Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ichiban - Sheffield, Alabama

In the Japanese language Ichiban means “The Best” or “Number One.” This is presently one of the newest Asian Cuisine locations in the Quad-Cities and has rapidly become one of the most popular restaurants in the Shoals area. Being a Sushi fanatic, when I travel throughout the Southeast I invariably attempt to find the best Sushi spots at least once on the trip. Over the years I have experienced some of the best and some of the worst of that particular cuisine. Thus, I have come to recognize there is an extreme difference between what is bad, mediocre, average, good, excellent, and at the top of the game Sushi.

I never thought I would be able to say this, as I was born and lived a good many years in this area, but for me to even think about, much less say that Sheffield, Alabama, is the home of one of the finest and talented Sushi Chefs in North Alabama would have never crossed my mind a year ago. But I firmly believe that you will not find any better Sushi or experience any better Japanese or Asian style food than at this little building directly across from the Helen Keller Hospital.

I have learned as I travel if I really want to know where the good eateries are, I start looking at the parking lots of the restaurants. In rural areas I look for how many pickups are parked in front, for those farmers know where the farmhouse tasting grub is located. If it is lunch time in an urban area, then I simply look for the place that has the most cars along the side or parked along the street because their parking lot is already full.The locals have found Ichiban is one of those places. Either through experience or through the grapevine they have learned you can get a dining out experience at eating out prices here. It is not unusual to see the place packed with hospital staff taking their lunch break there as it has become one of the favorite places for the HKH employees to grab a delicious meal and be back at work in the allotted amount of time.

It has been my experience there are many things that go into a good dining experience. The atmosphere of Ichiban, including the décor, cleanliness, sound, demeanor of wait staff, dress of the wait staff, service of the wait staff, and of course the appearance of the food is exceeded only by the taste. I assure you the attention given by their wait staff, dressed in their colorful attire, is beyond question one of the best in the Shoals area.

We arrived at Ichiban on a Saturday afternoon around 5:30 p.m. as we wanted to get in and be seated before the evening crowd started to arrive. This being our third time there, we were as usual met at the door by a very pretty waitress, and immediately taken to a table. She took our drink orders and while we waited we began to go through the menu that offered Teriyaki entrees, Katsu dishes, Tempura, Select Noodle and Rice entrees, the usual Chinese Dishes, Bento Box combinations, and for those who want to really spice up your evening, Thai cuisine. Phew! And I have not even got to the Sushi selection which contains the usual Nigiri pieces, Spicy rolls, Tempura rolls, and Sushi combinations. Then we get into the Specialty Rolls, various Sashimi and Sushi Combos and an allotment of hand rolls. It is by far a Sushi Lover's dreamland.

The first Appetizer to arrive was “The Red Snapper Sashimi ” ($6.95). The beauty of the display alone was pleasing to the eye, but when the freshness of the snapper met the taste buds it was a match made in heaven.

This was followed by the second Appetizer “The Jade” ($6.95) on which I walked over and watched the Sushi Chef apply his trade on. The Jade is a whole avocado cut in two, then stuffed with a mixture of fresh crab, various sashimi, avocado pulp and a variety of sauces that created such a wonderful medley of flavors complimenting each other well.

The first entrée to arrive was the Chicken Teriyaki ($9.95). I bet you have never really thought about what is Teriyaki Sauce or even how it is made. Well! I knew that you were just dying to know, so here goes. The noun “Teri” refers to shine or luster. “Yaki” refers to the style of grilling or broiling. The Sauce is simply a combination of soy sauce, mirin or sake along with honey or sugar. This mixture is then cooked into a thick sauce which is then used as a marinade or brushed over the meat of choice such as chicken, beef, lamb, pork or various species of fish. This dish was served with steamed broccoli, sautéed onions, mushrooms and several pieces moist and tender chicken breast. The dish is well worth the price, and I highly recommended you give it a try. It is served along with a choice of Miso Soup or a Ginger Salad. We ordered both with the Ginger Salad costing a $1.50 extra.

The Lobster Roll ($10.95) is a beauty to behold for any Sushi Lover. It is a mixture of Sashimi Salmon, Tuna, Yellow Tail Snapper, Avocado on the layered over a huge portion of Spicy Lobster and Tobiko Fish Egg, then layered with a spicy sauce which is the crowning taste that places it up there with one of the best Sushi dishes I have ever tasted.

