When I told Chef Ono that I picked up a beautiful whole flounder at the Union Square Farmers Market, he asked what I was going to do with it. I thought to simmer it. "Do you have a wok?" he asked. Indeed. Then deep fry it, he urged me. "That's the taste of summer."
So deep fry it I did. Here's how, from Chef Ono's explanation: First and most important, cook with a whole fish. Japanese cooking emphasizes whole fish because the flesh is more flavorful on the bone, plus you can easily get to it with chopsticks, which are so much more precise than a fork. Chef Ono, in fact, was disappointed to hear that I bought my flounder without the head, which is also delicious - but that's how they sell it at the farmers market.
Now, on the technique. Here's what you need:
- A high smoke point oil like peanut, canola, safflower or sunflower oil
- Katakuriko (potato starch) on a plate
- Sliced scallions
- Ponzu sauce, a versatile condiment made from citrus juice and soy sauce
- Yuzu kosho, an incredible condiment made from spicy, aromatic red chili and aromatic yuzu citrus peel
Thinly slice the scallion and let it sit in a bowl of water to take out some of the bitterness. Now cut the fish in the following way: Make an incision along the spine on both sides until you reach the bone (don't cut through). Then make incisions on both sides along the top fin and bottom fin (again, don't cut through -- you want the fin on). These cuts will allow the hot oil to easily penetrate the fish. Next, salt the fish and let it sit for ten minutes or so.
Heat oil in a wok until it's nice and hot. How do you know? I think I talked about this in another post, but you can do the of old Asian cooking trick of sticking a chopstick in the oil, which I originally read about in Saveur and have since spoken to a friend who told me her mom tested oil that way (thanks, Irene). When bubbles begin to escape from the chopstick (moisture bubbling up), the oil's hot enough.
Wipe off any moisture on the flounder, then coat with the katakuriko and slide into the oil. I cooked my fish for about five minutes on each side until it got nice and golden brown.
While the fish is cooking, take a handful of scallions and squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Arrange on the serving plate. Also a dab of yuzu kosho and a small bowl of ponzu.
When the fish is ready, shake off any excess oil and starch and slide on your serving plates with the condiments. Add the scallions to the ponzu and alternate bites of flounder with the ponzu/scallion and the bright red yuzu kosho. Don't forget to enjoy the crunch fins. Like the chef says, that's summer! (And that's delicious!)
(By the way, fisherman drives in with his fresh catch to the market from Montauk on Saturdays and Wednesdays -- but make sure to get there early, like 8am or before.)