Cooking with friends: experiments with Mirin and Bok Choy

Pumba and I were at it again!

This time we decided to dip our toes into the world of Asian cuisine. Neither of us have much (read any) experience with this region. I did have that stint in Viet Nam, but the most I really got out of that in terms of cooking experience was a familiarity with their produce and some of their sauces. I pretty much made myself dishes I already knew how to cook substituting the Western ingredients I couldn’t find in South East Asia with their closest Asian cousins. You end up with strange dishes like glass noodles with sautéed shrimp and broccoli and pork with custard apple pan sauce.

So Gabs and I each picked a dish we wanted to try (one veg and one fish) and took a whack at preparing them.

Pumba took on the veg because that’s what she predominantly cooks for herself, and after the Wicker Park raw chicken fiasco of 2011, let’s face it, she just doesn’t really get off on cooking things that have the potential to cause food poisoning.

[N.B. It should be noted that thanks to a psychotic burst of energy and angst at 4am, the chicken was thawed,  recooked, then discarded and no one was poisoned.]

So first, the stir-fried bok choy with tofu and mizuna, expertly prepared by my former roommate.

What you’ll need:

  • 3 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
  • 4 teaspoons Asian sesame oil, divided
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons unseasoned rice vinegar, divided
  • 1 16-ounce container extra-firm tofu, drained
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 4 baby bok choy, leaves separated
  • 12 cups loosely packed mizuna (about 8 ounces)

I always like to portion out the ingredients I need and prep the stuff that needs chopping or peeling.

So you want to cut up your baby bok choy into pieces you can either easily stuff in your mouth, or about proportional to the pieces of tofu. Dice your fresh ginger and green onions, and then finely chop your garlic. We couldn’t get mizuna so we used baby spinach since mizuna is texturally a lot like spinach (and the taste of spinach pretty much yields to whatever you cook it in.

First she fried the segments of tofu in the peanut oil.

We set those aside on some pieces of paper towel to get rid of any oiliness.

You can then prep your sauce in a small mixing bowl: Whisk 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 teaspoons sesame oil, and 1/2 teaspoon vinegar.

Then you get to start putting together your flavors for the stir-fry. Add 2 teaspoons sesame oil and place skillet over medium heat. Add green onions, ginger, and garlic.

Once that becomes fragrant (you’ll know when you hit that point, but it takes a little under a minute), add remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce and 3 teaspoons vinegar, then your chopped bok choy. Toss until bok choy wilts. It should take about 2 minutes. We had to use the adult variety of bok choy (that’s all they had at Whole Foods) so it took a little longer. Add mizuna (read spinach) in 2 batches, tossing to wilt before adding more, 1 to 2 minutes per batch. Season greens with salt and pepper.

Then you pretty much throw it all together and it looks something like this.Simple as hell, right? That’s what we thought. We were somewhat daunted by the idea of cooking “asian” food. But we heard from a reliable source that what we made looked (and tasted) pretty great.

On to the black cod with mushrooms and sancho pepper:

We ran into to issues with this dish. Namely, the cod they had a Whole Foods looked sad and disheartened. So we chose a comparable white fish and chalked it up to experimentation in the kitchen. There was no sancho pepper paste either, so we just used Sriracha and cut our losses.

What you’ll need:

For broth

  • 1 cup water
  • 6 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground sansho pepper (sometimes labeled “sansyo“), plus additional for sprinkling, or 1 teaspoon whole Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1 shallot, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced, divided
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 7 ounces fresh enoki mushrooms, cut into 3-inch lengths and spongy base discarded
  • 5 ounces fresh shimeji mushrooms (sometimes called beech mushrooms), spongy base discarded

And the fish, of course.

So prep the veg, then make your broth. It’s super easy, and it fills your kitchen with delightful smells.

Bring water, soy sauce, mirin, sansho pepper (we added a healthy squirt of Sriracha), shallot, and one third of garlic to a boil in a 1- to 2-quart heavy saucepan, then simmer 5 minutes. Let broth stand off heat 10 minutes.

You are going to discard the shallots, which is a painful thing to do since they’ve just spent 10 minutes soaking up all that flavor. So we saved the strained shallots and decided we’d use them on sandwiches or in other dishes.

Once the sauce is made, you sauté the mushrooms in vegetable oil. 

That will go onto another sheet or two of paper towel and rid itself of its unnecessary oils.

Finally, you need to cook the fish. Pat fish dry and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot, then sauté fish, skin side down, turning once, until golden brown, just starting to flake, and just cooked through, about 8 minutes. This depends on the thickness of your fillets and temp of the pan. You don’t want to overcook the fish, but you can tell when the fish is getting done by the color and texture it will take on as you observe the “raw” unflipped side.

Once your fish is cooked. you compile yourself a dish:

Et voilà! You have your meal. Enjoy.

Both recipes can be found at


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