinade for meat aside, between two of us we had assembled and eaten this meal in little more than an hour!

And to drink? Well, on the one hand, you should have seen the perplexed look we received in Hoults, when we suggested we wanted a wine to drink with Japanese steak, with lots of sesame seed. We ended up with the 2005 Mitolo Jester Shiraz - from McLaren Vale and as recommended by Dave Prichard. OK - I know shiraz from McLaren Vale doesn't scream 'easy-drinking' (and at 14.5% you do need to have your drinking boots on) but this is a very subtle wine - the tannin provides great structure and length without obnoxious mouthfeel (you don't think you're drinking it 5-10 years too early) and the gentle fruit and spice mingle congenially with the sesame and red meat. It was a great match!

Japanese Cooking gets a big tick - we can see we'll be trying out more recipes in future!

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