Modern Japanese Inspirations from Cho Cho San

Modern Japanese Inspirations from Cho Cho San

“If Marco Pierre White can grill a steak with Knorrs beef stock cubes,
I can definitely barbeque these prawns with bonito butter”

~~~~~~~~O~~~~~~~~

Since my lunch at Cho Cho San, I have been a little curious.

“I would love to go to Japan with you one day” I tell Mysaucepan on a lazy Saturday afternoon as we browse the weekend papers.

King prawns with kombu butter at Cho Cho San

King prawns with kombu butter at Cho Cho San

“You’ll love it coz they have the best beef in the world” she quickly says. “Japanese Kobe just melts in the mouth.”

“Well, I wasn’t thinking so much about Japanese food though it’s utterly fascinating and definitely a big part of the equation” I say.

“I’m more interested in the art of bonsai, Japanese history and culture, listening to Japanese jazz musicians, experiencing an onsen hot bath within serene Japanese gardens or riding a 300km shinkansen while gazing at a snow-capped Mount Fuji” I tell her.

“Yup, I’m defintely in!” she says with a sparkle in her eye.

Actually, I’ve always been curious about the hygiene factor of sushi served on a naked woman’s body in some Tokyo bars but that’s another story. More specifically, I’m thinking about the good ‘ole Aussie barbie being a convivial slow-griller while sipping chilled chardys during hot summer afternoons. Sorta like a half-paced izakaya away from hectic Tokyo street life.

And over a lazy Sunday afternoon, I decide to replicate a few of my favourite dishes from Cho Cho San. So here are seven recipes inspired by my lunch at this modern izakaya. They are simple yet delicious recipes and best of all, the first three do not require any cooking at all. If I can prepare this meal, anyone can do it too.

Enjoy and happy cooking!

Modern Japanese Inspirations from Cho Cho San

Oysters Ruby Grapefruit Vinaigrette

“What is so Japanese about oysters with a ruby vinaigrette dressing?” Mysaucepan asks.

“Well, I never said it was Japanese” I reply. “But find me one good party that doesn’t start with fresh oysters and champagne.”

“Oooh … okay then!” she smiles.

2006 Clover Hill sparkling wine

2006 Clover Hill sparkling wine

I first tasted Clover Hill sparkling wine in 2002 at the beautiful Stillwater restaurant situated at the mouth of the Cataract Gorge on the banks of the Tamar River in Launceston.

It was our first time in Tasmania and ever since then, Mysaucepan and I have a soft spot for the nutty and toasted flavours of this sparkling wine. The grapes are gently whole-bunch pressed, fermented in individual bunches, then matured on lees in bottle for at least three years.

We are hosting our friends The Monk and Fiona on this lazy Sunday over the long weekend.

The Monk pops open a 2006 Clover Hill bubbly. Beautifully nutty with savoury, soy sauce undertones, it’s a definite match with seafood and sashimi that we are about to dive into.

Unshucked Pacific oysters with ruby grapefruit vinaigrette

Unshucked Pacific oysters with ruby grapefruit vinaigrette

I love shucking fresh oysters.

A dozen un-shucked fresh oysters is usually a dollar off the regular retail price of shucked oysters at the Sydney Fish Market, or $0.08 cents discount per un-shucked oyster.

So if an oyster shucker can shuck say 4 oysters per minute, he earns $0.08 x 4 oysters per minute x 60 minutes = $19.20 per hour. It is relatively cheap to buy shucked oysters assuming the shucker only earns $19.20 per hour for his shucking efforts. But I love buying un-shucked oysters for several reasons.

Firstly, keep them upright in your fridge to ensure they remain fresh and don’t empty their brine when they open to breath. You can decide to shuck them anytime over the next couple of days – it’s like a fresh oyster pantry in your fridge!

Secondly, the salty, briny juice of fresh oysters is the elixir that makes them so sexciting. A shucked oyster where its brine has been rinsed away with fresh running water to comply with food safety regulations is never the same as an un-shucked jewel that you pry open with your own efforts.

It took me ten good minutes to shuck a dozen oysters. So my cost as an oyster shucker works out to be roughly $0.08 cents x 1 oyster per minute x 60 minutes = $4.80 per hour. My rate might be dirt cheap compared to a seasoned shucker but the taste of these briny oysters is worth far more than my prying efforts.

(Caution: Be very careful when shucking oysters. Invest in a good oyster shucker and protect your hand at all times with a thick cloth or proper protective gloves. Read more about “How to shuck fresh oysters here“.) 

Ruby grapefruit vinaigrette

Ruby grapefruit vinaigrette

One of my favourite dressings for fresh oysters is a ruby vinaigrette. Segments of ruby grapefruit and its juices mixed with mirin, black pepper and diced coriander stalks are sweet yet gently tart.

Pacific oysters with ruby grapefruit vinaigrette

Pacific oysters with ruby grapefruit vinaigrette