The Volcano Roll ($9.95) is a large California roll in the center topped with lots of Spicy Tuna, Snow Crab, Masago, Scallions, and a then layered with a very spicy sauce. The name is perfect for this dish that is a delight to the person who likes a kick to their food. I highly recommend it as it met every expectation I had regarding this dish.

So the next time you crave a unique treat where not only your eyes and taste buds will be delighted, but your pocket book will still have funds when you leave, think of “The Ichiban.” I believe it will be placed in that category of your favorite places to eat.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Give Trader Your Input

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Trader has already been hard at work evaluating various Shoals chicken biscuits, but he wants to be sure he's tried all the area has to offer--in the name of fairness, of course.

Look for his review coming soon. In the meantime, be sure to visit Trader's Facebook page and become a fan: link

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Miracle Egg

I don’t believe I can say enough about the versatile egg. Not only does it stand out as the one item used in so many different recipes, there are hundreds of ways the egg can be used as the meal’s main course.

The reason doctors use the egg in diets for the young and old is because it is loaded with complete protein and tremendously nutritious to the body. The egg contains Vitamin A, Vitamin B, Thiamine, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin D, and if this is not enough to impress you, the amino acid composition within the egg protein is about as close to a mother’s breast milk as you can get. If that is not enough, it also has the minerals iron, phosphorous and lecithin within the yoke. It does not make any difference as to whether it is large or small, the benefits are the same. In fact, when measured with beef for the same amount of protein, it is 50% cheaper.

The Size of the Egg

The size of the egg is based on the weight of a dozen eggs. The Standard Weight Scale is set by the U.S. Agriculture Department and has classifications of Jumbo, Extra Large, Large, Medium and Small.

Does Size of The Egg Affect The Taste?

Taste of the egg or how it will look when cooked is not affected by the egg’s size. Size only indicates the amount of egg on your plate. The egg’s quality and appearance after it is broken open and laid on a plate is graded by AA (The fancy size which has the perfect rounded appearance, thick white, yoke firm with both standing high in uniformity. This egg is best for frying or poaching as they have the best eye appeal), A (This egg will cover a moderate area with the white and yoke standing firm and high. It too is good for frying and poaching for appearance reasons), B (This egg covers a wider area with some of the white thick but the outer layers will spread out thin. The yolk will be somewhat flat and spread out), C (The yolk itself will greatly enlarge like a pancake with a very thin white surrounding. The appearance sometimes after frying lends to the eye the yolk burst, when it actually didn’t). The B and C Class egg is really an all purpose egg and used mainly in baking, casseroles, sauces, etc.

Which Eggs Taste the Best?

Actually the size or grade does not play any part in the flavor of the egg. All eggs bought today have a uniformity of flavor except for the ones produced by Free Range Chickens or Chickens fed a special diet of grains to give the yoke a deeper color and more robust flavor. If you are going to use the egg for a general purpose then the B or C grade will be the one to pick. For Frying or Poaching, I would get the AA or A in the Free Range Carton or the Carton that says Natural. They will have a better appearance and the flavor you have been craving for that special breakfast.

Does Color Of The Egg Make A Difference?

The answer is no. The Shell color is based on the breed of the chicken laying the egg. Egg shells come in white, light tan, dark brown, speckled, light green, lime, deep green, green with slightly blue tint, light orange, rust, etc. While all of the colors create an appearance of beauty, if the chickens laying these eggs were given the same diet the flavor will be the same. Remember the taste is based on what the chickens eat.
I personally have someone I go to for the eggs I am going to use for breakfast. The Chickens are allowed free range across a large area where they can not only eat the 7 grain diet but also bugs and worms they find during their daily forage.

The taste of the eggs are beyond description, except to say I have bought the farm raised eggs for the last 8 years from these growers and will continue to do so as long as they are in business. I highly recommend that you find a Local Egg Producer close to you and then talk with them. See what they are feeding the chickens and if the chickens are allowed free range. If they are given free range and the opportunity to forage, I bet you will love their eggs and will be a regular customer. The cost can vary, but most are cheaper than you will buy at the store because you have removed the distributor from the cost chain. I pay $2.25 a dozen which is way below what a carton of Free Range Eggs will sell for at the grocery store.

Egg Production Time Frame

Hens will have a high lay production toward the late summer and early fall. During the winter months, the hens will take a break and not work so hard. Thus, I suggest toward the end of early fall stocking up on a few dozen for the fridge.

