I’ll Take “Meat On Sticks” For $400, Please

Usually when I see the end product in my mind before I begin to cook it turns out pretty well. I don’t know why this is, but I’ve learned to trust it; when I want to make a particular thing–even if I’ve never made it before–I do my best to make it. It almost always works.

In this case, I had a hankering for brochettes of chicken rolled with ume plums and shiso. Now our shiso is gone, but the amazing plums John brought back from Japan have some of their pickled shiso leaves included, so I figured I’d use them too and supplement the filling with some hardier fresh herbs to add color and flavor. First off, I went to the garden and cut a bunch of the cutting celery and pulled a variety of radishes: red, black, watermelon, and rose heart. I cut the celery into batons, rubbed them all over with miso, and put them in the fridge, saving the leaves, which I chopped up with some fresh sage. On butterflied and pounded chicken breasts I spread mashed ume plum, pickled shiso, and the herbs, and then rolled, cut, and skewered them.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that I had a pot of stock simmering on the stove, made from a couple of pork chop bones from dinner a few nights ago (which I may yet post about). So I simmered the sliced radishes in some of that stock, and their chopped greens in another little pan of the same, both of which had reduced to nearly nothing by serving time so that they were basically dry, yet infused with stocky goodness.

I also took more of the white miso I rubbed on the celery and mixed it with an equal amount of softened butter and the rest of the chopped herbs to make miso butter.

Now if you’re not familiar with miso butter, you should be. There is nothing that can be broiled or roasted that is not improved by the addition of copiously slathered miso butter. Mushrooms, potatoes, meat, fish–hell, rub it on yourself or someone you love. You’ll be glad you did.

These got a careful browning under the broiler and gave off amazing smells and luscious juices. To give those juices something useful to do, I whisked a glug of heavy cream into some of the pork stock along with usukuchi, umeshu, and the pan juices and reduced it to unctuous goodness. So: a bed of silky radish greens, braised radish slices, chicken spirals, a good spooning of sauce, pickled celery, and togarashi to finish.

All of this excellent splendor (and it really was excellent; the tender yet still al dente radishes, crunchy bright celery, and ridiculously rich and savory sauce made all kinds of salubrication for the chicken) came about because I was thinking about the mixed case of wine I bought and what I wanted to drink and thus what I wanted to make to go with it. This Gewurztraminer kind of jumped out, because it’s been a while since I had one and I love the myriad ways in which the fragrant perfumes of Alsatian and German wines can complement Asian flavors in food. It’s like the axis of awesome. Truth be told, the food needed a tetch more capsaicin to do the wine justice; the residual sugar demanded more heat than the sprinkling of togarashi provided. A flavorous nod Southwest from Japan towards Thailand or Vietnam would also have helped with the pairing. But for a panoply of juicy tropical fruit to wash this über-umami ensemble down–the papaya drink to the meal’s hot dog–it did the job handsomely. Reverse-engineering a meal from a bottle of wine is easier if you’re familiar with the wine, and this was the first one I’ve had. But not the last.

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