Man, am I in the mood for Japanese. After an artery-clogging, liver-straining, too-short trip to the seaside (no reception, no wifi, lots of bliss) my body needs a few days of no-fat, simple, cleansing and otherwise healthy but flavourful food. It needs this because, quite frankley, I ate an obscene amount of meat. Not quite up to the baccenalian levels of Blokes eat Beef, but still far too much, especially when you added in pints of Sharp’s seasonal Winter beer.
In a bid to salvage what I can from the satiated wreck of my body, I’ve decided to cast aside meat and booze for the next few days. And if there’s a cuisine more suited to detoxification than Japanese, I’ve yet to see it. It’s an odd combination of simple and refined. They’ve cut out all extraneous stuff and focused right in on flavour and freshness.
Accordingly, last night’s meal was based around some mackerel that had gone from sea to freezer in under 24 hours, some (locally grown) Pak Choi and kohl rabi, and butternet squash.
Mackerel has to be one of the best value fish around – it’s tastier than all that farmed salmon, stands up well to almost anything you want to chuck at it and has a strong, almost gamey flavour. Plus it’s sustainable, local and looks great. Oh yes, it’s dirt cheap too. And it’s healthy, what more could you ask for?
Here this fine fish is the centre piece of an intenesly savoury-sweet saucy dish that balances the super-fresh sea and game flavours of the mackerel with umami-rich miso, sweet mirin & sake and salty soy. The flavours combine to form a strong, but delicately balanced dish, held together by the mackerel and ginger (which also stops the sauce from becoming too rich).
I served it with a nutty and rich sesame glazed squash and some plain steamed pak choi to proved a silky smooth contrast. Were I to make more of a meal of it I’d also have some sticky sushi rice and perhaps a lightly pickled salad of cabbage or cucumber as well. Maybe some miso soup too. But as it was, what I needed was something small and flavourful, and this fulfilled those requirements admirably.
Enough for four with sides and rice
You can find the sesame glazed squash here, it takes about 30 minutes to cook, but is best served luke warm, or even cold. The Pak Choi was simply steamed with some fresh ginger for about five minutes.
Mackerel isn’t the only fish you could use here, you could probably use salmon or trout too. You wouldn’t want any white fish though, it’s too wussy and would be lost in all the (tasty) noise.
The Kohl Rabi is there to provide a different texture, the smooth, slightly peppery after-taste lingers lightly on the tongue after the initial hit of sweet-saltiness.
2-3 mackerel, filleted
60ml soy sauce
3 tblsp caster sugar
3 tblsp miso
1 kohl rabi
Peel and slice the slice the kohl rabi into half rounds about as thick as a pound coin. Peel and slice the ginger into long slices as thin as you can make them.
Bone the mackerel and slice into 12 pieces, leaving the skin on so they maintain some sort of shape. I cheat a bit with the pin bones and don’t pull them out one by one. I’ve tried this before and inadvertently ended up with mackerel mash. Instead I cut a long v-shaped slice down the length of the fillet, removing the pin bones in one swift movement.
Combine the sake, soy, mirin, sugar and miso in a pan big enough to hold all the fish pieces on one layer and heat gently. When the sugar has dissolved, bring the the boil and lay the mackerel in the bottom of the pan. Then add the kohl rabi and the ginger, cover and turn the heat right down so that everything bubbles away gently for about 10-12 minutes.
Use this time to steam the Pak Choi (or other greens) and serve with the pumpkin and rice (if you’re having it). Quick, easy and delicious. Just what you need after a couple of days of artery hardening over-indulgence.