Awesome Sauce

I’m a big fan of kneading roots and the like with salt to wilt and quick-pickle them for salads. It’s a fantastic way to tenderize a raw vegetable that might otherwise be a tad too crunchy for some people, and imparts a lusciously silky texture and bright flavor to beets, carrots, radishes, turnips, fennel, and everything else of that textural ilk. So I had an idea to try it with winter squash, and to incorporate some local “spices” that I have stored in jars for the long winter. And I wanted to see if my wimpy little consumer vacuum sealer would be strong enough to do it without the kneading, the way the pros do it.

I sliced up a couple of dumpling squash on the mandoline and seasoned them with salt, spruce, and sumac, then vacuum sealed them into a bag and put it in the fridge for a few hours. It worked fairly well, but the compression was not equal to that which one gets using a chamber. I took them out, gave them a bit of a compensatory knead, then rinsed them off, added radishes, carrots, and chiffonaded sorrel, then dressed them with sesame oil and spruce vinegar. I added claytonia on top as a garnish because I love their little spade-shaped leaves. The squash had a nice al dente bite, and the flavors worked well; both the spruce and sumac have citrusy qualities, so the ceviche vibe I was shooting for sort of came through.

For the next course, another idea that occurred to me recently: ponzu zabaglione. I whisked egg yolks in the double boiler for a few minutes with usukuchi, yuzu juice, and a bit of sake until it was custardy, then pushed it through a fine strainer to remove any bits of scrambled egg and make it extra sexy. I used it to dress cubes of tofu that I browned all over in butter. Pretty great, and crying out to be used for shrimp, crab, or lobster. It wouldn’t suck to use in place of mayo for chicken or tuna salad, deviled eggs, or just about anything else. And of course the flavoring possibilities are limitless.

Last, the best dish of all. I dug some burdock, and simmered coins of it in water and soy sauce the way I usually do. While that was going on, I simmered Japanese turnips–either whole or cut up depending on their size–in some pork-chicken wing stock that I had made the day before. Once the burdock was tender, I added it to the turnips, which by then were perfectly soft and coddled in a very unctuously reduced stock. I served this stew with a sprig of chervil on top, but no additional seasonings. It was so earthy and meaty and profound, having all the umami of beef stew but the lightness of steamed vegetables. A shake of togarashi would have been excellent, but I didn’t think of it until my bowl was empty. There’s so much power in food like this, as long as the vegetables are just-dug and the stock is first rate.

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