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Practical Pairing: Some Notes for Beginners

Pretty clever, if I do say...

We seem to be running short on pairing tips and tricks, so this seems as good a time as any to expand on that subject. Food and beverage pairing can be intensely intricate and daunting, but it needn't be. Simplicity can, and often does, yield amazing results, so you don't have to be a Master Sommelier or Brewmeister to find a beverage to go with your meal. With a little knowledge, experience and thought, it can be as easy or as complex as you make it. First, when contemplating a beverage pairing I always think in terms of comparative or contrasting flavors. I like to go with contrasting most of the time as it tends to add more interest, unless there is a really special ingredient (read as rare or expensive or both), then I try to go with something understated and complementary to let that ingredient be the star. Complimentary flavors are the easiest to start with. Certain foods will always pair well with certain beverages, but always keep in mind the full ingredient list of the dish and method of cooking when looking for a good pairing. Pork and shellfish, for instance, will go with beer no matter what the method of cooking. It's the other ingredients involved that will determine what you should pair with it. Mussels steamed in white wine can certainly be paired with a beer, but it's a trickier pairing than just going with white wine. The same or similar, maybe even a better quality wine than was used in the cooking process, is a no-brainer as far as pairing for such a dish goes. If you used a $5.00 bottle to steam them, serve them with a $15.00 bottle (especially if you are already familiar with that bottle) and life is easy. Bottom line with the complimentary method is you really only need some basic knowledge of beverages to pull off a successful pairing. The typical flavor profile of the various beer styles and for grape varietals and blends. Intuition often helps immensely here, too. Once you have that vision of the final dish in your head, what you want the end result to taste like, just stand in front of the beer or wine shelf and browse with that in the back of your mind. In any well stocked beverage store I'm sure something will jump out at you. Trust your instincts, and if it doesn't work out the way you wanted it to, ask yourself why. What was the beverage lacking? Was it too heavy or too flat? Did it overpower the food, or vice versa? Once you determine the answer, congratulations! You've just had a learning experience, and that is never a bad thing! This will guide your future selections. The point is, don't take this too seriously. The comparative flavor method is fairly forgiving, and works well enough most of the time. Acidity cuts through fat, is probably the best advice to give to someone who wants to venture into this endeavor. If the dish at hand is rich or has a rich and fatty sauce, go with a beverage that has some acidity. Braised pork, for instance, loves a lager or a white wine with higher than normal acidity. Hard cider is also a valid option since there's a fair amount of acid and apples are a classic pairing with pork. But, as I said, the other ingredients in the dish might scream for something more specific. Curry braised pork? I'd go with a light or medium bodied beer, depending on what sort of curry is used. Jerk braised pork? Would benefit more from a light lager, or maybe even bold white. Of course, if there is a particular beverage used in the construction of the dish, then that beverage is a no-brainer for

New Holland Breweries Mad Hatter being added to a Cheddar-Ale soup. I wonder what I should pair with this?

pairing. Beef Burgundy (Bourguignon) loves a bold red wine, because that's one of the liquids in the braise, and beer poached bratwurst on a summer afternoon cannot and should not be paired with anything other than a good beer! I doubt even Ian, our resident wine guy, would argue that.   Another thing to consider are the ingredients used in the brewing of the beverage before you. This counts more for beer and cider than wine, since wines are nearly always made with grapes alone. Many beer styles incorporate herbs, spices, citrus, even seaweed in the brew kettle. If those adjuncts would pair well with the food on the plate if they were part of the dish, then they will work well when present in your libation. Beer with citrus peel works well with deserts and fish, one with heavy spices like a winter ale will go well when game or curry or jerk seasoning are on the plate, and one with fruit additives will go well with anything that particular fruit would. Chocolate and raspberry, for instance. A classic combination. Chocolate cake and/or ganache loves a raspberry lambic. And lambics are high in acidity, which will cut through the fat and richness chocolate brings to the table, thus washing your palate clean and preparing you for the next mouthful.   So let your intuition, instincts, and sense of adventure guide you. Count failures as learning experiences. Above all, dare to explore your options. Some great pairings can come from unlikely places, and the only way to find out is to try! There is a universal “ah ha!” moment in this endeavor, one that every beverage snob has had. Most people just don't get it until they've experienced it. The synergy that can occur with food and beverage mingling on the tongue, making each other greater than the sum of their parts.   I have a few more ideas in mind for future posts right now, but I'll get back to this subject. Next time I touch on this I'll tackle the not-so-easy pairing ideas of contrasting the potable with the plate.   -Jack

Location, Location, Location!

