Every morsel in The Manga Cookbook is so freaking cute and delicious looking I couldn’t decide what to cook. This kind of copious edible cuteness must be how the Bento box came to be. The bento is a combo of small treats stuffed together attractively in a box or tray. In fact, stuffing the tray is compulsory, as the bento is meant to be portable. If there’s even a little space in the box, contents will shift and the omotenashi (eating with the eyes) will be ruined. In any event, I was compelled to make a variety of adorable things:
The first were boiled egg hatchlings. I started with boiled eggs. I learned to boil eggs from Julia Child. Put the eggs in enough cold water to cover them. Cover the pan and bring the whole thing to a boil. Then turn off the heat and leave the eggs in the boiled water for 10-15 minutes. Put them in a bowl of cold water immediately as this for makes them easy to peel. Well. There was an actual recipe for boiled eggs in here and I’m glad I read it. You boil the water first, then put the eggs in. BECAUSE once you put the eggs in you have to stir them around in a circle really fast until the water comes to boil again. Then you simmer them on low for 10 to 12 minutes. Why? Because this motion moves the egg yolks to the center of the whites. This is important when you slice the eggs in half – the yolks are the little faces of the hatchlings and you want them framed evenly by the whites. More importantly though, who the hell figured out that spinning eggs around in not quite boiling water puts the yolks in the middle? I am, not for the first or last time, amazed by the careful intelligence of all things Japanese.
Another thing about Japan, America, and eggs:
The recipe called for small eggs. These do not exist in American markets. Because we do everything big. Large, extra-large and jumbo were my choices. The eggs have to fit inside scooped out inch-thick slices of cucumber. So then I had to find a really big cucumber. This being America (see above), finding a cucumber the size of a vacuum cleaner hose was no problem. The rest of the process went off without a hitch – black sesame seeds for eggs and a tiny chip of carrot for the beak. This is what I got.
So cute. I know.
The eggs, though, were also about as rubbery as a vacuum cleaner hose. Good sense and the ghost of Julia Child told me that boiling the eggs instead of bathing them in boiled water was going to produce a rubbery egg but I gave The Manga Cookbook the benefit of the doubt. My only choice was to make the eggs the Japanese way up to a point but turn off the heat and cover them for ten minutes instead. I wanted to see if the firmer, rubbery egg was somehow more distinct looking in the final product. The answer to this, and another adorable Bento creation in Part II.