Friday, January 14, 2005

TV Cooking Tips #1

Watched one of my favorite Japanese TV shows, ichiman-yen seigatsu (Living on 10,000yen for a month) in between dinner preparation last night. If you are not familiar with this TV show, it usually involves two celebrities competing to see who can live on 10,000yen (about US$100) for a month, including food and utility, in the best style and have the most money left. A large part of the show is devoted to showing how they come up with cheap and innovative menus everyday, which is why I watch. Last night, the show had a special theme: nabe. As a big nabe fan myself, I just had to see what kind of cheap and delicious ways there are to make this excellent one-pot meal.

The participants were Mr. Sanbei (Three Bottles, and I am not kidding) and Ms. Nemoto (Root Origin, no kidding either). Sanbei is my absolute favorite among all the regular participants. He is a TV personnel who graduated from a cooking school and holds a chef’s certificate. He looks like a very huggable Pillsbury doughboy in his chef's outfit and always talks in this slow and soothing tone that just makes you feel warm and fuzzy all over. Nemoto is a former “idol,” an Only-In-Japan breed of celebrity whose only requirement, as far as I can tell, is to look cute. When idols outgrow their cuteness, they often end up on shows like this.

Anyway, I only saw the first half of the show because I had to watch my gnocci sauce, but did get two very helpful pointers, one from each participant.

1. Sanbei made his special chicken stock using a chicken carcass (where can you get that in Tokyo? I’ve never seen one). You know how when you make soup stock there is always that layer of gunk floating on top, and no matter how many times you try to fish it out, you will never get all of it, and the stock ends up looking cloudy? What Sanbei did to obtain a clear stock was putting half a raw egg white into the stock at the very last stage of boiling. The egg white somehow mysteriously pulled all the gunk towards it and solidified them into gunky looking strands that can be easily removed. What you are left with is golden clear chicken stock.

2. Nemoto came up with an original nabe soup stock made of oolong tea. It’s extremely simple. She made a large pot of oolong tea as you normally would, and then threw in half a dried red chili pepper. I suspect that if your taste bud can take some heat, you can increase the amount of chili pepper. Although I was skeptical about this, a food researcher (ryouri kenkyuuka; chef, food critic rolled into one) placed her oolong tea stock ahead of Sanbei’s very delicious looking chicken stock, and said the chili pepper and oolong tea nicely complimented each other. Am still not 100% convinced, but maybe I will give it a try some time.

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