Shiso Pesto Roasted Chicken

How’s everyone’s summer going? Here in the Lower Mainland in BC, Canada, we’ve had the driest July in history. That means we have an abundance of veggies and fruits compared to the past few years. It is indeed overwhelming to choose what to cook so as not to miss out on each food’s prime season. Thanks to the heat, we have been enjoying plump and juicy tomatoes every day!

Today’s recipe is a celebration of shiso (Japanese herb), whose scent always brings back memories of my grandma’s tiny garden, full of weed-like green and red shiso plants that she used to pickle umeboshi. Since this plant is prone to vigorous growth, one only needs to plant a seedling or two to obtain a sufficiently abundant supply.

In this recipe, shiso is used to create a pesto that is inserted under the chicken’s skin to impart a unique flavour to the dish. Make plenty so you mix the leftovers into pasta and/or sneak it into grilled sandwiches for easy weekday meals. We truly enjoyed sandwiches made the next day with the leftover shiso pesto chicken plus fresh tomato slices!


Shiso Pesto Roasted Chicken

Serves 4, or 2 plus leftover

Shiso Pesto
½ heaped cup hazelnuts
¼ cup sunflower seeds
3 garlic cloves
¾ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
A bunch of shiso leaves, stems removed, rinsed and patted dry
1 sprig flat parsley
½ teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon melted butter

1 free-range chicken, rinsed and patted dry
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Olive oil
A bunch of carrots, leaves removed, rinsed and patted dry

Make pesto. Roast the hazelnuts and sunflower seeds until aromatic and golden. Place all ingredients except oil in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Start adding oil in a steady drip, and continue to pulse until pesto becomes smooth. It is okay to leave some coarse texture. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Place the chicken on a roasting pan, chest side up. Salt and pepper the chicken. Insert the pesto from the openings and spread evenly under the bird’s skin through the breasts to thighs and repeat the same for the back–be careful so you don’t tear the skin.

Remove the pesto from your hands and smear on the outside of the chicken. You can add 2 more tablespoons or so of the pesto and continue to rub the entire chicken, making sure it’s well coated. Rub the inside of the carcass too. Finally, drizzle some oil over top, and coat the outside of the chicken evenly. Tie the legs with some kitchen string.

Roast until done; for example, it will take about 1 hour and 10 minutes for a small bird. Alternately, wait until a thermometer inserted at the thickest part of the poultry reaches 165F.

When the chicken is halfway done, add the carrots (lightly coated with salt, pepper and oil) to the roasting pan.

Baste the chicken and carrots periodically.

Remove from the oven, and rest for a few minutes. Carve the chicken and serve to individual plates with carrots. Serve immediately. Keep the rest of the pesto in an airtight container, and refrigerate for another use.

Smashed Cucumbers with Sesame Sauce

Cucumber is often treated as an accessory vegetable; tossed into salad or sliced for sandwiches to add crunch.

However, this veggie truly shines once a year when fresh cucumbers start to appear in the garden. Cucumbers that have swelled from daily diligent watering: juicy and sweet; the true treats of the summer season. I remember as a child growing up with hot Japanese summers, soaking cucumbers in icy cold water, breaking a whole cucumber in half and dipping it into a bowl of mugi miso (barley miso) or umeboshi (pickled plum) dip, and devouring it all as a healthy, refreshing afternoon snack. But my favourite way to eat this underrated vegetable has always been with this sesame sauce. Enjoy!

Smashed Cucumbers with Sesame Sauce

Serves 2

2 large freshly harvested cucumbers
Sea salt
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds, ground
2 tablespoons brown or natural cane sugar
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 ½ tablespoons tahini
2 Thai chili peppers, dry or fresh, seeds removed and sliced thinly (optional)

Rub cucumbers under running water and remove prickly thorns if any exists. Pat dry.

Sprinkle some salt on the cucumbers and rub by pressing hard against a clean working surface, rolling until soft.

Let sit for 5 minutes so that the moisture drains from the inside.

Smash with a rolling pin into bite size pieces, and transfer to a colander that is fitted in a bowl that catches excess moisture. Let drain completely for about 20 minutes or longer, then cover in the refrigerator.

