Deep-Fried Smelts

DSCF7738 (640x427)Alright. I’m seeing fish in a different light. I turned my back to pork and beef and discovered a variety of fish I have never knew even existed in the oriental store.  I don’t buy those expensive steak cuts and salmon fillets as many Filipinos do (usually with salmon for Sinigang). I just can’t finish a steak cut or  an entire fillet in one sitting, and I’d prefer them sushi.  I’d buy a whole variety of fish with heads attached and have them cleaned and eviscerated for extra and rinse them again when I reach home.  They stay in my freezer up until I start my workweek on a Saturday when I start defrosting pulling out one package at a time.  Many Canadian supermarkets only display fillets in either fresh or frozen packages. They never sell them with the head on and with as much assortment as those found in Chinatown or in any oriental store for that matter.

The smelt really intrigued me. They are tiny and just perfect for snacking. I know they are also perfect for deep-frying, but cooking them to a crunchy and juicy bite is the challenge. Before the inception of this article, I’ve tried frying the same by dipping the fish in beaten egg first and into a cornstarch/flour dredging mix similar to what I did with the Curried Fried Chicken. However,  it didn’t turn out as crunchy as expected. That led me to try other kinds of batter mixture, and the tempura batter came to mind. The other ready-made Asian style batter mixes looked even more complicated than this one. I would have used a can of beer as replacement for water, but alcohol is off limits until the next holiday.  Butterflying the smelt was also an ingenious way of keeping the form and shape intact. Seeing them on the plate fried and butterflied was just so inviting.

Ingredients:

  • Smelts, butterflied
  • Whole Wheat Flour (or White Flour)
  • Cornstarch
  • Cold Carbonated Water
  • Canola oil for deep-frying
  • Salt & Pepper

Mix a one to four ratio of cornstarch and flour in a bowl. Slowly pour the carbonated water and stir gently until smooth. Season with salt & pepper.

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Dip the smelts into the batter and deep-fry one or two at a time. Pat dry with a paper towel and season with more salt & pepper before serving

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Zaru Soba & Teppanyaki Salmon

DSCF7185 (640x480)After invading popular Indian Restaurant hotspots from across town for a month or so, I decided to switch gears and head for an ‘All-You-Can-Eat’ sushi place.  There are bunch of these types of Japanese restaurants scattered  in and around town much like pubs, noodle houses, or hamburger joints. They all serve sushi combo meals, Asahi & Sapporo, hot & cold sake, teriyaki, bento boxes, tempura, soba and teppanyaki or at least, they try to be that kind of Japanese restaurant I grew up with; high and refined in traditions as to their swordsmanship and martial arts (I am a traditionalist to a purist, btw).  I was more surprised that after having my ‘All-You-Can-Eat’ extravaganza, I was served a fortune cookie. Would you believe that? Here’s another one. There were a General Tsao Chicken and Spring Rolls on their checklist. That really made me think twice over if I should proceed or not.  They should have also listed hamburgers and hotdogs to complete the medley. There are so many of these types of restaurant doing sushi combo meals that finding an authentic Japanese restaurant with that Dojo style feel and some strong Japanese Samurai tradition sketched and painted on their food seem to be an impossible feat.  So far, I only found a couple and they definitely have been westernized somehow as well.  Anyway, it was my Friday and I was hungry. I went for their Sashimi and Sushi which were so so and tried their Tekka Makki.  It came to my plate poorly wrapped and falling apart.  Indeed, this restaurant was one of ‘them’; established to cater to the hungry and cheap crowd like myself.  I didn’t bother, finished my large hot sake, and wrapped my meal with a Red Bean Paste Ice Cream (?).

I devoured all their Tuna, Salmon, and Butter Fish sushi and sashimi and went on to try a couple of teppanyaki: Beef & Salmon Belly (I know they are expensive).  They did justice with the Salmon Belly although by the looked of it, it was steamed. I didn’t find any grill marks nor caramelization whatsoever on the two tiny pieces I was served with, but the salmon belly was tender and the sauce was spectacular. That taste stuck in my head for the next couple of days and when I had a chance to go to the grocery, I found some cheap Salmon Trimmings which were appropriate for this Teppanyaki.

