The Battle of the Salt, or, Stir-fried Lotus Root
So, I had this fabulous idea about how I would write something amazing for my first blog post for the wonderful potluck dinners we do at a little farmhouse in southeast Michigan. I figured it should be spontaneously relevant and specific and yet subtly hinting at epic and universal principles. Perhaps I could refer to organically linked themes of sustenance, survival, and the Earth’s environment, while slyly relating the recipe for stir-fried lotus root…
…and then I awoke from my (one-drink induced) drunken slumber and remembered that, save for a labored sense of melodrama, I can’t really write my way out of a brown paper bag.
That being said, it was now almost a week from the Food with Friends event where I had promised one of said friends, with whom I partook of said food, that I would make some attempt at posting my potluck recipe.
Yes… now… about that stir-fried lotus root:
1 bag pre-cut lotus root in salt water (renkon JPN, “17.631 oz.,” says the bag)
3-4 medium stalks of king oyster mushroom (eringi JPN)
1 pack of beech mushroom (shimeji JPN, exact quantity forgotten)
1 pack of straw mushroom (enoki JPN, see shimeji above re: quantity)
1/4 cup of sweetish sake over 2 applications (Ozeki daiginjo?)
2 handfuls of snow peas
2 medium vine tomatoes
1-2 tablespoon of grapeseed oil (cook)
1 teaspoon sesame oil (seasoning)
I went with pre-cut renkon, plastic bagged in salt water, because I usually finish my creations in the 2 hours between 5 and 7 pm (including time for 2 transits and unpacking a car full of art stall), and one less ingredient to get obsessive with cutting is usually good for my scheduling.
When I saw the renkon was packed in salt water I knew it would be saltier than desired, but again, in the interest of time I went for a single wash and “see how it tastes”. I was also too cowardly to taste the renkon before frying it up, so that meant “see how it tastes” occurred once there was no going back. Hmmm… tempting fate…
The remainder of the first set of tasks was just cutting the heck out of various fungi: eringi, shimeji, and enoki. The shimeji and eringi were pretty thoroughly hacked up with my Chinese cleaver, but for the enoki I just removed the hard base of the colony, halved the remaining length, and then gave it a good squeeze to break the mushrooms up into their individual “straws”.
I then combined the washed, pre-cut renkon and the chopped-up mushrooms in a cast iron frying pan over medium-low heat (electric… bleah) with a tablespoon or two of grapeseed oil.
The renkon, shimeji, and eringi mushrooms all went in first and were batted around mercilessly with a wooden spatula until the renkon slices were slightly browned on both sides, with the idead that this would be sufficient “fire time” for the bigger mushroom bits to get cooked through. I then added the enoki and fried for an additional 5 minutes or so.
Oh yes, sake.
I also wetted the mushroom and renkon fry with a sweetish sake (I think it was Ozeki daiginjo), about four minutes into frying the enoki mushrooms. I just added enough sake to give the mixture a little bit of a glazing – but not enough to start it steaming – while still tossing around the mixture with the wooden spatula.
I then turned off the stove and left the mixture to continue cooking on leftover heat (electric stoves do give a lot of this, and the iron frying pan also holds quite a bit of thermal energy to disperse into the food, even after shutting off).
Then, the taste test.
I had momentary flashbacks of the culinary shock of my first taste of Philippine food in a little bar-restaurant in Baguio. Salty. OMG, SALTY!
Hmmm… tempt fate… get burned.
How to fix the problem, with just a few minutes to spare.
Not productive, but it happens.
Then, additionally, thinking better of the visuals of my more-or-less all off-white dish, I set to washing and removing the spines from a handful or two of snow peas. Yes, perhaps I could spread out the saltiness a little by adding snow peas and tomato, and ABSOLUTELY NO MORE SALT.
I then packed up the mushroom and renkon stir fry, and in a separate container gathered the prepared snow peas, along with 2 tomatoes, the bottle of sake, and some sesame oil for a quick trip to the farmhouse for final assembly.
The final step was, just before serving, I diced the tomatoes and gave the renkon and mushroom mixture a second, quick, light frying on medium heat, together with the snow peas and approximately a teaspoon of sesame oil. I fried the second mixture for just long enough for the snow peas to get the slightly translucent look that makes me think they will be “crisp”, instead of “resilient”, when I bite them. Then I wetted the mixture with sake a second time (frying for about a minute more to glaze), threw in the diced tomatoes (counting on the leftover heat in the stir fry to slightly soften the tomatoes), and then flipped the mixture out into a bowl to go to the table.
Well. Pre-cut lotus root in salt water is salty. If I decide to play with that particular toy again, I will soak the lotus root overnight in cold water in the fridge, change out the water in the morning, then throw out the water again and give it a final wash just before I drain it on a paper towel to put into the stir fry. Yes, that salty.
The pre-cut lotus root also comes in little wheels. I think I would halve the wheels to get a stable surface, and then further slice them to half thickness. I like my lotus root a little more delicate than the packaged pre-cut stuff.
I probably over-fried everything, especially the mushrooms, both in my desire to thoroughly cook everything through and in my desire to add nice, crisp, bright green snow peas to the mix (rather than cooking it in the first run and having slightly less colorful, slightly less fresh snow peas).
Obviously, a second frying of a dish that is nothing but vegetables and fungi is probably not going to have sublime results, but as I finish up some leftovers of said stir fry over a bowl of rice, I happen to think it came out tolerably for being the result of a last-minute, panic-stricken attempt at salvaging a monumental attack of potential sodium-chloride overload.