In the meantime, make sauce. Combine well the sesame seeds, sugar, vinegar, soy, tahini and peppers in a small bowl.

Transfer the cucumbers to a serving plate, drizzle 3 tablespoons (or more) of the sauce over top and serve immediately. You can store the rest of the sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to about 3 weeks.

‘Beauty’ Plums

This post is dedicated to my ‘Beauty’ plums (Prunus salicina “Beauty’) which have, during the last few years, given us an abundant supply of summer’s nectar: this succulent plum is the kind that you throw into your mouth, and the sweet pulpy meat just explodes, saturating your taste buds with its warm juice.

In order to celebrate these little sweet bombs, I made plum liqueur that closely resembles Japanese umeshu, which my grandma used to make. I still remember sipping it “on the rocks” with her during horribly humid Japanese summers to help cool off (Oh, I was a minor!). I adapted the recipe from youngish Japanese plum farmers in Wakayama, the country’s No. 1 plum production center. My plums are technically a different species from those in Japanese umeshu, but yield a very similar taste. After all, I only made one minor change to last year’s plum schnapps recipe: I submerged the plums in vodka with white rock sugar. I’ll keep you posted on how this worked for doneness, and will complete the recipe according to my findings from this experimentation.

I have also braised the plums with pork using the idea from my all-time favourite book: Sensational Sauces by Linda Collister. Braising the pork with dry fruits is the book’s recommendation, but here I experimented with fresh plums and the dish emerged with a pleasing taste reminiscent of sweet and sour pork. Plums mask the sweetness in chicken broth; thus it got quite tart, but I used them together to create the gravy that gives the dish an appetizing kick in the heat of summer.

Lastly, I have turned more plums into jelly! We smear it on crackers, pour over ice cream, and drizzle on cheese scones. What’s left to do with these beauties? Bake a cake or two?

In the meantime, we are truly enjoying last year’s plum schnapps.


Braised Pork and Plums

Serves 4 -6

6 pork loin chops
Salt and pepper
All-purpose flour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, wedged
1 ½ cups chicken stock
A dozen plums, rinsed
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
A few sprigs of fresh thyme

Preheat the oven to 350F. Rinse the pork and pat dry. Salt and pepper the pork, and coat with flour on both sides.

Heat the oil in a large heavy bottomed ovenproof pan over medium high heat. Sear the pork on both sides until browned. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Sauté the onion until transparent, add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Make sure to scrape any bits of sediment from the pan and dissolve in the stock.

Bring back the pork chops, and then scatter the plums, balsamic vinegar and thyme in any openings in the pan. Place the pan in the oven and roast until pork is done, for about 35 minutes.

Remove the pork and reduce the liquid to make gravy, about half the original amount. Discard the plums and serve the pork on individual plates. Serve immediately with gravy.

Plum Jelly

The hard part about making this jelly is to skim it tirelessly in an effort to prevent it from displaying an unpleasant bitterness.

Makes 9 x 250ml jars

2 large bowlfuls of ‘Beauty’ plums
Granulated sugar

Rinse the plums well and place them in a heavy bottomed pot. Bring to a simmer and continue until pulp separates from the pits, for about 35 to 40 minutes.

Strain the plums through a piece of doubled cheesecloth overnight (I use a stool flipped upside down and tie the corners of the cloth to the cross bars to form a bag, placing a pot underneath).

Measure the liquid with a measuring cup, place it in a large pot and bring to a boil. Then, add 1 cup of sugar for every cup of liquid. Continue to boil to dissolve the sugar. Make sure to scrape from the sides of the pot so as not to leave any sugar behind. Continue boiling until the setting point is reached, for about 15 minutes. Skim as necessary. Remove from the heat. Test the doneness. Drop a teaspoonful of the jelly on a cold (refrigerated) plate and spread; then, push with your fingertips. If it crinkles, it has reached the setting point. Even if the liquid may seem loose, it will get thicker when cooled down.

Pour into warm, sterilized dried jars. Seal and store in a dark, cool place.