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