Today we returned to the world of Asian appetizers. After a day of Chinese dim sum nearly two weeks ago (Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 13), we produced four different plates from Japan (Miso Soup and Tempura) and the Philippines (Lumpia), as well as China (Spring Rolls).
I'm a fan of miso soup, but I've only made it from an instant paste (just add hot water) in the past. It was a quite nice experience to make it completely from scratch.
The first step was to make the famous and basic Japanese stock, Dashi. Dashi is made with dried bonito flakes - katsuobushi - and seaweed - kombu. One simply brings the kombu to a simmer (do not boil it, or else it will turn slimy) at which point the katsuobushi is added and allowed to steep before straining. Dashi is also used as the basis for the tempura dipping sauce, tentsuyu. I like dashi and plan on experimenting with it some more, using it in place of Western stocks. For example, I think it would be excellent in a seafood risotto.
Making the miso soup was rather simple, after the dashi had been produced. We has a choice of misos to use. There are dozens of different types, but we chose between two of the most common, white miso (shiro miso) and red miso (aka miso). I went with aka miso for the heartier flavor, since our only garnishes were wakame, tofu and green onion.
There isn't much one can do to make a unique presentation of miso soup, so I served my table style, bringing the garnishes in a bowl and serving the soup in front of the chef instructor.
The miso soup was the easy dish. The other dishes required a significant amount of prep, but the main issue was that they were all deep fried. There were a few issues with this. First, there is a dearth of deep fryers at school. Lines formed. Even with the addition of some stove top deep frying stations, it was impossible for everyone to get frying when it was most convenient for them. You had to fry when you had the opportunity (hope you didn't have anything else on the stove at the same time). Second, though you're in a rush, you have to watch the fry temperature. When you fry a great deal of ingredients, the temperature of the oil is going to drop. If you don't allow the oil to come back to the proper temperature before adding more things to the fryer, the ingredients will absorb too much oil and be greasy.
Third, fry and present. Deep fryed foods have a short shelf life. They're nice and crisp right out of the fryer, but a few minutes later they can turn into a soggy, limp mess. Once you did fry something, the rest of your plate had better be ready so that you could present it at once.
Tempura was particularly difficult. Many students tried to save time by making the batter ahead of time, but this results in a very doughy coating. The best thing is to make the batter at the last moment, preferably right by the fryer. Also, the sparkling water should be ice cold and still have its fizz (don't take it out of the bottle until you need it).
Thanks to having to drop stock in the morning, we pushed darned close to the deadline, but the end results were pretty tasty.
Miso Soup Garnishes (Tofu, Wakame, Green Onions), Before Addition of Soup
Spring Rolls with Plum Sauce
Lumpia with Chile Sauce