At the beginning of this month, Catty from The Catty life announced a new recipe contest: Matcha Madness. If you are familiar with her blog you would agree with me that she is the Green Fairy, as she is mad about matcha. For its flavorfulness and healthiness this ingredient is in effect a must of every refined pantry and palate.
What is matcha?
Matcha is a variety of Japanese green tea, a powdered tea. This technique of enjoying tea was first developed in China where tea leaves were packed into bricks for easy transport and conservation. At the need, a piece was broken and powdered before letting it steep with some hot water. Buddhists monks brought then this fashion of preparing tea over to Japan. While forgotten in China, powdered tea got praised in Japanese culture so much that its making became the center of an elaborate ceremony: the tea ceremony.
Compared to normal infusion, matcha tea is emulsified with hot water using the special bamboo whisk; in the past some salt was added to the water (to reduce the tea bitterness). Traditionally the tea prepared during the ceremony is quite thick (koicha), described to have the consistency of liquid honey, and so quite strong and bitter. When prepared in a thinner form (usucha), the vigorous whisking action produces a light foam that crowns the jade-green tea cup.
The matcha aroma is quite sweet, mouth filling and reminiscent of seaweed. The tea plants used for it are grown in the shade for several weeks before harvesting so to allow the production of amino acids in the leaves and a darker shade of green. They are these amino acids that impart the mouth filling sweetness aroma to matcha tea.
The healthy value of this green tea comes from its unoxidized nature that makes it rich on antioxidant compounds (more notably EGCG), even more than traditional green teas (a factor might be the fact that in matcha we are actually eating the whole tea leaves and not just steeping them).
Its rich, sweet aroma goes perfectly with whipping cream or buttery pastry; matcha ice cream, financiers (little French buttery almond based sponge cakes) or madeleines are now ubiquitous. Unfortunately it is not so common to see it featured in savory dishes; Catty’s contest gave me then the right framework and push to challenge my brain in creating some dishes to start filling up this gap.
Here we go again, coffee cup at hand, gaze lost in the empty air and my scrapbook ready at hand.
The creating process got halted few times because of other challenges (namely the PaperChef challenge) and cheesecake baking off for friends’ birthdays (stay tuned for a yummy recipe to be posted soon!). When all was over, I reserved a couple of afternoons for myself and finally got down with the creative process.
The first idea involved matcha noodles served with tomato dices, shrimps, wakame seaweed and sesame seeds; soon the noodle idea transformed into a matcha flavored gelled pliable sheet.
Matcha lasagna was next to be served with a fish mousseline, in a saffron butter sauce (chocolate made also its first timid appearance). With the “starch” team going on, matcha risotto with tarragon and chickpeas was next.
This was what a first thinking produced, pretty rough potential ideas. When I next sat down to concentrate on the green matcha powder I was surprised at how many dishes came out; probably I just hit the right cord.
Lettuce poached in matcha broth with cod quenelle was the first dish of the day and it really titillated my curiosity for a while. The idea led to a cod mousseline disk topped with nigella seeds and matcha air, served over a dashi based broth and wakame seaweed.
Saffron wanted my attention and a flaked white fish dish served with saffron-cream sauce, matcha and orange peels came out of the pencil.
It was still the starting of the day and already I had enough material for a couple of weeks of developing, but it wasn’t over!
On the vegetarian side, gratinee zucchini drums filled with cottage cheese and thyme dusted with matcha and served with chives and elderflowers was the next dish to come to mind. A chickpeas, peas, shrimp and matcha combo were hurriedly noted for further development too.
Braised cucumbers filled with almond tofu served in the braising liquid was the next dish I savored in my mind. What about an unusual side dish? Peaches compote spiced with Worcestershire sauce and matcha to serve with a pan seared fish fillet for instance.
The Japanese influence resurfaced with a possible sesame-matcha tuile to be served with a shrimp-cod mousseline and ponzu dressing. Finally a pretty cool chemo-gastronomical fact came up to my mind.
Few months ago in an Italian food science blog La Scienza in Cucina the author, Dario Bressanini, pointed out a characteristic of egg yolk totally new to me: if you freeze and then thaw the egg yolk, it acquire a very plastic thick consistency being still raw. What to do with it? Prawns poached in a matcha court bouillon served with light prawns-bisque cubes and yolk-Yuzu/citrus emulsion (Yuzu is not that easy to find unfortunately).
At this point I had to stop myself, too many ideas were down on the table and it was getting quite hard to decide what to submit. After a few days of pondering and preliminary recipe development made me choose to realize:
- Braised cucumber served with White Jade, served with matcha flavored braising liquid and chives;
- Cod mousseline disk topped with a sprinkle of black nigella seeds and matcha foam served with a matcha flavored dashi broth and wakame seaweed;
- Matcha poached prawns in their broth served with light prawns bisque cubes, egg yolk-citrus emulsion and matcha crisps.
I will split the recipes between here and other two posts so it will be easier to read and reference.
Braised cucumber with almond tofu and matcha dust served in braising liquid
Ingredients (make 2 servings):
- 1inch piece of cucumber;
- 4tbsps Kombu Dashi (see recipe below);
- 1tsp mirin;
- 1/4tsp rice vinegar;
- 1tsp sake;
- 1/4 tsp matcha powder plus some for sprinkling;
- 4tsps White Jade;
- Chives and carrot cut outs to garnish.
Cut the piece on cucumber in two and take out the seeds using a spoon or a melon baller. Cut each of the two halves in 3 crescent pieces. In a saucepan combine the Kombu dashi, mirin and rice vinegar, stir to combine and add the cucumber pieces. Bring the broth to a simmer and let the cucumber stew for 5-10 minutes. Let the whole come to room temperature.
At this point, fish out the cucumber from the broth and set aside; add the matcha to the broth, bring to a simmer and let steep for 10minutes out of the fire. Let come to room temperature and add the sake to the broth.
When ready to serve stuff the crescent of cucumbers with the almond tofu, place on the plate (three pieces per person) pour the matcha flavored broth around and garnish with the chives and a dusting of matcha powder.
- 1/2l cold water;
- 1 piece 10x15cm of Kombu (dried kelp seaweed);
Using a lightly damp cloth wash some of the white powder out of the surface of the kelp. Cut it then into strips and let soak with the water overnight. You may also bring the water to a bare simmer before adding the kelp to it.
The final stock might be a little jellified, heat and a little sourness will take care of it when used.