Raw ingredients for the soup. In the case of the cheeses, raw milk cheeses to be exact...

At the same Chef's Night that yielded the previous two recipes posted below, my offering was this Cheddar/Ale soup made almost entirely from ingredients that are made within an hours drive from where we cooked. The focus of the evening was warming winter foods with an extra emphasis on locally made ingredients. We tend to look for local whenever possible to begin with, but this night the focus on Michigan bounty was even more intense than usual. There was a professional photographer and fellow food blogger/obsessive present, Joe Hakim of The Hungry Dudes, so we had to bring the A game and swing for the bleachers. I think we accomplished our goal. Links to the photo galleries and printed article spawned from this evenings culinary melee at the end. Recipe for Michigan Cheddar/Ale soup: Ingredients for 4 servings: 1/2 medium size yellow onion diced 1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and diced 2 large jalapenos seeded and diced 1 Tablespoons fresh garlic, peeled and crushed 2 bottles Mad Hatter IPA (New Holland Brewing Company) 1 pint chicken stock 1 pint Guernsey Farms heavy whipping cream 1/2 pound bacon diced (home made by a friend of the Estate, so local as well) 1/2 pound Rosewood Products raw milk cheddar shredded 1/4 pound or 2 oz. Rosewood Products raw milk goat cheddar shredded 1/4 pound or 2 oz. Oliver Farms sharp cheddar curds 1/2 cup butter 1/2 cup flour 1 Tablespoon Chicken Soup base ("Better Than Bouillon" brand paste) Fresh ground black pepper to taste Zingermans pretzel bread made into croutons, or crushed pretzels Procedure:

Don't stop stirring! Burnt cheese does not taste good! Well... at least not in this case.

Mince the diced onion and peppers in a food processor until almost a paste. Brown the diced bacon in a pot over medium heat and add the minced veggies. Cook slowly for 25 minutes, or until most of the moisture is gone. At the same time melt the butter in a small pan and add the flour, cook for 15-20 minutes on low heat, stirring continuously, and refrigerate. Turn the heat on the soup pot up to high and add the garlic. Stir continuously until the garlic smell is very strong, 30 seconds or so. Add 1.5 bottles of Mad Hatter, and boil until only 1/3 of the volume is left. Add the chicken stock and cream and bring back to a simmer. Once back to a simmer add the cheeses and stir constantly until dissolved over medium heat. Or add bit by bit until it's all been incorporated, but the central theme here is do NOT stop stirring until all the cheese is melted! If you stop stirring during this part of the process, the cheese will just sink to the bottom and burn. Once dissolved, and back to a simmer, add the last half bottle of Mad Hatter and the chilled butter and flour mixture a little at a time until the soup is thickened to your liking. Stir in the chicken soup base a little at a time, tasting between each addition to make sure you don't over salt, and add as much fresh ground black pepper as you wish to your own tastes. Taste for seasoning, and bowl, using the pretzel croutons for garnish and a few turns on the pepper mill for added contrast and aroma.

Warming, cheesy, peppery, pretzelly goodness! Perfect for a midwest winter night!

