A Dying Man’s Lost Recipe Made His Daughter a Multimillionaire

Min Jeong Lee, Hiroyuki Sekine, and Toshiro Hasegawa wrote . . . . . .

When Hiroe Tanaka’s father died, he left behind something that would change her life: a recipe for fried meat on a stick. It was an act of love. His daughter adored the Japanese street food known as kushikatsu, and he’d spent endless hours working out how to make it just right.

The handwritten memo, which detailed how to cook the seemingly simple dish, helped save a restaurant business from bankruptcy in 2008, elevated Tanaka from part-time employee to vice president of a company named after her, and made her a multimillionaire. The university dropout who once worked as an office lady now sets strategy for the $82 million Kushikatsu Tanaka Co.

“I pay tribute to my father every day,” Tanaka, 46, says in an interview. “It all happened because of the recipe.”

Kushikatsu Tanaka started trading in September after a popular initial public offering priced at the top of its indicative range. The shares, which are listed in Japan’s Mothers market for smaller firms, gained more than 50 percent through the end of last week. They rose 0.3 percent on Monday.

The chain has come a long way since it opened its first restaurant in Tokyo in December 2008, where Tanaka and Keiji Nuki, the company president, used second-hand kitchen equipment to keep costs down. Kushikatsu Tanaka now has 146 branches across Japan and one in Hawaii. It plans to open 40 more this year.

The pace of expansion is one of the fastest in Japan’s cut-throat restaurant world. And while that’s partly due to the company’s strategy of bringing the business model employed by 100 yen discount stores to the food industry, offering dishes at their cheapest possible prices, it’s also, Tanaka says, very much down to her dad.

Kushikatsu, a dish made by battering skewered meat and vegetables, deep-frying them and then dipping them in sauce, is common on the streets of Osaka, in the west of Japan’s main island, where Tanaka grew up. It’s less known in other parts of the country. The food originated as a quick, filling meal for laborers.

On special occasions when Tanaka was a child, whenever someone asked her what food she wanted to eat, she’d always say kushikatsu. Her father, she says, realized what others didn’t: that cooking it is an art. The oil, batter and sauce all have to be just right. For years he used his downtime from working as a real estate agent to perfect kushikatsu for her, she says.

Then, when Tanaka was 21, her dad passed away.

As Tanaka went on with her life, doing administrative work at an advertising agency after deciding not to finish a university degree in literature, she tried without success to replicate her father’s kushikatsu. In the late 1990s, she took a job with Nuki, who was running a bar in Osaka at the time, because she wanted to focus on cooking. One of the dishes she constantly tried to make was kushikatsu.

When Nuki, also 46, expanded into Tokyo a couple of years later, Tanaka moved to the capital to work at a high-end restaurant he opened. Again, Nuki let her try to cook kushikatsu, although he didn’t share her passion for the food.

But she couldn’t get it right, even with the help of professionals. After several years, she started to think her father’s kushikatsu would die with him.

“It wasn’t as simple as I thought,” she says. “I began to think, maybe I can’t do it after all.”

At that point, things got worse.

When the global financial crisis hit in 2008, it decimated the customers willing to splash out at Nuki’s restaurants. He told Tanaka the game was up: he was closing down and it was time to go home.

Tanaka wasn’t willing to quit. She even offered to borrow money for the business under her own name. But she accepted it was time to take a step back, and started to pack.

That’s when she found it. It was in a box of memos and mementos from her dad. He’d left her the secret of his kushikatsu after all.

Neither Tanaka nor Nuki had any expectations for the scrawled instructions, which had been corrected over and over. “The discovery wasn’t dramatic at all,” Nuki recalls. “It’s not like the memo had ‘success guaranteed’ written on it.”

But they tried it and it worked. “It was, indeed, the taste of the kushikatsu my father used to cook,” Tanaka says.

Nuki, a newfound kushikatsu fan, decided to make one last attempt to conquer the Tokyo restaurant scene.

He found a small property in a quiet residential area outside central Tokyo, where rent was cheaper. He filled the kitchen with instruments from his old places, and whatever was missing he bought using an auction website. “A lot of people told me not to do it, that the place wouldn’t attract people because there weren’t any other shops nearby,” he says.