How To Store Them

Eggs will keep for several months if kept in a cool environment and stored in an air tight plastic container. If you use them quite readily, then just let them stay in the cardboard cartons. The large ends should be up as this suspends the yolk properly within the white of the egg. It is best not to wash the eggs when you store them. Mother Nature provides an invisible shield around the shell of the egg to protect it from bacteria. When this is washed off, it allows the egg to reach the spoilage stage faster.

What To Do Before Using The Egg

If you plan to use the egg in the morning for breakfast, then take it out of the fridge and let it set out overnight. If you forgot to do that, then get it out about 30 minutes before time to use it and let it reach room temperature. If you don’t have that time, simply place it or them in a pan of warm water to take the chill off the egg.
Why? I knew you were going to ask that! Because this will allow the white to swell and set better when frying and also prevent the yolk from breaking so easily when you flip it. If you are going to beat the egg whites, it allows the white to reach a peak faster and have a better texture to the whipped whites. If you are going to boil them, this lessens your chances of the egg shells cracking during the boiling process.

How To Boil

You probably have heard the old saying, “They couldn’t boil an egg!“ Well! The truth is eggs should not be boiled at all. They should be simmered. Boiling an egg is one of the fastest ways to turn a good egg into a rubbery, tough, strong flavored, dry mass of stuff, totally different from what you set out to do.

Rule One: Never let the water come to roiling boil with the eggs in it. You can bring the water to a roiling boil, then turn the heat down and put the eggs in to simmer, but NEVER put the eggs in the water and allow to boil and toil like a Witches' brew. Eggs coagulate when the temperature of the egg starts to reach 145 degrees and have reached that stage at 158 degrees. Since water boils at 212 degrees you quickly notice the water does not need to reach boiling stage to accomplish what you set out to do, which is cook the egg in water until it reaches a soft stage or hard stage depending on what you are intending to do with the egg once this is accomplished.

Rule Two: Only cook the eggs in a glass, enamel, or stainless steel pan. Cooking the eggs in an aluminum pan will turn it dark inside.

Rule Three: You should have a large sewing needle in your kitchen to use as one of your kitchen appliances. It is advisable before putting the egg in the water, to punch a small pin hole in the large end of the eggs to be simmered. This allows the amount of egg that has been captured inside the egg to escape and prevents the air from expanding and cracking the egg shell.

Soft-Cooked Method

Utilizing the Cold Water Technique you simply place the eggs in a pan of cold water. Place on the eye of the stove to bring the water temperature up. As you see the bubbles start to break the top of the water, which should be about ½ inch over the eggs, into a boil take them off of the eye, cover with a lid and allow setting for 4 minutes according to a timer. Then remove with a slotted spoon and place under cold water to stop the cooking action. The yolk will be soft but not runny with the white completely set and flavorful. The texture of the white will be soft and will not show any rubbery tendency at all.

The Hot Water Technique is different in that, you place enough water in the pan to cover you eggs. (DO NOT PUT THE EGGS IN YET.) Turn the eye on and bring the water to a roiling boil. Once this is reached, simply take the pan off of the eye, put in the eggs and cover. Allow to stand in the hot water around 8 minutes, then remove with slotted spoon and stop the cooking action with cold water.
You can make up several of these ahead of time and place in fridge. When you get ready to use them, simply run some tap hot water and place the egg in it for about 15 minutes. (Change the water about 2-3 times during this process, as the coolness of the eggs will lower the water temp.) It will be brought back up to eating temperature, yet not over cooked.

Hard-Cooked Method

In the Cold Water Method simply increase the time to 15 minutes. In the Hot Water Method increase time to 20 minutes and you should get your desired results.

Peeling Eggs

If you are utilizing a newly laid egg for let’s say Deviled Eggs, you are going to be in for a real surprise. Newly laid eggs are almost impossible to peel without tearing the congealed white of the egg. When you do this it destroys the white to the point you cannot use it to put your yolk mixture into. So! If you have just picked them up from your grower and they say these were taken out of the nest today, it would be best to wait at least 3-4 days and use the older eggs you have in the fridge.

To assist in peeling the eggs take them out of the hot water and plunge into a pan of ice water to stop the cooking action and cause the inside film that attaches the shell to the egg to shrink. To crack, roll in your hand until the entire shell is fractured. Place in the cold water pan and start to peel or place under cold running water. The force of the water helps push the shell away from the egg and washes the bits of the egg shell away also.

