So what if I told you that I was going to serve you a broth made with kelp, shaved dried fish, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and mirin? And for extra flair, the broth has water lily buds in it? And that what I’m serving you is truly from the best restaurant in America? Well, you’d probably think I’m nuts. But I do not lie, this recipe is from Alinea.
The star of this recipe is junsai. From what I can best tell, junsai are (is?) the mucus covered buds from the underside of lilies. They are cultivated as a vegetable in the Akita region of Japan. In English, the plant is known as brasenia. It’s worth noting that the English wikipedia article barely makes a mention of its culinary use, whereas the Japanese wikipedia article seems to focus on it (at least according to hardly readable Google translation).
It took me forever to find junsai and I was almost convinced that I was never going to find it. You see, a few years back other Alinea bloggers were attempting to find junsai and spent a lot time doing so. One decided to use enoki mushrooms as a substitute. Another finally found it on a couple French websites that shipped to the US. The third latched onto that find and quickly made it. And then more than a year later, here I am trying to find it and in between the time I bookmark the French website and actually decide to do the recipe, junsai disappears from my bookmarked French website. Just. My. Luck.
Thankfully, a second look at Martin Lindsay’s blog reminded me that he did in fact find a couple French websites that sold it and I had only bookmarked one of them. The other, Nishikidori Market, still had it! Without hesitation, I pulled out my credit card and spent the most money I’ve spent so far on a single ingredient in this book.
Almost equally impressive as the junsai is the dashi that it floats in. Dashi is a Japanese soup stock made with kombu (a type of seaweed) and bonito. Both of these ingredients are at the Whole Foods near my apartment, but I decided to visit one of the nearby Asian markets to get them at a cheaper price.
Every ingredient in this recipe (besides the water).
In making the dashi, I believe I departed from the Alinea recipe in a significant way for the first time. The recipe instructs me to soak the kombu in water overnight, then drain it and simmer it in a new batch of water for 20 minutes. After looking up many recipes for dashi online, I noticed that all of them cook the kombu in the same water it was soaked it. That made more sense to me because I imagine a good amount of the flavor from the kombu gets distilled into the water it’s soaked in. So I decided that I knew better than Grant Achatz and didn’t drain the kombu after soaking it.
Once I was done simmering the kombu, I added the bonito shavings (aka kastuobushi) for about 10 minutes. The book doesn’t specify how long to let them sit, but most of the online dashi recipes recommended 5 to 15 minutes.
I then strained the broth into a large bowl, added some soy sauce, rice vinegar, and mirin, and chilled the dashi in the fridge overnight.
This morning, I rinsed the junsai in water and poured the dashi over it.
Junsai does not have much flavor, but it does have an extra creepy texture. The mucilage that surrounds the buds feels like it sounds: mucus. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed this dish because the dashi is amazing. It’s pure umami. I’ll be interested to see what the other people who are trying this later today have to say about the dish.