kruizing with kikukat

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Spicy Shredded Potatoes

Those of you who grew up in Hilo have likely experienced this:  you are driving along Komohana Street, somewhere between the 4-Way Stop and Komohana Gardens and you are suddenly hit by the unmistakeable aroma of what can likely be attributed to gobo kimpira (sauteed burdock root).  Sometimes I catch a whiff of it on Kinoole Street in the area between the old Food Fair and Hokama's Chevron.  Yes, I'm showing my age now.  In all my years of living here, I have not been able to pinpoint which house it is that is always cooking this, but maybe someone out there might have the answer.

 Gobo kimpira is one of those Japanese side-dishes that compels you to eat multiple bowls of rice.  I didn't know such a dish existed until I was in the 4th grade and a classmate brought some for a recess snack (yeah, I know, kinda out there as a kiddie snack).  The balance of sweet-salty-spicy was perfect in every thread.  Mmmmmm.  But this post is not about gobo!

Prior to that defining moment, my only experience with gobo was watching my grandma whittle shavings off the tip with a small paring knife.  I have no idea what she did with the gobo shavings, but I certainly don't remember kimpira.

Part of the "charisma" of kimpira is the way the gobo is shredded.  Too thick, and the maker appears clumsy and lacking knife skills.  Too short appears as thought the maker didn't take enough time to cut the gobo correctly.  While I am quick to criticize, I have never made gobo kimpira.  I'll leave that to the okazu-ya pros and Japanese grandmas out there.  But this post is not about gobo!

Somehow, I have not been able to bring myself to buy gobo.  I wouldn't know how to select pieces, and I often wonder who first ate gobo.  Those roots are mighty long and thin. Was there really nothing ABOVE ground to eat?

There are times now, when I drive on Komohana Street and get hit with the gobo kimpira smell.  Often, its inconvenient to go to an okazu-ya at that very moment to get a scoop of it.  I remembered seeing a recipe for kimpira made with potatoes instead of gobo.  I called Mom to ask her if she knew which cookbook to look in. . .I own close to 300 cookbooks so I needed some help.  Unfortunately, she said she never heard of such a thing.  I guess she really didn't take me seriously because she added, "kimpira is made with gobo, not potato!". No help there.

Since I was determined to find the recipe, I began looking through the likely suspects.  Thirteen was the lucky number . . . found it in the thirteenth book I pulled, some Japanese church cookbook.  I made a few changes to the recipe ingredients because I wanted the kimpira to have a stronger taste.  What I like is that the cooking can be controlled to keep the potato crunchy.  What I especially like is that I don't need to run down to KTA to buy gobo!

I shared some of the potato with Aunty Betty (of corned beef hash fame), and she loved it.  She did issue a caveat, and that was to not use the word "kimpira", as it sets up an expectation of taste.  She was right.  The potato was actually very similar to the shredded potato in the Bi Bim Bap served at Sato's Lunch Shop (Hilo, circa 1990s).

So here are some tips for making spicy shredded potatoes.
1.  Use the julienne disc of a food processor, if available.  An alternative to this might be a Japanese crank shredded.  This magical tool is used to make those wonderful curly potatoes for your copycat version of Pietro's raw potato salad.
2.  Do not omit the step of soaking the potato shreds in ice water.  This step removes the surface starch.  If left on, you will end up with a gluey mess instead of discrete strands.
3.  Use a salad spinner to partially dry the potato shreds before patting dry with a paper towel.  You'll save on the amount of paper towels you use.

click on recipe title for printable recipe
     2 russet potatoes, julienned
     1 chili pepper, chopped
     1 tbsp oil
     1 tbsp mirin
     1 tbsp sake
     1 tbsp water
     2 tbsp shoyu
     1/4 tsp salt

Soak julienned potatoes in ice water for 1 hour.  Drain thoroughly.  Heat oil in a large skillet.  Add chili pepper and stir till hot.  Add potato shreds and cook 2 minutes, tossing frequently.  Add remaining ingredients, and continue tossing until potato is barely cooked (still a bit crunchy, but not raw tasting).

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