I tried to go as simply as possible with this recipe, as there was a chance it would be published in a local magazine, so I wanted it to be accessible to the home cook. It's come to my attention that I'm not always very good at that though. I guess 20 years cooking professionally has somewhat disconnected me from what the term “home cook” implies. That aside, this recipe is very adaptable, you can substitute any local or even non-local variant of any ingredient included and still have one hell of a soup at the end of it.   Live well, and eat better!   -Jack Gallery from Joe Hakim of The Hungry Dudes blog Rogue Estate Facebook Gallery Real Detroit Weekly's article on the meal in question

Walkin’ in a Winter Wonderland… (of beer)

Last year I posted an extensive (though, by no means complete) review of some of the most common and some of the most obscure Oktoberfest offerings from Germany and the U.S. I was originally planning a repeat of that, covering exclusively more of the obscure breweries, but I quickly realized that most of the beers I didn't cover fell into the “Fall Seasonal” category and weren't specifically Oktoberfest adaptations. So, to spare you a long list of boring and over rated “Punkin Ales” and the like, I decided to shift focus (and because I got a late start on the project so most of this seasons Oktoberfest batch was sold out). Winter seasonals are not as popular as their autumnal brethren hailing from Munich, but they are a fun variety to explore. Especially in food pairing. Typically lightly spiced with the flavors most associated with the season, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, pine, et al., they provide a great pairing option for roasts and pies. I was surprised by the sheer number that are out there. Equally surprising to me was the relatively low number of them that totally sucked! I covered 15 different Oktoberfests last year, of which 5 of them scored a 5 or lower. This time I'll be covering 10 different Winter seasonals, of which only one scored less than a 6! In fact, they all fell in the 6-8 range, save for the one. None of them scored the highest mark possible, but none of them were unpalatable, and honestly, in my opinion, any bottle sitting in front of me that doesn't say “Guinness Draught” or “Paulaner Oktoberfest” is gonna have a tough fight to get a score of 10 outa me... So, enough gibber-jabber! Let's start at the bottom and work our way up.

Run away! Run away!

Noel de Calabaza Jolly Pumpkin, Dexter Michigan $13 for a 25oz. Bottle 9% ABV Tasting notes: Nose- coffee, caramel, sourness Color- dark brown/black Mouthfeel- medium body, light/medium carbonation Taste- sweet, sour, mild citrus, sour malt, roasted malt Pairings- crème brulee, spiced game, goat cheese, anything to overpower the beer, the drain Comments: This was the first one I tried from Michigan, sadly. I've seen other sites giving it high scores, but I have no idea why... Those reviewers must not have a taste-bud in their heads. I get that they were trying to go for a hybrid of the Belgian Sour, but in my opinion at least, they woefully missed the mark. Too sweet, too sour. The kicker is, and this is one of the reasons for it's low score, have another look at the price. I was able to choke down the whole bottle, only because of what I paid for it! Had it been ANY worse it woulda went down the drain... If you're feeling brave give it a shot and let me know what you thought. With all the high scores for it I've seen maybe I got a bad batch or I'm missing something. Failing that, it sucks. Period. After reading up on it, it appears they employ a secondary fermentation for all their beers using wild yeast. Wild yeast in Michigan is NOT the same as wild yeast in Belgium... so knock it off! Score: ...and I'm being generous Jolly Pumpkin

Kerstmutske? WTF?

Kerstmutske, Christmas Nightcap De Proef, Belgium $4.80 for an 11.2oz. Bottle 7.4% ABV Tasting notes: Nose- caramel, brown sugar, malt Color- deep brown Mouthfeel- medium/heavy body, medium carbonation Taste- sweet, smooth, slightly nutty, hints of spice Pairing- pecans, chocolate, vanilla, sharp cheddar, roasted pork, roasted squash Comments: A good portion of our list today is from Belgium, and I don't know why that surprised me. I guess I just always associated winter seasonals with the Brits, but it seems the Belgians produce far more of these than the islanders do. This one in particular is fairly forgettable. Not vomit inducing, not spectacular. I say this because I actually have forgotten what it tasted like... In my notes I gave it a 6, so we'll go with that. Score: No official link available.

... more goofy Belgian names...

Noel des Geants Brasserie des Legendes, Belgium $4.00 for an 11.2oz. Bottle 8.5% ABV Tasting notes: Nose- spices, malt, faint citrus Color- amber-brown Mouthfeel- medium body, smooth, mild carbonation Taste- spices dominate up front, brown sugar middle, malty finish, little if any hops Pairing- squash, pumpkin, nuts, spiced game birds Comments: Another from Belgium and another I can't recall. It scored the same as the previous one though, and I had them on the same night so no surprise, I guess. Drinkable, but not mind blowing in any way. Score: No official link available.

