Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I've been on a teriyaki kick lately. My basic recipe for teriyaki sauce is the one that Hiroko Shimbo gives in her book The Japanese Kitchen. Of course, you can find teriyaki sauces with all manner of ingredients in the aisles of your local supermarket, but Shimbo's more traditional version only uses shoyu, mirin, sake and sugar. Using her amounts of 1/2 a cup of mirin, 1/4 a cup each of shoyu and sake, and two tablespoons of sugar gives enough of a yield for two separate teriyaki entrees, but you could also make your own desired amount simply by using two parts mirin, one part each shoyu and sake, and sugar to taste. The ingredients are simmered together: first the mirin and sake over low to medium heat, then the shoyu and sugar are added. Simmer until the sugar dissolves, then continue to simmer over low heat for about 25 minutes. It's important to use drinking sake in this recipe, since the salt in cooking sake will throw off the flavor. I also prefer to use a dry sake in this sauce, since the combination of the mirin and the sugar makes it very sweet. A sweet sake style would be overkill.

You can use this as a simple sauce to dress some meat (as I did with a baked salmon steak the other night), but Shimbo's own teriyaki recipe pan-fries chicken in the sauce (with some orange juice). I ended up adapting her recipe for a small steak (since the steak came out of the freezer, I don't remember what cut it was, but it was probably something in the top blade vicinity). I pan-seared the steak in some oil over medium-high heat, then added the sauce. The sauce bubbled up at first, so I reduced the heat and basted the meat with it; I also turned the steak a few times. Ideally, one would remove the steak and let it rest while the sauce sopped up the fond, but I was feeling too lazy for that step.

When I cut into the meat to check its doneness, it was rarer than I wanted, so I solved that problem by the inelegant but effective expedient of slicing the steak, then turning the meat over in the sauce till it cooked through some more. It would have been ideal to serve this over rice, but since I didn't, I used the leftover teriyaki sauce (now augmented with beef juices and fond) over some udon noodles the following day. My pan-searing technique obviously needs more practice, but this is pretty simple, a nice way to make a special treat for a weeknight (especially if you have already made a batch of the sauce; it'll keep for about a week in the fridge).

I used the second half of that batch of teriyaki sauce for chicken a few nights later; I just simmered some chicken thighs in the sauce, turning them until they were done. Even though these were skinless chicken thighs, by the time they were done they were nicely glazed from the sauce. I can only imagine how good skin-on chicken thighs would look! The next time I do this I'll probably cut the chicken into more consistently-sized pieces so they cook more evenly. Other than that, I really can't complain.

You also can use this teriyaki sauce recipe as a base for for your own variation on the theme. Those bottles in the store can look awfully tempting sometimes, but I think it's more fun (not to mention cheaper) to make your own.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Five Guys

The Fourth of July found me (along with The Lurker and Perfect Tommy) wandering the wilds of Cape May County in search of rare birds. We didn't find any, but had a nice day out all the same, and didn't even hit an unreasonable amount of traffic (kind of astonishing, considering it was a holiday weekend).

We had lunch at the Five Guys in Rio Grande, NJ. As we were looking for a likely lunch pick, I at first didn't understand why my companions seemed so eager to stop at what sounded like an auto supply store. Once inside, Five Guys' true identity as a burger joint was revealed.

I had a regular burger, not realizing that meant I was getting two beef patties instead of one. My chosen toppings were just lettuce and tomato, and of course I got fries. It ended up costing a bit more than I had expected for "fast food," but at this point I was in "investigate new dining option mode," so it didn't matter. The potatoes that made our fries came from Driggs, Idaho, county seat for Teton County (thank Yog-Sothoth for the internet!).

It seemed odd that everything was served in a paper bag, even though we were eating in, but I just ripped open the bag and tucked in. Fries in a styrofoam cup: also odd. But after the first fry, I didn't care. The burger patties were clearly hand-shaped (rustically irregular) but very juicy. When I discovered Five Guys cooks all of its burgers well-done, I was shocked because I don't think I've ever met a juicy well-done burger before. The lettuce and  tomatoes were pretty standard-issue, but very crisp and fresh. And the fries, the fries...it was a good burger but the fries were phenomenal. Crisp, fresh, unskinned, salty but not too salty, piping hot...they were the best french fries I've had in a long time.

After the fact, I came home and searched for posts about Five Guys on the Chowhound boards. I didn't read them all, but there were a ton of them, divided between Five Guys lovers and haters. I should have guessed as much, I suppose; for every good review of a given restaurant, there's a bad one (or vice versa). At least, it seems that way when one trolls for restaurant reviews on the internet.

RIP Tom Yum Goong

Just a quick note to mark the passing of Princeton's Tom Yum Goong, which burned down the other day (NJ Spice post here). I ate at Tom Yum Goong earlier this year with Lala, Phil and The Sherpa, and we had a wonderful Thai meal. I didn't take notes on what we had, but all the food was top-notch, the atmosphere was good and the service was good as well (some posts on Chowhound had noted odd timing in the arrival of dishes). I was looking forward to going back, but now it remains to be seen if they will rebuild or not.