Thursday Night Smackdown: Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here

Really, abandon it. Now.

I will give you $10 if you can guess what is in this bowl of soup.

I can make that bet because I know you will not be able to guess, and if you did, you are obviously a cheater. What we have here is a bowl full of “noodles” made of pureed, extruded, poached, fried fish.

Pureed, extruded, poached, fried fish is UNHOLY. And not in the good way, the way candied bacon is unholy. It is a thing that should not be. Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto and your New Art of Japanese Cooking, you have failed me. I should have known better than to trust the Iron Chef most likely to make salmon cupcakes with veal cheek buttercream.

And I gotta tell you, I’m not even that excited to write about it. Never have so many worked so hard only to have to order a pizza at the end of the night.

Brian, from upstairs just now: “It still smells gross up here.”

At least it didn’t take very long to make, or else I’d really be pissed. Oh wait, did I say it didn’t take very long? What I meant was that it took 2 and a half hours. So thank goodness it was pretty straightforward, by which I mean I had to use every saucepan I own multiple times and I’m still trying to scrub vile, viscous fish paste off my body.

Masaharu Morimoto is the Thomas Keller of Japanese food, and I don’t mean that as a compliment.

Anyway, it starts with a pile of fish (in this case, red snapper) that you salt for half an hour. This was pretty much the high point.

If my upstairs neighbors are reading this: I’m sorry about the smell! I didn’t know! I will bake you cupcakes!

Once salting time is up and the fish is rinsed, it goes into the food processor. The semi-cured snapper is half mush and half leather, kinda like a pair of nice leather boots that you were wearing when you got caught in the rainstorm and they got soaked and you put them by the radiator when you got home but they’re only half dry. Which totally sounds like the description of something you want to eat, no?


Joining it in the food processor: egg white, corn starch, sake and “Japanese mountain potato.” Except I don’t live on a mountain or in Japan, so the latter is not all that easy to come by.

The internet (which I trust implicitly) tells me that Japanese mountain potato, called yamaimo, is a kind of yam eaten raw in salad or used in making soba noodles. I couldn’t find any good info on substitutions so I winged it with some Jerusalem artichoke – which is a tuber and not vaguely artichoke-related, as its name might indicate – based solely on the knowledge that Jerusalem artichokes can also be eaten raw.

I suppose it is possible that the entire dish hinged on the two tablespoons of Japanese mountain potato that are meant to go into the fish paste, and that my substitution is that doomed the whole enterprise to immediate failure. Possible. But, I suspect, unlikely. And if the fricking mountain potato IS that important? You should tell me so.

It almost looks like something good, doesn’t it?

Like, maybe this is some kind of frosting, or strawberry custard thing.

The fish paste instantly became incredibly glutinous in the food processor, which was the first harbinger of doom. I’m not entirely sure how I scraped it into a bowl; I do know that it took much longer than scraping shit into a bowl should take.

The fish goo chilled while I turned to the broth.

It happened so fast, he didn’t even know that he was little more than pair of bulging eyeballs and some gills.

I’d purchased a whole fish and had the good fortune of having the sole knowledgeable fishmonger employed by New York City-area Whole Foods, who cheerfully broke down the fish and wrapped up the skeleton for me.

He was a pretty big fucker (the fish, not the fishmonger*), so I had to chop him into a couple of pieces to get him into a stock pot. I don’t own a cleaver, so I used a chef’s knife and some elbow grease. The backbone was fucking thick, so there was a lot of aimless hacking. Eventually I got over my fear of slicing off a finger, put my back into it and managed to get him into three pieces.

The fish corpse gets an initial quick boil, Thomas Keller style, before being drained and returned to the pot for the official start of stock-making. It seems like an irritating step, but it did get a lot of scuzz out of the fish that would have interfered with a nice, clear final product.

*He was twiggy, but I bet he’s strong in that wiry kind of way. Also? He was VERY excited about breaking down the fish.

Yes, this is edible plant matter.

He went into a pot with some kombu, a type of seaweed used frequently in Japanese cooking for making stock; it’s one of the main ingredients in dashi.

Fish concentrate.

