Nilou Motamed, the sassy sidekick to Tom Colicchio on his “Top Chef” after-show “What Would Tom Do?” causes the head judge of Bravo’s popular cooking show to exclaim, “I’ve got butter fingers!” Indeed, he does as he breaks up sticks of butter while whisking away in a pot. It seems Nilou is drinking a bit earlier than usual in this episode. Her choice of beverage is sake as befits the theme of what Tom is cooking up as she says, “Kanpai!” — which means “Cheers!” in Japanese.
Nilou says, “For this challenge, the chefs took a flavor trip to the Far East.” They celebrated both Japanese traditions as well as the now-postponed Olympic Games in Tokyo by taking on one dish in a six-course progressive Kaiseki meal. “They all went to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum,” Nilou adds. “It was all about seasonality, incredible produce and letting ingredients be in balance and in harmony.”
Tom says, “Here’s the deal. I’ve been to Japan a couple of times. I love Japanese food, but I’m not a Japanese chef. I would take those Japanese ingredients and cook them the way I cook. That’s what I am doing here.” His dish? Grilled king crab and uni with uni buerre blanc. He has made a version of the recipe for 20 years now. It is king crab because Kaiseki is all about great ingredients. “There is nothing better to me than crab in general.”
He starts to make a baste for the crab with a bit of white miso, butter and a little bit of lime in a mixer bowl. Nilou turns the mixer on while Tom adds a pinch of curry powder. He then puts the concoction in a pastry bag, puts the goop in a syringe and injects it in a crab shell. “We are going to baste inside the shell,” says “Top Chef” head judge. “We’re going to put this on the grill.” That way it allows for maximum flavor.
Next, he makes a “quick little marinade” using enoki mushrooms, which we are told are good for boosting your immunity. Given what is going on with the pandemic, we all should be eating enoki. He then puts in a little lime juice, some white soy and a small amount of sesame oil while allowing the mushrooms to soak in it. Tom then adds bonito flakes — which we are told are wisps of dried fermented tuna that have a smokey, savory flavor.
Now Tom makes an uni sauce, starting by cutting a large cube of ginger and smashing it with a knife. He pours in yuzu, sake, butter and a tiny bit of miso that he heats up in a pot. Nilou asks a great question: why is Tom putting the butter in the warm pan piece by piece? “If you put it in too much at a time, the butter is cold and it will drop the temperature and the sauce will break.” He says what he is making is a Japanese version of a beurre blanc that uses uzu and soy instead of wine and vinegar.
He then poaches the uni in the butter sauce and Nilou is impressed with how pretty it looks. They grill the crab on Japanese white charcoal called binchotan, which cooks food at a lower temperature. The crab stuffed in a shell with butter is starting to steam as it sits on the charcoal.
Nilou asks Tom as he begins to plate, “What makes Kaiseki so special?” It’s a tea ceremony, he replies, and the food and the plates are very seasonal as well as the flowers that are part of the season. “They are used as garnish because they want to bring nature into the dish.” He places leaves of Japanese mustard greens on top just so and puts a drop of sesame oil on top. Tom is proud that there is nothing aggressive about the flavors and everything is in balance.
Nilou ends the segment by saying, “I think you may have a future with this cooking thing.” She says, “Kanpai!” one more time as they both down a shot. Want the recipe? Head to bravotv.com/topchefrecipes.
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