Atsushi and I hit the Union Square farmers market a few times during his stay. On Saturday and Wednesdays fishermen from Long Island's North Fork sell pristine seafood. On one of those mornings we spotted a majestic whole bonito on ice. We quickly snapped it up.
Back in my apartment, Atsushi co-piloted my attempt at breaking the fish. I still learning how to cut up a whole fish, Japanese-style with specialized Japanese knives, so Atsushi's real-time coaching, like Chef Ono's at Matsuri, was invaluable. (As soon as I know enough about the Japanese way to break fish I promise I'll post a detailed treatise on the subject, with video. In the meantime, keep in mind Atsushi's intonations: "Feel the bone, feel the bone, always feel the bone," "feel three points with your knife," and "mottainai, mottainai" -- don't waste, don't waste.)
Once we had a beautiful bonito filet, Atsushi explained how to naturally preserve it by salt curing. This technique, by the way, works for bonito, mackerel, Spanish mackerel, and herring. (You can find these fish already filleted, of course)
The technique: Liberally salt the bonito filet with Japanese sea salt. Really coat both sides, the top, bottom, everywhere -- give it a thick layer of salt. Now, carefully, tightly wrap the filet in plastic film so there are no air pockets, and no way for air to get in. Carefully flatten one side to remove any air bubbles, then do the same thing for the other side (Atsushi uses a specialized plastic wrap to accomplish this in Japan, interestingly enough). Place the wrapped fish in a plastic zip-lock bag. Stick in the fridge for three to four days.
When we were ready to eat, we unwrapped the filet and sliced it, sashimi-style. The transformation was remarkable: Bonito has soft, watery flesh but now it was taut and dense, with a little pink in the center. The aroma that reminded me of salted herring but the flavor was much more delicate and subtle. We ate with scallions, thinly sliced shin tama negi -- fresh onions we picked up at the farmers market -- and soy sauce and wasabi. Absolutely lovely.
When you try this dish, I'd be grateful if you could let me know in the comments how it turns out. Did it work? Any questions or thoughts?