Month: April 2009

Creamy crab croquettes

My always hungry wife S and I are devoted Japanese food addicts. We recently realized that 8 of 10 meals we eat out at are at Japanese restaurants. One reason might be that we’re pretty proficient at cooking most other cuisines, so when heading out of the house, we tend to go somewhere where we can’t get food we could otherwise whip up for each other.

Another, much stronger reason is that we just really love going out for Japanese food. We adore all aspects of Japanese cuisine and are equally happy sitting in some small ramen joint as we are partaking in a highly formal, proper kaiseki dinner. And while I wish we could afford to hit our favourite sushi joint on a weekly basis, doing so would put us in the poor house faster than you could say “aburi toro”. Most often, we go to izakaya style restaurants. An izakaya, for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure yet, is a Japanese gastropub, a drinking establishment that also happens to serve darned good food. The dishes are often small and can be easily shared. Which makes them perfect accompaniments for the booze that is often poured (and consumed) quickly and liberally at these establishments.

Make your own mee and charsiu

I mentioned a couple posts ago that one of the very best ways to enjoy homemade wontons is with noodles and charsiu (roast pork), i.e. as part of a perfect plate of wonton mee. What I should have said also is that to really make that dish special, you should also make the charsiu and the noodles yourself.

Before you start getting freaked out, let me assure you that both are surprisingly easy to make. Just give yourself some time to prepare both items properly. And I promise that if you do make the effort and take the time to make not just your wontons but also your mee and charsiu, you will be super pleased with the results. And your guests — or whomever you decide to serve these to — will be in a state of culinary euphoria.

The recipes that S and I have found most trustworthy for charsiu and mee both come from the same amazing food writer and restaurateur, Barbara Tropp. Her cookbook The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking is still, to us, today unrivalled among Chinese cookbooks for its accuracy, clarity, and ease of use. It still sometimes amazes us that a diminutive Jewish-American woman is the authority we trust most when searching for a great Chinese recipe. Of course, as all home cooks do, we’ve tweaked Ms Tropp’s recipes a little to suit our own tastes as well as our kitchen equipment. You may also find that for your tastes and in your kitchen you might need to make some necessary adjustments.

New West Knifeworks

Regular readers of this blog know that I have a real weakness when it comes to well-designed, beautifully-made kitchen knives. I count myself super lucky to be the owner of a real Bob Kramer knife (as opposed to the Kershaw/Shun ones from Sur La Table). I also count the Japanese knives in my collection among the best I have ever worked with. And, like any obsessive collector, I’m always on the lookout for new names and exciting new designs.

So, when I was contacted by the fine folks at New West Knifeworks, I was extremely excited. I had a read a few snippets about their forged knives over the past year but doubted I’d get my hands on one anytime soon (the range of brands available in our local stores here in Sillypore being sadly limited). I both admired the philosophy behind New West’s approach to making knives as well as their artistic flair, exemplified best in the colourful handle designs in their Fusionwood line. Of the two lines, the Phoenix Knives and the Fusionwood, it was hard for me to decide which was more appealing. To be completely honest, the Fusionwood knives had an immediate visual appeal because of the gorgeous handles, made by infusing hardwood veneers with penetrating dies and engineering-grade phenolic resins. They reminded me of artworks one would see travelling through the American Southwest. On the other hand, the Phoenix Knives had more immediately applealing blades. The Fusionwood blades are cut from high-carbon Swedish stainless steel and then ground and finished in Seki, Japan. The Phoenix blades, on the other hand, combines a tool steel core and layers of Damascus steel. Sixteen layers of Damascus steel are forged together and the forge-welded onto the extra high-carbon stainless tool-steel sheet by master knife makers in Seki. The result is a gorgeous, thin but durable blade that can keep a very finely honed edge.


One of the most satisfying and simple comfort foods in Chinese cuisine is the wonton. A hot bowl of wonton soup is perfect when exhausted or ill. A serving of wontons sauced with a thick, reduced chicken stock is a delicious snack. A portion, tossed in a spicy homemade chilli-oil sauce, can be a fantastically exciting dish to serve friends. And when served with homemade noodles and charsiu (roast pork), they can become part of a bowl full of heaven.

Making wontons at home is something our mothers all did at some point in our childhoods, which also infuses them with that magical quality of nostalgia. For many, slurping down a bowl full of delicious wontons is nothing short of recapturing some of the best parts of their youth.