Thursday 3 February 2011

Char-grilled Miso-Marinated Mackerel and Miso Soup

Inspired by the Fish Fight campaign, I have taken to cooking Mackerel. To tell you the truth, I don't love Mackerel. I find it too fishy. I have experimented with various recipes, mainly Chinese style, as I find the soy sauce cuts the fatty fish beautifully, especially with a squeeze of lime. All else you need is a few shredded spring onions, maybe a little chilli and some noodles. But then I started thinking about a recipe I had once heard about of Mackerel marinated in Miso.

I love Japanese food but apart from sushi I really haven't cooked that much of it and I am sorry to say I have never been to Nobu, although I have been to Zuma a couple of times. Anyway, I found a fantastic recipe in The Asian Grill by Corinne Trang for Sweet Miso-Marinated Mackerel and I was very keen to try it out.

One of the best fishmongers round my way is the fantastic Jarvis's which has been in business in Kingston since 1942. One factors of its survival is due to the large rising Japanese population who flock there for super-fresh fish and therefore it is no coincidence that an Atari-Ya Supermarket is now situated just a few doors down.

Even for someone like me, who likes lurking around in exotic and mysterious shops, Atari-Ya can be intimidating. When you walk in the door you are overwhelmed by a choice of fridges, freezers and shelf after shelf brimming full of beguilingly gorgeous packaged goods, offering little or no clue as to what is inside. Unless you understand Japanese that is, which I don't! Therefore you are obliged to read the list of ingredients, which is in tiny print, to try and ascertain what these beautiful packets might actually contain.

Japanese culture could not be more alien and challenging to our English pallets, which is what makes it so exciting. Some ingredients are obvious and familiar like rice but that is where it pretty much stops. There is a fantastic array of noodles. The most common are soba (buckwheat), Ramen and Udon. These are usually served in Dashi (Japanese stock) or in Miso (a paste from fermented Soya beans) or a combination of the two. You can find instant Dashi powder but its long list of dubious ingredients often include MSG, so it is best to make your own. (Recipes below). It is up to you what you add to your Miso Soup but noodles, dried mushrooms, tofu, Nori (seaweed) or spring onions are the most usual. I find this soup is somehow really satisfying. It is clean, restorative and balancing. Apparently it is very good for hangovers too.

There is a selection of different seaweeds, apparently over 50 varieties. Some for making sushi, others for soups or even salads. If you are confused just ask the staff. They are very friendly and helpful and I easily found all the ingredients that I needed for the recipes below. All you really need for most Japanese dishes is soy sauce, sake, sesame seeds, mirin, miso and rice vinegar.

They also sell sushi from a special little sushi bar and had ready prepared meals. They actually had some Mackerel marinated in Miso for sale and I asked about it. The chef enthusiastically explained his technique to me, via translation, which involved soaking bandages from the chemist in the Miso mix and wrapping the fish in it. He said this was much more economical, involving less waste. He also said that the Miso mix could be used for all sorts of things, most obviously black cod or salmon but also for meat and vegetables. I remember a wonderful baked aubergine with Miso I once had, which I still dream about.

When shopping, just one thing - do beware. Japanese products are often extremely expensive so shop carefully, but for the recipes below - the Miso can be frozen, Mirin keeps well in the fridge and what sake you don’t use, you can obviously drink. 

I am a massive fan of cooking on my Weber barbecue which is gas and I absolutely love. It is so convenient, I use it all year round, as long as it isn’t raining. What I love most, is that the house is not full of smoke and there is no smell of cooking and there is so much less cleaning up afterwards. However, you can pan-fry or bake the Makerel and it is still delicious.

I served my Mackerel with Japanese Rice and a cucumber salad. The fish is just so amazing. The sweetness of the Mirin and Miso cut the Mackerel taking away that strong fishy taste and it ends up just delicious.

