Magazine article Sunset

Japanese Fresh: Inspired New Flavors from Eric Gower

Magazine article Sunset

Japanese Fresh: Inspired New Flavors from Eric Gower

Article excerpt

Eric Gower's cooking freely mixes Japanese ingredients and Western ideas, but don't call it fusion. He thinks of his cooking as a break with sometimes limiting traditions, and the title of his cookbook--The Breakaway Japanese Kitchen: Inspired New Tastes (Kodansha International, 2003; $27)--perfectly expresses that philosophy.

Gower developed his idiosyncratic style after moving from Berkeley to Japan in 1988. Japanese cuisine was steeped in tradition, and he wasn't necessarily interested in cooking the classic dishes. "I started cooking to suit my own palate," Gower says. "I'm always trying to tweak things."

At the same time, he was surrounded by exciting new ingredients. "I started playing with things," Gower says. "I wound up buying ingredients and cooking them in unusual ways--ways I liked." He combines umeboshi (salted plums) with dates in a luscious braised pork dish, for instance, and eschews plain rice--the sine qua non of the Japanese meal--for golden "unplain rice" cooked with carrot juice and mustard.

Gower now lives in San Francisco and is transferring his breakaway style to the interesting ingredients available there. Shiso leaves grow in his garden, he roasts and grinds his own coffee beans, and he's playing with filo. At a recent lunch, he served filo rolls filled with Moroccan-spiced chicken in a sushi-style set of six.

His recipes for miso soup with fennel and ginger, sweet scallops set off by tangy grapefruit, and casual pasta salad with mushrooms, edamame, and radicchio may inspire you to combine his unique flavors in your kitchen. But don't stop there; Gower urges cooks to try new things for themselves. "If you follow your own palate, people will join you at the table and rejoice in your experiments."

Shiitake-Ginger Pasta Salad with Radicchio

PREP AND COOK TIME: About 35 minutes

MAKES: 4 servings

NOTES: If you can't find fresh shiitakes, substitute additional common mushrooms. To cook frozen shelled edamame, add to 1 quart boiling water and cook until barely tender to bite, 3 to 5 minutes.


    8 ounces dried farfalle (bow-tie) pasta
   12 ounces common mushrooms, rinsed and discolored stem ends trimmed
    4 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms (see notes), stems discarded
    2 tablespoons butter
    2 tablespoons olive oil
      Salt and fresh-ground pepper
    3 tablespoons each minced fresh garlic and ginger
    4 cups shredded radicchio
    1 cup cooked shelled edamame (see notes)
    2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
    1 tablespoon soy sauce
      Shaved parmesan cheese

1. In a 4- to 6-quart pan over high heat, bring 2 quarts water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until tender to bite, about 10 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water, and drain again.

2. Meanwhile, cut common and shiitake mushrooms into irregular chunks. In a 12-inch frying pan or 14-inch wok over medium-high heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter with the olive oil. When butter is foamy, add mushrooms. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook, stirring often, until mushrooms are lightly browned, 4 to 5 minutes.

3. Add remaining tablespoon butter to pan. When melted, add garlic and ginger and stir until fragrant, 1 minute. Add radicchio and edamame and stir until radicchio is wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

4. In a large bowl, whisk vinegar, mustard, and soy sauce until combined. Add pasta and mushroom mixture and stir gently to coat. …

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