Strong Influence


Special occasions call for memorable meals, and for many North Americans, “Japanese” steakhouses such as Benihana or Shogun stir fond recollections.  These places value entertainment, and they feature flashy, wisecracking chefs preparing meals, teppanyaki-style, on an iron griddle immediately in front of guests.  The freshest ingredients served alongside puns (some cringe-worthy, some not), knife gymnastics and other sleights of hand.

Today’s dinner features a meal typical of such establishments, made even more special in replacing strip steaks with filet mignon, and by adding scallops.  Alongside are grilled zucchini, shallots and shitake mushrooms, as well as a trio of delicious dipping sauces and a generous serving of Hibachi-Style Fried Rice.  Such is the Japanese Steakhouse Dinner illustrated in the October/November 2019 Cook’s Country.

Though this isn’t quite Japanese cuisine, the country’s cooking does inform it considerably.  All formulated to appeal to North American tastes, of course.  The man who started it all was Hiroaki “Rocky” Aoki, who founded Benihana in the mid-1960s, and grew it to dozens of locations across North America over the next decade or so.  Here he is, at center, in a circa-1970 publicity photo:Rocky Aoki

Aoki had an outsized personality, being an Olympic athlete who came to the US on a college scholarship and who soon encouraged investors, including his father, to bankroll his dream of a Japanese steakhouse geared to the North American palate.  Benihana gave the public much to savor, though Aoki’s trajectory provided its share of unsavory moments too, including multiple marriages, suspicions of insider trading, and nearly dying when he crashed his speedboat into the Golden Gate bridge.  All swagger, it seems.

Much better reception, one hopes, for the meal prepared this week. Using filet mignon ensures the steak is especially juicy and drizzling a soy-butter-garlic sauce over it doesn’t hurt.  Diet-friendly, no.  Utterly irresistible, yes.  Less indulgent yet equally delicious are the scallops, lightly seared, as they should be, and being dowsed with mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine) in their brief stay on the flattop.

The fried rice is full-flavored, savory, yet is surprisingly simple.  Parboil the rice, then sauté it with soy sauce, scallions and a few scrambled eggs.  That’s it.  Loads of satisfying umami (a mouth-velveting refinement of savory), though.  A perfect interval for all the flavors on the plate.

The dipping sauces, true to what one would find at Benihana, add that perfect extra touch to…well, everything.  Try them with filet mignon, scallops and veg.  Pretty spectacular drizzled over the fried rice too.  In the lead photo, from left to right, you’ll meet Spicy Mayonnaise, Sweet Ginger Sauce, and White Mustard Sauce (personal favorite – indeed!).  The mayonnaise, also called, appropriately enough, “Yum Yum  Sauce,” includes a healthy dollop of umami-rich red miso:Red Miso

It all adds up to a splendid meal, worth a special trip to the steakhouse.  Based generally on the meal Benihana offers as “Rocky’s Choice,” (for its founder), today you’ll enjoy an upgrade to filet mignon and scallops.  Rocky’s spirit encouraging an outsized generosity, perhaps?  Maybe not authentically Japanese, though Benihanas have opened to receptive crowds in Japan, but with unmistakable overtones.  The influences are everywhere. Influencing the best outcome of all, a contented smile.

*****

Japanese Steakhouse Steak and Vegetables

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 (1-pound) rib-eye steaks, trimmed (*1)
  • 1-and-1/4 teaspoons white pepper, divided
  • 1 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut 3/4-inch thick
  • 2 onions, cut into 3/4-inch pieces (*2)
  • 6 ounces shitake mushrooms, stemmed and halved
  • 2 tablespoons mirin (*3)

Combine melted butter, soy sauce and garlic in a small bowl and set aside.  Sprinkle the steaks with 1 teaspoon of of the white pepper and 3/4 teaspoon of the salt.

Heat a 12-ounce skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the oil to the skillet and swirl to coat. (*4) Add the steaks and cook, flipping every two minutes, until well-browned and cooked, 12 or 13 minutes. (*5) Transfer to a cutting board, tent with aluminum foil, and let rest.

If using scallops, pat them dry with a paper towel and place them on the skillet.  Pour several drops of mirin over each scallop.  Let cook for two minutes, then flip.  Add a few more drops mirin to each, and remove after they’ve cooked for another two minutes.  Go light on the cooking, as you don’t want to overdo shellfish.  Until they just have lost their translucence should be sufficient.  Transfer to the serving platter.

