Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Ajitsuke Tamago! (aka Japanese Marinated Eggs)

This recipe has been in the works for a long time!! 4 years ago I was drooling over pictures of Japanese ramen and reading about all the different flavor variations and toppings. Nearly every bowl was adorned with a half-boiled egg (hanjuku tamago), which is usually marinated in soy sauce, mirin, and sake to become a ajitsuke tamago (‘flavored egg’). I’ve never been a big fan of hard boiled eggs, disliking the chalky texture of the yolks, but these lightly set eggs were a far cry with their orange, glistening, custard center. I figured I’d learn how to make these tasty looking eggs first and worry about mastering ramen later.

Ajitsuke Tamago, medium

‘Hanjuku tamago’ is usually translated as ‘soft-boiled egg’, but I wanted a yolk that was set and not runny, so I like to call mine ‘medium-boiled’. Well, I soon discovered that while it is easy to hard boil an egg, getting the perfect medium-boiled center required lots of eggs-perimentation!

A *big* part of the problem is that there are just so many ways to do it! Do you use a new egg or an old egg? Straight out of the fridge or room temperature? Pierce the bottom, break it, or leave it intact? Should you add vinegar or salt to the water? Start the eggs in cold water, boiling water, drop the temperature, or remove them from the heat all together? The timing will determine whether the egg is soft, medium, or hard set, but first you’ve got to decide which cooking technique to use.

Ajitsuke Tamago, tests

I tried a few. I think I first began by letting my eggs warm up on the counter a bit first and then started them in cold water, bringing them to a boil and then reducing the heat and setting the timer. I experimented with times for a while, but it was too hard to catch the beginning of the boil, and I realized that I needed to start from scratch with a technique that offered a lot more consistency. At this point, however, I was pregnant with Orson and figured I probably should avoid eating the undercooked mistakes, and it wasn’t long before my nauseous tummy wanted to ignore the topic of eggs all together!

Fast forward 4 years and 2 kids later, when I came across this wonderful post about ajitsuke tamago. She shared my frustration about the varied cooking techniques ("Use no more than a centimetre's depth of water. No, make sure there's at least a gallon in the pot. Salt, don't salt. Add vinegar, but why, for acidulating is an old wives tale..."), had a few new tips, and inspired me to tackle the recipe again. I chose an easy method that offered the most consistency and then only had to do a few timed tests before I had my perfectly cooked egg! I hope you enjoy this recipe and give it a try yourself.

1) Fill a small pot with enough hot water to cover four eggs and bring to a boil over high heat.

2) Meanwhile, take four large eggs from the fridge and pierce the bottoms (optional) to help keep the eggs from cracking and to get rid of the indention from the air pocket. I use the metal skewers used for trussing a turkey, but a push pin works well too. Puncturing the shell is a little scary but I haven't had one break while piercing it yet!

Ajitsuke Tamago, 1

3) When the water begins to boil, quickly add the eggs, reduce the heat to medium, and set your timer for 8 minutes. (I like to gently lower the eggs into the water two at a time on a large spoon)

Ajitsuke Tamago, 2

4) While you wait, fill a small bowl with ice and add cold water when the eggs are nearly finished. When the timer goes off, place the eggs in the ice water to prevent further cooking and to make them easier to handle and peel.

Ajitsuke Tamago, 3

Now, I had a lot of trouble getting the finished eggs to peel nicely. I tried new eggs, old eggs, and different techniques, but it made no difference! Some turned out fine while others ended up with chunks missing. Another blog solved this problem with a tip from Julia Child  (I can’t seem to find the post)...

5) Leave your water boiling as you chill the eggs in the ice water for 2 minutes (this shrinks the eggs away from the shell). Lower 2 eggs at a time into the water and boil for 10 seconds, then remove to the ice water again and chill for 5 minutes (this expands the shell). I added this extra step last time and had the most perfect & easily peeled eggs ever! (If you want to skip this step just chill your eggs for at least 5 minutes.)

Ajitsuke Tamago, 5

6) While they are chilling, prepare your marinade. In a small bowl (or tupperware or ziplock) mix 1/4 cup water, 1/4 cup soy sauce (La Choy), 2 Tbsp. mirin, 2 Tbsp. sugar, and between 1/2 - 2 Tbsp. sake. (Traditional recipes call for 4 Tbsp. sake, but we thought the eggs tasted much too boozy that way. I tried lowering the amount or leaving it out all together, but thought 1/2 Tbsp. was just the right hint of flavor for a lightweight like me!)

7) Peeling your eggs will hopefully be a cinch after #5! Tap your egg lightly on the counter, turning to crack the shell all over, and then start peeling from the bottom. I like remove a small strip, circling around like an apple peeler, but you do what feels right! Rinse the eggs off to remove any stray shell.

Ajitsuke Tamago, 4

8) Plop the 4 peeled eggs in the marinade (mix more if needed). In this container my eggs are quite snug, but see how the tops are peeking out?

Ajitsuke Tamago, 6

The linked recipe above gives us a nice tip here ~ Grab a paper towel (or cheesecloth, muslin, coffee filter, etc.) fold it into fourths and then cut it down to fit into the top of the bowl. The cloth will soak up the marinade and drape over the tops of the eggs so they are in contact with the liquid too. Genius!