Noel again... I'm sensing a theme here...

Brewery De Ranke, Belgium $4.30 for an 11.2oz. Bottle 7% ABV Tasting notes: Nose- mild, white wine qualities, faint maltiness Color- golden amber Mouthfeel- light body, medium carbonation Taste- white grape up front, mild maltiness, mild hop finish Pairings- fish, curry, chili peppers, chili, Mexican, Thai Comments: I wasn't eating anything during any of my tastings, but this one I'm betting would go great with food. The subtle complexities will make this a damn fine pairing. Maybe I'm a little bias because I think it would pair well with some of my favorite foods, but be that as it may. I didn't mention shellfish in the pairings because in my mind beer and shellfish pairing goes without saying, but this one would be exceptional for aquatic critters of all types. Score: No official link available. (What's with these fukin Belgians?)

Bark at the moon!

Howl: Black as Night Lager Magic Hat, Vermont $8.50 for a 6-pack 4.6% ABV Tasting notes: Nose-mild nose, hint of black malt Color- black Mouthfeel- medium body, light carbonation Taste- slight sweetness, mild bitterness from a combination of heavily roasted malts and hops, coffee Pairing- BBQ, chili, grilled meats, dark berries, sharp cheddar, Gruyere Comments: My admiration for this brewery is well documented. This isn't their best effort to date, but it by no means sucks either. Good with food or on it's own. Score: Magic Hat

Brewer, patriot...

Sam Adams Winter Lager Boston, Mass. $8.99 for a 6-pack 5.8 % ABV Tasting notes: Nose- malt, faint hops and spice Color- amber-brown Mouthfeel- smooth, medium body and carbonation Taste- rich malt but not cloying, very mild spice, clean finish Pairing- roasted meats, pilaf, game, aged cheeses Comments: Sam Adams is usually hit-or-miss with me, normally falling to the hit side. While none of their beers I hold as a benchmark for, well, anything, they are damn consistent and produce a quality product. This one is no exception. A solid beer probably better suited to cooking into foods than drinking with, however. Of all the things I can think of to pair this with I can also think of better options. Still a good beer though, and nothing to turn your nose up at. Score: Sam Adams

Pine trees in Michigan are rarely that sparce...

Bell's Christmas Ale Comstock, Michigan $9.00 for a 6-pack 5.5% ABV Tasting notes: Nose- barley, caramel, mild spice notes, brown sugar Color- deep amber/red Mouthfeel- medium body and carbonation Taste- malt, caramel, ginger, toffe, mild hop finish Pairing- ham, squash, cinnamon, anise, clove, vanilla, curry Comments: Say what you want about Bell's, I like 'em. One of Michigan's better, if not most eccentric at times, micros. But eccentricity is something I admire in a brewery. Why confine yourself to making beer styles that are already well defined and no one will ever top the benchmarks of? Color outside the lines once in a while! Admittedly, this usually only yields good results if the brewers know what they're doing. The fact that I mentioned spices a couple times in the notes belies the fact that there are actually NONE used in it's brewing. All the spiciness in this beer is derived from the malts used and how they use them. Also of note, they use 100% Michigan grown barley that's custom malted and roasted for them by Briess! (The home brew nerds will recognize that name...) Score: Bell's

Two Bell's a'ringing...

Bell's Winter White Ale Comstock, Michigan $9.00 for a 6-pack 5% ABV Tasting notes: Nose- light spice, canned meat? Color- light golden, some starch haze Mouthfeel- smooth, medium body and carbonation Taste- well balanced, malt, faint spice, little hops Pairings- plainly put, holiday foods. ham, turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberries, ect... Comments: Duped again by the alchemists in the Bells brewery. No spices were used in the brewing of this beer, they relied on the mixture of barley and wheat malt and Belgian yeast to deliver the mild hint that there may have been spices involved. At a meeting of the Rogue Estate where I had this on offer everyone present enjoyed it. R.E. Tested, R.E. Approved! And to those of you who bitch and moan about Bells, fuckin buy some of this and get back to me... Seriously! Go! NOW! Score: Bell's (again)

Twelve Days of good English Ale!