Add the zucchini, onions and mushrooms to the skillet, and sprinkle on the remaining 1/4-teaspoons of both white pepper and salt.  Let the vegetables sit undisturbed for 3 minutes, until beginning to brown.  Stir and cook for 2 minutes longer.  Add the rest of the mirin and 2 tablespoons of the soy-garlic-butter mixture and continue to cook until the liquid has evaporated and the vegetables ate well-browned, about 2 minutes.

Transfer the vegetables to the serving platter, and cut the steaks into 1/4-inch slices, and transfer to the serving platter.  Drizzle the steaks with the remaining soy-garlic-butter sauce, and serve.

NOTES:

1 – For a delectable, though admittedly pricier, option, go with filets mignon.  Six filets of 5-to-6 ounces each would be superb.  Also, while you’re at it, why not tack on eight or nine nice scallops?  As the Bond flick reminds us, You Only Live Twice.

2 – A flying knife handle must’ve winged me, because I read “2 large shallots.”

3 – If you’re including scallops (and, honestly, why wouldn’t you?), make it 4 tablespoons of mirin.

4 – Though these instruction are formulated for a skillet on the stovetop, a pancake griddle is even more spacious (and better) an option.

5 – As filets mignon are thicker (and, consequently, are juicier) than are rib-eyes, they’ll take longer to cook.  If you’re using filets, it probably will take 16 to 18 minutes to finish them.  Also, make it a point to brown not just the two sides, but also place the filets on their edges too from time-to-time, to promote even cooking.

*****

Simple Hibachi-Style Fried Rice

  • 1-and-1/2-cups long-grain white rice
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 4 scallions, sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 1-and-1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1-and-1/2 tablespoons mirin

Bring 3 quarts water to boil in a large saucepan set over high heat.  Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until just cooked through, about 12 minutes.  Drain rice in a colander.

Whisk eggs, sesame oil, salt and white pepper together in a bowl; set aside.  Combine the butter and garlic in another bowl and set aside.

Place a large skillet over a medium-high flame.  Add the oil, and when it shimmers, add the egg mixture.  Stir with a rubber spatula until set, but still wet, about 15 seconds.

Add the rice and the scallions and cook until sizzling loudly, about three minutes.  Add the soy sauce and mirin and cook, stirring constantly, until thoroughly combined, about 2 minutes.  Stir in the garlic butter until incorporated, and serve.

*****

Spicy Mayonnaise

(Yum-Yum Sauce)

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon red miso
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1.4 teaspoon salt

Whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl.

*****

Sweet Ginger Sauce

  • 1/2 cup chopped onion (*6)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 (3/4-inch) piece ginger, peeled and chopped (*7)

Place all ingredients in a food processor.  Process until smooth, about 15 seconds.

NOTES:

6 – This special meal makes me happy.  Let’s celebrate by making it half a cup of shallots instead.

7 – No need to peel the ginger.  The skin is edible, soft and it tastes just like the rest of the root.  Plus, the processor’s going to reduce everything a thin paste anyway, so why bother?

*****

White Mustard Sauce

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1-and-1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 1-and-1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Vigorously whisk all ingredients in a bowl until combined and slightly thickened.

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5 thoughts on “Strong Influence

  1. Though I’m not much of a meat-eater, your well-chosen words make this sound scrumptious to even me. And most people cannot work such a phenomenon.

    You should think of putting Creative Writing as one of your tags because beyond your fabulous recipes, you are a magnificent poet and writer using metaphors and similes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you much, Tamara! Fear not, the mushrooms and the squash were scrumptious too, especially with those dipping sauces. The fried rice impressed as well. Which is to say, much to savor, even while celebrating your principles.

      Thanks for the tip and much more so, for the compliment! The cuisine and its supporting text merely rise to the occasion, as they inspire comments such as yours. After that, they lead to even more delightful conversations.

      This is one of the main reasons I’ll remain on WP. It’s more flexible than is IG too, in the freedom it allows in posting photos. Now, that said, I already have a larger audience on IG than I do here, and I only have been on IG since Christmas.

      So, why not do both? Unlike some guys, I actually can do two things simultaneously.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely, Jenn! Extravagance’s ups and downs.

      For the cuisine, we focus on the positive, naturally. While everything isn’t completely faithful to Japanese dining traditions, Benihana has provided many a good introduction to the wider world of food. And that ain’t nothing. A concept you may encounter again in the future.

      Liked by 1 person

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