Ajitsuke Tamago, 7

The longer you leave the eggs in the marinade, the darker & more flavorful they become. Some people prefer a lighter egg, marinaded for only a few hours, but I like to leave mine overnight (see the egg at the top of the post). At some point I will spin them a quarter turn so the marinade can reach the spots where they were pressed up against the sides of the bowl or each other (otherwise you will end up with some white spots).

And good news! You can re-use the marinade for future eggs, just keep it in the fridge. I use mine for multiple batches until the flavor starts getting a little weak. Here is a super dark egg that marinaded in a fresh batch for two days ~

Ajitsuke Tamago, dark

To serve, remove your eggs from the marinade and microwave for 30 seconds to take off the chill (be careful not to let them touch or they will stick together badly). Slice in half and serve atop a steaming bowl of ramen, or gobble them up on their own. I’ve enjoyed them for a quick breakfast many times.

Ajitsuke Tamago, ramen

Troubleshooting ~ If your egg yolks are too runny or too hard, you may need to experiment with the time a little bit. Many factors like using a larger number (or different size) of eggs may change it slightly.

To quickly figure out what timing produces your perfect egg, fill up four small bowls with ice water and line them up on your counter. Remove each egg at a different time interval and place one egg in each bowl. You may want to remove one at 7 minutes, 7 ½, 8, and 8 ½ minutes, for example. Chill for 5 minutes, peel, and cut them in half to compare the yolks. This one test can save you a lot of future trials and frustration!

Are you inspired to try an ajistuke tamago? All my tips may make it sound overly complicated, but if you try it you will see you are mainly just boiling water and setting a few timers. The eggs take about 20 minutes, with a lot of downtime for reading blogs or Googling pics of ramen!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sweet (not spicy) Drumsticks

I'm always on the lookout for good chicken wing/drumstick recipes with a thick, sticky, sweet sauce. These Sweet & Spicy Drumsticks looked like a good candidate, and using pineapple juice in the sauce sounded yummy.

As I popped them in the oven I was grumbling about how they looked nothing like the recipe, but I subbed the Sriracha with some red pepper flakes, so I'll forgive it for not having the same red coloring. Simmering for 30 minutes did little to thicken the sauce ~ I think it needs cornstarch mixed in there in addition to coating the chicken (& then just heat it for a few minutes). It did thicken a bit in the oven, but was still thinner than I'd hoped for.

But they did taste delicious!

Sweet (not spicy) Drumsticks

We ended up with a lot of extra sauce, and while it wasn't strong enough on the chicken it was insanely good over rice. After this we actually bought some Sriracha and I used the leftover pineapple juice to whip up another 1/2 batch of sauce just to use on more rice. Unfortunately the sauce was so painfully spicy I had to toss it out, and I even used the lower amount from the recipe!

So yes, we will probably be making this one again, but hopefully with thicker sauce and possibly a *tiny* squirt of the Sriracha. Using wings instead of drumsticks might also help with a higher sauce-to-meat ratio, and I'll definitely be serving it with a side of rice to spoon extra sauce over!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Japanese Recipe: Chikuzenni

Recently I was fascinated by a few blog posts about the food that is traditionally prepared for Japanese New Year (it's a shame I can't remember the blog!), so when I saw this recipe for Chikuzenni I bookmarked it right away. Soon after we made a much needed trip to the Asian market to replenish a few ingredients, and this was the perfect recipe for trying out some exotic new veggies too.

In the post she shows lots of fancy cuts to make the food pretty for the holiday, but you can also just chop everything up for a normal dinner. I had fun cutting up the veggies though & ended up doing almost all of the special cuts. It does take some extra time, but I was kind of just playing with the ingredients throughout the day, doing a little here & there, so it came together quickly at dinner time.


This recipe uses chicken, shitake mushrooms, lotus root, bamboo shoots, taro, burdock root, carrot, konnyaku, and snow peas. Click on the picture to see where everything is in the bowl! (There are also some good pics on the recipe link)

We have cooked with burdock root and konnyaku in the past & were not super impressed then, but I enjoyed both this time. Burdock root is similar to bamboo shoots, but a little tougher. We always end up with extra since they sell this in packs of three at our store, but this time I did some research & found that it freezes well. Konnyaku has a very rubbery texture that reminds me of squid/octopus, and like the burdock root it mostly takes its flavor from the broth. This time I learned that it is much better when you slice it thin!

The taro and lotus root were new to us. The taro was like a potato but starchier, but I wasn't a fan of the texture. The lotus root was very crunchy and had a nutty flavor. We all liked that one (even the toddler), though we had so much of it that I got a bit tired of it.

The broth was delicious and we did enjoy the meal, but this recipe made a *lot* of food. After 2 dinners I still had a ton left over for lunches, so it would be best to make this one for a bigger crowd.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Japanese Books Pic

So I have a little bit of a Flickr mystery on my hands. Apparently this picture of my Japanese books from 3 years ago has gotten very popular for some reason!

Japanese books

I noticed it showing up very high on my stats for a while, but figured someone linked to it or posted it in a forum. Flickr stats are usually not that great at showing where your traffic is coming from, but I finally clicked on the picture & saw people were coming from Flickr searches for things like “books” or “Japanese”. I gave it a try myself.

If you search for “Japanese”, mine is the 4th picture! It’s #1 if you search for “Japanese books”, and even #34 for just “books”. What in the world? Of course now that it shows up that high in the searches it is going to get a lot of clicks, but I have no idea how it got so popular in the first place. I mean, nothing says “Japanese” like a few books on a shelf in an American kitchen.