The worst of all, Pain and Dr V. are not in speaking terms.
“Mama, please never ever leave me again!” says Miss Pain in her most dramatic voice, “I am starved and abused.” Despite the drama, I feel for Pain. She is six and missing her mama. She had to eat Trader Joe’s dinners, write her diary and do homework every night, under strict supervision of Dr. V, “El Professore”. I proceed to check the situation on the other side. “What happened?” I ask V. “You are never ever to cook for that child again! You are never ever to cook again, period!” When aggravated, V gets into habit of raising his voice. He also tends to chop up his thought process into tiny little sentences, “I offered to cook for her! I tried to cook for her! She requested Black Cod Miso! That’s all she wanted! She refused! Refused! Everything else! Refused! She is ungrateful!” I see his point. I begin to feel for V.
As much as I would like to support V in his effort of making our daughter into a decent human being, I cannot help it, two weeks without her made me all soft and malleable, and at this very moment I live to please her. “What would you like Mama to cook for you?” Dr. V angrily leaves the room and I get the answer I deserve.
“Black Cod Miso.”
Pain’s infatuation with Black Cod Miso is an artifact of our close proximity to Nobu restaurant. Not that we eat there all the time. But on a particularly blizzardy winter day, when streets are snowed in, cars are trapped and the city is paralyzed, when restaurant reservations are canceled and everything stops for a tiny-brief-moment on this fast-moving island, we sneak into Nobu, order some steaming miso soup, Black Cod and warm sake -- and no, Pain does not drink sake, in case you are worried -- and we celebrate this symphony of absolute quietness.
Pain’s eclectic tastes are also the artifact of our family’s food policies. “What’s good for us, is good for Pain” is our motto. Who says that kids eat only chicken nuggets, french fries and mac & cheese. We do not tolerate pick and choose, but we do not discriminate against children in our food and restaurant choices. Nobu does not either. They welcome Miss Pain with open arms. Pain appreciates it. Maybe a tiny bit too much.
We have a special relationship, this signature Nobu dish and I. Once upon a time, when our neighborhood was a dark maze of cobblestone streets lined with artist lofts and crowned with El Teddy’s crown, before the crown was put down and replaced with designer condo, before the hedge-fund managers and actors moved in, once upon a time when we had zero supermarkets and two dry cleaners, once upon a time when I finally had some money to splurge on food, we went to Nobu and we ordered Black Cod Miso. Since that night, we’ve been places. We’ve accumulated our share of Michelin star experiences, we’ve encountered New York Times stared restaurants, we ate in neighborhood bodegas, we munched from street trucks around the globe, in village cafes and farmers markets. And yet, Nobu’s Black Cod Miso is still my favorite dish. How can I blame Pain for feeling the same?
I am forever grateful to chef Nobu Matsuhisa for making the dish. Another thing I am grateful for is that chef Nobu graciously made his recipe available to the food loving public. It is there in his cookbook and on the Epicurious web site, and it is bulletproof. You follow the steps; you instantly turn into a culinary legend. You serve it to your guests; they think you are a genius. You serve it to your daughter; she becomes addicted. (In case you have not realized, kids love sweet, buttery tastes, and consequently they love miso. I make use of that quite a bit to trick Pain into eating stuff she would not normally eat. Spinach for example.) Back to the current subject, now that I glorified the recipe, it would be fair to say that there is a little con to it -- you will have to shell out at least $30, easily $40 for a nice cut of sablefish suitable for Black Cod Miso. Other ingredients aside, that’s sixty bucks for the three of us, hundred and twenty for a table of six, two hundred and forty for a dozen of guests. You get the point. There is a good reason why people do not indulge in Black Cod Miso on a regular basis.
Now that I stuck my neck out and offered to cook whatever Pain’s heart desires, there is no way back and I struggle to make the best of the situation. “Pain, I’ve been thinking, let’s try some other fish.” (A pathetic attempt at compromising.) “No.” “Salmon? You love salmon.” “No!” I am not making a dent and it’s time to investigate different approaches for dampening the damage of the sixty-dollar dinner. And then it hits me. It is all about averaging! With all the leftover miso and Pain’s love for it, I just need to find a way to creatively utilize the basics from the pantry (which I had finally stocked up, following the experience described here), spend another twenty bucks or so for additional few ingredients, and cook three more miso dishes to arrive at less intimidating $20 per dinner over four days. Don’t you just love how statistics work? “Pain,” I tell her, “I’ll make you Black Cod Miso and I will do even more! I will make you wonderful miso dishes for three days in a row.” Miss Pain feels very privileged, I feel very relived and we embark on our four-day journey of affordable eating. Statistically speaking.