I spoon some dressing onto each oyster.

So fresh, they gently squirm under the grapefruit vinaigrette. And each mouthful of briny, creamy Pacific is washed down by the nutty, toasted flavours of an aged bubbly.

It’s a lazy Sunday and the party has just begun.

Japanese Caesar

I have always liked a Caesar salad because I love the combination of bacon and eggs. And I love a Japanese style Caesar for the same reasons and more.

Japanese Caesar with cos lettuce, avocado, smoked salmon, rice cracker

Japanese Caesar with cos lettuce, avocado, smoked salmon, rice cracker

I use cos lettuce, avocado, smoked salmon, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, crisp nori sheets and rice crackers for this recipe.

Combined with a heady mix of Japanese kewpie mayonnaise and hot wasabi, this is a beautiful summer salad with an attitude but without as much calories as a regular Caesar.

“It must be healthier when we substitute boiled eggs and bacon with smoked salmon?” Mysaucepan asks.

“Most definitely!” I reply. “Smoked salmon is always healthier with champagne or chardonnay.”

Tasmanian Salmon

Why would you order salmon sashimi at an izakaya restaurant?

Ocean trout sashimi at Cho Cho San

Ocean trout sashimi at Cho Cho San

Some diners have been raving about this ocean trout sashimi on social media and Urbanspoon though I fail understand the fuss over it.

Seafood in Sydney is so fresh one needs to do little cooking to pay due respect. A dish like sashimi really comes down to the execution of slicing, dressing and garnish.

For me, the dressing for this ocean trout sashimi at Cho Cho San tasted a little too sweet though the menu specified wasabi and black pepper.

I resist adding lemon juice for fear it might ‘cook’ the sashimi but in hindsight, it would have balanced the sweetness of the dressing. So I have added this item in the recipe.

Tasmanian salmon with honey, light soy and mirin

Tasmanian salmon with honey, light soy and mirin

This style of sashimi dressing is rather different from the traditions of light soy and a nib of wasabi.

Tasmanian salmon with honey, light soy and mirin

Tasmanian salmon with honey, light soy and mirin

It’s rather ironic because I don’t have a sweet taste inclination and find the dressing savoury with just a slight tinge of sweetness though everyone else felt it a little sweet for their liking.

Nevertheless, this issue can be easily fixed by simply turning down the dial on honey.

Baby Octopus Ponzu Lime

Baby octopus is a signature of Mediterranean cuisine but whenever I see them at the Sydney Fish Market, I just cannot resist their delightful temptation.

Baby octopus on the BBQ

Baby octopus on the BBQ

Most popularly grilled with herbs and olive oil in Italian and Greek cuisine, I’m always tempted to try them raw though it’s difficult to find sashimi grade baby octopus.

Calamari, lime ponzu at Cho Cho San

Calamari, lime ponzu at Cho Cho San

It is definitely one of the first things I’d love to do if I ever get to Japan ~ to eat raw squid, cuttlefish and octopus with their tentacles sucking against my lips and tongue.

How good is an experience of biting into soft wriggly tentacles with the taste of spicy wasabi and soy sauce in your mouth?

I pat dry these baby octopus and place them on the hot BBQ and they begin to sizzle immediately. Cooking these little babies without oil ensures they become charred with those smoky aromas.

The calamari, lime ponzu at Cho Cho San is sprinkled with chives and rather tangy for my liking though the squid was very tender and appetizing. So, I am making doubly sure to not overcook these baby octopus today.

Baby octopus with lime ponzu

Baby octopus with lime ponzu

I have adjusted my interpretation with a dash of Manuka honey to balance the acidity of ponzu and lime juice and it works a treat.

2013 Lake's Folly Chardonnay

2013 Lake's Folly Chardonnay

A 2013 Lake’s Folly Chardonnay is slightly peachy though its creamy and buttery texture has yet to fully mature.

Though it’s a beautiful drop, this wine is before its time and can definitely do with a few more years in the cellar.

Yamba King Prawns

The king prawns with kombu butter at Cho Cho San was one of my favourites dishes from its Hibachi grill. At the restaurant, I believe the prawns are slow-grilled until charred and smoky, then drizzled with the kombu butter sauce.

Adding bonito seasoning to finely diced coriander

Adding bonito seasoning to finely diced coriander

“Have you tried it before?” Mysaucepan asks about mixing this bonito soup stock with butter.

“If Marco Pierre White can grill a steak with Knorrs beef stock cubes, I can definitely innovate and barbeque these prawns with bonito butter” I reply.

This bonito flavoured soup stock is very versatile for preparing Asian soups and stews. When mixed with water, it has a wonderful umami taste that adds salt complexity to any savoury dish requiring a bit of broth in a hurry.

I like using it to make a simple broth for Chinese style steamed fish.

