Mackerel simmered in sake

Saba nitsuke is an exquisite little simmered-dish (nimono) that benefits from top-quality mackerel (we get ours from Fin & Flounder in Broadway Market and, touch wood, haven’t had a Sancho Panza-style gushing-from-both-ends bout of food poisoning yet).

Scale, gut and wash 2 mackerel, or get the fishmonger to do it (ideally they take out the little “pin” or “fin” bones but it doesn’t matter as they’re not terribly hard). This recipe is sized for about 400g of mackerel fillets.

Heat about 175ml of cooking sake in a pan slightly deeper than the one in these pictures, yet wide enough to take the fillets. When simmering, place the mackerel skin-side up. Turn up the heat to a rapid boil. Add 100ml of mirin, and let it get back to a boil. Add 80ml of soy sauce, again let it boil. Finally grate 30ml of ginger over the fish, and a tiny amount of sugar. This “staggered boiling” process is what gets rid of any fishy odour the mackerel might have.

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Now put on a “drop-lid” (otoshi-buta) or (since they’re hard to find) simply a piece of foil with a hole in the middle, that fits into the pot reasonably well (hence I’d suggest a pot slightly deeper than the one I used, as the liquid tends to boil over). This allows for the fish to cook briskly, without the movement that would cause it to break up.

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Cook on high heat for 8-10 minutes, check for doneness, and serve hot. The dish tends to be quite strongly flavoured / salty, so it’s good to serve with steamed white rice and simple boiled spinach.

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Yuzu scallops on avocado puree

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A splendid little summer starter…the miso glaze enriches the scallops, while the ginger and yuzu dressing cuts through that richness. The avocado fills the dish out a bit and adds colour, but is optional. This would probably work pretty well with daikon radish shavings, or on its own. BTW, this doesn’t imply a Japanese main course: had this as a starter to pasta in crab sauce, followed by grilled steak with salsa verde.

Mash up an avocado’s flesh, add a little lime juice, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Make a marinade of 1cm ginger, 2 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp sesame oil, sugar to taste. Add yuzu rind if you have it, but I couldn’t find any, so used a yuzu liquid concentrate that, while not comparable to the real thing, doesn’t have any obvious chemical taste and apparently lasts okay in the fridge for a few weeks. I shouldn’t add too much, a hint of yuzu is enchanting while too much (bottled especially) reminds me of that habit nasty Italian restaurants had, in the 90s in London especially, of drizzling truffle oil on everything.

Put a drop of oil or butter in a pan (or on foil), smear a little red miso paste onto the scallops, and place on the hot pan (or under the grill). Sear/grill, turn over, same on the other side, leaving the middle translucent. Remove scallops onto hot plate, put marinade into the pan (if used) and heat briefly.

Place scallops on avocado puree, drizzle on the marinade. Garnish with coriander leaves or sesame seeds or kinome sprigs.

Tai Meshi: Gilt-head Bream With Rice

Tai meshi
Tai meshi

A fantastic, and (relatively) easy dish: the rice cooks in the juices, particularly from the skull, of a gilt-head bream. Ideally one would have an earthenware donabe casserole, but a rice cooker is just fine. Very clean flavours of fish and rice, with lots of umami coming from the dashi, and as little or much salt as one wants. Use the extra dashi to boil some vegetables or make a soup.

Making primary and secondary dashi
Making primary and secondary dashi

Make a dashi (see my post on oden for a detailed recipe): a piece of kombu in cold water, brought to just below a boil, at which point the kombu is removed. Once the water is boiling, turn off the heat, and add a little cold water to cool the broth down. Add bonito flakes, and turn heat back on. Just before it boils, cut the heat and remove the flakes immediately (neither the bonito nor the dash should be allowed to boil). Strain out the flakes (the used kombu and bonito flakes may be used for a secondary brewing of dashi, though this tends to be a stronger broth that is reduced and used for sauces or simmered dishes). Set dashi aside.

The grilled bream
The grilled bream

The bream should’ve been cleaned and scaled, with head and tail intact. Turn on oven grill, or a real grill if you have one. If using a real grill, skewer the fish appropriately so it doesn’t break apart. Assuming you’re using an oven, lightly salt both sides of the fish, and grill for 8-9 minutes a side. It should blister, crackle and hiss terrifically.