How To Tell If The Egg Is Fresh And Edible

Simply shake it next to your ear. If it makes a sloshing sound or a gurgling sound don’t use it.

How to Tell If An Egg You Find In The Fridge Is Raw or Boiled

Simply roll it across the counter or Table. If is raw it will stop rolling. If it is boiled it will continue to roll.

Can Eggs Be Frozen?

Eggs can be frozen but not in their shells.

What Size Egg Are They Referring To In Recipes That You Read?

The Standard is Large.

Can I Cook An Egg In A Microwave?

Yes you can, but keep in mind the yolk will cook faster than the white. You cannot microwave an egg in its shell as it will explode and make one of the biggest messes you have ever seen.

Breaking the Egg

Remember the yolk is at the larger end of the egg. So break the egg and pour the large end close to the skillet grease. This will allow the yolk to come out first and the egg white to cover the yolk. It will spread naturally giving you the perfect fried egg.

What Is The White Stringy Piece Attached To The Yolk?

No! It does not mean the egg is fertile and what you are seeing is the semen of the Rooster. It is called the Chalazae, and has a thick white rope like appearance. You will see it attached to the yolk. It is actually the anchor that keeps the yolk in the center of the egg. The presence of the prominent chalazae indicates the egg is of high quality. It is a normal part of the egg and considered a very wholesome part of the egg white.

The Composition Of The Egg

Because the egg white can trap bubbles, it acts as a raising agent. Because of its coagulation properties it is considered a binder and keeps loose crumbly ingredients together. Whipped egg is used as a thickening agent in custards, puddings and sauces. It is an emulsifier which keeps liquids like oils in an emulsion state, thus prevents them from sticking together. Whisk some egg whites and brush it on things you are baking and it produces a golden brown glaze. The yolk adds color, and egg whites also control crystallization in sweet recipes. The shell is 11% of the mass, the yolk is 31% and the white (Albumin) is 58%.

Storing Separated Eggs

Sometimes you will have a dish that calls for either the whites or yokes only.
Whites can be stored in an air tight jar for one week. Yolks can be stored in a jar covered with boiled cooled water, milk or oil for 3 days. This allows you enough time to incorporate them into anything you are cooking during that 3 day time period and prevents waste.

Beating the Egg Whites

Rule # 1
- The bowl should be completely dry and free of any oil. Any of these will interfere with the formation of the foaming process.

Rule # 2 - Always use your oldest eggs as the chemical change in the protein of the egg allows the air to infuse better.

Rule # 3
- Always wait to the last possible moment before beating the whites. If you beat them to soon the whites will lose some of their fluffiness and start to fall.

Rule # 4 - Always allow the whites to be at room temperature before starting to beat as this will allow the protein in the egg to react better with the whipping motion and it will expand more as it allows the air to incorporate better into the egg white. The results will be a light and fluffy creation.

Rule # 5 - As you start, add just a pinch of salt then begin at a low speed, this allows the proteins to firm up. As the foam begins to become stiff add a pinch of cream of tartar, or one drop of lemon juice, as this will prevent the bubbles in the foam from releasing and going flat. Increase your speed to high to bring the whites into a beautiful peak. If this is to be used for a dessert topping add a teaspoon of sugar right at the end of your high speed time. That is why you see some toppings really thick with beautiful peaks and some that are thin that have that flat or collapsed look.

Rule # 6 - If you have an unlined copper bowl, use it to whip the whites as the chemical reaction between the copper and whites will produce 1/3 more stability to your foam. Thus it is easier to handle when folding on to your item.

Rule # 7
- When folding the whites into a mixture try use a rubber spatula and use a gentle folding motion, as this preserves the air in the whites. Failure to do this will in most cases will create a very flat egg white covering.

What Is The Best Way To Make An Omelet?

The argument on how to make an Omelet has been going on for centuries. There are many styles as there are Nations. Here I am going to discuss three methods that are extremely popular. Chances are you have tried at least one of these methods at one time or the other. These are the French, American and Spanish.

French Style - The Yolk and Whites are beat together until it begins to foam to indicate a certain amount of air has been incorporated into the egg mixture. In this technique the Omelet is completely cooked on top of the stove. The egg mixture is poured slowly into a layer of melted sizzling butter at the bottom of an iron or enamel skillet. As the egg congeals and starts to set the egg is lifted slightly to allow the remaining egg to run back under the congealed layer and cook. As it becomes firmer ingredients are added if required by the recipe. Then one side is lifted by the spatula and folded in half. The Omelet resembles a moist scrambled egg.

