Monday, 22 February 2010

Japanese Sugar Coated Fish

You read that right. There are no typos or Monday induced mistakes. These really are candied fish.

Despite proclivities to slam two disparate ingredients together in new and interesting ways, this was not one I dreamt up. A tart made with lemon and chilli, perhaps. Tiny shrimp, needlefish and whitebait dried then dipped in sugar syrup? Not one from my brain, nor even from this country.

Japanese through and through, these were brought over by a friend currently plying his trade in Tokyo. ‘They’re good,’ he reassured me before suffixing it with ‘if they are what I think they are.’

Three, four, five bottles of something down and drawing close to 3am, happy on port and still full of steak, the box was opened.

Expecting a dock-like stench, aching under the niff of a thousand trawler decks each with rotting nets, it was a pleasant surprise to find the odour was subtle. Faintly fishy, of course, but no more.

There were tiny pink commas of shrimp, near translucent they were so small. Next to them skewers of larger fish, threaded onto cocktail sticks in order of size. Brown and grey needlefish were piled up in the centre of the tray and another hierarchy, this time of prawns, completed the set.

Everything was glossy, shining under a neat coating of lightly caramelised sugar like Poseidon’s homage to St. Valentine. A cross-cultural melding of something possibly lost in translation.

Knowing the largest fish were the inevitable d̩nouement of this whole episode, itself threatening to turn into an exercise in extreme eating machismo, we began with the smallest offerings Рthe tiny needlefish and the small pink shrimp.

The flavour was oddly pleasant. Texturally there was a little crunch, the whole shellfish offering a bite of resistance before yielding and giving up their sweet-savoury contents.

There was an unmistakable flavour of the sea, slightly fermented with the pungent intensity that only comes from preserved specimens but it was neatly countered by the caramel exterior.

Finding our stride we went back for more gathering pace and gusto with each mouthful until we ended with the largest complete fishes clamped between chopsticks. Heads, tails and guts in they went to be chewed up and chewed over. Savoured and swallowed. Sweet, bitter, salty – was this the elusive umami flavour neatly captured in a single morsel?

We didn’t finish the entire tray. It remains in the fridge but not for reasons of disgust. On the contrary – they were very pleasant indeed and would make the ideal companion to a few chilled beers and a bowl of steaming, salty edamame beans. I’m just waiting for the right occasion.


catty said...

I'm actually not completely surprised, as I say this while I day dream about the box of sugar coated CUTTLEFISH I have at home. It's a weird Malaysian thing, so I'm happy our Japanese relatives have also done something just as funky :)

Hollow Legs said...

It's not so weird - the Vietnamese used a caramel sauce to braise fish, chicken and pork in.

Great pictures!

Liz said...

I've also had something similar in Malaysia - dried cuttlefish and shrimp with a caramel and satay spice coating; just delicious. Considerably less beautiful that the stuff in your post, though!

Hopie said...

"extreme eating machismo" - sounds like a good name for a blog. or a reality show - wait is that ALREADY a reality show? ;-) Those look interesting. I can see how they might be good. It's eating the head and guts I'd have to struggle with...

diva said...

These are actually really yummy and some variations are served as a dish or side dish, ie. Korean and certain Chinese cuisines! They are so yum. The shrimp ones are great and you must try the candied tiny crabs one day. They look crazy but are pretty damn addictive. x

Cynthia said...

Very interesting. I learn so much when I visit your blog.

Just Cook It said...

Catty - Those cuttlefish sound incredible. Have to hunt some of those down.

Lizzie - I recently read a piece about caramelised pork belly. It looked fabulous.

Liz - Thanks very much. The Malaysian variations sound awesome

Hopie - I'd be very surprised if it hasn't been done. Although I'm sure Channel 5 might be keen, if not.

Diva - Totally agree. Very tasty and very moreish

Thanks very much, Cynthia. Very kind of you to say

Helen said...

Yeah I'd definitely give them a go. I find, as I'm sure you do too, that combinations often make more sense when you think about them in slightly different guises. I made Bompass and Parr's Luther Burger's for example (bacon in krispy kreme donuts) and everyone thought I was mental but if you think about it, sweet stuff works with bacon - like maple syrup. The same goes for candied bacon ice cream - which I adored.

scandilicious said...

It makes total sense and I have Japanese sugar coated fish envy! Beautiful photos :)