…I like seaweed, so I serve it in salad and hope it catches on more worldwide… –Nobu: The Cookbook, p. 135
After my recent trip to see my folks, I came back with a bit more of aonori than what I knew to do with. The only thing I could come up with was to try and do a dish I remembered having in my youth – the Shanghai seaweed battered fish that I had in Manhattan’s Chinatown all those years ago. The restaurant that served me that dish was a 1970’s restaurant called “4 5 6” at Chatham Square. After I went away to college, that restaurant all but disappeared. Recently, I came across a reference to “456: The Next Generation” (see: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/31/dining/reviews/456-shanghai-cuisine-nyc-restaurant-review.html?pagewanted=all ); but apparently the next generation hadn’t executed the dish to the NY Times reviewer’s liking. In all that time, I had been wondering how to make the dish; slowly but surely pieces/ingredients began falling into place – aonori, deep fried batter preparation and a good white fish. ‘Tempura?’, I thought to myself….
During this weekend, my wife and I went over to Kam Man, Quincy, MA to get some asian food items that we weren’t able to get anywhere else. While we were there, I was pleasantly surprised to find a tempura pot (something like what I saw on an episode of an NHK program called ‘The Professionals’ featuring tempura chef Tetsuya Soutome (see http://nhkworldpremium.com/program/detail_e.aspx?d=20120614100500&ssl=false&c=26 )). So I thought, ‘why not?’ and purchased one.
Still, I didn’t have a recipe. Searching across the web I found only a few candidates that might serve as a guide. So I decided I’d go ahead and try to make this dish tempura-style. An example of the tempura cooking process can be found here:
For the fish, the article calls for 1/2 lb of chilean seabass cut into 8cm/2cm/2cm (~3″ x 1″ x 1″). Because I was going to be adding aonori, I thought I might use Iron Chef Morimoto’s tempura batter found in his book, Morimoto: The New Art Of Japanese Cooking (p.260). The tempura batter recipe calls for 2 large egg yolks, 2 cups tempura flour, 12 oz of chilled club soda/seltzer and oil.
I thought I would try to finesse the whole thing and settle on 2 cups of flour, 2 egg yolks and 12 oz of club soda. As it would turn out, my wife also wanted shiitake tempura, so I set aside half the batter for the shiitake tempura.
But how much aonori to add in for the seaweed battered fish? From what I remember of the Chinatown dish, I remember the outer coating had a tempura yellow color with a deep distinctive green tinge to it. I came across a online recipe that suggested that the ratio was 2 parts flour and 1 part seaweed ( http://www.ttmeishi.com/caipu/f16c1f38e24845c4.htm – you might want to use google translate to get a sense of the recipe ). That suggested I was going to be using upwards of 1/2 cup of the aonori. And since the recipe called for baking powder, I thought it was just as well I used club soda in the Morimoto tempura batter recipe.
As I made the seaweed version of the batter, I noticed that the batter got really tight when I mixed in the seaweed, so I added in 2 more oz of the club soda and that seemed to do the trick in loosening the batter. So it appears the recipe for the batter was:
1 egg yolk (beaten)
1 cup chilled club soda
1/2 cup (1 jar, 8g (.28 oz)) aonori seaweed powder/flakes
1 cup flour
(combine in order listed to make the batter with chopsticks or a fork)
…and that was enough for .89 lb of 3″x1″x1″ batons of chilean seabass. To cook the battered fish, I remembered the trick from Matsuhisa, LA – use rice oil (about 1 1/2″ deep in a medium sauce pan) to deep fry the tempura at 360 degrees F for about 2 minutes/piece until crisp.
Into my tempura pot (capable of safely holding 2.5 cups of cooking oil), I put 1 1/4 cups of oil and brought it up to 360 degrees (using my cooking thermometer).
Once the oil was up to temperature, I dipped the batons of chilean seabass into the batter and then carefully dropped it into the hot oil to fry for about 2 minutes. I dropped in about 2 or 3 at a time. When they were ready to come out – I put them on a rack to air-dry – Iron Chef Morimoto mentions that if the surface of the tempura item touches paper, it tends to create steam and causes the tempura’d item to lose its crispness.
Once I got all the fish fried, I turned to doing the shiitake in the regular tempura batter the same way…
While that was going on, I put a teaspoon of salt in a frying pan and got it good and hot and poured it
over 1/4 teaspoon of medium ground black pepper, all of which I tossed for a few seconds to ‘toast’ the black
pepper (I’d called my folks to see if they remembered what sort of dipping salt was used for that dish all those years ago). All the tempura was placed on, well, a ‘tempura paper’ covered square serving plate to be served ‘family style’.
While I pretty much knew what to expect with the shiitake tempura, I was little anxious when I took my first bite of the seaweed battered fish. The taste was lighter and crisper that what I remembered having served to me in that Chinatown restaurant. The aroma was there and the flavor was basically there (after having touched the fish to the dipping salt). I think my surprise was that it was a lighter and crisper version compared to the memory of a puffy/crisp shell of the restaurant version. I have to wonder if that might have something to do with the suggested use of the baking powder in the recipe at the http://www.ttmeishi.com I mentioned earlier. The other surprise was the appearance. While I was not put off by the green-ness of the dish, I think I’d reduce the amount of aonori by half to see if I get the balance of tempura yellow and underhue of green that I remembered the next time I tried making this dish. All and all I think both my wife and I were happy with the results.
Update (25 July 2015)
So I was thinking about this dish again and came across the following video resource – http://www.marthastewart.com/912899/nobu-prepares-sea-urchin-tempura#912899
In the video, there is a step which is apparently not mentioned in the cookbooks that I saw Matsuhisa-sama doing. At time index 1:53-2:02 in the video Matsuhisa-sama sifts his flour into the egg/water bowl to make the batter. There was one other surprise that I noted in the video at time index 3:34-3:53 – Matsuhisa-sama lightly dredges his item before he coats it with the batter (a step is that is passingly mentioned in only a handful of his recipes).
Matsuhisa-sama comments he beats 1 egg yolk in 3 cups of icy water and then uses 1 cup of that with 1 cup of regular (all purpose) flour. That clearly echo’d the tempura batter I finally settled on (as written above).
Ohmoriya Aonoriko – Mitsuwa, Edgewater, NJ
Tempura Pot – Kam Man, Quincy, MA
“King” Rice Oil – HMart, Burlington, MA
Davidson’s Pastreurized Eggs, Shaw’s Market, Auburndale, MA
Tempura Paper, AnimeZakka, Harvard Sq, Cambridge, MA