American Style - When finished it will look like a soufflé. In this technique the yolks and whites are separated. They are then beaten separately with the now fluffy and stiff whites folded into the beaten yolks. Poured into an iron or enamel skillet with melted butter or bacon grease and allowed to start to congeal. As the bottom starts to set, ingredients are added as desired and then the egg is folded over the ingredients. Once folded it is placed in a hot oven. (Some say high heat others say medium heat. I get better results at 500 degrees.) The egg is allowed to cook at this temperature until it puffs up almost 3 times its original size. The end result will be an omelet that is unbelievable airy. It will be one of the lightest omelets you will ever make.

Spanish Style - The yolk and whites are beaten together until very foamy. The mixture is then poured slowly into melted butter and allowed to start to congeal in the iron skillet, on top of the stove. As the Omelet starts to set like a large pancake whatever ingredients required are then added. Once congealed enough the entire omelet is flipped and allowed to brown on the other side. It is then placed on a plate and served with whatever sauce you desire and toppings such as sour cream. The texture will not be as fluffy or light to the taste. Remember all Omelets should be served on a heated plate. If you put it onto a cold plate the cold temperature will make the bottom of the Omelet tough.


This is a French word for a light, airy dish. They fall into two categories. Dessert and Hearty Ingredients such fish, beef, chicken, vegetables, etc. They can be made into the main course, however, keep in mind no one can be late for dinner. This is one dish that requires almost perfect timing. In fact it is best that you have the guest seated at the table as it is in its final stages of cooking. The soufflé has the tendency to start falling as it starts to cool. So for texture and appearance you want to dig in just as soon as it comes out of the oven.
You should start the dessert soufflé about mid way of the dinner. This will put the peak of the dessert just about the time you finish the main meal and your guests are ready for dessert. Do not let this scare you off, for it is by far one of the better dishes you can make for yourself and your guest Remember! Do not grease the pan or dish you are making the soufflé in, as it needs the ungreased sides to climb higher and higher as it tempers to the heat.

The Deviled Egg

We have found no one to place a stake of claim of invention on the varieties of deviled eggs. History does tell us that creating spicy eggs was first recorded in ancient Rome. We know they were served frequently in the 13th Century in Andalusia, and the name of “Deviled Egg” was first recorded in the 18th Century. In 1786 the word referred to highly seasoned, spicy and boiled dishes. We know by the cookbooks of that time period the yolk of the boiled eggs were seasoned with very hot peppers and mustard. The mixture was then stuffed back into the egg eaten only by the brave of heart due to the hotter than hell taste…thus you can see where the deviled egg seems to have acquired its name.
However, in the modern times the word deviled egg does not equate to something really hot any longer. Instead it refers to an egg mixture that has been highly seasoned many different ways. Today they are served as finger foods, or side dishes. In some countries several varieties are served as the main course.

I owe the “Mighty Egg” a nod of respect for getting a Command Chef Award for creativity a few years back. The United States Coast Guard was having a major banquet in Mobile. I was told the officer in which the occasion was being held, wanted me to do a Low Land Country Theme Meal for his guests. One of the items required to be on that list was to be Deviled Eggs as it was one of his favorite finger foods.
As the Coast Guard’s Lead Command Chef for that Event, I came up with 31 different Devil Eggs such as, Cajun Devil Eggs, Spinach/Bacon Devil Eggs, Tex-Mex Devil Egg, Shrimp Devil Egg, Crab Devil Egg, Boudain Devil Egg, Avocado/Pimento/Cactus Devil Egg, Roast Beef/Horseradish Devil Egg, Black bean/Corn/Tomato Devil Egg, Corn Beef/Potato Devil Egg, etc. By the time we were through, my Command Kitchen Staff had made over 500 Deviled Eggs, and everyone including me hated the smell of them.

It took two days to make them and an overnight in the cooler for some of them to set so they could be garnished. The end results were the guests were astonished at the variety and my kitchen staff warned me under the penalty of death never to suggest that again.
I hope you have found this article informative about that little white plain looking item you have resting in your fridge, for as you can see it most definitely has a colorful history and a lot of reasons to have bragging rights.

Until the next time, I think I will sit back and have a small glass of fermented grape…