Twelve Days of Christmas Ale Hook Norton Brewery, U.K. $4.50 for a 16.9oz. Bottle 5.5% ABV Tasting notes: Nose- roasted malt, coffee, toffee Color- deep brown, nearly black Mouthfeel- full bodied, medium/light carbonation Taste- heavier black malt bitterness than a porter, but essentially the same as in all other ways Pairing- roast beast, pudding (both the American and Brit variations) vanilla, aged cheddar, plums, spices Tasting notes: Another great food beer if you pair it with the right things, and the right things happen to be popular Christmas and winter foods. Not spiced like many of the others on this list, but I certainly don't think that's a requirement by any stretch of the imagination. I'm a huge fan of porters and Irish Stouts (see intro) so the fact that this beer is kind of blending those two styles won me over pretty quick. The score might be predictable then, given that admittance. Score: No official link available. The Brits too? Really?

Samuel Smith, say "what" again!

Samuel Smith Winter Welcome U.K. $5.00 for a 550 ML bottle (18.7oz.) 6% ABV Tasting notes: Nose- malty, nutty Color- red/amber Mouthfeel- medium light body, mild carbonation Taste- caramel, vanilla, spice, smooth hop finish Pairing- game, oily fish, nuts, squash, mushrooms Comments: Sam Smith has a reputation as a truly world class brewery that is completely deserved. If a beer newb asked me to recommend an English beer the first words outa my mouth would be “anything from Sam Smith or Fuller's”. This may be my bias talking again, as I'm a huge fan of beers from the British Isles, but I'm sure my comrades in beer snobbery would agree. I've never been disappointed by this brewery. 'Nuff said... Score: No official link available. (Bloody hell!) I would love to hear feedback on this post, so please don't hesitate to leave a comment if you've had any of these and agree or disagree with my assessments. The holidays are soon upon us, and some of these (at least the best of the batch) are not hard to find. Tote a 6 or 12 pack of one to grandmas for Thanksgiving or Christmas. But not the Jolly Pumpkin crap... leave that one on the shelf lest you want your family to hate you... Live well and drink better! -Jack

Ponzu-Shoyu

A couple of the methods I've employed for storing the finished product, used soy sauce bottle and empty Sake bottle.

The most popular condiment in Japan, bar none, is Ponzu-Shoyu. A citrusy, soy based dipping sauce, it can be found commercially made by dozens of companies. It is, however, extremely easy to make yourself and the results are not only far superior to anything bought from a store shelf but also keeps almost indefinitely in the refrigerator. Simple ingredients, simple preparation, amazing flavor and versatility. In Japan it's eaten with everything from Tempura, to Shabu-Shabu, to noodles, to sushi and sashimi. Some of the ingredients I'll be listing you can only find at a Japanese grocer, but none of them are expensive and if you make it in bulk you'll not need to make the trip to one more than once a year. It's used fairly sparingly, being that it's fairly strong flavored, so a little will last you long while (unless you're like me and drink it straight outa the bottle...). The combination of flavors makes it my personal favorite condiment ever, but, if you haven't noticed by now, I'm fairly biased toward the Japanese palette of flavors. That aside, I can't recommend this enough! Make some, dammit! The ingredients (for a 2 cup batch): 1 cup + 2 Tablespoons Usukuchi Soy Sauce (regular soy sauce will work, but back off to an even cup) ¾ cup + 2 Tablespoons Unseasoned Rice Vinegar 2-3 Tablespoons mild Honey (optional) ½ cup Lemon juice, Lime juice, or combination of (lately I've been using straight Lime, but your call) If on the extremely off chance you find fresh Sudachi, or Green or Yellow Yuzu at the Japanese market, use that! One 5g packet Shaved Bonito flakes 3 inch x 3 inch square of Konbu (dried giant kelp) The procedure: Now here's where I get to talk about some of the basic concepts that run through all of Japanese cooking. There are a couple things to remember here about the handling of these ingredients, and how these ideas should be remembered whenever you use them for any reason. Boiling = Bad. You never want to boil anything containing Soy sauce or Bonito... Period. Miso also falls into the “never boil” category, but there's no Miso in this recipe so I'll leave that discussion for another post. If you boil Soy sauce it tends to give it an astringent after-taste, and if you boil Bonito you loose a lot of the depth it can bring to the table. You also never want to boil any citrus juice if you want it to be a star player in the final product. Doing so takes away a lot of the freshness of flavor, and just dulls the punch fresh citrus juice provides, which is the entire reason for using it. That said, you'll understand why I structured this recipe the way I did.

