Saturday, April 11, 2009

Condiment of the Week: Horseradish

With the fun anti-bread holiday of Passover upon us, I had been thinking about what could possibly inspire me to write about food, and realized very quickly that I have completely forgotten about the underrated horseradish. The name alone does not exactly make you eager to eat it, but it imparts a strong and over looked flavor to many dishes and dips.

By itself the only time I know people regularly using horseradish is at Seders where the white and red are used to make "sandwiches" of charoset and horseradish, or on top of gefilte fish. I've had the luck (or punishment) of having these horseradish condiments made from scratch, and let me tell you, it is not a pleasant sight. The fumes that come from ground horseradish root, combined with vinegar, are worse than a really strong onion and will not only make you cry, but unable to breathe. As with many other strong pungent flavors (see Hot Sauces...) I like my horseradish strong and in small doses. Even the red version, made with sugar and beets, should still be strong and pack a punch of flavor. Perhaps the best way to describe horseradish flavor is that it is similar to wasabi. It brings a strong earthy flavor like other root vegetables, but can also clear out the sinuses and leave a slow long burn in the back of your throat if you don't balance the flavor properly.

Outside of Passover, you often find the root mixed with creamy sauces, like for roast beef, or in small amounts with stronger flavored fish. It also makes a great addition to dipping sauces, but like garlic, needs to be properly combined with salt, sweetness, and herbs to keep it from overwhelming your mouth.

Favorite Use: In generous portions on top of gefilte fish (an acquired taste)
Strangest Use: Small amounts mixed in with eggs, fresh herbs, and steak for a different style of steak and eggs.

Passover's Favorite Condiment?

Restaurant: Sachiko's on Clinton

Apparently I've been on quite the Asian food kick given the last few restaurants I've written about. Luckily there are quite a lot of varied and fun places to eat that don't make you feel like it is the same meal all over again. Sachiko's on Clinton, at first glance, is a regular Japanese sushi restaurant that is a little pricey and on a trendy up and coming street (Clinton St.). Once eating there, however, you realize that while expensive, it makes up for the cost with some unique dishes, and beautiful presentation that you won't find at your neighborhood sushi joint.

I've been to Sachiko's four different times, and while I've tried a number of different appetizers, sushi rolls, and main dishes, the best way to go is avoid your standard conventional sushi and branch out a bit. A great way to start is with the kushiage appetizer. Kushiage is in principal very simple, but when prepared right extremely delicious. Kushiage starts with different meats, cheeses and vegetables that are then panko breaded, placed on a bamboo skewer and pan fried. Sachiko's serves each with some basic Japanese dipping sauces made with miso and shiso. The appetizer portion comes with chicken and shiso, okra, shrimp and eggplant with cheese. Light and delicious, it's a great warm appetizer that delights the taste buds and makes you realize this isn't something you find on every menu. Other Kushiage standouts are the ginkgo nuts, eel and avocado, and shiitake stuffed with shrimp paste. With 18 different types to choose from on most nights, it is worth going a few times to find your favorites. Other starters are a bit more standard to the American palate, but I also love the Botan Ebi Carpaccio. The combination of sweet shrimp and sea urchin, with a zesty sauce whose primary ingredient is basil makes for a great cold starter before diving into the main course. The presentation and look of the dish alone makes me salivate, and the taste does not disappoint.

For sushi, while the regular rolls are delicious, make sure you try the special Sachiko's sushi which have some interesting combinations including foie gras with mushroom and lobster with caviar. The meals for two tend to be the most fun, just for the look of the plate alone. Similar to those sushi boats you often see in restaurants, Sachiko's offers the same style dining, but the plate far surpasses your expectations. I'd get into details, but it just wouldn't do them justice. The one dish I think I can accurately describe is the Tamatebako "Jewel Box". A great deal at just over $30 for 12 pieces of sushi, it contains different ball shaped sushi, each topped with a small amount of sauce or garnish. The contents seem to change slightly each time, but some of the best have included a seared piece of beef with horseradish sauce, yellowtail sushi with jalapeno, and fatty tuna with guacamole. Others include sweet shrimp with sea urchin, and scallop topped with roe. The beautifully arranged dish is a wonder to all the senses. The opening of the box reveals a rainbow of colors all beautifully presented at once, with a slight smell of the different sauces, and no fishiness. The box comes with a spray bottle of white soy sauce so you can enjoy the distinct flavors of each fish and sauce, without overwhelming it with soy sauce. Each piece has different textures, different flavors, and contrast with each other well to the point that you don't want to share with whomever you have invited to join you for that evening.

While there are plenty of other things to order on the menu, these are my favorites. I wouldn't recommend going to Sachiko's on Clinton if you are starving (or any sushi place now that I think about it) because it is expensive, but if you are looking for a different sushi dining experience you should head down to Clinton Street. Even if you aren't in the mood for sushi, head to Clinton either way, there are some really amazing and fun places all within a few blocks of each other.

The Jewel of Clinton Street