Char-grilled Miso Marinated Mackerel
from Corinne Trang's The Asian Grill

Fish candy" is how I like to describe this extraordinarily delicious dish. The classic version, found in upscale Japanese restaurants, is broiled black cod cured in shiro-miso - perhaps the mildest and sweetest of the Miso pastes (that is, least salty). The shiro-miso is combined with sugar and tangy sake to create a smooth, creamy marinade in which the fish is marinated for 24 to 48 hours. The longer the fish is marinated, the firmer and sweeter it becomes, hence "fish candy." While I often use black cod and other similar big, white, flaky fish, in the spring and summer I make a grilled version with mackerel. Mackerel has character and texture enough to stand up to grilling, and a sort of culinary magic happens when it is grilled. In essence, the fish offers pronounced flavours that balance perfectly against sweet notes, yielding a dish that is understated while being rich in flavour and texture.

1/2 cup shiro-miso (white Miso)
3 tablespoons sake
3 tablespoons Mirin (sweet sake)
1/3 cup sugar
6 Mackerel fillets
Vegetable oil for brushing 

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the shiro-miso, sake, Mirin, and sugar until the sugar is completely dissolved and the marinade is smooth.

2. Place the fish and marinade in a re-sealable gallon plastic bag. Squeezing out the air, seal the bag. Holding on to the ends, shake the bag to coat the pieces evenly with the marinade. Refrigerate the fish for 24 to 48 hours, turning the bag over every 2 hours or so.

3. Prepare an indirect fire in a charcoal or gas grill. Brush each piece of fish with oil on all sides. Grill fish skin side down first, until golden crisp and cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side.

Japanese Style Cucumber Salad

1 large cucumber
1/4 cup Japanese rice vinegar
3 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
black and white sesame seeds, for garnish

Trim the ends off the cucumber. Cut the cucumber in half to make two pieces approximately six inches long. Scoop out the seeds. Using a mandolin or a vegetable peeler, slice the cucumber lengthwise into thin ribbons, and place in a colander. Sprinkle with the salt and leave for half and hour. Gently squeeze out the excess water.
Combine the vinegar and sugar and stir well to dissolve. Pour over the cucumber ribbons, and toss well, but very gently, to thoroughly coat the cucumber. Place in a serving bowl, and garnish with black sesame seeds.

Japanese housewives always have dashi, a subtly savoury stock, to hand, since it provides the base flavour in many recipes. There is a powdered version available, but it lacks the delicate seaside fragrance of fresh.

Dashi by Xanthe Clay

1 postcard-size piece of kombu (dry kelp seaweed)
A large handful (about ¾oz/20g) dried bonito fish flakes
Wipe the kombu with damp kitchen paper, and snip or tear the edges a bit to make a rough fringe. Put the kombu in a saucepan with 1¾ pints/1 litre water and bring to the boil over a low heat. Remove the kombu when it begins to float to the surface, just before the water reaches boiling point - do not boil the kombu as it will discolour the dashi and make it taste bitter. Add the bonito flakes and let the water return to the boil, then remove from the heat. Allow the flakes to settle to the bottom of the pan, and then strain the stock using a fine-meshed sieve lined with kitchen paper or a coffee filter. Use the same day.

Miso Soup with Tofu and Seaweed
3 cups Dashi soup stock
1 block tofu
3-4 tbsp Miso paste
1/4 cup chopped green onion
Dried Seaweed (Daichu Fuefue Wakame)

Put Dashi soup stock in a pan and bring to a boil. Cut tofu into small cubes and add them to the soup. Simmer the tofu for a few minutes on low heat. Scoop out some soup stock from the pan and dissolve Miso in it. Gradually return the Miso mixture in the soup. Stir the soup gently. Stop the heat and add chopped green onion and some dried seaweed. Remember not to boil the soup after you put Miso in.

1 comment:

  1. I am a big fan of Japanese food as it is really simple, yet full of flavour.

    This looks great and I like how you use your BBQ all year round! I cheat and use a George Foreman Grill :-)


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