Damp cloth, not dripping wet, and don't worry about getting all of it.

Remove the Konbu from the package and wipe with a damp cloth to remove most of the powdery white coating. Don't be anal about this, you don't need to get rid of all traces. Next, place the vinegar in a non-reactive pot (meaning NOT aluminum, stainless steel or glass preferably) with the Konbu and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Once simmering, dissolve the honey into the vinegar (if using) and add the Bonito flakes and turn the heat down a bit. Allow to steep, much like making tea, at just under a boil for 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Adding the Bonito. I was making a much larger batch in this build than the recipe I'm providing, no difference in concept though. Don't boil it!

Pour the vinegar through a fine mesh strainer into a mixing bowl to remove the Konbu and Bonito and discard them. Add the Soy sauce and citrus juice. TASTE! If the vinegar is too strong, add a splash more soy. Want the citrus to be more prominent? Add some more! Once you are happy with the results pour the Ponzu into an empty bottle for storage. I used the empty Usukuchi bottle, and have also been known to use empty Sake bottles to store smaller batches. So throw out that bottle of Kikkoman Ponzu, and make some yourself! Take notes on the process to remember how you tweaked it to suit your own tastes for the next time you decide to make this (and you will). The balance of soy, vinegar, and citrus with the undertones of Dashi are what make this my favorite condiment, and what makes me want to always have some on hand. Combined with it's sheer versatility, it's a must have for any aficionado of Japanese cuisine. Live well, eat better, and as Francis says, “good luck in the kitchen!” Jack

Cold Somen Noodle Salad with Soy Vinaigrette

The final product.

My most recent at-bat hosting our weekly food related night of debauchery I decided, as was no surprise to anyone, to take us to Japan once again. The original four course plan quickly turned into seven as I came up with further ideas, but it was the first course that seemed to be the show stealer. It was an extremely simple bowl of cold noodles tossed in a light dressing. It was the texture and balance of the dish that made everyone so enthusiastic about it. So much so that I was prodded to post the recipe, and soon! It's made with Japanese Somen noodles and a simple “vinaigrette” (in quotes because there's no actual vinegar involved). For those of you unfamiliar with Somen, it is essentially the Japanese equivalent of the Italian Angel Hair pasta, only much thinner and much more delicate. A wheat noodle, it's texture, cold or hot, is like silk. Much more befitting of the common moniker bestowed upon the Italian variation, which is, by the way, known to the natives as Capelli D'Angelo. As much as I love the Italian pastas, this is, by far, my favorite noodle. Bar none. It takes seconds to cook, it is well suited to hot or cold preparations, and, as I mentioned, the texture is like nothing else. It is widely available these days, as well. No need to seek out an Asian market. I've seen it at chains like Kroger and Meijer. If you have a hard time finding it Soba will do in a pinch, but it's texture is much rougher, so it's worth the search to find Somen. Another key ingredient was the Usukuchi soy sauce in the dressing. A generic reduced sodium soy sauce is a good substitute, but there is something magical about a Japanese Usukuchi. The company Yamasa was my source for this product, and it's a fairly common brand, so finding it shouldn't be all that difficult. This is a delicate operation, so you really need to taste your way through it. Every step, the addition of every ingredient, you need to taste the progress. So here ya go, cold Somen noodle salad with soy vinaigrette:

The players of an alternate build I did steeping konbu and bonito into the soy sauce before building the vinaigrette. Can be omitted.

