Vegetables wrapped in thin slices of meat either pork or beef are a common and favorite theme in Japanese cooking. The most popular version of this theme in the U.S. is probably “Negimaki” 葱巻き which is scallion wrapped in thin slices of beef and then braised in a sweet soy sauce-based sauce. Since I had leftover nagaimo 長芋 and perilla leaves 大葉, I made this dish. Although using thinly sliced pork belly or “sanmai-niku” 三枚肉 would have been the best, I used some pork loin which I happened to have, thinly sliced and then pounded very thin.
To make it more interesting I also added “bainuki 梅肉” sauce which is umeboshi 梅干し meat (sans stone), finely chopped and then made into a paste using a Japanese mortar or “suribachi” すり鉢 with a small amount of mirin.
I made 6 sticks of the meat covered nagaimo and served them as an appetizer for two as shown above. I did this by first cutting batons of nagaimo after peeling the skin (approximately half inch thick and 2 inches long) and soaked them in water with a splash of rice vinegar. Meanwhile I cut thin slices of pork loin and pounded them thin using a meat pounder. I then coated the pork with flour using a fine mesh strainer to distribute the flour in a thin coat over the surface of the pork. I then placed a leaf of perilla on the pork, and a baton of nagaimo (after patting it dry using a paper towel) on the perilla, followed by a small amount of the bainiku and then rolled them together (#1 below).
In a non-stick frying pan on medium flame, I added a small amount of vegetable oil and cooked the meat roll first with the seams down turning to brown all sides(#2). I deglazed the brown bits (fond) from the bottom of the pan with sake (1 tbs) and mirin (1 tbs). When browned bits were incorporated, I added soy sauce (about 1-2 tsp) (#3) and shook the pan to roll the meat rolls until the sauce thickened and coated the surface of the meat (#4).
I cut each roll in half and served it with blanched edible chrysanthemum or “shungiku” 春菊 dressed with soy sauce, sugar and Japanese hot mustard mixture and garnished with toasted walnut bits.
The nagainmo was almost raw and still a bit slimy but had a nice crunch. The sliminess did not brother my wife (a good sign). Since the pork was not pork belly, I thought it was a bit dry but it had a nice flavor from the sauce and browning. The perilla and bainiku sauce added to the flavors. So, this was a rather successful starter dish for sake.