May 4, 2012

How I Learned to Cook Fish with Hiroki Murashima

Professor Murashima and Mr. Muto

Last week I attended a most informative class on cooking fish Japanese style from Hiroki Murashima, an assistant professor of Japanese cooking at the Tsuji Culinary Institute in Osaka, Japan. The evening was part of a series put on at the Bouley Test Kitchen, Chef David Bouley's Tribeca laboratory for culinary brainstorming and experimentation.

Before the learning started: Sesame tofu with uni, and some plum wine.
It's a smart idea: Bouley is capitalizing on the presence of a highly-trained team of Japanese chefs, in town now to staff his kaiseki restaurant Brushstroke. Murashima-sensei was humble, relying on his impressive cooking skills to do the talking. Translator and Bouley Japan liaison, Japanese journalist Yoshiharu Muto, supplied patter, jokes and additional tips, hints and arcana.They managed to pack a lot of information into a two-hour class, and turned out more delicious food than any of us were anticipating. 

Before you even get started on cooking the fish we learned there are a few must-do steps: 
  • Never use fish as is from the fish monger. First wash it, then treat it to a fine shower of sea salt--not for flavoring, but to remove its fishy smell and seal its juices in. 
  • Leave it for about 30-40 minutes, or an hour for more oily fish. 
  • Wipe or wash off the salt with either water or sake, then blot it dry with paper towels
  • Score the skin side of the fish to let the marinade or seasonings penetrate its surface.
Yuzu-marinated Spanish mackerel.
Murashima sensei guided us through various preparations, for a yuzu-marinated Spanish mackerel, sake lees-marinated grilled salmon, miso-marinated black cod, simmered black cod, steamed tilefish with scallions, and a lightly vinegared fish salad.

The Spanish mackerel was done Yuan-yaki style, teriyaki-like flavoring that dates back to its inventor, an 18th-century monk and tea master. First, Murashima-sensei marinated the fish in a mix of sake, mirin, and koikuchi (dark) soy sauce spiked with yuzu and lime. Mr. Muto, who threw in interesting nuggets of information of his own, informed us that the darker soy sauce is actually is actually less salty than usukuchi (light) soy sauce. Since it tends to darken the fish, Kyoto cooks prefer the lighter-colored style.

I loved how Murashima-sensei improvised with his accompaniments on this dish. Since the traditional seasonal fresh bamboo shoots and kinome (pepper leaf) were not availalabe here, he substituted hearts of palm, fresh basil and a light mustard sauce. To drink, there was Hakkaisan Junmai Ginjo from Niigata.

Steamed tilefish with egg white and black truffle

One of my favorite dishes was the simmered black cod dredged in cake flour, fried, then simmered in a hot pot with burdock root, green asparagus and grated daikon in a soy, sugar and mirin sauce. But perhaps the most refined was this bowl of tilefish, scallops and wakame, which Murashima-sensei capped with whipped egg white and bits of black truffle before oven steaming and then topping with julienned shin shoga, the prized fresh young ginger shoot.