Ingredients:

  • Salmon Trimmings
  • Memmi Noodle Soup Base
  • Light Soy Sauce or Japanese Soy Sauce
  • Mirin
  • Brown Sugar
  • Sake (Optional)
  • Buckwheat Noodles
  • Green onion, finely chopped
  • Dried Seaweeds (optional)

Clean the Salmon trimmings, remove the fins, and cut into half.  Marinate in Soy Sauce, Brown Sugar, and Mirin for about an hour or so.

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Remove the Salmon from the fridge and leave at room temperature. Heat the grill pan and grill the salmon about three to four minutes on each side. Set aside on a plate.

Pour the Memmi Noodle Soup Base  (follow instructions indicated on the bottle which I don’t) in a sauce pan together with  water, Soy Sauce, Brown Sugar, Sake and Mirin. Let it simmer to reduce for a couple of minutes. Drizzle the sauce onto the salmon and serve with steamed rice.

Heat a pot of boiling water and boil the buckwheat noodles until tender.  Drain and run in cold water. Set aside on another plate and garnish with dried seaweed and/or green onion.  Pour enough Memmi Soup Base mix with water in a sauce pan and reduce until appropriate consistency is achieved.  Serve the sauce in a small bowl as a dipping sauce on the side of the cold soba noodles.

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Spanish Escabeche

Probably every pub in the city serves some kind of Fish & Chips.  It’s a very popular and profitable dish. If the fish fillet came as frozen, it would have been either portioned accordingly and coated in an house batter, deep-fried half-way, and finished off before service started. It  could also have been shipped as individual fillets in a box and  deep-fried with a batter to order.  I’ve seen pubs working with or around this pretense as a way of lowering food cost and increasing dish recovery or turnover.

I was once a fan of Fish & Chips, up until I encountered some realy nasty deep-frying experiences at work. My first taste of an authentic Fish & Chips was in London nearly thirty years ago. I was about 13, and never realized I was having a major treat at my hands. At that age, I only wanted two things: toys and any books related to the martial arts; anything other than that was insignificant.  Academics was also off the radar, but I managed to pass my courses just to please my strict parents.  Of course, pretty and highly adorable ‘girls’ remained in my list and they still mesmerized me to this day, even though they weren’t exactly ladies yet at that time.  Phoebe Cates was my dream prom date as was with my peers.  It was part of growing up in a co-ed school whereby terribly attractive ‘girls’ constantly roamed around the four-story HS building with open corridors set for me and my barkada to enjoy and to discuss nonsense during recess. It was like watching a pageant set for adolescents who were studying in a very inhibitive and outdated educational curricula. We had our classes at the fourth floor on our senior year and, it felt like heaven!  I still often recall those moments, and as an adult, wouldn’t have had it in any other way.

Anyway, fish, particularly Filipino fried fish (Tilapia) with vinegar is just so plain and so boring. Filipinos seem to have it in no other way.Well, actually, with another way: Fish Escabeche.  I’ve checked out several Filipino Escabeche recipes and all played around with this combination of ingredients:  vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, catsup and bell peppers. I tasted this mixture growing-up and the house helpers did a fantastic a job of removing the dry and plain characteristics of the Fried Tilapia by turning it into Escabeche. I ate the Tilapia with gusto. It had the feeling of eating Sweet & Sour Pork without the crunch and the heavy, gingery thick sauce so common to many Sweet & Sour dishes.

My goal for this blog was to make the fish as crunchy as a Sweet and Sour Pork and  the sauce as addicting as any dimsum (particularly chicken feet). This is my take on Escabeche. I didn’t follow the usual Filipino ingredients and used fillets instead of a whole Tilapia. I just don’t like picking through a whole fish when fillets are readily available in the market.  This is a sort of a follow through to Iska’s Sinigang ng Isda; taking the fuzz out of eating something delicious without the hassles of deep-frying or picking through fish bones which can somehow ruin the enjoyment of the meal itself.

