The challenge. Of course, with today’s obsession with reality TV, no television show on barbecue would be complete without a challenge. Enter one Kumahachi Moreno, Japanese chef and TV celebrity, who flew to Martha’s Vineyard from Tokyo to sample our barbecue and bring a challenge of his own. On camera, he unpacked a bag of mystery ingredients he challenged me to cook on the grill:
Gobo (long slender burdock root)
Natto (fermented soy beans)
Azuki (sweet red bean paste)
Spicy cod roe
My first response was “you’re kidding, right?” and when I saw he wasn’t, I fired up four of my grills.
The azuki was easy. I hollowed out some apples (fugi apples, of course) and stuffed each with a spoonful of sweet red bean paste. On top of that I put a spoonful of cream cheese, then brown sugar, then butter. I indirect grilled the apples for about 40 minutes, with a hint, just a hint of apple wood smoke.
Next came the gobo, a long slender root known in English as burdock with an earthy flavor. I cut the root crosswise into 1 inch pieces and skewer them crosswise with pieces of scallions. I brush the kebabs with sesame oil and sprinkle with sesame seeds, garlic, salt, and pepper. These I will direct grill.
The natto represents the biggest challenge. These mucilaginous fermented soy beans are wildly popular in Japan, but their gooey texture and nutty, slightly bitter flavor takes some getting used to for Americans. I decide they need the muscle of pepper jack cheese and jalapeno chilies, so I stuff them into classic Tex-Mex quesadillas.
The cod roe is pretty strange, too. It’s salted but raw, and fiery with Japanese pepper. So I wrap a few of the lobes of roe in fresh basil leaves and thinly sliced prosciutto. I thinly slice the remaining roe. Then I shuck some oysters and place a slice of cod roe and a piece of butter in each oyster. I fold some wasabi paste into unsweetened whipped cream. That should work nicely as a sauce.
Our Japanese friends are amazed, and while the quesadillas and gobo are deemed “interesting”, the apples and oysters are an unqualified success. Best of all, Chef Kumahachi and the TV crew invite Barbara and I to Tokyo in August to pursue our barbecue adventures in Japan. More to follow soon!