3 bundles dry Somen noodles 1 bunch thinly sliced Scallion Half cup of Usukuchi Soy Sauce 3 Tblsp. Lime juice 3 small cloves Garlic 5-6 one inch round thin slices peeled fresh Ginger 2 cups dark Sesame Oil 1 Tblsp. Dijon Mustard 1-2 Tblsp. Chili/Garlic paste Kosher salt Black and white Sesame seeds for garnish

They always come with this little band of paper holding them together.

Begin by filling a large pot with water. Set on the stove over high heat and add enough kosher salt to make the water taste just a little less salty than sea-water (TASTE-TASTE-TASTE!). When at a boil, unbind the Somen and let it fall from your hand like a cascade into the pot, turning your hand as they fall (this helps prevent the noodles sticking together). Stir the pot every 10-20 seconds. Take a noodle out every 30 seconds after the first 2 minutes and bite into it. If it's cooked drain immediately and run under cold water, if not, continue until you've reached that point. Once cooked and cooled, place in a mixing bowl, toss with a splash of sesame oil (a ounce or so, about 2 tablespoons to prevent clumping), and set aside.

Slowly drizzling in the sesame oil.

In a blender, place the garlic, ginger Usukuchi soy sauce, and lime juice. Turn on high or liquify, whatever the settings say on your blender. The goal is to reduce the garlic and ginger down to a smooth texture. It will probably only take 1 minute. At this point, blender still running, add the Dijon and slowly drizzle in 1 cup of the sesame oil. Now taste. The goal here is to be able to taste every ingredient at the same time. Is the Lime being drowned out? Add a splash more. Is the soy still too strong? Add more Sesame oil. You probably won't need the full 2 cups of oil, if you managed to get your hands on the Usukuchi soy I'm guessing you'll need just under that amount of oil to balance the party out. Balance is the key to this dish. Bear in mind that the flavors will be very strong, but it's going on a starch, and noodles can take a punch. Just be sure the flavors are balanced. If you can't taste the mustard very strongly though, that's ok. It's really only there for backbone and to keep the dressing emulsified. Once you've tasted your way through the dressing, and all components are in harmony, all that's left is assembly.

Tossing them well, and gently!

Add your dressing to the noodles, toss in the scallions, and mix well. The measurements I gave should be just about perfect, but don't add all the dressing at once. Reserve a little to make sure you don't over-dress and end up with noodles floating in sauce. Again, I stress, add a little at a time and taste your way through it. Once you're satisfied with the dressing/noodle balance, add he chili/garlic paste. This is purely a point of discretion. Add as much as you like to suit your personally preferred heat index. I only used about 1 tablespoon, just enough to taste it, and not enough to melt anybodies face. Garnish with a small sprinkling of the mixed sesame seeds. This dish exemplifies the Japanese philosophy of simplicity. The inspiration for it was found one night at work. I was, early in the night, experimenting with a new menu item concept. The first half of the night was slow, so I started by cooking the noodles. After they were cooked and tossed in a little sesame oil we started to get busy, so I didn't have time to finish the project. At the end of the night, cleaned up, and ready to leave, my co-worker and I had not had time to eat yet that day. He asked what I did with the Somen, and dressed it with some chili oil to slurp them down quickly before we left. That was the “ah-ha!” moment for me. I took a small bowl full and dressed the noodles with scallion, chili oil, chili/garlic paste and a splash of soy sauce. After slurping that down I thought, “I can make that better... fuck... I can make that awesome!”. I hope you, the reader, have access to a local Asian or Japanese market to faithfully recreate this astoundingly simple and equally astoundingly good dish. It would suit any picnic, boxed lunch, or first course of any intricate Japanese themed meal. If you don't have such access, the substitutions listed will do well enough. My next post will be another recipe I loved from that evening of camaraderie with the boys here at the Estate (none of the girls could make it that night, sux to be them!) a home made Ponzu-Shoyu. I have decided that it is my favorite condiment and favorite flavor in the world.... So I must share the recipe... Throw out that bottle of store-bought crap, this will put it to shame... Until then, live well and eat better! Jack...