But the Tanaka kushikatsu went viral.

People were lined up to get in even at 1 a.m. Nuki had to set up extra tables outside. The number of bicycles parked outside the shop drew complaints from neighbors. Passengers on buses stared with curiosity at the long lines.

Nuki and Tanaka added a second and third store. They all bustled with customers. When a rival kushikatsu joint opened in the trendy Shibuya area of Tokyo, the two decided it was time to turn their business into a franchise.

Franchise Business

“At first, I didn’t like the idea of having others involved,” Tanaka said. But “what I hated most was having people in Tokyo try kushikatsu made by copycats and come away with a negative image that it tastes bad,” she says.

Kushikatsu Tanaka reported 316 million yen ($2.9 million) in operating profit for the year ended November, a 57 percent increase from the previous 12 months. The stock has caught the attention of industry analysts, with three brokerages initiating coverage this year. One says buy and two recommend holding.

Ryotaro Sawada, an analyst at Ace Securities Co. who has a neutral rating on the shares, sounds a note of caution. “The company is targeting 40 stores this year, but investors should be aware of the odds of the number falling short of that goal given the competition,” Sawada wrote in a note to clients earlier this year.

Kushikatsu Tanaka traded at 31 times earnings at Friday’s close, versus an average of 26 times for 194 firms in the Topix Retail Trade Index. Analysts expect the stock to rise 17 percent over the next 12 months.

Tanaka, once one of Japan’s forgotten legion of part-timers, owns 4 percent of the company, a shareholding that’s now worth more than $3 million. In some ways, it’s her father’s last gift. As for the recipe, she says only herself and Nuki have seen it since she found it, and it’s going to stay that way.

“Kushikatsu is life to me,” Tanaka says. “I don’t know what I would do without it.”

Source: Bloomberg

Bobby Flay’s Perfect Beef Chili

Kate Krader wrote . . . . . .

Some dishes, such as massive seafood towers crowned with elaborate shellfish and seven-tiered weddings cakes, are best left to the professionals.

Chili is not one of those. Superior versions can come from anywhere, whether on the back of a five-alarm-chili kit or an uncle’s award-winning recipe jotted down on an envelope. It doesn’t benefit from fancy ingredients—in fact, it’s antithetical to try sourcing expensive aji charapita peppers ($25,000 per kilo) to make a pot of chili.

There is a professional chef who knows the secrets of a good chili: Bobby Flay. The chef/owner of Gato in New York and the star of Food Network shows like Worst Cooks in America, has been making chili most of his life. “I know it well,” Flay wrote in an email. “I’ve been cooking Southwestern food for over 30 years.”

The recipe he shared with us is stocked with chunks of tender beef and flavored with a rich sauce spiked with tomato, multiple chiles, and maple syrup, a surprise ingredient that adds a dark sweetness to the dish. After you inject some elbow grease at the beginning to chop the ingredients, it’s an easy dish to keep an eye on over the course of a couple of hours, though Flay prepares it only on special occasions. “I make it a couple times a year, on a big game day,” he confided.

[ . . . . . ]

Read more . . . . .


The Recipe

Ultimate Beef and Black Bean Chili

Ingredients

Serves 4 to 6 people

3 tbsp canola oil
2-1/4 lb beef chuck, cut into 3/4-inch cubes, excess fat discarded
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 serrano chile, seeded finely diced
1/4 cup favorite chili powder (or 3 tbsp ancho chili powder plus 1 tbsp pasilla chili powder and 1 tbsp ground cumin)
Pinch of ground cinnamon
1 qt chicken stock or canned low sodium broth
1 (16-ounce) can fire-roasted tomatoes, pureed
2 tbsp pure maple syrup
1 tbsp chipotle pepper puree (from a can of chipotles)
3 cups canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1 lime
Sour cream, ground cumin and cilantro leaves, for serving
Boiled rice, for serving

Heat the oil in a large casserole over high heat. Season the beef with salt and pepper; add half of the meat to the pan in an even layer and sauté over high heat until browned all over. Transfer the meat to a plate. Repeat with the remaining meat; add more oil to the pot, if necessary.

Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pan. Add the onion and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until soft. Add the garlic and serrano chile, and stir for 1 minute. Add the chili powder and cinnamon, season with salt and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add 1 cup of water and cook until reduced by half.

Return the beef to the pot, add the chicken stock, tomatoes, and maple syrup, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to moderately low, partially cover the pot, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beef is tender, about 1 1/4 hours; occasionally skim off any fat.

Add the beans and continue cooking for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix the sour cream with a few large pinches of cumin and season with salt and pepper. Season the chili with salt and pepper and add the juice from the lime. Ladle the chili into bowls on top of rice, garnish with cilantro, and serve with a dollop of cumin sour cream.

Why Do Recipe Writers Lie about How Long It Takes to Caramelize Onions?

Tom Scocca wrote . . . . . .

Browning onions is a matter of patience. My own patience ran out earlier this year while leafing through the New York Times food section. There, in the newspaper of record, was a recipe for savory scones with onions, currants, and caraway. Though I wasn’t particularly interested in making savory scones, one passage caught my eye:

“Add the onions to the skillet and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook until they begin to turn dark brown and somewhat soft, about 5 minutes. Add the oil and a pinch of the fine sea salt; continue cooking until the onions are soft and caramelized, about 5 minutes longer.”

Soft, dark brown onions in five minutes. That is a lie. Fully caramelized onions in five minutes more. Also a lie.

There is no other word for it. Onions do not caramelize in five or 10 minutes. They never have, they never will—yet recipe writers have never stopped pretending that they will. I went on Twitter and said so, rudely, using CAPS LOCK. A chorus of frustrated cooks responded in kind (“That’s on some bullshit. You want caramelized onions? Stir for 45 minutes”).

As long as I’ve been cooking, I’ve been reading various versions of this lie, over and over. Here’s Madhur Jaffrey, from her otherwise reliable Indian Cooking, explaining how to do the onions for rogan josh: “Stir and fry for about 5 minutes or until the onions turn a medium-brown colour.” The Boston Globe, on preparing pearl onions for coq au vin: “Add the onions and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until golden.” The Washington Post, on potato-green bean soup: “Add the onion and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown.”

If you added all those cooking times together end to end, you still wouldn’t have caramelized onions. Here, telling the truth about how to prepare onions for French onion soup, is Julia Child: “[C]ook slowly until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Blend in the salt and sugar, raise heat to moderately high, and let the onions brown, stirring frequently until they are a dark walnut color, 25 to 30 minutes.” Ten minutes plus 25 to 30 minutes equals 35 to 40 minutes. That is how long it takes to caramelize onions.

Telling the truth about caramelized onions would turn a lot of dinner-in-half-an-hour recipes into dinner-in-a-little-over-an-hour recipes. I emailed Sam Sifton, the Times food critic turned national editor, to ask if the Recipe Writing Guild had some secret agreement to print false estimates of onion-cooking time. He wrote back: “I can reveal that onion caramelization takes longer than the Guild believes. But it need not take as long as you believe it to take! You can speed it up with butter, so long as you are careful not to burn.”

Could onions be browned, at all, in 10 minutes? I embarked on a quest to find out. Someone on Twitter had suggested things would go faster with sweet onions. This seemed a little like pepping up a bread pudding recipe by treating sliced pound cake as a kind of bread. But I bought a Tampico sweet onion, chopped half of it into tiny bits—only half, so as not to crowd the pan—and turned my biggest burner as high as it would go. Butter seemed a little risky at that temperature, so I went with olive oil, in a cheap, lightweight nonstick skillet. In five minutes, a few flecks of brown had appeared among the otherwise raw-looking onion bits. After eight minutes, some of the onion had begun to take on the scorched aspect of the unfortunate onions stuck to bagels. At the 10-minute mark, the brown flecks had turned black, in a mince that was a mix of brown and still-pale bits. The onion was done cooking—that is, it was beginning to be ruined—but it was not very well caramelized. At 11 minutes, I scraped an inedible mess out of the pan.

