Gourmet Japanese Food, Kosher-style

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As a Japanese chef specializing in modern Japanese fare, Kaz Okochi of Kaz Sushi Bistro in Washington finds cooking a kosher meal fairly easy. Shellfish aside, Kaz’s Japanese cuisine relies mainly on fish and uses sauces made of soy sauce, miso and mirin, all of which can be easily converted to kosher without making too many compromises. This is why Kaz wasn’t daunted by the task of preparing a kosher Japanese meal, and his kosher supper last Sunday night, at the DC home of Laurie Moskowitz and Steve Rabinowitz, which included Tai snapper carpaccio and miso-marinated Chilean sea bass, was absolutely fabulous.

This meal was part of an annual fundraiser, Sunday Night Suppers, that was launched four years ago by Alice Waters, Joan Nathan and Jose Andres. The three manage to bring together chefs from Washington and across the country, and they all team together to raise money for Martha’s Table and DC Central Kitchen. Every year they put together Sunday dinners in private homes around town, each hosting about 20 guests, all willing to part from $550 for the cause and in return to enjoy not only the gift of helping needy families, but also an amazing meal cooked just for them by some of the country’s top chefs.

The organizers raised $200,000 this year, making it their best year so far. And as the project has been growing, from 14 events last year to 20, two kosher meals were added this year as well. This turned out to be a good decision, since the Rabinowitz’s dinner was sold out.

At their house, with just a couple of hours until supper was served, you could feel the excitement that any host experiences before having 24 guests over for dinner. But since this meal was taken care of by experienced chefs Spike Mendelsohn and Kaz, with the help of plenty of volunteers, the hosts could relax. Laurie was preparing a tasty edamame hummus she made with tahini and sesame oil, a good choice that went very well with the Japanese theme. Kaz was showing his assistant how to make the hors d’oeuvre he planned to serve with the cocktails. It was a pâté of Monk fish liver, rolled in pickled Daikon radish. The dish was not only delicious, but also a fun play, I thought, on the traditional Jewish appetizer of chopped liver, a dish that Kaz had never heard of (can you imagine?!).

“I’m still trying to figure out the kosher rules,” Kaz admitted, as he started filleting the Tai snapper for the carpaccio. This led to a long lecture from Steve and me on all the laws of kashrut. Kaz, trying to adhere to the endless list of Jewish dos and don’ts, was using two brand-new Japanese-style knives that Joan Nathan got him, since he needed kosher tools to prepare this meal.

In a rice cooker, Kaz prepared purple rice with chestnuts. His recipe uses 7.5 cups of white rice mixed with 1/2 cup of black rice to get a beautiful purple color. He cooked the rice with broth, soy sauce and whole chestnuts, which made a perfect side to the miso marinated Chilean sea bass he served for the main course.

Photo credit: Ron Sachs

Part of the fun in this project, according to my friend cookbook author Joan Nathan, is taking care of the chefs who come from out of town. She enjoys hosting them for casual meals at her home before they rush off to start prepping for their gourmet meals. I joined her last Saturday for a breakfast she hosted for chefs Alon Shaya from New Orleans, Gina Stanley from Martha’s Vineyard, and other good friends from the hosting field. Alon, who was born in Israel and moved with his family to the U.S. when he was four, made the most delicious frittata for us. In a large skillet Alon sautéed thinly sliced fingerling potatoes and leeks. Then he added lightly beaten eggs, kalamata olives, grated parmesan, dill, salt and dollops of cream cheese. He then transferred the skillet to the oven and cooked it perfectly so it came out all moist in the center. It’s a recipe I’m going to adopt at home. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the conversation, the food and each other’s company.

“That’s the fun part,” Joan said later, “and that’s what they (the chefs) remember at the end”. And they keep coming back every year.

Recipe: Miso-marinated Chilean sea bass

Miso-marinated Chilean sea bass.Credit: Ron Sachs