Posted in General

Notable Nosh: Grilled Sturgeon

PFW Grilled Sturgeon

One of my greatest pleasures is being able to try foods that I have never had before. Until a recent visit to Play, Food & Wine in Ottawa this spring, I have never encountered sturgeon in any shape or form before and even the ‘caviar’ I have had has been from some other sort of fish (and thus not proper ‘caviar’ in the eyes of many). Accordingly, I was quite excited to see the actual fish appearing as an item on the menu and I was unable to forego the opportunity to give it a try…

The fish itself was served atop a bed of lentil salad incorporating pickled yucca and teardrop peppers. It was topped with toasted, coarsely-chopped almonds and pea shoots, and olive tapenade was added to the plate in three little pools.

To be honest, I didn’t think the tapenade added anything, and I didn’t like the lentil salad bed either in taste or texture. I don’t care for lentils all that much to begin with, and there was nothing about this salad or its other ingredients that really changed my mind. That being said though, neither of the ‘enhancements’ here spoiled my enjoyment of the sturgeon at all, thankfully…

The flesh of the fish was very nicely grilled and succulent. The texture was quite firm, yet still ‘flake-able’, much like cod, and the flavor was slightly sweet, and even somewhat chicken-like. It did not have the pronounced ‘fishy’ taste that some people find a bit overpowering in seafood and, in all, I was reminded very much of Monkfish in taste, if not in texture. Anyway, I doubt I shall be eating sturgeon very frequently in the future, as it is a bit pricey, but I very much enjoyed my introductory experience…

Wine Pairing: 2017 Pearce & Predhomme Chenin Blanc [South Africa]

Posted in Notable Nosh

Notable Nosh: Sea Bass Sashimi and Sushi

Sea Bass Sashimi and Sushi 1

A while ago, I got to try Sea Bass for the first time. At least, I think I did…

It is a sad truth that there is a lot of fraudulent substitution when it comes to seafood, and this happens no less in sushi restaurants than it does with fishmongers, or down-market fish-and-chip places. While researching for this post, I happened to find quite a few different pictures of Sea Bas on the web that didn’t look much like the fish in the above picture. This might be concerning, except it turns out that there are quite a few varieties of Sea Bass, including ‘White Sea Bass’ and ‘Striped Sea Bass’.  Still, even though the Wasabi restaurant in Ottawa is pretty reputable place, one never knows …

Anyway, when I am trying a sashimi selection, I like to try it as nigiri sushi as well, and I did this for my first experience with Sea Bass. Here you can see that sashimi portion of my order is formed into a nice little ‘rosette’ and garnished with Masago, or Smelt roe. This is actually almost a tasteless ingredient and didn’t affect the experience of the fish other than adding a little visual interest.

Unfortunately, I really wasn’t all that keen on this choice for sashimi. The flesh was a little fibrous, but other than that it had a rather soft texture that wasn’t all that pleasant, and it seemed to leave a slight ‘residue’ in the mouth. This suggested something less than peak freshness, but there were no other off tastes that would further tend to that conclusion. What flavor there was actually had the very slightly muddy taste I associate with fresh fish rather than the marine varieties… it is chiefly for this reason that I began to suspect that my ‘Sea Bass’ may have been something else…

In any event, on my next trip south, I will try and sample ‘Sea Bass’ in a few other establishments and see if I can learn a little more….

Posted in Notable Nosh

Notable Nosh: Black Cod

Wasabi Black Cod

I am sharing this appetizer I enjoyed just before last Christmas for two reasons. First, because it was a very nicely prepared dish, and also because it uses a fish I have never had before …

I had to look up ‘Black Cod’ when I was preparing this post, and I rather expected to discover that a ‘Black Cod’ is merely a specific variety of Cod, As it happens, it is not a member of the same family at all and the species is also known as ‘Sablefish’. I have included an inset picture of the Sablefish up above (thank you, Wikipedia) so you can see what it looks like. It doesn’t really look all that much like the Atlantic Cod I am used to, and I am rather surprised that one wouldn’t call it ‘Sablefish’ on a menu, as the name is quite pretty.

I had my first ‘Black Cod’ at a Japanese restaurant where it was described on the menu as being ‘marinated in miso and sake’. Once marinated, it was grilled very nicely and then served in pool of sauce that I am fairly sure was the same thing as the marinade but with mirin, or at least sugar added for a bit more sweetness.

The marinade is actually not that uncommon when it comes to grilling fish, and I have used a variation or two of the basic idea on Salmon and Arctic Char. It is not easy to see here, but the chef kept a strip of skin on the edge of the fish, which is good idea from the point of holding the cut together, but also provides a nice textural and taste addition as well. Generally, if I am grilling fish this way, I leave all the skin because I really like, but reducing it to a strip does make for eating the flesh with chopsticks a little easier.

