Dec 27, 2015

Fancy Meal at Home - Squid Ink Risotto with Seared Cuttlefish

Squid, cuttlefish, calamari (and the list goes on), I've always been confused by these varieties. The fish vendor patiently showed me the differences many times but I can still point at a round looking cephalopod and call it a squid instead of the correct name cuttlefish. Don't judge.

I'm pretty sure cuttlefish was used for the risotto recipe especially the lady at the fish stand told me fresh squid wasn't available during this time of the year. Squid or cuttlefish, either way, the final risotto remains just as delicious as long as fresh seafood and high quality stock were used.

Squid ink risotto with seared cuttlefish -

Ingredients (for 2 to 3 portions)?

  • 1 small cuttlefish or squid
  • 1 small can calamari in ink (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon squid ink (nero di seppia)
  • 1 1/2 cups Acquerello or Arborio rice
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons peeled and finely chopped shallot
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3 cups lobster or shrimp stock
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/3 teaspoon sea salt
  • Some olive oil
  • Some cayenne pepper 
  • Some finely chopped parsley


I used extra canned calamari just to make it a more luscious dish, you can simply skip this ingredient and cook up one large cuttlefish or squid instead.

Peel and finely chop the garlic cloves. Peel and finely chop the shallots. Remove the beak, cuttlebone, and eyes from the cuttlefish, rinse clean then pat dry for later use. 

Warm up the stock using a pot, bring to lukewarm temperature but not to a boil.

Drizzle some olive oil to a non-stick pot and turn to high heat. Wait till the temperature rises a little then add in the whole cleaned cuttlefish. Sear both sides till slightly browned then remove from heat. Slice the cuttlefish and set aside for later use .

In the same pot, lower to medium heat, add in the butter and more olive oil if needed. Add in chopped garlic and shallots once the butter has been melted. Sprinkle some salt and stir a little. 

It's always better to use less salt in the beginning if unsure about the how salty the dish will turn out. As for this risotto recipe, he canned calamari and the stock might contain some salt so might be safer to go easy on the salt initially. If the flavors are too light, you can always add more seasonings towards the end. 

Pour in the rice and stir till every grain has been coated with oil. Pour in about 1/3 of the stock to slowly cook the rice. Add more stock when the grains have almost absorbed all the liquid. Taste the rice to check on the texture, al dente preferably. 

When the grains are almost ready, add the canned calamari along with some squid ink and mix well.

If skipping the canned version, you can add about 1/3 or side pieces of the large seared calamari to the rice instead.

Final check on the texture and flavors, adjust with more stock and salt if needed. Scoop some darkened rice to the plate and top with seared cuttlefish. Sprinkle some cayenne pepper and finely chopped parsley before serving. 

Lobster or shrimp stock can be hard to find at times. I made my own stock last time for another risotto variation and here's the shrimp stock recipe. You can always make more stock and store then in batches in the freezer, these types of ingredients always come in handy.

Blackened jewels.

Other risotto recipes:

Dec 22, 2015

Unagi Hirokawa 廣川 - Grilled Eel Rice in Arashiyama, Wait till You Try the Grilled Eel Liver

Arashiyama is one of the favorite tourist spots in Kyoto, Japan. The bamboo forest, Tenryū-ji, moon crossing bridge, and the list goes on, they gave this place a different vibe compared to other big cities in Japan. Among these sites, there is one popular Japanese traditional grilled eel restaurant stands just across the street from Tenryū-ji called Unagi Hirokawa.

Just few steps away from the temple across the street, the sign written in Kanji characters "廣川" signals the location in front of a parking lot -

Opening hours (usually closed on Mondays and holidays) - 

The restaurant will be temporarily closed from 2016/01/18 to 2016/01/25. Please refer to Hirokawa's Japanese website for more up-t0-date information.  

Unagi Hirokawa situates right behind the parking area -

Lunch starts at 11:30 a.m., but already a few customers waiting by 11 a.m., about half Japanese and half foreign tourists.

Partial view of the first floor dining area -

Hallway and some seats for the customers in line -

Second floor seats and rooms are for reservation only. 

Menu, click on the image for an enlarged view -

Hirokawa uses Japanese farmed eels. However, wild eels are available during certain months of the year and need to be reserved in advance -

The eels were grilled using binchotan, one of the top quality traditional charcoals from Japan. 

Japanese menu -

Decided to skip the simple donburi (eel over rice) and go for a course set for 7,300 yen -

Kimoyaki (grilled eel liver) -

If only eating the simple unagi-don, make sure to order one skewer of grilled eel liver on the side. It was brushed with sweet and dense soy sauce during the cooking process. The slightly burnt edges had a slight hint of bitterness but soon replaced by the soy sauce aroma. 

Texture-wise, I thought it would be floury like pig liver, but it was actually more leaning towards a chewier version of chicken thigh. The more you chew into it, the more layers of soybean and charcoal aroma coming out. Delicate yet powerful at the same time, definitely a must try item.

Koi no arai (sashimi) served with miso flavored dipping sauce -

The plate was very cold and the sashimi texture was on the bouncy side. 

I like how they filleted the fish making it a fancy presentation. However, some parts in the center were too hard to chew and to swallow. Asked the waitress but she kept saying "daijoubu" (it's ok). Is it really ok?

I've decided to leave the un-chewable part on the plate.

Yanagawa -

Soy sauce, mirin, and some semi-cooked beaten egg as the base for this dish. Burdock root slices were also used, giving this soupy dish a distinct woody herbal scent.

Kabayaki, rice, pickles, soup -

The grilled eel should be the star here but Japanese people really knows about rice and the best way to cook it. Every single grain was slightly bouncy with the right amount of moisture remained. Even just some fat drizzling down from the grilled eel along with rice can be very fulfilling.