But the onion lies had not yet been fully refuted. Melissa Clark, the author of the Times’ scone recipe, claimed in a Diner’s Journal post that she relies on “a somewhat unusual technique,” one that “takes less than half the time of the traditional slow-cooked method of caramelization and makes for sweeter, more intensely flavored onions with a complex, chewy texture.” The secret, she writes, is starting the onions in a dry pan, and adding the oil later.

Note that half the time of the traditional method is still 20 minutes, not 10. Nevertheless, I decided to follow her instructions to the letter. I used a red onion, as Clark specified, “halved through the root and thinly sliced crosswise.” I started slicing it paper-thin. Not good enough? I got out the knife sharpener and touched up the edge on the cleaver. Now it was tissue-paper thin. I heated the pan—dry—over a generously medium-high flame, then added the onions.

After five minutes—when according to Brown, it would “begin to turn dark brown and somewhat soft”—the onion was resolutely white and pink, and only slightly translucent. I added the oil: one tablespoon, extra-virgin. The white parts turned the color of extra-virgin olive oil.

At 10 minutes, when it was supposed to be done, the onion was translucent and soft, with only a tinge of gold. Soon after, one golden speck appeared. By 15 minutes, the onion was even softer and more golden. At 20 minutes, there were deep brown patches, and I was afraid they would scorch while I set down my spatula to take notes. At 24 minutes, the risk of scorching forced me to lower the heat to medium. By 25 minutes, they were pretty well caramelized, and at 28 minutes they were as done as I’d want.

So Clark was only off by 180 percent on the cooking time. You can save 12 minutes off caramelizing onions, provided you pin yourself to the stove.

That is the deeper problem with all the deceit around the question of caramelized onions. The premise is wrong. The faster you try to do it, the more you waste your time. This isn’t some kitchen koan. It’s a practical fact. The 10-minute-cum-28-minute caramelized onion is all labor and anxiety. Give yourself 45 or 50 minutes to brown onions, working slowly on a moderate flame, and it’s an untaxing background activity. You can chop other vegetables, wash some pots, duck out to have a look at the ballgame on TV in the next room. Keep half an eye on the pan. It will only need close tending toward the end.

Recipe writers approach kitchen time with a stopwatch. The Times’ scone recipe, as written, claimed to take 45 minutes. Once you subtract out the (fictitiously shortened) onion-cooking time, the one-minute caraway-seed-toasting time, the 15-to-17 minute baking time, and the 10-minute cooling time, that leaves the cook seven to nine minutes in the middle to mix the dough (including grating frozen butter into it), shape it, cut it into scones, and lay the scones out on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Oh, and somewhere in there, the onions needed to “cool completely.” Isn’t home baking soothing?

In truth, the best time to caramelize onions is yesterday. Often enough, you need to have them ready before you can start on the rest of the dish. Thus the recipe-writers’ impulse to deceive. Browning onions is slow work, and it comes first. So get a pan going after dinner, and they’ll be ready when you need them. Or throw the onions in a crock pot and go to bed. In recipe time, that’s hours and hours. In your time, the time that matters, it’s less than five minutes.

Source: Slate

Video: Baked Chocolate Tofu Donuts

Ingredients

100 g hot cake mix
80 g soft tofu
1 egg
2 tbsp cocoa
20 g sugar
15 g melted butter
chocolate for coating
your choice of toppings


Watch video at You Tube (0:56 minutes) . . . . .

Five Essential Rules of Nachos From Houston’s Chris Shepherd, a James Beard Award-Winning Chef

Kate Krader wrote . . . . . .

In the world of food, some dishes requires recipes, other don’t. And on the face of it, nachos would seem to fall in the latter category. If you have a pile of chips, some cheese and chili, instructions would seem superfluous. Yet nachos are more involved than you might think.

Shepherd has five rules for the perfect nachos. In advance of Super Bowl Ll, that’s being played in his home town of Houston, he wanted to share them with us.