After 30 minutes of simmering, the broth is strained. In a new, clean pan, I heated some neutral oil and added some thinly sliced jalapeno. Once the chile was softened, I poured in a bit of sake and added the broth and some soy. After adjusting the seasoning, I pushed it onto a back burner and prepared to face the fish goo by bringing a pot of water and kombu to a boil for the first round of cooking.

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Chilling did nothing to alter the frighteningly unappetizing gelatinous lump that was the fish paste. At this point, the only positive thing I could say about it was that it was easy to get into a pastry bag because it moved as a single mass.

And about that pastry bag: The only thing that stopped me from taking pictures of the pastry bag carnage was my fear of smearing fish paste all over my camera. I initially tried to use a zip-loc with a corner snipped off to pipe the fish.* By this point, the fish had taken on a life of its own and it burst through the side of the bag when I tried to pipe it into the poaching liquid. Not along a seam, mind you – just straight through a random spot in the plastic.

So I painstakingly transferred the fish goo into a gallon-size heavy-duty plastic bag. Which also split. As did the second one I tried.

*This should never be a culinary instruction: “pipe the fish.”

Totally worth it!

With every inter-bag transfer, I lost more and more fish goo and got more and more of it all over my hands, forearms, counters, floors, dogs, lighting fixtures, husband, etc.

Finally, I caved and pulled out the heavy-duty Wilton plastic piping bag, filled it up and screwed on a tip. And piped about three inches worth of fish noodle into the pot before the fish golem BURST THE TIP AND COUPLER RIGHT OFF THE GODDAMN PIPING BAG.

I was ready to call for the pizza at this point, but Brian helpfully suggested that I try to subdue the golem with more liquid to thin out its consistency. Whisking was impossible – have you ever tried whisking additional liquid into already-set Jello? – so I pulled out the food processor, only recently scoured clean of the first round of fish goo, and re-blended the fish with a little additional sake.

Back into a plastic bag. Back to the pot. Piping ensues, as does much cursing.

If this actually were funnel cake I would be SO SO HAPPY.

The fact that the fish noodles had to be fried after the poaching was nearly enough to put me over the edge. By this point, it was nearly 9:30 PM, I’d spent 2+ hours in a kitchen that smelled like hot buttered ass, and I’d accumulated a pile of dirty dishes over 14 feet high despite having tried to clean as I’d gone along.

Each pile of “noodles” only took a few minutes to brown. They puffed unexpectedly, and started to look like something that someone might actually want to eat. I chopped some more jalapeno, scallion and cilantro to add to the broth at the last minute as the fish fried.

Too good to be true? Of course. When I removed them from the oil, they shriveled like George Costanza exiting an ice-therapy bath.

And you know, the pizza we ordered wasn’t that great either. Motherfucker.

Still, it looked kinda pretty in the bowl, the herbs and veg sent up a gorgeous fresh scent when they hit the hot liquid.

BE YE NOT LURED BY THE SIRENS OF MORIMOTO. The texture of the fish “noodles” was one of the more objectionable things I’ve ever encountered; rubberized packing peanuts is the most apt description I can think of. The flavor was okay – blandly fishy, a little sweet from the sake – but there was no way to force oneself to continue masticating the chewy flaccidity of these noodley horrors.

The broth was equally disappointing. There wasn’t much depth of flavor, and the jalapeno added no punch at all. The only enjoyable flavor came from the fresh herbs and veg added at the last minute.

I feel beat down all over again having re-hashed this in writing, as I’m sure you can tell. If you’ve made it this far, thank you and I’m sorry.

Fucking Morimoto.

Final Score: Us, 1000; Food, 0. Because this recipe SUCKED MY ASS AND I NEED TO FEEL BETTER.

58 thoughts on “Thursday Night Smackdown: Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here

  1. This is the funniest post I have have read from you. Something inside me makes me avoid that book and you have justified why. Actually the concept is interesting, just too much work for all that greasy limp fishy noodles. I feel for you all the smell up in there. You need a special treat after all of that.

  2. OMG, Jeremy and I are laughing so hard. I’m sorry this sucked so bad for you. I’m really sorry, but this was so damn funny to read. We are crying… we are crying tears for Morimoto when kick him in the shins.

  3. Oh god that sounds like an awful night. Having had a burst piping bag (three in a row) incident just yesterday I can sympathise, although the fact that mine contained buttercream and yours was fishpaste means that I can never truly know how you feel. Sorry that the pizza sucked too – thank god it’s friday?

