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An unexpected little vegetable bridges cultures at Shinmai.


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At Shinmai, Jerrod Doss is cooking okra with brown butter and ponzu.

Photo by Lori Eanes

Southwestern-born chef Jerrod Doss’ background is a classic mix of worlds. Growing up in his native state of New Mexico, he could often be found helping out (and enjoying the country-style cooking) at his grandparents’ farm near the Colorado border. Here in the Bay Area, he has plied fine cuisine at Aziza, Chez TJ, and The French Laundry.

Now, Doss helms Japanese-inspired Shinmai in the heart of Oakland, where the dining experience—though driven by Japanese food and tradition—is equally blended.

“It’s a Japanese concept with California-style food through an Oakland filter,” said Doss. “With maybe a little bit of my own country background in there.”

One unexpected ingredient that marries all those cultures is okra. The slender, tidy, nourishing little seed-pod is related to cotton and possibly rooted in North Africa. Its distinct, mild flavor, said Doss, is difficult to describe, but could be said to hold elements of wax bean, corn, and squash.

Americans know it as a staple in the South—famous fodder for soulful gumbo and satisfying when deep fried, a technique that mitigates the vegetable’s controversial viscosity. Doss’ grandparents grew and cooked it plenty on their Southwestern farm, where okra’s unique mix of textures added interest to sides, stews, and soups.

“There’s the slick, liquid texture, the pods, and the exterior that can be crispy or crunchy depending on how it’s prepared,” said Doss. “All those elements are packed into one interesting little vegetable.”

Interesting and also a favorite in Japan. With a reputation both sophisticated and comforting, “oh-ku-la” is served any number of ways—tempura fried, roasted, pickled, sautéed, raw, or parboiled and sliced into salads, soups, or curries.

Doss plans to throw plenty of okra on Shinmai’s robata grill, and looks forward to getting creative with Japan’s range of sauces and seasonings, like in this recipe for okra with brown butter and ponzu.

When shopping for fresh okra, choose small, young pods. Black spots are a sign of over-ripeness and should be avoided.

 

Brown Butter Ponzu Okra

Recipe by Jerrod Doss, Executive Chef, Shinmai

 

1 pound fresh okra

2 sticks of unsalted butter (1 cup)

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 tablespoons ponzu sauce (Mizkan’s is good)

2 tablespoons honey

½ teaspoon 5-spice powder

1 teaspoon togarashi (sold at Oaktown Spice Shop)

Cracked pepper to taste

1 tablespoon grapeseed oil (or any neutral oil)

Fresh cilantro (lengthy stems removed, but leaving some stem on the leaves)

Zest and juice from 1 lime

 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and trim the woody, fibrous tips off both ends of the okra.

To make brown butter, simply start melting cold butter in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat (use a pan with a light-colored bottom so you can keep track of the color). Using a spoon, stir the butter very frequently to make sure it’s cooking evenly and not burning. As the butter melts, it will begin to foam. The color will progress from lemony-yellow to golden-tan to, finally, a toasty-brown. Once you smell a nutty aroma, take the pan off the heat and transfer the browned butter into a heatproof bowl to set aside and cool.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the brown butter with the soy sauce and ponzu. Then whisk in honey, 5-spice powder, and togarashi. Season with cracked pepper to taste. Set it aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of grapeseed oil (or any neutral oil) in a pan on medium high until hot. Cut the okra lengthwise and immediately place each one cut-side down in the pan. Be careful not to let the cut okra sit for too long, as it can become slimy. Cook until the okra is well caramelized and near charred, 30 to 45 seconds. Then turn off heat.

Pour the brown butter mixture over the okra in the pan (you may have some left over), tossing well to incorporate. Place the pan into the oven at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, check every five minutes based on preference and cook to desired doneness.

After desired doneness, remove the pan from oven, portion into desired serving dish, and finish with fresh cilantro and the zest and juice of one lime.

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