Whole Fish Hot Pot
I started writing this up about four months ago, and with one thing and another — mainly getting around to optimizing the photos as much as possible, as well as finding the time — this didn’t get posted until now!
Of course, you can adapt this recipe to other fish. I adapted trout to the recipe in the book, Japanese Hot Pots, by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat, published April 2011. They used a 2-3 pound red snapper; I used a 0.75 pound trout. (I have also tested this with black sea bass, weighing in at almost a pound, and which is a recommended substitution for the snapper from the authors.) They use the entire fish (after scaling and gutting and gill-removal), but I was able to get this lovely trout pre-de-boned. All that I needed to do was remove the gills on both sides — reach hand in and yank out. From all accounts, fish gills will make your dish bitter-tasting. The few bones that remain are those in the tail, head and fins. It seems in Japan they don’t mind all the extra bones and eat around them, but I think I prefer the ease of the mostly de-boned trout to the usually un-boned sea bass I tested.
My version of their recipe made three servings. If you have a larger fish, make sure you have the right size pot!
A note about the kombu, an Asian seaweed, is at the end.
Note concerning the recipe: Japanese hot pots are all about timing — you put things into the pot in order depending on how long items have to cook. If tossing everything in at once, and letting the pot have at it is what you supremely desire, this might not be the recipe for you.
Another note regards the recipe: Japanese hot pots are all about arrangement. You don’t mix everything together; food items have their own layers or corners in the pot. And when people go and serve themselves — serving yourself is encouraged — this means they can choose bits from what they want.
A Whole Fish Hot Pot Recipe
About three servings.
Napa cabbage, 6 or seven leaves (I used Swiss chard because I had a bunch lying around and couldn’t justify going to the supermarket for it this time, not while I had a whole pile of farmer’s market veggies in the fridge already. But if you are making a shopping list, do consider the Napa cabbage. I used regular cabbage with the black sea bass as Napa simply was unavailable. (I am a hearty believer in substitutions when necessary!)
3-4 inches of kombu, sliced maybe an inch or so wide. Kombu is kinda like Japanese bay leaves — it’s in there for seasoning, but too tough to actually eat. But read the bottom of this post. Rinse it.
1 whole fish, between 0.75 – 1.0 pounds. You may also use a larger fish; scale up other ingredients in approximate levels. De-gut, de-scale if your fish is a scaly fish (have THEM de-scale for you; I hate finding bits of scale adhering all over my kitchen for the next year…) , and de-gill. The head and tail stay on for presentation — and yes, in Japan they eat the meat in the head. (As do I, actually; I draw the line at eyes, however.)
Fresh mushrooms. For me, loads of mushrooms. It was probably close to eight ounces. Choose among shiitake, oyster, regular button mushrooms. If you see enoki, porcini or maitake, add those as well, as desired. De-stem those that require de-stemming (that would be just about anything but the enoki and the regular). Canned straw mushrooms would also work.
White bulb area of scallions. Coarsely chop. (A shallot might make a good substitution.)
Greens. Now, add just about anything that appeals and might be Japanese or of interest to people interested in Japanese flavorings, if it is something that will stand up to a short bit of cooking. I used braising greens sold as a pack at my farmer’s market, which included mustard greens, tatsoi, mitusoi. If you don’t have, spinach would work. About 5-8 ounces would be good.
Eggs are optional. I used a couple of raw quail eggs. For regular eggs, hard cook them then peel. I figured the quail eggs, being small, could stay in their shells and cook along with dinner. Besides, quail egg shells are purdy…
Shredded fresh ginger, about a teaspoon.
Tamari sauce or coconut aminos.
Diced scallions (green part).
If you have: bean sprouts would be lovely.
Fine sliced daikon, or perhaps a splash of color with fine-sliced red, yellow or orange bell pepper.
The Japanese use a special hot pot called a Donabe. — if you lack one (I lack one) use a good pot with a lid. The authors recommend a good enameled cast iron pot with a lid, but I also lack one of those. They say, don’t worry, just get something range-top ready. With a lid.
