Here's another dish that makes use of the invaluable otoshibuta. Atsushi and I picked up a small whole sea bass from the farmers market, so fresh its eyes were crystal clear and gills bright red. We cleaned and scaled it and decided to simmer it whole, something I've wanted to learn how to do. Atsushi used only soy sauce, sake and sugar to simmer the fish. Japanese recipe books usually say to add ginger, too, to cut the fishiness. "But you don't need it," Atsushi said. "Ginger is too strong and will overpower the fish's flavor. In keeping with Nakahigashi's natural style, Atsushi explained that the soy sauce itself is enough to temper any fishiness. By the way, this technique works well with carp and sea bream, too.
Here's what you need:
- Whole sea bass
- Koikuchi soy sauce (dark soy sauce)
The technique: Place the sea bass in a pot. Pour about a tablespoon to tablespoon and a half of sugar over the fish and about a cup of sake and a cup of soy sauce. Atsushi was just pouring from the bottles, so I'm estimating, but you want equal amounts of sake and soy sauce. The liquid should be a half an inch or so deep. It should not cover the entire fish. In fact, our seabass was a couple of inches thick, so most of it was not immersed in the liquid. Fashion a loose-fitting aluminum otoshibuta to cover the fish and cooking liquid. Turn up the heat to high. When the liquid starts boiling, reduce the flame to medium and simmer.
After about five minutes Atsushi and I tasted the liquid. The soy sauce flavor seemed a little too strong, so Atsushi added another tablespoon of sugar. You want a balance of saltiness and sweetness. After about ten minutes the sea bass was ready.
Once the heat is turned off, tilt the pot on an angle and spoon cooking liquid over the whole fish, coating it carefully. Atsushi did this about ten times. He explained that because he was cooking only one fish in the pot, the liquid didn't circulate enough on top of the fish. You want the entire fish to be infused with the flavors of the cooking liquid.
Now transfer the sea bass to a serving plate and pour the cooking liquid over it. To eat, press down the center of the fish with chopsticks and split it open over the spine. The flesh was perfectly cooked and tender, and came right off the bone. We dipped it in the cooking liquid to eat.
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?