Meanwhile, wash the rice, place in the cooker and cover with dashi. Add some soy sauce (for 1 cup of rice, I use 1/2 tablespoon of “light” soy sauce, which is actually saltier than normal soy sauce; also it is not to be confused with “low sodium” soy sauce), a pinch of normal salt, and a tiny splash of mirin. I also add a few slices of ginger root which is not canonical but freshens the dish a bit.

Must have for any kitchen (that makes Indian or Japanese food). Zojirushi rice cooker.  Teflon lining makes cleaning a snap.
Must have for any kitchen (that makes Indian or Japanese food). Zojirushi rice cooker. Teflon lining makes cleaning a snap.

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Bream snuggled in rice/dashi: before and after
Bream snuggled in rice/dashi: before and after

Once the fish has been grilled, gently lift it into the rice cooker and lay on top of the rice. You may need to snip the tail and/or the head to ensure it all fits. Ideally the head is in contact with the rice and broth. A version of the recipe seems to suggest taking the head apart and putting the meat into the rice/broth to maximise flavour transfer. Sounds a bit grisly…

Cook the rice per instructions of the rice cooker, open up, remove the fish carefully and separate flesh from bones with chopsticks. Put the flesh back into the rice vessel, and mix in. Perhaps grate some ginger on top, and serve immediately.

The noticeably less happy bream.
The, late, gilt head bream.  Noticeably maudlin.

Pretty awesome grub.

Dinner.  Greens have been boiled in dashi, which is served separately as a soup.
Dinner. Greens have been boiled in dashi, which is served separately as a soup.

Rites of Spring: Oden in March

In a perverse attempt to chase away winter, we made the great Japanese comfort dish, oden, this March, coinciding incidentally with predictions of snowfall. It was eaten to the dulcet tones of Stravinsky’s piece.

This isn’t something at all found in London restaurants, though Sakana-Tei do have nimono dishes that are not dissimilar. But my favourite oden has always been at Ogawa in Ginza, in the basement of an anonymous office building, quite hard to find and utterly traditional. Businessmen at the counter, not a single gaijin (other than your correspondent), and an occasional young lady in traditional costume, with an elderly companion, with equal probability her father or husband. The dish is also traditionally served from a cart, such as at the Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo.

Oden at Ogawa in Ginza, Tokyo
Oden at Ogawa in Ginza, Tokyo

Preparation starts with making dashi , the base stock for many Japanese dishes. I won’t try to get into the details of preparing dashi, as there are variations for each dish, but in simple terms: the giant sea kelp (kombu) and shaved bonito flakes are simmered (not boiled) in water. The first pass of the kombu and bonito make a delicate dashi that could be used for soups; the same ingredients are re-used for a second simmering, which gives a stronger, slightly bitter, stock, which is then the base for long-cooked dishes such as oden.

Kombu for dashi
Kombu for dashi
Bonito for dashi
Bonito for dashi
Dashi in the pot - do not boil !
Dashi in the pot – do not boil !
Primary dashi
Primary dashi
Secondary dashi
Secondary dashi

Oden typically has a range of ingredients: daikon radishes, kabocha pumpkins, taro roots, konyaku (evocatively called “devil’s tongue jelly”, made from a yam root and quite gelatinous yet crunchy, like certain clams or jellyfish), tofu (fresh or deep-fried), fish cakes of various types, eggs, and less conventionally, chicken or vegetables. The idea is to have a range of items, that are happy to absorb flavours, and cook them in a well-seasoned broth.

Things for oden
Things for oden
Daikon radish
Daikon radish
Cut up roasted fish rolls, and fish balls stuffed with edamame
Cut up roasted fish rolls, and fish balls stuffed with edamame
Konyaku - devil's tongue jelly, cut into triangles and braided
Konyaku – devil’s tongue jelly, cut into triangles and braided

The actual making of the dish is simple (this link is quite good http://norecipes.com/blog/oden-recipe/ ), boil the daikon and the egg, until both are mostly done. Take the second-pass of the dashi, a roughly equal amount of chicken stock, mix it with a little mirin (Japanese rice wine, but slightly sweet), light (usukuchi) soy sauce, and salt, adjusting the ingredients to get the desired flavour, round and rich with umami. Put in the desired ingredients (I used daikon, two types of fish cake, konyaku and a duck’s egg), and simmer on low heat for about 90 minutes until the sauce reduces by 20-30%. It goes best with Japanese mustard, and shouldn’t really need rice (more of a starter). I’ll find out tomorrow, but they say, like an Italian ragu, this is better on the second day once the flavours have really infused.