Layer the cabbage (or that Swiss chard!) into the bottom of the pot. Add the kombu. Add some water, enough to poach things without being a real “drain”. Turn the heat on under the pot, medium high.
When it starts to boil, add your fish and the mushrooms, the white parts of the scallions, and the daikon — as the Japanese are a lot about presentation (noted above), you’ll want not to just mumble-jumble the mushrooms and the later ingredients all together. Distinct clumps of each item decoratively arranged around apparently is the way to do this.
Anyhow, let your pot poach (covered but allow some steam to escape) with the underlying cabbage, the fish, the mushrooms and the daikon for about 6-7 minutes.
Add the rest of the veggies, and any hard-cooked hen egg (halved), again making things layer out nicely. Add a tablespoon or so of the tamari to the liquid, and cover again, for about another minute, or until the greens are lightly wilted. This is when you should also add in the ginger — as you can see I added it in a bit too early in the photo above. It lost a bit of the anticipated flavor!
I like my bell peppers au dente — if you are using, and you don’t like them au dente — most people seem not to — add them at the same timing as for the quail eggs.
Remove from range, place in the center of the dining table, and scatter the ginger and the scallions over. People should serve themselves, although for convenience, since this one is based around a whole fish rather than slices, you could put it on a platter and arrange the vegetation in corners around it. Discard the kombu when you reach it, and reserve the liquid as a broth which you may wish to spoon over your portion.
And, yes, don’t forget the DIPPING SAUCE.
Tamari (San-J makes a good gluten-free one) or coconut aminos. This is your base, I poured a bit too heavy for the photo, and while I certainly didn’t use all, the photo seems to have worked out.
Fresh squeezed orange juice, or other citrus. This is the main point behind Ponzu sauce. (San-J also makes a gluten-free one, so just use this in place of the aforementioned ingredients, should you wish.)
Scallion greens from the scallion whites you cooked in the meal proper. And now you will understand why I went with that trout — since it’s pretty much de-boned, it is much easier to work with. Especially with company. If you have a good fishmonger who can de-bone for you, this will help keep your fish intact (seriously, you don’t want to see ME debone a fish!) I did find that, with the black sea bass, taking the cooked fish and deboning it at the table did seem to get most of the bones out, without entirely destroying the aesthetics.
KOMBU: This is a seaweed which grows in the oceans off of Japan, Korea, and China. I have to admit I’d hesitate to buy it now, considering that leaking nuclear reactor at Fukushima — and recently we learned in the news that the reactor is leaking into the ocean worse than we’d thought. I did end up buying a whole stash of various seaweeds a month or two before the tsunami of March, 2011 — and as long as they remain dry, they will remain good fairly indefinitely. Kombu does add an essential umami flavor to Japanese cooking. Source yours wisely, and if you have the old stuff, stash in a cool, dry, dark location.
I think you could add a different taste of umami by using a splash or two of Thai fish sauce, if you choose. I have also just read that a seaweed that is grown off the coast of Maine, Laminaria digitata, if you can find it, is similar enough in umami effect to kombu. I will be looking for it online. (Reference: Sandor Ellix Katz, 2003, Wild Fermentation, Chelsea Green Publishing.)
If you are looking to find kombu, Asian markets, health food stores, and Whole Foods do stock it, dried. I am sure it is also available over the internet. I’d still read the label for sourcing, or use it sparingly.
I have tried a couple other recipes from this cookbook, and I am pleased with it. Yes, I have had to adapt often to what is at hand, but I enjoy doing this, and consuming the results.
Tonight I am making a sliced salmon and a stewed mussel hot pot, since I’ve scored some Napa cabbage! I’ll post that one if it turns out good, but not immediately on since there should be some variety between blog posts.
(PS: The WordPress spell checker doesn’t recognize any of the Japanese words in this post, and wants me to hyphenate “hot pot”. )