The fatty part was hidden underneath that thin layer of grilled surface. The oil intertwined with the meat instead of being a single non-combining layer of its own. 

However, some tiny bones still present. Even though these are edible fish bones, I never felt comfortable swallowing them. Perhaps that's why I was never a big fan of freshwater eel dishes.

Katsuobushi was used for the clear soup, also has a light hint of fresh yuzu. 

Tofu pudding for dessert -

Never a big fan of unagi rice but always wanted to try a really good place to see if the stubborn mind can ever be changed. Unfortunately this one Michelin starred establishment still can't transform me into a full on eel lover. But the fun textured grilled eel liver won over my heart instantly. Guess I'm still seeing some improvements here.

Unagi Hirokawa currently holds one Michelin star status.

Unagi Hirokawa
44-1 Sagatenryūji Kitatsukurimichichō, Ukyō-ku, Kyōto-shi
Kyōto-fu 616-8374, Japan

Opening hours:
Lunch 11:30 a.m. ~ 2:30 p.m.
Dinner 5:00 p.m. ~ 9:00 p.m. (last order 8:00 p.m.)

Extended reading:

Dec 16, 2015

A Little Gift from Kyoto, Japan - Senmaizuke (千枚漬) with Sushi Grade Tuna and Shiso

Kyoto is famous for its vegetables and pickled varieties. One of the most well known items is called senmaizuke, which are pickled turnip slices. Senmaizuke is similar to the thin pickled radish slices found at a Korean barbecue joint, but slightly thicker with heavier taste. 

You can simply serve the senmaizuke as it is or like what I did by adding a couple simple ingredients to make it a nicer looking dish.

Senmaizuke with sushi grade tuna and shiso -


  • 1 pack senmaizuke (千枚漬) or Korean pickled radish slices
  • Some sushi grade tuna
  • 1 shiso leaf


Roll up one shiso leaf and finely chop into tiny pieces. Cut the tuna into smaller cubes. Arrange the pickled turnip slices onto the plate then garnish with tuna and shiso.

Can't get any easier than that isn't it?

Other recipes using pickled vegetables:

Dec 10, 2015

Are Good Food Always Hidden in the Alley in Japan? 玄 Gen Soba in Nara, Japan

Finding hidden treasures in the alley and narrow lanes is always one of the fun things to do in Japan. You'll never know what's behind that door or that curtain until entering the space. It's a little adventure before the feast starts, and that was how I met 玄 (Gen), a reservation only soba restaurant in Nara, Japan.

Gen is not far from Kintetsu Nara station and situated below Nara Park, where the deer roam freely around the area. My plan was to enjoy a true authentic Japanese soba/buckwheat noodles meal then venture to the park. The schedule worked perfectly and I was able to get back to Kyoto before night falls.

The soba joint was slightly off the road and a temple was right on the corner. Holding my phone with Google Maps arrow pointing to the alleyway. Good thing I read kanji/Chinese characters. There it is, the soba place, quietly sitting at the end of the narrow lane -

The gentle breeze lifted the curtain, inviting me to this tranquil space -

And I took a wrong turn, even though the entrance door was right in front of me -

The waitress greeted me as I took off my shoes entering the tatami room. A little towards the left side was the counter and the entrance to the kitchen -

Main dining area on the right -

Garden view on both ends -

Tiny flower arrangement -

Japanese menu, click on the image for an enlarged view -

English menu is also available. Waitresses speak very limited English here -

Harushika junmai ginjo namazake (Japanese sake) -

Helped me ease into the meal. Despite the aromatic sake, the little dish came with it was a pleasant surprise -

These were slightly crunchy buckwheat flavored with miso and other seasonings. Salty but not overwhelming followed by dense miso sweetness, goes really well with sake.

Soba tofu -

Seems like they blended buckwheat into the tofu then reformed the shape again. There was a gentle herbal/woody aroma when tasting the tofu. 

The fresh cheese looking thing on top is called yuba - fresh tofu skin. When making soymilk, yuba is the soft layer gradually forming on the surface. Just like its appearance, yuba is very delicate and carry a light soybean aroma.

Reservation only so that the restaurant can measure how much soba need to be made daily. I think each portion comes with two sets of soba. One simply served with salt, and the other one various depending on customer's preference. 

I've had soba before but nothing came close to Gen. A distinct herbal-like aroma reminiscent to sun dried rice straw. Never know this is how buckwheat tastes like, I was amazed and mesmerized. 

Soba gets stick together easily so are usually arranged in a flat layer fashion. 

Second set, inaka soba - 

Judging by the darker color, this one comes with even stronger buckwheat scent. Grated daikon (radish) on the bottom right. Mix grated daikon with the sauce and dip in soba for extra flavors. Add some wasabi to further brighten up the light stalk-like aroma.

More sauce inside the dark greenish colored jar if needed. 

I thought that was all the highlights from the soba meal. However, the waitress brought over this teapot looking container -

Soba yu was inside the red container, basically soba water. The water used for cooking soba was preserved and served at the end of the meal. The texture is similar to slightly liquefied mashed potato but with gentle buckwheat aroma instead. Mix the soba yu together with some sauce and enjoy it like a Japanese style creamy soup -

The last soup dish completely warmed up my body.

The aroma lingered even minutes after I walked out the restaurant. Simply let this gentle fragrant accompanying my journey towards the next destination.

Truly a hidden gem not yet well known by foreign tourists. 

玄 Gen currently holds one Michelin star status.

玄 Gen
23-2 Fukuchiincho Nara, Nara
Japan Tabelog Info: 玄 Gen

Opening Hours:
Lunch 11:30 a.m. ~ 1:00 p.m.
Dinner 6:00 p.m. ~ 9:00 p.m.
*Please contact the restaurant for updated closing dates