The next item on the menu was one I’d settled on as early as mid December. While I was down in San Francisco for work (technically Mountain View, but who can tell the difference who doesn’t actually live in the Bay area?) my colleague Miles and I went to a restaurant recommended by our boss, the overarching Director of our department. Alexander’s Steak House, as it happened. This turns out to be one of those restaurants where, when you buy a steak, that’s all you’ve bought – now you have to pay for a side of potatoes, and a side of vegetables, etc., etc. Very high end, very nice. (Very expensive! Our expense claim would have been a firing offence were it not for the fact that it was our department head who recommended it in the first place. Yikes!)
Well, one of the things they offered was Alexander’s Real Hamachi Shot. I think you can actually find it on their menu. Well, it was beyond delicious. Also very pretty in its presentation. So I ended up taking notes on my phone, and pictures of the dish, and pictures of the menu. When I got home I started researching what could have possibly gone into it. Eventually it would become this:
By the time I’d finished dissecting the appetizer and the menu, I was actually most of the way there. It just required fine-tuning the proportions. It’s a miraculous little dish in that, when done right, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts – as much as I like every single thing that goes into it on its own, you couldn’t take away a single bit without lessening the effect. Synergistic, is what it is. And delightful! Also, it comes in tiny little glasses with tiny little forks for mixing them up before shooting them back all at once.
This is what led me to the Star Trek connection – tenuous, but any excuse to set these up! It was the shooting part. In the episode “Arena” (seen in the menu above), Kirk and the nameless Gorn are sent down to a planet by powerful beings who are intent on seeing them fight to the death (for reasons I won’t belabour here). It turns out the Gorn is slow but virtually indestructible, and Captain Kirk makes no headway at all in a physical battle. At any rate, in a nod to the science part of science fiction, quite suspiciously all of the ingredients for making gunpowder and a crude bamboo cannon to fire diamonds at the beast are all close at hand. So Kirk runs around collecting the various powders and chemicals to make a cannon. No doubt today it would lead someone to insist that this sort of televised violence is responsible for gun deaths in the United States. Instead of, say, actual guns. However in the 60s they just managed to make a chemistry lesson into an interesting part of an action TV show. So hats off to them for that; education for the win I say!
So my guests would be muddling together ingredients in a tiny glass like a culinary pipe bomb, just as Kirk did in that Star Trek episode. The keys to this dish are the truffled ponzu sauce, and also frizzled ginger. Oh, and also the daikon radish sprouts. That ended up as the piece of technology I brought to this particular dish – it calls for daikon radish sprouts, the kind that often top a piece of nigiri sushi. But even in the hippie health stores, it’s uncommon to find them sprouted for sale – they are not garden-variety (as it were) like alfalfa and bean sprouts. However you can buy the seeds, and also a handy little ventilated plastic container designed for sprouting them without letting them get moldy. Hydroponics, in other words. That’s the futuristic bit. Truthfully I’d hoped that there would be a magical zero-maintenance way of growing the sprouts, but in the end it comes down to soaking and then draining them twice a day. The well-ventilated container helps, but you could do it just as effectively with a bowl and a daily dose of paper towels if you were so inclined. Just takes more work and makes more of a mess. There’s no fire-and-forget sprouting where you open up the closet a week later and they’re ready. Sigh.
It also wants frizzled ginger – turns out this is just slivers of ginger deep-fried. Painstaking, but simple. And it was possible to find a recipe for truffled ponzu online, though I ended up changing the proportions to balance the taste. With truffle oil, a little goes a long ways as it turns out. Well, that’s mostly it; there were no amusing catastrophes in the creation of this dish. There was a small bit of confusion when I served them up, as some of my teetotalling guests thought they were liquor at first, but eventually everyone tried them and everyone was clamouring for more. Even those more timid folks who were really dubious about a mix of random elements centred around raw fish. I tell you, this one (fiddly though it is to make) is a real favourite of mine. So good! And as I said before, it also looks pretty.
Hm, Trek trivia: well, recently they’ve remastered the original Star Trek series, mostly replacing the special effects shots with newer computer generated models, and cleaned up the prints, but they’ve been pretty rigorous about leaving the live action stuff alone. However, in this particular episode, the Gorn (still looking like a big rubber suit with bulging silver bug eyes) in his opening close-up now has a brief blink. That’s all they added to him, but it is startling to see the first time you watch it, knowing that it was just a rubber suit at the time. Also, any real chemistry teacher would suggest that following Kirk’s actual method would never result in anything like an explosion or a cannon; technique, fine grinding, and exact proportions are what you want for half-decent gunpowder. Still, who needs gunpowder when you’ve got truffled ponzu?
Alexander’s “The Original” Hamachi Shot (gleefully stolen)
Hamachi (sushi-grade yellowtail)
Truffled ponzu sauce
- ¼ cup Ponzu sauce
- 1 tsp. truffle oil
- 1 minced truffle
- 1 ginger root
- 1 cup vegetable oil
Thinly sliced jalapeño
Daikon radish sprouts
- Truffling ponzu sauce
- Buy ponzu sauce from an Asian grocer. It’s Japanese soy sauce with lemon or lime, and some other additives. I do have a recipe for making it from scratch, but I didn’t bother and it tasted just fine.
- Add 1 tsp. truffle oil and 1 tsp. chopped truffle for every ¼ cup of ponzu.
- Frizzling ginger
- Cut ginger root into thin slices (ideally using a mandolin), then cut into thin strips or shreds with a knife.
- Deep fry in a pot @ 360°F for 3-4 minutes, until brown and crispy, stirring frequently.
- Add one “finger” of hamachi, about ½ cm × ½ cm × 2 cm, to glass.
- Add two or three frizzled ginger strands.
- Add one or two cubes of avocado, about ½ cm³, or the size of your baby fingernail.
- Add one thin slice of jalapeño, cleaned of seeds.
- Top with a pinch of daikon radish sprouts. Make sure to get two or three leafy heads.
- Add two tsp. of truffled ponzu sauce, being sure to stir vigorously first. (The oil tends to separate.)
Nothing to it, really, as long as you’ve gone to the trouble of frizzling the ginger, truffling the ponzu, and growing the sprouts ahead of time. And you have to have hors d’œuvre glasses for serving it in (though I bet 2-oz shot glasses would work). Simple, yeah. Go to it!