Negi-Maki (Beef and Scallion Rolls)

These can also be made with baby asparagus spears. Boil the asparagus until just done, then use only the tender top parts in the rolls. This recipe makes enough for an appetizer for 4 people.

1/2 lb well-marbled beef, sliced into 8 thin 4″ x 6″ pieces

8 scallions (skinny ones), trimmed

1 T peanut oil

2 T Japanese soy sauce

1 1/2 T sugar

1 T sake

1 T dashi, or water

If the beef pieces aren’t thin enough (they should be about 1/16″ thick), pound the slices with the side of a cleaver to flatten them.  Lay a slice on a cutting board, with the long side running from right to left. Lay a scallion lengthwise along it at the bottom, then roll up like a jelly roll.  Repeat with the rest of the beef and scallions. Tie the rolls closed with kitchen string.

Heat the oil in a skillet on medium heat and fry the rolls, truning them to brown them on all sides. Add the rest of the ingredients, and braise, turning often, for two or three minutes, adjusting the heat to keep the soy sauce from scorching. When the rolls are glossy from the sauce, remove them to a cutting board and slice each one into 4ths. Serve them with a little of the sauce from the skillet dribbled over them.

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Carrot Kimpira

Kimpira is usually made with burdock root, but whole, fresh, burdock (gobo, in Japanese) can be hard to find. This carrot version is just as good, I’ve found.

4 large carrots, peeled

1 T peanut oil

1 T sake

1 T sugar

2 T Japanese soy sauce

In each carrot, make a series of lengthwise cuts, about 1/4″ deep, all around the carrot, trying as much as possible to keep the cuts parallel, and as close together as you can (1/8″ apart is ideal) . Use a sharp vegetable peeler to lightly peel off thin strips by peeling lengthwise down the carrot. Strips should be as thin as you can make them. Add new cuts to the carrots, if necessary. Collect all the carrot strips in a bowl. Discard the carrots’ hard yellow cores.

In a large cast iron skillet, heat the peanut oil over high heat and add the carrot strips. Turn and mix and stir-fry for about 2 minutes, then add the sake and the sugar and turn the heat down to medium. Mix well and stir-fry for 3 more minutes until the carrot is glossy, then add the soy sauce and continue to stir-fry until the carrot is dark golden brown, and tender to the bite. Pile in a tangled heap in individual small serving bowls, and serve as a side dish to a Japanese meal.

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In restaurants, Sukiyaki often contains Nappa cabbage. I think the taste is too obtrusive, so I leave it out. If you don’t have access to a Japanese grocery that sells very thinly sliced sukiyaki beef, buy the best well-marbled cut you can, semi-freeze it, then use a very sharp knife to carefully slice it as paper-thin as possible. The suet makes a big difference – ask your butcher for a piece. If you can’t get it, use peanut oil.

3 oz suet, cut into 2 or 3 pieces

8 oz mushrooms, sliced 1/8″ thick (use white, Crimini, or fresh shitakes)

6 oz fresh (or canned whole) bamboo shoot, cut in half, then sliced thinly

1 medium onion, peeled, halved and sliced thinly

1 bunch scallions, trimmed and slivered (see note below)

1 12 oz block tofu, cut in 1/2″ cubes

1 cup Japanese soy sauce

3/4 cup water

2 1/2 T mirin or sake

2 T sugar

10 – 12 oz shiritake (clear yam noodles), run under hot water in a colander and drained.

1 lb very thinly sliced beef

Heat a large skillet for a minute over high heat, then turn down to medium and add the suet. Turn it occasionally, until most of the fat is rendered out. Add the vegetables and tofu, placing each in a separate section of the skillet, and turn each section carefully to cover all pieces as much as possible in the fat. Saute in this way for about 5 minutes. Mix the soy sauce, water, mirin and sugar in a large measuring cup, then pour into the skillet and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer a few minutes, until the onion is al-dente. Add the shiratike in the center and cook for 3 minutes. Lay the beef slices on top and cook, turning it once, until as much of the red color of the meat is gone as you wish (the meat is too thin to be able to cook it to “rare” or “medium,” but you can have some parts of it remain rare, if you wish).

As soon as the meat is done, turn off the heat and ladle the sukiyaki into large soup plates, being careful to get a little of everything in each bowl.

You can, if you wish, give each diner a small dish of beaten raw egg (with the usual caveat about raw eggs in mind). Diners dip each bite of sukiyaki in the egg before eating. This is a traditional practice, but if you’re worried about the safety of raw eggs (which should be avoided by pregnant women and anyone with a weakened immune system), then simply omit it.

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