Sake and Salt Poached Flounder

Sake and Salt Poached Flounder

Learn the traditional Japanese cooking method for preparing flounder, poached in sake and salt. Discover the technique of using otoshibuta and the significance of cutting the ingredients for enhancing flavor. This recipe from Atsushi Nakahigashi results in a simple and utterly sublime dish, perfect for showcasing the delicate flavors of flounder.

Hi everyone: My girlfriend and I have been traveling the back roads of Mexico for the past ten days (Veracruz and Oaxaca, fantastic), but now I'm back in NYC, and continuing my series on the cooking I did with Atsushi Nakahigashi -- Harris

At the farmers market, Atsushi and I spotted local Long Island Sound flounder, in peak season right now. I asked him how to prepare this delicately fish and he suggested poaching it in sake and salt, a simple method to subtly and elegantly express its flavors. We picked up a bunch, iced them down, and brought them over to Chef Tadashi Ono's house to prepare for his family (hey, I wan't the only enjoying Atsushi's cooking!).

Japanese cooking fundamentals I learned watching Atsushi prepare this dish: When he sliced the whole flounder into pieces, Atsushi sliced it on a sharp angle (maybe 45 degrees). The reason is twofold. First, Chef Ono explained that cutting this way exposes more surface area of the flesh to the cooking liquid, so the liquid can penetrate deeper inside the fish and the flesh can absorb more flavor. And second, Atsushi added, a piece of flounder cut this way looks bigger, which is more pleasing aesthetically. So, in short, how you cut the ingredients influences how it will taste.

Also, Atsushi fashioned a makeshift otoshibuta from aluminum foil to place on top of the flounder. An otoshibuta is an invaluable tool of Japanese cooking, a drop-lid smaller in diameter than a cooking pot, so it rests directly on top of ingredients simmered in liquid. In Japan otoshibuta are traditionally made from wood, but aluminum foil works well, too. An otoshibuta serves a number of roles, Chef Ono explained to me: First, it keeps ingredients from moving around while they cook, so they don't break up. Second it concentrates the heat directly into ingredients so they cook more efficiently. And finally, it forces the liquid and flavors to circulate inside the pot, so they coat and infuse ingredients.

Here's the ingredients lists:

  • Flounder sliced into pieces
  • Sake
  • Salt
  • Konbu

The technique: Cut an "X" through the skin on top of each slice of flounder. Like cutting on an angle, this will allow cooking liquid and flavor to penetrate inside the flesh, plus, it will keep the skin from shriveling. Arrange the slices in a pot, skin side up. Place a piece of konbu (say, a 4-inch piece for four slices) on top of the fish and pour sake into the pot. The sake should only cover the fish halfway -- don't immerse the fish entirely in sake. Now liberally salt the flounder and gently cover with the aluminum foil otoshibuta so the foil rests directly on the fish. The foil should fit loosely over the fish, it shouldn't be tight. Turn the heat to high. When the liquid boils, reduce the heat to medium so it simmers. You'll see the liquid bubbling out from the edges of the otoshibuta. After a few minutes taste the liquid. The umami-rich konbu will have already begun combining with the fish juices and sake to create a heavenly fish broth. You may want to add more salt at this point, if needed (Atsushi did). After about ten minutes the fish should be ready. It'll look cooked through, and will feel done to the touch. To serve, carefully ease the fish out of the pot with a spatula and spoon sake broth over it. Simple and utterly sublime.

Atushi told me that this technique works exceptionally well with flounder because of the particular nature of that fish. With other fish, the salt may extract its juices and toughen it, actually.

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?