The grilling was really expertly performed here, leaving the delicate meat beautifully succulent. It was easy to pick a mouthfeel simply by inserting the chopsticks and lifting away two or three flakes at a time. Without the skin, the flakes might not have held together once cooked to the perfect tenderness, but here, they adhered slightly, but could be ‘peeled’ off, leaving the thin strip of skin as a final little tidbit.

My only real criticism here was that the sauce was just a little bit too sweet, and thus too heavy for the very delicate flavor of the fish. Something with just a bit of citrus might be nice, if only to cut the sweetness, but aside from this aspect of the result, I thought this was a terrific dish.

Posted in Notable Nosh

Notable Nosh: Red Snapper Sashimi

Red Snapper

About six years ago, I reviewed an Asian fusion restaurant and noted that some Red Snapper sashimi I ordered had ‘that slightly unpleasant earthy taste that some freshwater fish have’. I am a little embarrassed by that review now as I did not know, as I later learned, that Red Snapper is actually a sea fish…

In fairness to myself though, I have to say, the mistake was somewhat honest as, in all probability, what I ate on that particular occasion was not Red Snapper at all. It turns out, according to a report by the American Congressional Research Service, that almost 80% of the fish offered in restaurants as ‘Red Snapper’ is some other fish entirely. Some of it is ‘Pacific Rockfish’, while Tilapia, most definitely a freshwater fish, also often appears fraudulently in its place. I am thinking, now, that the ‘Red Snapper’ that disappointed me all those years ago was freshwater fake…

Anyway, I have had Red Snapper many times since them (as far as I can reasonably tell). Most recently, I had it at Wasabi, in Ottawa, where I ordered both as the Sashimi, and Nigiri Sushi you see pictured above. This offering was definitely a sea fish and (assuming I wasn’t fooled on this occasion, or the last few times) I think I can claim this fish as being my favorite for consuming raw …

One of my absolute favorite Sashimi selections is Octopus. Partly, this is a textural thing, but I also love the very sweet marine flavor of the flesh. This same sweetness doesn’t actually come through very strongly in most fish (as opposed to shellfish), but the Red Snapper (known as ‘Tai’ in Japanese) represents an definite exception. The texture is even a bit like octopus in that it is quite fibrous and very robust (compared to, say, fatty tuna), but it is the sweet but delicate umami quality of the fish that makes it special for me. Quite honestly, I would order this ahead of the riches, most expensive Otoro any day …

Posted in Notable Nosh

Notable Nosh: Freshwater Smelt

BB Fried Smelt 1

In New Brunswick, where I grew up, Smelt, also known as ‘Éperlan’, are a small sea fish, typically deep-fried whole, with head still attached, and eaten as a snack, often with beer. There are actually quite a number of different species of fish called ‘Smelt’ in various places but, to date, I had always considered them to be a saltwater delicacy only. I was surprised then, when I saw ‘Fried Smelt’ on offer at Brothers Bistro in Ottawa, which the menu described as being harvested from Lake Erie.

It turns out, after doing a little research, that there are actually a number of different lake-fish that go by the name ‘Smelt’, and the restaurant wasn’t, as I first suspected, mislabelling their food. Normally, I wouldn’t have bothered with this particular appetizer, even though I like Smelt well enough, but I was curious to see what the freshwater sort might be like.

Anyway…  I was surprised when I was served my platter as the fish were headless, deboned, and butterflied, rather than being served whole, and they were also breaded. The sort I am used to are quite a bit smaller and so you can eat the heads and bones quite easily. They are also usually just rolled in a bit of flour before frying rather than being battered or breaded.

The flavor of the fish wasn’t actually all that different from the ones I have had in the past. Normally, I prefer the slightly briny, marine flavor of sea-fish, and find the freshwater varieties a bit ‘muddy’ tasting. These, however, were very delicate in flavor and quite sweet. There was a white sauce on the side described as ‘Tartar Sauce’ but which was anything but… Tartar sauce is mayonnaise based and this was some sort of sour cream or yoghurt concoction that was absolutely awful. The fish itself, though was pretty decent, in my book…

Posted in Notable Nosh

Notable Nosh: The Fish Taco

Highlander Fish Tacos

A while back, I dropped into the Highlander Pub in Ottawa for a beer and decided to partake of their $5 taco special. I am not a huge fan of Tex-Mex food, and usually give tacos a miss, but there was a choice between chicken, pulled pork, tofu, and fish, and I was rather hungry. I have only ever had fish tacos once before (and those were actually a Japanese-fusion sort of thing), and so I decided to give that selection a try…

The tacos themselves were pretty simple and straightforward, consisting of just a plain flour tortilla, along with some tomato, shredded lettuce, and a Chipotle Mayo for enhancement. The last time I had fish tacos, the fish was Yellowjack that was sliced and then just lightly floured and seasoned before being grilled. Here, the fish was, as far as I could tell, cod that was battered and deep-fried just as it would be in a regular old fish-and-chip special. It might sound a little mundane and boring but, in fact, the crunchy batter and thick succulent flesh worked really nicely both in terms of texture and flavor.

