Ocean-Fresh Sea Bream Arrangement

Kodai no Sashimi

The sashimi, or fresh fish, course is an indispensable part of a formal Japanese meal since it characterizes the main tenets of fine Japanese cuisine—impeccably fresh ingredients prepared in an elegant yet unadulterated manner. In this classic presentation, the silky texture and delicate taste of the sea bream is nicely contrasted with a crisp vegetable garnish and a spicy wasabi-infused dipping sauce.

Ingredients

  • 2 whole very fresh sea bream, each weighing about 12 ounces

Garnishes

  • 1 straight unwaxed cucumber, about 6 inches long
  • inch piece daikon (Japanese white radish)
  • inch piece carrot, at least 1 inch in diameter
  • 4 edible flowers, optional
  • 2 trays of miniature ice cubes (¼-inch cubes or balls)
  • 4 shiso leaves (broad, flat Japanese herb)

Condiments

  • 1 tablespoon wasabi (Japanese horseradish) powder
  • scant tablespoon cold water
  • soy sauce for dipping

Method

  1. Fillet the fish. Remove the skin from the fillets: Lay a fillet on a clean, dry board, skin side down. Start from the narrow (tail) end and work toward the wider (head) end. Insert the tip of a sharp knife between the skin and the flesh. Hold the knife blade at a 45-degree angle to the skin, and tug on the skin using a slight sawing motion; the knife blade shouldn’t move. Discard the skin.
  2. Slice the fish into thin julienne strips. Divide the strips into four portions, and coax each into a mound or tepee-like structure. Cover loosely with clear plastic wrap and refrigerate while you work on the garnishes and presentation.
  3. Cut off the stem (darker) end of the cucumber, and rub the cut surface in a circular motion with the sliced-off end piece. A foamy, pasty white substance will appear. This is what the Japanese refer to as aku, or bitterness. Rinse it away. Peel the cucumber with a vegetable peeler, if you like, or practice the technique described below to remove the outer skin.
  4. Cut the cucumber into 1- to 1½-inch lengths. Using slight up-and-down motions, guide a sharp knife through a cucumber piece to create a long (3 inches or longer), wide, continuous sheet. The Japanese call this kind of cutting katsura muki. Discard (or nibble) the core of seeds at the center. Repeat to make at least three unbroken strips.
  5. Remove the outer peel from the radish and carrot either with a vegetable peeler or by practicing the katsura muki technique. Then cut, katsura muki style, at least three unbroken 3-inch-long strips from both the radish and the carrot.
  6. Lay the strips of cucumber, radish, and carrot on a board and slice each diagonally into many ¼-inch-wide strips. The strips will curl like ribbon or streamers. Place the strips in a bowl of ice water to crisp them.
  7. Fill the bottom of four glass salad bowls or brandy snifters with miniature ice cubes. Rinse the shiso leaves in cold water and trim away the stem. Lay a single leaf, smooth side up, on the ice cubes in each bowl. Arrange a mound of fish strips on each green leaf.
  8. Mix the horseradish and cold water to make a thick paste. Divide the paste into four portions and coax each into a mound shape. Place a mound of horseradish to the side of each mound of fish.
  9. Drain the curlicued vegetables and scatter them across the fish. Further garnish the plates with colorful edible flowers if you like.
  10. Each person dissolves as much horseradish as he or she wants in individual dipping dishes containing a few drops of soy sauce; the fish is dipped in the sauce just before you put it in your mouth.

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