A pale, thin crust seals in moist and tender fish, which is accented by colorful, fiery condiments and a faintly sweet amber broth. It makes an attractive and unusual main course at a Western meal or an impressive dish to be featured on a Japanese menu, with side dishes of braised vegetables, salt-pickled greens, white rice and clear soup.
Rinse out the belly cavity of each fish well, then pat dry, inside and out, with paper towels. With a sharp knife, lightly score the fleshier parts. Pour
In a small saucepan, combine the stock, soy sauce, sugar and wine, and heat it through, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Keep this amber broth warm.
Break open the pod of the hot red pepper and remove all the seeds. Peel the radish and poke several small holes in it, stuffing these with slivers of the dried hot pepper pod. Then grate the stuffed radish into a bowl. The white will be flecked with red (the Japanese poetically call this condiment momiji oroshi or “autumn maple leaves”) and the mild radish is given a very fiery accent. Chop the green parts of the scallions very fine, and set aside in a small dish.
Lift the marinating fish out of the soy sauce and dredge each thoroughly in cornstarch. Heat the oil to about 350 degrees F. (the cornstarch should sizzle immediately but not burn) and, one at a time, fry the fish. Turn once or twice while frying for 5–6 minutes. Drain the fish well on paper towels and keep the first ones warm in a slow oven while you fry the others.
On each of 4 flat plates, lay a single crispy butterfish or 2 smelts. Drain off any accumulated liquid from the fiery grated radish, and mound a small bit of it on each plate just in front of the fried fish. Sprinkle some of the chopped green scallion over the radish. In each of 4 separate shallow bowls, place some warm amber sauce. Each person stirs fiery radish and scallions to taste into his own bowl of broth, then dips the crispy fish bit by bit into this seasoned sauce.
© 1986 Elizabeth Andoh. All rights reserved.