The bonito flavoured soup stock comes in very tiny pallets but I have pounded it with a pestle and mortar until it is almost powdery so it dissolves better when mixed with the diced coriander and unsalted butter.

Yamba king prawns shelled on top side

Yamba king prawns shelled on top side

The prawns at Cho Cho San were good but that dish cost $28 for three large prawns. Eight of these Yamba king prawns of similar size cost $14 at Sydney Fish Market.

Yamba king prawns slathered with bonito butter on the BBQ

Yamba king prawns slathered with bonito butter on the BBQ

I have shelled the prawns with a pair of kitchen scissors only on one side and made a small, lengthwise incision on the meat from head to tail.

Simply slather the prawns with the bonito butter and place shell side down on the BBQ and grill on high heat for about two to three minutes. Be cautious to not overcook these prawns as they will become tough and dry. Small flare ups are good as they help impart that smoky, charred aromas to the prawns.

The incision along each prawn holds the butter as it melts. The bottom half of the prawn shell acts like a ‘bowl’ and stops the delicious butter sauce melting down into the grill.

Yamba king prawns with bonito butter

Yamba king prawns with bonito butter

Butter works beautifully with a flavourful seasoning on shellfish and these prawns are truly magnificent today.

Each segment of prawn comes off easily using a fork and knife. And when you’re done with the meat, my advice is to dig in with your fingers and suck the crap out of the prawn shells and head. It’s a flavour bomb with the bonito butter sauce.

Miso Eggplant

Miso eggplant is a mainstay in many Japanese restaurants as an entrée and one of Mysaucepan‘s favourites.

I enjoy this dish too as long as the miso paste is not overly sweet as it can sometimes be.

Miso eggplant with mirin and roasted sesame

Miso eggplant with mirin and roasted sesame

I have sliced the eggplant into 2 cm thick round medallions. For this recipe, it’s better to err on the thick side as thin slices will wilt and dry up.

Simply dry grill these eggplant medallions on the BBQ or an open flame to allow smoky flavours to impart. Once they are gently soft, coat the top of each medallion with the miso paste and mirin mixture and return into a hot oven grill to charbroil. When the eggplant is soft, remove from oven and season with roasted white sesame seeds and serve.

This gently sweet miso eggplant is exceptional with the jammy flavours of a 2012 Peregrine Pinot Noir from Central Otago in New Zealand.

King Island Rib Eye

At 1,098 square kilometres, King Island in the north-western tip of Tasmania is one and a half times the size of Singapore.

Yet with just 1,800 inhabitants, this island produces some of the most beautiful cuts of premium beef in Australia.

“It must be the air” Mysaucepan says. “After all, Tassie is known to have the freshest air in the world.”

King island scotch fillet

King Island scotch fillet

Whenever I see King Island beef brand on supermarket shelves, I imagine beautiful black cows grazing along rolling hills at one of the most pristine locations in the world.

At $38 per kilogram, this scotch fillet steak is significantly more expensive than Coles or Woolworths brands which normally retail for $22. But from a taste, flavour and texture perspective, King Island beef wins hands down.

This brand comes vacuum packed with different cuts – rump, sirloin, scotch fillet or eye fillet. The scotch fillet packs are usually between 400 – 500 grams, made up of two halves of similar sized steaks.

King island scotch fillet with bonito butter

225gm King island scotch fillet with bonito butter

The meat is dark crimson with its signature ribbon of luscious fat.

I’ve used just one half of this pack ~ a scotch fillet of approximately 225 grams and I always prefer to season with salt just before grilling so as to not draw any moisture from the meat.

But for today’s recipe, no salt is required since the bonito butter is well-flavoured.

King island scotch fillet with bonito butter

King island scotch fillet with bonito butter

Approximately three to four minutes on each side on a hot BBQ and the meat is beautifully caramelized.

Plonk a knob of the coriander bonito butter and let it melt into the meat as it rests for five minutes before slicing the steak into 1 cm strips.

Bonito butter melting on king island scotch filletP1050833

Bonito butter melting on king island scotch fillet

There is a nice blush of pink as the butter slowly melts away.

2012 Stefano Lubiana Pinot Noir

2012 Stefano Lubiana Pinot Noir

Tasmania is renown for its luscious and jammy pinot noir and a 2012 Stefano Lubiana Primavera Pinot Noir is no exception.

Its dark berries and subtle oak against the tender scotch fillet is like a soft silky blanket against my skin on this beautiful spring afternoon.

It is a lazy Sunday lunch with good food and good friends. What more can one ask for, except the recipes?