The only criticism I really had was that the large, rather oddly shaped chunk of fish made it a bit difficult to folds the tortilla around it and the eating of it was a bit messy. Probably two or three thin strips would work a little better. The spicy mayo was okay, if not particularly spectacular, but on the whole, I like this nice little lunch. I have been meaning to try making fish tacos ever since the first ones I tried, and, when I finally do, I may give the battered strips a shot first…

Posted in Recipes

Miso-Grilled Char

Miso-Grilled Char 1

A while back, I featured Miso in a ‘Foodstuff’ post, but, though I have used the product in several previously posted recipes, this is the first since then. I mentioned, in that post, that Miso can be used as a marinade, and the Japanese often use it that way, especially with salmon. Here I am using Arctic Char, which, for those unfamiliar, is a pink-fleshed fish that is very similar to Pacific Salmon. If you wish to try this recipe, you can use either without fundamentally changing the result … Continue reading “Miso-Grilled Char”

Posted in General

Foodstuff: Fish Maw – 魚肚 (or 魚漂 or 花膠)

Fish Maw 1

The picture above shows what appear to be three very different things but, in fact, they are just different forms of a product used in Chinese and South-East Asian cookery, and commonly referred to as ‘Fish Maw’. The word maw actually means stomach, or gullet, and, as such, the term for this product is a bit of a misnomer as it is really the ‘Swim bladder’ of certain bony (non-cartilaginous) species of fish. The swim bladder, is a gas filled sac that lies in the belly and allows the fish that possess them to maintain and control buoyancy at different depths.

As with a number of products in Chinese cookery, this item is used primarily for its texture. Some sources state bluntly that it has no taste of its own but, like tofu, takes on the flavors of other ingredients in a dish. In fact, it does have a certain, mild, ‘fishiness’, but it is still the texture that is important. It is rich in collagen, which not only gives a pleasant texture itself, but the collagen will dissolve into soups and braising liquids to lend added richness.

Several species are harvested for their bladders (Yellow Croaker is a favored type), but I do not know what from what fish any of the ones you see picture were taken… the packages I have, all written exclusively in Chinese characters, are silent on that point… In any event, the two basic forms are the plain dried article (the yellowish things at the bottom right of the picture), and the sort that consists of the same thing that has been deep-fried before being packaged for sale… Continue reading “Foodstuff: Fish Maw – 魚肚 (or 魚漂 or 花膠)”

Posted in Experiments, Recipes

Salted Char

Salted Char 1

The picture above shows my first attempt at salting fish for preservation. To date, my only experience with salted, dried fish is salt-cod, which I have purchased and used but never prepared for myself. In these of almost universal freezer-ownership, salting and drying fish in order to keep it is not really necessary but the process changes the texture in pleasing ways and intensifies the flavor. I didn’t have cod, which is a bit rare these days, but I had just purchased two large Arctic Char from a guy selling them door to door and I kept back a couple of fillets for this experiment… Continue reading “Salted Char”

Posted in Notable Nosh

Notable Nosh: Unagi

Unagi 1

Who remembers the ‘Friends’ episode when Ross boasts to Rachel of his skill in the Japanese martial arts awareness technique of ‘Unagi’?  Of course, Ross got it wrong, for Unagi is actually the Japanese word for the freshwater eel that is frequently barbecued, and often included as a sushi offering.

Saltwater eel is also found in Japanese cuisine, where it is known as ‘Anago’, but it is less common (at least in the west), and not generally cooked in the sweetish Kabayaki sauce (very like Teriyaki Sauce) common with Unagi … Eel, by the way, does not generally appear as a (raw) sashimi and in sushi, and other preparations, is invariably cooked, generally by slow-simmering, occasionally followed by grilling.

Anyway, above you see Unagi as part of a Nigiri Suhsi offering I had at Hokkaido Sushi in Ottawa. It certainly isn’t the prettiest presentation I have ever been served but it was genuinely tasty. The fish was just a tiny bit drier than it should be but the sauce was delicately used and the full, very umami taste of the fish shone through perfectly. Many people tend to shy away from eel, despite being perfectly comfortable with other fish, but this worth trying…