Seared Bonito with Pounded Garlic, Ginger, and Scallions

Katsuo no Tataki

If you’re a coastal sport fisherman (or have friends who are) and like to barbecue in the summer (or have friends who do), this is the dish for you (and your friends!). In America, bonito is caught off Long Island and along the California coast from May through July. Most of the commercial catch is bought up by local Japanese restaurants, so you may need to find a fishing companion or convince your fish store to special-order it for you. If you can’t get bonito, try the same tataki preparation with large Spanish mackerel, yellowtail, small bluefin tuna, or Hawaiian mahi mahi (sometimes called dolphin fish).

To make tataki, or “pounded,” bonito, the fresh fish is filleted, keeping the silvery skin intact. The fillets are then skewered and seared over intense heat to tenderize the skins while keeping the flesh rare and moist. A quick plunge in ice water stops the cooking process while forcing any oils or fats to solidify, facilitating their removal. The lean, rare fish fillets are then patted dry and marinated in a heady combination of soy, ginger, scallions, and garlic before being sliced and served slightly chilled. It is the garlic, scallions, and ginger that are “pounded”—minced, actually—and give the unusual name to this dish.

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Ingredients

  • 1 small whole fresh katsuo (bonito), about 6 pounds ice water

Marinade

  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons saké (Japanese rice wine)
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • juice of 1 small lime, about 2 tablespoons
  • 2 tablespoons mirin (syrupy rice wine)

“Pounded” Condiments

  • 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
  • 1 large clove garlic, finely minced
  • 2 scallions, finely minced (white and green parts) or 3 tablespoons chopped chives

Garnishes (Optional)

  • 10-12 edible flowers such as yellow squash blossoms
  • 1 bunch kaiwaré (radish sprouts)

Method

  1. Cut off the head of the fish. Trim away the fins. Slit the belly and clean it of all traces of the viscera. Fillet the fish by slicing along the backbone to remove the flesh on both sides of the skeleton; keep the skin intact. Take each fillet and cut it in half lengthwise to remove the center strip of bones and spongy reddish brown flesh. You will have four strips of fish, each about 1 foot long and 2-3 inches wide. Each strip will have skin down the length of one side; the flesh will be about 1 inch thick. Rinse the four strips under cold water and pat dry.
  2. Lay one strip of fish, skin side down, on your cutting board and skewer it with five long thin metal skewers (preferably round ones, which are easier to pull out later). Insert the two end skewers first: through the meat just under and parallel to the skin. The two end skewers should form a V in your hands. Now insert a single skewer in the center, then two more skewers on either side of the center one, to form a five-pronged fan. Repeat this skewering process with the remaining three strips of fish.
  3. Directly over very high heat, sear the skin for 2-3 minutes. The meat just under the skin will turn white but most of the meat should remain bright red or pink (depending upon the variety of fish); the skin will char and sparks may fly. Twirl the round skewers in place to ensure easy removal later. If the fillet is particularly thick ( inches or more), you may want to sear the flesh side as well: Flip and sear for 1 minute, or until the surface just barely turns color.
  4. Plunge the skewered fish into a waiting bowl of ice water to cover. Slide out the skewers. When all the smoke is gone and the fat has floated to the surface, remove the fish from the ice water. Pat the fillet dry. Repeat with the other fillets.
  5. Place the fillets on a clean cutting board, charred skin up. With a very sharp knife, slice the fillets into ¼-inch-thick slices; they will be almost triangular in shape, with the skin on one side and meat on the other two. Arrange the slices, leaning up against each other domino-style, in rows on a large ceramic or porcelain platter.
  6. In a glass or ceramic bowl, combine the marinade ingredients. Add the minced ginger, garlic, and scallions or chives, and stir. Cover the seared bonito with this mixture, pressing it gently into the fish. Cover the fish with clear plastic wrap and allow it to marinate for 1 hour at room temperature, or for 4—5 hours in the refrigerator.
  7. If you want to add a sharp, fresh herbal accent to the dish and have access to edible flowers and/or radish sprouts, rinse them under cold water and shake off excess moisture. Trim away the bottom of the sprouts and scatter them across the fish. Just before serving, scatter the platter with edible flowers.

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