Ingredients:

  • Wild Cod Fillets
  • Sweet Rice Flour
  • Olive Oil
  • White Balsamic Vinegar or White Wine Vinegar
  • White Wine (Chardonnay)
  • Red & Green Bell Peppers, finely diced
  • White Onions, finely diced
  • Garlic, minced
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Lemon Rind
  • Lemon Juice
  • Dried Oregano: Optional

Season the fillets with salt and pepper and roll the fillets with a slice of lemon inside. Secure the fillets with a skewer or a toothpick.

Coat the fillets with sweet rice flour inside out and leave them in the fridge for about half an hour.

Heat a pan with oil and pan-fry or deep-fry the fillets until golden. Start dicing the bell peppers, onions and garlic while frying. Pat dry the fillets with a towel or let them sit on strainer while finishing off the sauce.

Saute the bell peppers, onions, and garlic in another pan. Add the herbs and the lemon rind and season to taste. Pour the White Balsamic Vinegar  into the pan followed by the White Wine. Let it boil to simmer and squeeze lemon juice at the final stages of cooking.

Set the fillet at the center of the plate and pour the sauce on top of the fish. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt, and garnish with finely diced green onions.

The White Balsamic Vinegar and the White Wine combination were the killer ingredients. Indeed, quality products can make food stand out.

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Steamed Fish Head with Ginger, Leeks & Green Onion

It took me and my dad a total of about three hours to reach the piggery farm my dad owned and managed in Plaridel, Bulacan.  My dad’s work was just beginning, and my journey to hunt for bull frogs from the depths of the fish pond was in full force. I had an air gun I’d bring every time whenever me and my father visited the farm and just for the fun of it, shoot bull frogs peeping from the ledges of the pond.  That made my morning. After about another hour or so, lunch was ready. It was almost always prepared by the family entrusted by my dad to manage the farm, and they surely knew how to make something out of nothing. I really didn’t expect much from lunch, but the tilapia that was raised from the fishpond was amazingly tastier and fresher than the usual fried tilapia served by the household help for dinner.  It was grilled at either close charcoal or cooked by firewood, and that I guess brought more taste into the fish itself.  It just came out amazingly succulent and divine.

I would usually devour a whole fish just for myself. I really didn’t mind if there were ten thousand flies hovering and pestering us over lunch. They made the meal even more memorable, so to speak.  I enjoyed the simplicity of seating down on a wooden bench and table, munching the grilled fish and sucking the soul out of the poor thing. I ate every part of the fish as taught to me by my dad.  I do the same for tuyo and tinapa.

I still can’t muster to eat the eyes, but the head of the fish, for me, is the best and juiciest portion of the entire fish. I love sucking the nitty-gritty parts of the fish head and bones down to its tail. That’s how juicy it was. There was something which made the taste of the fish flutter and fly as against those sold and cooked in Manila.

I don’t normally cook nor eat fish. There’s that unusual wet market smell that clings to clothes which totally turns me off whenever I decide to buy one in Chinatown. I would usually go for frozen fish for safety and hygienic reasons. I’d really prefer pork, meat for that matter, to satisfy my hunger after a long and tiring day at work.  However, after some quick research, I discovered some ways of preparing the fish head. Moreover, I really missed sucking the fish head itself.

I really wouldn’t have the chance to grill nor roast fish on open charcoal. It’s just impossible to do so living in a room in an apartment building. The oven is also out of the question.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Fish Head (Carp)
  • A Stalk of Green Onion & Leek (Julienned)
  • Ginger (Julienned)
  • ½-1 tsp. Hoisin Sauce
  • 1 – 2 tbsps. Light Soy Sauce
  • ½ tsp. Brown Sugar
  • ½-1 tbsp. Shaoxing Cooking Wine
  • Ground Black Pepper

Wash and pat dry the Fish Head & season with salt and pepper.

Dredge with cornstarch and pan-fry and/or deep-fry.

Place the julienned ginger, green onion, and leek on the plate first before resting the fish. Drizzle with Shaoxing Cooking Wine, Light Soy Sauce, Hoisin Sauce and sprinkle with brown sugar.

Steam the plate in a bamboo steamer for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Garnish with ginger, green onion and leek and pour or drizzle with hot peanut oil before serving.