Not as pretty (or as good) as Ogawa, but perfectly satisfactory for London
Not as pretty (or as good) as Ogawa, but perfectly satisfactory for London
Serve with Japanese mustard or sansho pepper
Serve with Japanese mustard or sansho pepper

For the main course, I minced some chicken breast and a couple of prawns. I cooked the chicken with a little sake, dark soy sauce and sugar, stirring constantly (there’s no grease, so keep it moving). Once it was cooked through, I set it aside and mixed in some freshly-grated ginger.

Chicken, prawns, if this had the crumbled omelet, it would be "soboro donburi", a traditional "sarariman" lunch in a lovely lacquered box
Chicken, prawns, if this had the crumbled omelet, it would be “soboro donburi”, a traditional “sarariman” lunch in a lovely lacquered box

The minced prawns were cooked with sake, mirin, and salt, until just cooked.

I then use the dashi, mixed with dark soy sauce and sugar, to make a little broth. I place the prawns and the chicken on boiled rice, and irrigate with broth.

The side vegetable is horenso no ohitashi (soused spinach): lightly boiled greens, in a dressing of dashi, mirin, salt, chilled for a 1-2 hours, with bonito shavings on top.

Lovely spinach from hipster heaven - Broadway Market on a Saturday.
Lovely spinach from hipster heaven – Broadway Market on a Saturday.
Dinner. Coasters, incidentally, from a design store in Meguro (Tokyo).  CH via JP.
Dinner. Coasters, incidentally, from a design store in Meguro (Tokyo). CH via JP.

Wines: a blend of home-made plum and rhubarb wines to start; followed by a Ripasso di Valpolicella 2010

Gilt-head bream baked in salt crust

Fish fileted and served
Fish fileted and served
Crust removed
Crust removed
Fish under salt, note mine has the head poking out due to small pan
Fish under salt, note mine has the head poking out due to small pan

This is a Mediterranean showpiece dish found in elegant fish restaurants in Istanbul, Italy, and London. Most memorably, I’ve had it at Korfez, a lovely place on the Bosphorus’ Asian shore that one gets to by boarding the restaurant’s launch from Bebek pier. Dinner is waterside, just under the towering Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridge, occasionally, punctuated by a passing oil tanker, fully laden from Odessa. Curiously, at night-time, one doesn’t actually see the tanker: it’s the surreal and visceral, felt rather than heard, rumble in the room, and the sudden absence of lights from the opposite shore, as the tanker occludes them.

 

Back to dinner: the fish looks impressive in its salt crust, and cooks beautifully, the salt locking in the moisture and (if successful) only gently penetrating the fish to accentuate its delicate flavour.

 

Most recipes specify sea bass, but I had very decent gilt-head bream (albeit farmed) at the fishmongers, for £7, so not exorbitant. See Rowley Leigh’s article on the topic, but I agree a nice bream probably is better than the average mass-farmed sea bass one sees everywhere. Ask your man to gut the fish, but probably not scale it; I’ve seen recipes that call for scaling and others that don’t, and the result was very good in both cases, but the scaled fish was much saltier. Make sure you have about 1kg of coarse marine salt available.

 

I don’t have one, but you should have a fish roasting pan for this to work properly. Also a fish slice to handle the beast without breaking up.

 

Preheat oven at 200C.

 

Lay a bed of salt, 1-2cm deep in the pan. Place the fish carefully on the bed. Cover the fish with salt, so no bits are exposed (hence a big pan is helpful – in my case, the head stuck out and so there was a break in the salt crust). Drizzle on a little water and pat the salt down, this helps bind the salt crust.

 

Put in the oven for 20-25 minutes depending on the size of your fish.

 

Bring it out, and gently tap the salt crust with a knife, which should come off in big chunks. Once the top-side of the fish is exposed, gently lift onto a cutting board or platter. Gently cut back the skin, which should take any stray salt pieces with it. Then lift out the filets and place on warmed serving plates.

 

Serve with lemon. I’m not sure pepper or EVOO helps, as the fish + salt has such a great flavour, that olive oil really dominates (or it might be my crap/strong/green Cypriot oil).

 

Notes:

 

The fish doesn’t really need any seasoning before cooking. Nevertheless various recipes suggest stuffing with thyme or rosemary. I put in lemon slices and (dried) rosemary, and found the effect unconvincing.

 

Various recipes suggest mixing the coarse salt with a binder, such as egg-whites, which perhaps creates a better crust. Not having tried it, I have no view.