Sunday, October 18, 2009
Sometimes it takes a desperate situation for the invention of a gourmet's adventure....
Stumbling upon my friend's travel blog has invoked fonded memories of strolling along Hokkaido's food markets.
A place that is well known for the exquisite sea urchin (uni or うに-雲丹), the monstrous giant red king crab (tarapa kani or 鱈場蟹), the creamy and luscious sea scallops (hotate gai or ホタテ貝), and various fruits with scents and tastes that have been engineered by the Heavens, it is this cured fish that topped the list of inspirations for this culinary adventure, the "Overnight Cured Flower Crucian Carp" originated from Japan's Chiba Prefecture (日本千葉縣一夜干の花鯽魚).
Prior WWII, the Flower Crucian Carp (花鯽魚) was considered as the "poor men's fish", due to its quick spoilage nature. As natural resources became scarce as the war began, this carp was distributed in the northern regions as dietary protein. A restaurateur of an Izakaya chain in Hokkaido took this as an opportunity to explore the use of this fatty fish, from preservation to recipes execution, created a dish that, not finding it on a Izakaya menu in Japan would be a challenge!
The preservation procedure is rather unique but simple. Unlike most cured fish, it takes only one night to dry. The fish is first cleaned and gutted, then soaked in salted water. The salted fish is then hung to air-dry overnight to remove excess water, and therefore concentrate the rich oil and flavour within the fish. The cured fish is either sold in the wet market, or vacuum-packed for distribution within Japan.
Due to its richness in fat this cured treat is often prepared by passing over a charcoal grill. With such a simple treatment comes with an unexpected delight in all senses, that words can hardly make justice. This dish shared the freshness of the uncured cousin. The slightly firmer but extremely moist texture of its flesh balances well with the crispy charred yet slightly gelatinous skin. But I believe it is the aroma from the carbonisation of fish oil that solidified this culinary experience.
It takes a desperate situation for the invention of scientific preservation, but it takes an artist to transform an underprivileged ingredient into a dish that would satisfy a gourmet!