Sometimes I dream of luscious, unctuous, tender fish that literally melts on my tongue. At least that’s my reason for the drool on my pillow. While for the most part we eat a fairly simple and mostly healthy diet, there are times when I crave rich, buttery, sweetly salty 味噌漬け銀鱈 misodzuke gindara (miso-marinated sablefish, usually called “black cod” in the US although it’s not actually part of the cod family). Black cod is so rich and buttery cuz it’s a great source of omega-3 fatty acids like EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). In fact, it is often substituted for overfished Chilean sea bass and is relatively guilt-free due to sustainable fishing techniques. But some of that guilt comes dribbling back in when you realize that while a 5-oz fillet contains a whopping 3200 mg omega-3 fatty acids, the good for your heart and cholesterol unsaturated 15.6 g monounsaturated fat and 4 g polyunsaturated and 26 g of protein, it still contains 377 calories and that’s before adding any ingredients or side dishes. So the good for your heart and inherent anti-inflammatory effects of EPA and DHA come at the expense of your waistline. Oh well, nothing a few uphill climbs and crescent kicks won’t fix. Actually, in all honesty, usually I can only eat half of a decadent 4-oz fillet before I feel so full from all the luscious flesh but I realize that I am probably more sensitive to the sating effects of fat since our diet is relatively low fat so I’ve kept this recipe a “full portion” for when we have guests.
Despite it’s Nobu-ized fame, misodzuke gindara is a fairly humble and ubiquitous Japanese dish that’s found in many izakaya (Japanese pubs that serve small plates of food) and even some sushi restaurants. Actually, a lot of home cooks are able to enjoy this sensuous delight… as long as they have a good fishmonger. Luckily, my dealer is not only dialed in, he’s hooked up😉 Since they source their own seafood, sometimes even catching it themselves off the Oregon coast, they’re able to get fresh, never frozen, black cod. Sadly, I’m not the only one who knows about this cuz it usually disappears before they even have time to type up their weekly newsletter [sob]. Traditionally this dish is made with a special type of miso (fermented salted soybean paste) called 西京味噌 saikyo miso that originated in Kyoto. It is naturally sweet because unlike 白味噌 shiro miso (white miso which is ironically a light yellow/beige color)), saikyo miso contains more rice than soybeans and actually becomes sweeter as part of the fermentation process because sugar is produced as a byproduct. Even though I’m lucky enough to have a fairly well-stocked Japanese grocery store here in Portlandia that carries it, it’s significantly more expensive than shiro miso, has a shorter shelf life due to the high sugar content and since I always have shiro miso in my refrigerator, why not take advantage of a master’s saikyo-like miso recipe? The marinating time of 2-3 days may seem like you’re turning a $20-25/pound fillet into omega-3 jerky but don’t worry, most restaurants marinate misodzuke gindara for an entire week although with saikyo miso, since there’s less salt, 5-10% vs 10-5% in shiro miso, that’s why 2-3 days is comparable. Another reason why this fish holds up to marinating so well is due to its high fat content, the flesh soaks in the sweetly savory and slightly nutty flavor of the miso without getting tough. You will still have a tender, flaky, buttery fillet disappearing from your bowl at the end. I like to add garlic and ginger to the marinade to give it a little more depth and zest.
Wait! This isn’t how Nobusama does it!
1) Aren’t you supposed to flambé the sake and mirin before adding the other ingredients? Theoretically that makes sense since the high heat of flambéing, achieves temps in excess of 1300F which cause chemical changes and alter the taste of food due to the effects of browning food called the Maillard reaction where the sugars and proteins (usually amino acids) on food go through a series of chemical reactions requiring heat or energy to create melanoidins. Melanoidins are large molecules made up of polymers (chains of the same molecule linked up together) that have a brown color but more importantly have attached flavor molecules. Interestingly enough, a college student at Cornell has debunked this popular culinary belief earlier this year. Using chemical and sensory analysis she found that a caramel sauce that was cooked versus flambéing and then cooked were identical. Temperature probes during testing showed that although the flame reached >;1300F, the surface of the food didn’t go above 212F which is the boiling point of water, and too low for most Maillard reactions to occur. So since I like having eyebrows and flambéing doesn’t add to the flavor, I don’t do it. Now, if you want to impress your guests and scare the dog, that’s another matter😉
2) What is 本みりん (hon mirin, literally meaning “true or real mirin”) and what if I can’t get it? Mirin like dashi stock is pretty ubiquitous in Japanese cooking. It is a sweet wine made from fermented rice but unlike sake, it only has 14% alcohol versus 20%, and is sweeter than sake. Not all mirin is hon mirin. 塩みりん shio mirin (“salt mirin”) contains salt and 新みりん shin mirin (“new mirin”) also sometimes called mirin-fu chomiryo (“mirin-like seasoning”) is made with corn syrup, amino acids with chemical flavorings and has <1% alcohol and about as much flavor. So look at the ingredients label or look for the kanji 本みりん meaning "true mirin." You can also substitute sake for mirin by using 3 parts sake to 1 part sugar (eg 3 tbsp sake + 1 tbsp sugar = sort of mirin :))
3) Why broil on the second highest rack? Because this marinade has such a high sugar content, I've found that broiling so close to the heat source burns the surface before the inside has had sufficient time to cook.
2 4-oz black cod fillets, skin on and pin bones removed
1/2 c hon mirin (本みりん)
1/2 c sake
1/2 c sugar
1 tbsp (3 inches) crushed ginger
2 tsp (2 cloves) crushed garlic
1 c shiro (white) miso (白味噌)
2 tsp vegetable oil
In a small saucepan ~1 quart, simmer mirin and sake till reduced by 1/2. Remove from heat and stir in sugar till dissolved. Mix in ginger, garlic, and miso till smooth–it will have the consistency of creamy peanut butter. Let cool to room temp (cuz you don’t want to cook the fillets with the residual heat :()
In a shallow, flat container (I like to use tupperware for this), pour out all of the miso mixture. Place fillets skin side up so that they are submerged in the miso. Seal and marinate in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.
Using vegetable oil, grease a small baking pan or cast iron skillet. Remove fillets from miso and wipe off excess miso with your fingers (it’ll look smeary but that’s fine, you just don’t want thick blobs of it). Place fillets skin side down in baking pan. Broil on second highest rack till the surface is golden ~5 minutes. Take out pan and flip fillets so that the skin side is up and broil for another 3-4 minutes. Once the skin starts to blister and blacken remove the fillets from the oven and turn off broiler. Flip the fillets over in the pan and, using your spatula, gently remove the skin. It will become loose on the edges from cooking and you can just slide the spatula between the skin and the flesh going across the fillet like you’re opening a letter with a letter opener. Serve over rice or your favorite roasted veggies or the starch of your choice cuz this fish plays well with everyone. Makes 2 servings.