Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
Between November and April in Catalonia, Spain, calcotada are held throughout the region to partake in the new harvest of green onions. Calcot, or a type of green onion, is slightly fatter than our locally grown onions. They are planted as a single bulb throughout autumn and winter. These bulbs sprout up to a dozen shoots of calcot, which are then harvested from November through April.
Several bunches of the green onions are then tied in large bunches and cooked directly on a smoldering kindle. Sometimes the pruned branches of grapevines are put directly in outdoor ovens. Once the outer layers are charred, it’s wrapped tightly in paper and allowed to steam within the confines of the paper. After peeling off the charred bits, the white portion of the calcot is dipped in almond and red-pepper based romesco sauce and consumed with Priorat or Rioja wine often directly from a poron.
Why am I describing this when the calcot haven’t even been planted yet? Because we’re in the middle of summer during grillin’ season when we can hibachi our own calcot, local style!
I’ll admit it. I only attempted to recreate a calcotada once. Why? Negi (onion in Japanese) in the 50th don’t grow very large or wide. And it’s mainly the white portion that’s consumed so I purchased large Tökyö negi that Marukai often sells at about $6 per pound. Unlike leeks where the green portion isn’t usually consumed and reserved for stock, the green portion of Tökyö negi is also consumed. But when used in a calcotada, the green portion is sacrificed and charred beyond recognition to protect the inner white portion.
I just spent $30 on green onions, albeit gourmet Tökyö green onions, and I’m about to waste about two-thirds of each stalk? I don’t think so …
Instead of wasting the green stalks, I saved them for later to put in ramen or for stir frying. Then, I wrapped the lower white portion in paper to function and placed them on smoldering charcoal. Finally, I finished them like the usual calcotada preparation. They were ‘ono with the Romesco sauce though I’m not sure if they were “$30 ‘ono.” But the Rioja I drank with my calcot softened the blow created by the large hole made in my wallet.
My Usual Application
My usual cooking application with negi doesn’t require heat at all, just the whir of serrated blades within a food processor. It’s my version of that luscious sauce usually served with Chinese style cold ginger chicken — the ginger and green onion sauce.
First, I roughly chop peeled ginger and place it in my seven-cup Cuisinart with three grams of powdered Vitamin-C (to prevent browning of the green onions). Then a dash of powdered white pepper, several grinds of Ono Hawaiian Seasoning, and roughly chopped, fresh green onion from two supermarket bunches. I pulse everything until it gets to the consistency seen in Chinese take-out.
From here, I take one of two routes. If I use it in ‘ahi poke, I drizzle vegetable oil with the Cuisinart running until a pesto-like consistency is reached.
For all other applications, I’ll place the mixture in a metal bowl then heat the oil on medium heat for several minutes. Next, I drizzle the hot oil over the green onion and ginger mixture and mix everything until the sizzling subsides.
This technique releases more of the green onion and ginger flavors into the mixture but it doesn’t retain the vivid color of the negi as the mixture is essentially cooked by the hot oil. I’ll use this sauce for everything from a sandwich spread to a spread for crackers or chips or as a sauce for local charcuterie or poached chicken breasts.
My other cooking application where negi is the star of the dish is with a simple scrambled egg. My dad didn’t do much cooking other than his famous spaghetti sauce which was simply Lawry’s package seasoning and shortbread cookies but I did see him make these green onion scrambled eggs. To this day I continue to make these whenever we have an abundance of eggs (usually when Ms. S and I separately purchase a carton of eggs on the same day) and green onions.
Something about butter, green onions and eggs makes one plus one plus one equals 20. And mind you, my favorite egg applications are either raw, (tamago meshi) or just past raw, sunny side or poached, but I’ll devour a plateful of green onion and butter scrambled eggs any day!
Since that first fateful day when I observed Dad creating these scrambles, I have zhushed my rendition a sukoshi bit using Chef Jean-George Vongerichten’s method of whisking the eggs constantly over medium-low heat to create a thick, custardy texture, using French style (generic butter and French style butter clogs arteries at the same rate so go with the additional richness) and also add a little truffle salt to my current rendition.
The Newest Application: Scallion Pancakes
I found a new application that I’m intent on mastering but still nowhere near even creating just a decent rendition of that seemingly simple dish found in Chinese restaurants, the scallion pancake.
With just four basic ingredients — green onions, flour, water and sesame oil — a wedge of perfectly rolled and fried pancakes with an unmistakable green onion flavor that’s both crisp and tender married with a sauce of shoyu, ginger, vinegar, sugar and sesame oil. I could have a plateful of these scallion pancakes and a glass or two of Riesling and I would be in my happy place.
The recipe that I’m still trying to perfect is on my internet Bible of cooking, the Serious Eats website. So if you too enjoy those crisp and savory scallion pancakes, just go to the Serious Eats website (seriouseats.com) and search for “scallion pancakes.” Apparently, the flakiness comes from creating a logarithmic number of layers by rolling and rolling, then repeating. And perhaps one day, you’ll achieve what I still haven’t mastered, the perfect scallion pancake.
Not the Best Actor
This dish usually highlights either the best donko shiitake mushrooms, sweet artisanal tofu or heritage grown pork, and I usually just add the green onions as a simple garnish. However, on this one fateful day, a co-worker gave us some home grown negi from her garden.
Normally when you slice into the supermarket variety of negi, the blade meets very little resistance and the act of slicing doesn’t produce any sound as the stalks are already slightly soft once displayed in the produce bin.
However, Annie’s negi produced a pronounced crisp sound like slicing into the freshest apple or celery and I immediately knew that they had to be the star of the dish. I reduced the quantity of the Two Lady Farmers ground pork, shiitake and tofu to highlight the freshest (and tastiest) negi I’ve ever sampled. So perchance, you are ever as blessed with a gift of the freshest negi, you can recreate the same experience that we had.
Stir Fry Green Onions (and pork, tofu and shiitake)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup vegetable broth
2 tablespoon shoyu
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 & 1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoon oil
2 tablespoon minced fermented black beans
2 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoon chili-garlic sauce
Two 14-ounce containers firm or extra firm tofu, drained, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 pound lean ground pork
20 shiitake soaked in hot water
2 bunches green onions cut into 2-inch strips
Mix first five ingredients and set aside. Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan the add the next four ingredients and stir fry until fragrant. Add the tofu, ground pork and shiitake and cook until the pork is brown then add the slurry of the first five ingredients and simmer until it thickens then add the green onions and toss until the green onions just start wilting.
Ryan Tatsumoto is a clinical pharmacist by day. In his off-hours, however, he and his wife enjoy seeking out perfect marriages of food and wine. Ryan is a certified sommelier and a certified specialist of wine. The Windward O‘ahu resident also writes a column for San Francisco’s Nichi Bei Weekly called “The Gochiso Gourmet” (nichibei.org/columns/gochiso-gourmet/).