  4. Gawwwdddd Daaaaammmmm! I think I would have killed someone after all that. Probably the pizza guy. Fish goo? Reminds me of Man goo. And I wouldn’t eat that piped and deep fried either. ;) Sorry about the disaster, Michelle. It happens to all of us at some point or another. Make another batch of those blondies and fuggedabadit. :)

  5. A VERY funny post. Have you ever been to Matsuwa in Edgewater? They’d have those potatoes or anything else for funky failures like this. Of course, you’d have to know what you want by sight; translations are scarce.

  6. Morimoto’s not even a good Iron Chef. His contract must require that the not-so-secret ingredient be fish since it always is when he’s on. If he can’t roll it into sushi, he ain’t coming. I say give him goddamn hot dogs or marshmallow creme and let’s see what he can do. No wonder he tapes over the American flag on his jacket. And here’s a thought: why do people insist on dragging out the chopsticks for cooking or eating anything involving a vaguely Asian ingredient? Suddenly tongs or a fork won’t work just because you’re in the bourbon chicken place in the mall? Me love you long time.

  7. Man, this has been a crap week for houses that don’t want to smell icky… did you read the French Laundry at Home post about making Thomas Keller’s tripe? Friggin’ hilarious. I’m so glad I’m not neighbors with either of you guys… You make me happy to have a troop of cracktards living above me ;-)
    Just kidding! But thanks for the early morning giggle. That was fun. Sorry the pizza sucked.

  8. Dude, I feel for you. I don’t know if Morimoto is the problem, or the exponentially increasing weirdness of Japanese cuisine as one moves away from the epicenter of sushi…
    I’m a new reader, and I’m very much enjoying your stuff. Here’s what I said when I sent the link to my friends: “So if you’re getting this email, you have revealed to me at some point that you dig food, or I have decided that you should. I wish I could write a blog like this. In fact, reading a blog like this makes me want to write one. I am confident, however, that mine won’t be as funny or cool or badass. Either way, if you have a minute, enjoy… ” Looking forward to next week. I promise I won’t genuflect so much in my next post.

  9. I can’t tell you how bummed I was to read this soup didn’t turn out well. Or that your pizza disappointed too. But, what took the cake? That photo of bagged fish goo. Yikes. Scary, scary shit. That would’ve sent me reeling.

  10. Oh boy! I normally love looking at your photos, but I know this meal had to be bad because even your photos couldn’t make this look better. I looked at these and things went though my mind like, “That looks like the thin squirty bowel movements of someone with a bad liver.” (Granted the times it resembled strawberry cream or funnel cakes were nicely distracting.)

    So sorry this was a bad experience. I consider you brave for posting it. I hate it when a lot of work in the kitchen amounts to nothing.

    I’ve never been all that impressed with Morimoto. Go sell the book on Ebay and buy yourself a decent pizza with the profits.

  11. Last fall my friend and I went to some snotty event about the beauty and mystery of Japanese cuisine where Morimoto was the featured speaker. Our conclusion: Iron Chef Morimoto is both hilarious and completely insane. Your valiant yet ultimately doomed struggle with his cookbook only confirms his bugfuck-craziness.

    Oh, as for the beauty and mystery of Japanese cuisine… dude, there is nothing mysterious or beautiful about a cuisine that includes pizza topped with canned corn and kewpie mayonnaise.

  12. My favorite part of the story that wasn’t told by Michelle:

    I was downstairs when the tip broke off the heavy-duty piping bag. As I’m walking into the kitchen a few moments later I see Michelle piping the fish goo into the boiling water, but since there was no tip the goo was coming out in logs about three quarter inches in diameter. I think she was so fed up with the experience that she was just trying to get it over with. She pulled a 7 inch log out of the pot that made me want to throw up right on the counter. That’s when I suggested thinning the goo out – because who could eat something that looks like a fried fish dangle? I’ll tell you who. Me. I ate that shit. And while it tasted like nothing, the texture was unreal. When I tried to cut into it with a fork, it bent and reformed in seconds like it was made of rubber. Come to think of it, maybe this is how synthetic rubber is made?

    But the “pepperoni roll” from Esperanto’s wasn’t so bad.


