Wednesday, September 14, 2011

In the Kitchen | Tako with Sesame Dressing

I have my co-worker, Tanya, to thank for this post -- she was the one who inspired me to take a stab at serving tako (Japanese for "octopus") as a starter course for dinner last night. I absolutely love octopus, so this was an exciting night at our apartment! A couple nights ago, she and her husband picked up some freshly steamed tako from this small Japanese grocery store, Katagiri, which was such a funny coincidence because I pass by that store on my commute back home after work every day. Over the last month since Marcus and I moved to Roosevelt Island, I had been meaning to stop in and check out what the quaint shop had to offer. I wish I had gone in sooner -- they have so many fun goodies that I love in a solid grocery store that specializes in noteworthy Japanese produce and products. The only other place I could compare it to is that it is a much smaller version (but by no means compromised in basics) of Mitsuwa, a Japanese supermarket chain with a location in Edgewater, New Jersey. I think what kept me from stopping in sooner was I feared that it would be a cash only establishment, and I rarely carry cash on my person. Tanya said not to worry as they accept credit cards for purchases over $8. So I was in luck!

So ever since Tanya told me about the amazing tako she had, I couldn't get my mind off the promise of its tender, slightly chewy texture and its gleaming suction cups that line the tentacle's haunting reddish violet color. It brought me back to Marcus's birthday dinner at 15 East where we had tako yamarakani (i.e., slow-poached octopus) -- quite amazing preparation and presentation there, so remembering that meal made me even want to have it even more last night

In any case, the recipe I found that fit both mine and Marcus's taste was a result of a Google search for "octopus mirin" (I had some mirin in the cupboard, so I thought that'd be a good starting point) -- I stumbled upon a post from Karolyn over at her blog, FOODjimoto. The ingredients were simple (easy to acquire and few in number): toasted white sesame seeds, miso, mirin (i.e., Japanese sweet cooking rice wine), and sake.

The aggregation of the sesame dressing's ingredients. As I was already going to Katagiri to pick up the steamed tako, I figured I could also pick up the sesame seeds, miso paste (I opted for reduced sodium, thinking I can always add more salt if need be), and perilla (shiso) leaves for garnish.

As for the sake, I initially went to Sherry-Lehmann, the world-renowned (for both its selection and incredible customer service), luxury wine and spirits shop that has been around Manhattan since the Prohibition. However, by the time I got there, it had already closed. And while I love going there to explore its awesome collection of wines, I always feel out of place when I'm there just to pick up something simple like wine or liquor for cooking. For those things, I want it to be a quick in-and-out transaction, so I can be on my way. I do appreciate the amazing customer service at Sherry-Lehmann (I mean how can you not appreciate the concept of one-on-one service via delicatessen tickets?), but it's difficult if I just want it to be a fast stop to pick up one or two mostly mindless items. Luckily, I was able to find another wine shop on my way to Katagiri -- a eclectic wine store called Crush Wine & Spirits. It has a more modern and sleek feel to the shop -- a play on metals against whites with clever uplighting. I'd love to go back to check out its wine selection mainly because my visit wasn't long -- I just asked where the sake was and selected the least expensive bottle since I wasn't planning on drinking any. I ended up with a nonvintage 300 mL bottle of Naraman Origaram Nigori sake. I figured that ought to do the trick.

So Karolyn's recipe called for a tablespoon of toasted white sesame seeds to be finely ground using preferably a suribachi (Japanese for "grinding bowl"), essentially a Japanese mortar and pestle. A spice grinder, coffee grinder or a Magic Bullet would also suffice, but as I didn't have these tools on hand, I attempted to crush the majority of the seeds with my hands. This only partially worked, but I figured the flavor of the sesame was what was really needed, so all was okay.

Next, the recipe instructed to add the remaining ingredients and to mix well until combined. The measured amount of remaining ingredients required were as simple as you can get -- a tablespoon each of sugar, mirin, miso, and sake. Once combined, the consistency is somewhat thick, and the taste is a sweet-and-lightly salty one. So easy!

Here are the perilla (shiso) leaves I picked up as garnish for the plating of the tako. The package here contained about ten leaves. I recommend this for any of your garnishing needs, particularly if you're preparing something in the realm of Japanese cuisine. The leaves are both aesthetically pleasing and easy to handle.

I plated the leaves in the shape of a clover.

After rinsing and drying it, I cut the pre-steamed tako into 1/4-inch slices and stacked them up like a pyramid over the leaves. I sprinkled some freshly ground sea salt for good measure.

Then, I drizzled the sesame dressing lightly over the tako.

The completed, plated dish!

Findings: There are a few things that I really like about this dish -- first, that it's easy to prepare (I mean, c'mon, the octopus comes freshly steamed in its package, and the dressing takes a matter minutes to concoct), second, that it consists of ingredients that are relatively easy to find, and lastly, that it involves tender octopus! I highly recommend this as a starter dish for small dinner parties -- two tentacle legs should be good for a party of four. It is cool, fresh, light, and refreshing -- the perfect prelude to the main course of any meal or dinner party. The dressing added some depth of sweet and salty flavors to the octopus, which was slightly sweet but mostly texture, along with the delicate gritty crunch of the sesame seeds. I would love to get my hands on a suribachi or just a mortar and pestle to assess the difference of the dressing with finely ground sesame seeds -- I assume it makes the dressing more smooth and cohesive in consistency. Nevertheless, the combination really hit the spot, and I'm already craving for more.

Thanks again to Karolyn from FOODjimoto for this amazing recipe!

Price point: almost 1/4-pound of steamed tako tentacle for $4.83 at $23 per pound, $1.59 for a package of fresh perilla (shiso) leaves for garnish, $11.99 for a 300 mL bottle of sake.

--September 13, 2011

"Octopus with Sesame Dressing" recipe from June 2011 blog post archive

Katagiri Co.
224 East 59th Street
New York, NY 10022

Crush Wine & Spirits
153 East 57th Street
New York, NY 10022

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