1. Chips Are All Important. “Make sure your chips are thick and sturdy. If you get only one takeaway from this recipe, it’s thick chips. And they should be a certain shape. Are rounds good? No, I don’t think so, you want the corner texture; it’s a little crispier. And homemade are too greasy; don’t waste your time trying to make your own chips.” Testing tip: Not all thick chips are created equal. Make sure yours are sturdy and won’t melt when sauce hits them. If you’re serious about your nachos, it’s worth doing a test with a few chips and salsa to make sure they’ll hold up.

2. Go for Double Cheese. “If you’re only going to do one cheese, go with shredded Colby or Cheddar. Flavor and texture-wise it’s a better payoff, the way the cheese clings to the chip. But if you can do both cheese sauce and shredded cheese, you’ll be happier. You’re basically ensuring a jackpot with every chip.”

3. Layering, Layering, Layering. “The worst mistake you can make with nachos is to pour everything over the top. A high-rising pile of nachos is a beautiful thing. Respect the bottom layers; you don’t want those chips to be naked. Construct your nachos: bottom layer, middle layer, top layer.” Testing tip: This doesn’t mean a nacho mountain—the toppings inside won’t melt. Use a large pan and spread the chips out. And then, of course, top them well.

4. Pickled Hominy Is Your Secret Weapon. “Listen to me: I know pickled hominy might sound intimidating. All you have to do is buy a can of hominy at the store, open it, drain it, and pour a little of the warm pickling liquid on top. And bang, you’ve got acidity and the texture, that little crunchy kernel full of bright acidity. You have your nachos, covered in heavy meat and cheese, and all of a sudden you get a bite of hominy, and ‘Doop!’ Some people think that comes from a tomato, but hominy brings it to another level entirely.”

5. Texture is Key. “This recipe is especially constructed to deliver texture to the happy diner. Thick chips; chewy pickled hominy; crisp cabbage, and so on. In my opinion there is nothing worse than a soggy pile of chips. Do not let this happen to you. Please.”


Recipe: Chris’s Deluxe Nachos

Ingredients

Nacho Meat

2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 lb ground beef
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tbsp onion powder (optional)
salt

Homemade Pickled Jalapeños and Hominy

2 cups water
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tsp salt
1 cup sliced raw jalapeños (about 4 medium)
1 cup drained hominy

Spicy Cheese Sauce

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup whole milk
1 cup half and half
8 oz grated sharp Cheddar
2 slices American cheese
2 tbsp sambal oelek Asian chile sauce or Sriracha
salt

Nacho Fixings

two 16-ounce bags of thick, sturdy tortilla chips
1-1/2 cups nacho meat
2 cups spicy cheese Sauce
3 cups shredded or cubed colby Jack cheese
1 cup homemade or storebought pickled jalapeños
1 cup homemade pickled hominy
1 cup shredded cabbage
1 cup pico de gallo, for serving
1 cup sour cream, for serving
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, for serving

Method

  1. To cook the meat, heat the oil in a large sauté pan. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the ground beef and cook, stirring, until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients and cook for 1 minute. Season with salt to taste. Set aside.
  2. To make the pickled jalapeños and hominy, combine all ingredients except the jalapeños and hominy in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Put the sliced jalapeños in one bowl and the hominy in another bowl. Divide the hot pickling liquid between the bowls. Let cool to room temperature.
  3. To prepare the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Slowly stir in the flour and cook over moderate heat until the roux is smooth and bubbling, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the milk and half and half. Cook, whisking occasionally to remove any lumps, until thickened and smooth, about 15 minutes. Slowly whisk in the grated sharp cheddar, a handful at a time. Add the American cheese, and let it melt into the sauce. Stir in the sambal. Season with salt.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  5. Assembly: Cover a large, rimmed cookie sheet or baking pan with foil. Arrange a layer of tortilla chips on the cookie sheet. Spread one-third of the nacho meat on the chips, followed by a third each of the cheese sauce, Colby cheese, jalapeños, hominy and cabbage. Repeat the process two more times. Bake in the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the cheese is melted. Top with the remaining ingredients. Consume immediately.

Source: Bloomberg