  13. courtney, i DO need a special treat. and not one that i have to make myself, because i really need a vacation after last night.

    jen, i won’t cry when you kick morimoto in the shins. i will LAUGH and i will LAUGH HARD.

    laura, yeah, when you burst a bag of gelatinous fish paste, you can’t lick it off your hand. i think i may need to inform brian that he’s taking me to dinner tonight.

    canary, no you wouldn’t have, because you have have been TOO TIRED to kill. but what you could do? force them to eat this soup.

    susan, i have. but driving there is somehow always a pain in the ass, and i try not to scuttle around to a bunch of different stores whenever possible. i guess i should go and just stock up on japanese mountain potatoes for future use.

    tim, amen.

    ann, i did, and it was really funny. it actually sounds worse than this, which makes me feel a little better.

    mike, thanks, and welcome! glad you dig it here. brown-nosing is always appreciated.

    sherry, i wanted it to be good for you, i really did. i think parts of my brain started shutting down out of self-protection when i got to the piping-fish-goo part.

    rachel, now think about the photos i SPARED you. and shiver as the chill of fear passes through your body.

    at least i got the book for 50% off.

    brian, that’s one of the parts i’m trying to block out. but also: heh, you said “dangle.”

    carolyn, i don’t even want to know what kewpie mayonnaise is, i just don’t.

  14. isn’t it always the case that after you try a recipe that eventually falls flat (and apparently, this was more than flat) that whatever you actually get to eat at 10, 11pm at night is somehow never ever as good and you want it to be?

  15. syd, the bass-o-matic is far superior to this, because at least then it’s over quickly. blend, chug, done.

    pam, so true. i can usually scarf half and esperanto’s pizza (they’re really thin and not very big), but i could barely manage 2 slices and a bite of pepperoni roll. pathetic!

    mary, fish dangle. fish dangle. fish dangle.

    dp, perish the VERY THOUGHT. DO NOT DO IT.

    evil, wow, your cat is not fucking around.

    cakewardrobe, it’s cold comfort, is what it is. but thanks.

  16. That is one ugly soup…. at first I thought it might be a sweet, dessert soup with churros, which would probably cancel out ugliness with churro-goodness.

    Nice try though! Damn Morimoto!!

  17. God bless your stubborn soul, I would have abandoned it mid way for sure!
    If nothing else, there are the multitudes who got a really good laugh out of it!
    Looking forward to your next culinary adventure!

  18. wow
    that right there?

    i am stunned by the magnitude of the disaster of that enterprise

    i will say that it pisses me the fuck off when cookbooks take too much forgranted – like we went to the CIA and we’re cooking in a restaurant kitchen…

  19. Michelle-
    I am so sorry for you, but really, you and Brian made my day.
    I haven’t gotten that giggly for a long time…I couldn’t stop! No, no alcohol was involved, either…just a hell of a funny post!

  20. alright, you have heard it 18 times, but HILARIOUS post. Isn’t it nice to know all your readers are laughing at you…I mean laughing with you. And, you are likely one of the few people on earth who has actually attempted that dish.

  21. All that work? For fried fish dangle soup? I can’t even believe you kept going–I’d have given up…right before asking the fish guy to hack up the fish for me. Then I’d have gone home and had a stiff drink.

  22. Bummer sorry to hear about that. This is why I refuse to try recipes that involve more work than I’m normally inclined to do (which isn’t much). I think my enjoyment of a dish is inversely proportional to the amount of effort I put into it (this might explain why stuff that takes a lot of work always tastes better the next day).

  23. “I can’t help but think of Bass-o-matic.” – oh wow, I remember that! HAHAHAHAHA!

    oh my god michelle, my god. where to even begin? this was horrific. and it gave me a whole new perspective on morimoto. but like everyone else said, thanks to you and brian for cracking me the fuck up.

    one more thing. YOU HAVE A MITSUWA?? that’s only 1 of 8 in the country. I have one close as well. the reason I am screaming at you about it is because, drive aside, bad parking aside, I cannot stop going there to eat in the food court at santoka ramen. if you’ve tried it then ignore me being a maniac… but if you haven’t, then for the love of god, please, please go. pleeeeease. pretty please. get the special pork for $10 and have an orgasm in your mouth. if you’re a noodle love, it’s an experience unlike any other. a revelation. I found out hillary from chew on that has near her the only other one outside of socal, in chicago, and I yelled at her to go also.

    ok I’ll shut up now.