~~~~~~~~O~~~~~~~~

So dear readers, have you been to Japan and if so, what was the most memorable part of your trip?

All ingredients and wines featured in this meal were independently paid for by ChopinandMysaucepan. All opinions are our own.

List of key ingredients and their retail outlet:

Sydney Fish Market
Locked Bag 247
Bank street, Pyrmont 2009
New South Wales

Tel: +61 2 9004 1100

Trading hours: Every day from 7am – 4pm except Christmas Day

Go to www.sydneyfishmarket.com.au for find out more about trading hours, auction times and other events.

Peter’s Seafood
Shop 4, Sydney Fish Market

Tel: +61 2 9552 2555

Christie’s Seafood
Waterfront Arcade
Sydney Fish Market

Tel: +61 2 9552 3333

Nicholas Seafood
Shop 6, Sydney Fish Market

Tel: +61 2 9660 4255

King Island beef
King Island Regional Dev.Org
5 George street, King Island
Tasmania

Tel: +61 3 6462 1778
Email: kirdo@kingisand.net.au

Clover Hill Wines
Pipers River 60 Clover Hill road
Lebrina, Tasmania

Tel:+61 3 5459 7900

Lake’s Folly
2416 Brooke road, Pokolbin
New South Wales

Tel: +61 2 4998 7507
Email: wine@lakesfolly.com.au

Peregrine Wines
2127 Kawarau Gorge road
Gibbston RD1, Queenstown
New Zealand

Tel: +64 3 442 4000
Email: info@peregrinewines.co.nz

Stefano Lubiana Wines
Rowbottoms road,
Granton Tasmania

Tel: +61 3 6263 7457
Email: wine@slw.com.au

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14 Responses to Modern Japanese Inspirations from Cho Cho San

  1. Oh, I do miss Aussie seafood and the Sydney Fish Markets. This certainly looks a wonderful feast!

  2. Ooooh can I come over to your place to try Cho Cho San hehe 😛

    And I LOVE Japan! Favourite country in the world. I’ve been so many times I’ve lost count. I can talk for an age about what I love about it. I don’t have one favourite. Tokyo is a great city with so much food and shopping. Kyoto has so much culture (and amazing food). And Hokkaido has the most amazing seafood and milk. Do you see what these places all have in common hahaha. You have to go!

    • Chopinand says:

      Dear Chris,

      I have heard so many wonderful things about Japan and it seems so beautiful and rich in culture and history. Yes, food is definitely one of the key attractions and such high quality food too! I am told Osaka also has some seriously good food.

  3. Dear Chopin and Mysaucepan,

    Lakes Folly is one of my favourite Chardonnay’s – I love your style!

    You are too right, champagne and oysters are the two key ingredients to kick off a great party!

    What amazing dishes you have created, very inspiring :)

  4. Whoa you cooked up a serious storm here! Japan definitely inspires the best kind of food – ate non-stop when I went 😀

  5. What wonderful recreations of the dishes. All I can say, as a frequent visitor to Japan, get yourselves there!

  6. Juliana says:

    Wow, what a nice feast…everything sure looks fabulous…and thank you so much for sharing the recipes…
    Hope you are having a great week 😀

  7. Wow these dishes all look so good! Japanese food has the most delicious charm 😀
    You have totally captured that!

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

  8. Commendable effort on the cooking front. And some impressive prawn peeling too.

  9. Raymund says:

    Wow those oysters look fresh. For me I buy the shucked ones as I am afraid to cut myself during the process, there must be a good technique to it but until I haven’t learned it I will not do it myself.

    • Chopinand says:

      Dear Raymund,

      There is a technique to shuck oysters and I thought it was difficult at first but once you know how to do it, you’d never want to buy shucked oysters if you can help it.

  10. I can’t believe how many dishes you have been able to re-create! They all look wonderful but I love the look of those oysters and prawns.

  11. milkteaxx says:

    the prawns look real good!

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