“I abhor averages. I like the individual case. A man may have six meals one day and none the next, making an average of three meals per day, but that is not a good way to live.” ~Louis D. Brandeis
“Say you were standing with one foot in the oven and one foot in an ice bucket. According to the percentage people, you should be perfectly comfortable.” ~Bobby Bragan
“Sorry guys, but it works.” ~Queen Sashy
Miso Stewed Baby Potatoes
* about 1lb 12 oz white baby potatoes, quartered
* about 5 cups kombu dashi (or a bit more if you like your stew on a soupier side)
* 1 tbsp vegetable oil
* 3 tbsp white miso paste
* 3-4 scallions, sliced thinly crosswise
* salt and freshly ground white pepper
1. Gently warm up a cup of dashi. Disolve the miso in it and if needed pass it through a strainer. Set aside.
2. In a large saucepan heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes and sear for about three to four minutes, until lightly browned. Mix constantly to prevent the potatoes from sticking.
3. Add the remaining dashi to the saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil and then simmer for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are very tender and close to falling apart, but not quite so. Add the miso, adjust the salt if needed, season with pepper, mix well and keep on the stove for another minute or two until the stew comes back to simmer. Remove from the heat, garnish with scallions and serve.
Mushroom Duet Miso Udon
* 8 cups katsuo dashi
* 8 oz dried udon
* 5-6 oz sliced shitake mushrooms
* a handful or two (or three) of white beech mushroom caps
* 4 scallions, cut thinly crosswise
* 1-2 medium carrots, julienned (aka cut into thin matchsticks)
* 4 tbsp red miso
* 2 tbsp mirin
* 1 tbsp soy sauce
* 1/2 tsp shichimi togarashi
* 1 tsp vegetable oil
1. In a small skillet heat the vegetable oil until hot. Add the beech mushrooms and stirfry until the mushrooms are nicely browned, for about two minutes. Set aside.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the udon and cook according to the package directions. Drain the noodles in a colander and rinse them with water until they are no longer sticky.
3. In a medium sized pot heat the dashi. When it has come to a boil, add the soy sauce, carrots, shitakes and togarashi, reduce the heat and gently simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove from the stove.
4. In a small bowl mix the mirin, miso paste and a couple of tablespoons of the soup. Strain the mixture back into the soup.
5. Return the pot to the stove and simmer over low heat for another minute. Be careful not to bring the soup to a boil, it will break the miso. Add the scallion and the white beech mushrooms and remove from heat. Let the soup stand for a minute or two, then ladle into individual bowls and serve.
Spinach with Orange Miso Sauce
for the sauce
* 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
* 2 tbsp red miso
* 1 tsp fresh lime juice
* 3 tbsp minced shallots
* 1 small garlic clove, minced
* 1 tsp shichimi togarashi
* 4 tbsp butter, softened
* salt and freshly ground pepper
for the spinach
* 1 lb baby spinach
* 4-6 cups of steamed white rice for serving
1. In a medium saucepan, mix the orange juice, shallots and garlic and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat until it is reduced to about third of its volume.
2. Remove the juice from the heat. Whisk in the miso and lime juice, and strain into a clean saucepan. Reduce the heat to low, return the sauce to the stove and simmer for another minute or two. Gradually whisk in the butter. Season the sauce generously with salt, pepper and togarashi and keep warm over very low heat until it is ready to serve.
3. Fill a large bowl three quarters of the way with ice. Add cold water to reach the top of the ice.
4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the spinach and blanch for about 30 seconds to a minute. Drain the spinach a put it into the ice water immediately. Leave the spinach in the ice bath for a couple of minutes until it is no longer warm. (This will stop the cooking process, keep the spinach tender and preserve the nutrients.). Drain well.
5. Serve the spinach with white rice and orange miso sauce on top.