  24. how very disappointing that must have been. you know, to make up for htat you should make a nice bouillabaisse and have it with some nice crusty baguette and butter…lots of butter…because butter makes everything better.

  25. omg… that was hilarious.

    so sorry though. what a pisser after all that work. kudos for sticking with it though, damn.

    i’d never try and make a morimoto dish. his stuff looks gross even when HE makes it!

  26. So glad there is potty humor all through this post and the comments, so I can say without hesitation that I just peed myself laughing!

    You rock, Michelle. (Brian rocks, too for taking a bite of the dangle.) Death to the golem noodles!

  27. everyone, thanks for all the great comments; it helps to know that some good has come out of this unfortunate event. also, it helps to spread the misery around. although i see that my readership is schadenfreude personified.

    you know what’s funny? funny strange, not funny haha. the whole shindig pissed me off so tremendously when i sat down to write, i just wanted to spit the story out and be done with it, no bells or whistles. so when i read this back, i don’t find it that funny. i mean, the incident itself was funny, but the writing just seems straightforward and somewhat tinged with despair. go figure. i guess i’m still too close to the tragedy.

    brian, who shall henceforth be known as “dangle muncher,” is going to fetch some weekend bagels, so maybe that will help lift me out of this morimoto-induced funk.


  28. HahahahahA!!! That looks more like a bag of liposuction than a false titteh, though, imo (remember that scene in Fight Club?).

    Morimoto-san is a hot sumbitch, though. It’s too bad his cookbook is a huge practical joke at Nipponophilic gaijin.

  29. I feel for you Michelle. All that work for….fish dangle soup? Ewww! So not fair! I’ve had my share of kitchen tragedies, but am usually not as brave as you to talk about it. (Except for the fruitflies!). Anyway, that’s what garbage disposals are for. ;)

  30. Sorry this didn’t work out – but it was funny hearing about it! Kola is walking around repeating, “hot buttered ass!”

  31. I nearly bought that book on sale yesterday but thought better of it. Now I feel much better and I know why they were selling it so cheap. Because it’s crap.

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  33. Kewpie mayo isn’t too scary — it’s basically Miracle Whip in a squeeze-bottle with a kewpie-doll mascot on the label. (okay, the kewpie-doll is kind of scary.) They put that shit on pretty much everything in Japan.

  34. Oh Michelle- I am sorry for your painful experience (jesus- I hope you have a fucking dishwasher), but if it helps- this was one of your most entertaining smackdowns yet. My insides are throbbing from laughing so hard.

  35. A friend of mine sent me your blog after she realized that I have Morimotos’ new cookbook. First of all, thanks for the warning…I am a Corporate Executive Chef and appreciate knowing the pitfalls. I read this at work and had to hold my mouth from laughing too loud. You are hilariuos with a great sense of wit….I think I will read it again tomorrow just for shits and giggles. I am going to attempt the angry chicken…have you tried that yet. Thanks again for your blog, it put a big smile on my face!!

  36. Dear god, I nearly peed myself reading this. Talk about a hilarious tale. I hate it when that crap happens. There should be a disclaimer in the book :D Those do look like some pretty bloody terrible noodles, and no fault of your own.

    I will remember to shout at the TV the nex time Morimoto is on Iron Chef

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  38. Michelle – I’m bummed about this recipe. I hate to gross you out (even more) but fish paste is one of my favorite ingredients. I guess it’s something that you most likely have to have grown up eating. I do think that frying the fish paste noodle-things was a bit much… One of these days, you’ll have to try Vietnamese Shrimp on Sugar Cane – it’s shrimp paste that is grilled on sugar cane. I promise, it’s good :)

    I swear, I laughed so hard at the caption under the fish paste-filled piping bag!

  39. Okay, I just about busted a gut trying not to laugh out loud and wake the kids! I just found your blog tonight, and I think I’m gonna be lost here for awhile. You definitely have a way with words!

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  43. Great post. I laughed out loud! I have gone the plastic bag to heavy-duty Wilton bag route, but I would have been downright pissed about the Wilton bag bursting.

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