Here’s a really simple to make soup that is exquisite to the taste. All you need is fish, Dashi and salt.
But if I should end this story so soon, people will say it’s not me who wrote this because they think I’m long-winded and take unnecessarily long excursions in my storytelling. So here’s the full flavoured version…
Hoping to grab some drag-squealing end-of-season fishing action, my recent hastily put together trip to Rompin was a washout! What we got instead was a pathetic trip that was so bad we had to include the baitfish with the cumulative catch of two days in order to make the picture appear full.
The lesson we took home was: 1) book our regular charter early. 2) Abandon plans if our regular guy is unavailable. From now on, no more giving untried professional captains another chance to practice on our hard-earned vacations.
Our catch was the Mackerel, and the 3 fishes at the left column. The rest were our bait. Don’t laugh! That’s all that we got for two days’ fishing amongst the four of us. Our skipper even forgot to get bait, so we had to jig for live bait as we fished. That’s why tiddlers that we would normally release as by-catch was cut up for bait, and the tiny live bait that were left over from the trip were also kept at the end of the trip.
Insufficient to share!
After dividing up the catch, I was scratching my head on how to extend my mileage to feed everyone who went on the trip (as well as their family) with the meagre catch. So I took all the little bait fish — The tiny silver Ikan Selayang, I grilled with salt till crispy and they went down well all head and tail and all.
My portion of the Spanish Mackerel was served as a Zuke Don. The Aori Ika, I made a soyu simmered dish and the rest of the small colourful fish, I served up as sashimi.
Phew! Praise the Lord! With these ideas, I now have a semblance of a menu to feed the people coming for the reunion.
The white stuff in the blue dish is the Shirako (milt) of the Spanish Mackerel. In the white cup are the head, and guts of Aori Ika, which in my opinion, taste better than the mantle. With extra amounts of shredded daikon and kyuri, and by including the heads and tails of the biggest fish of each type, I managed to conjure a dish that look like sashimi, thanks to the splashes of colour. Hehehe.
After the sashimi is finished, do not discard the skeletons. They can be boiled with the used Konbu kelp to make “second run” Dashi.
How to Stretch a Fish
Spanish Flag Snapper (Lutjanus carponotatus)
The servable-sized fish we got on our 1st day were two Spanish Flag Snappers (Ikan Timun) and one Blackspot Tuskfish (Ikan Ketarap). They were promptly ike jime’d, kept in a plastic bag and placed on ice. That evening, as we were packing up the boat, our skipper told us to leave the fish and our ice chest behind as he will take care of them. The next morning, I was horrified to find he didn’t remove the fish for storage in the deep freezer. Instead, they have been floating in the blood-stained freshwater melted from the ice all night! Any hopes of making a raw dish from these fish vanished.
These three fishes were divided three ways and I got the smaller Spanish Snapper. Since serving it as sashimi is now not feasible, I had to cook it. Frying would be a waste, but steaming it would produce too little to share around. So I decided on making a clear Ushiojiru soup from it as it will be able to stretch the mileage of this little fish.
Let’s Make Ushiojiru
Here’s the ingredients I used to make this soup:
1 Spanish Flag Snapper (300g dressed)
7 Tbsp Sake
1 Lemon peel
10 cm Konbu kelp
Usukuchi soyu (optional) Usukuchi is preferred as it’s a light colour which will not stain the clear soup. Regular Soyu is too dark and will colour the soup in a negative way.
1) Using a damp cloth, wipe the Konbu kelp clean of dirt. Do not wash, and do not attempt to wipe away the white deposits as that is the good stuff. Fill a pot with 10 bowls of water. Soak the konbu in this water to make your Dashi stock.
2) Dress and scale the fish, taking care to remove all traces of blood from the spine. Blood will cause the soup to have a fishy taste so it must be carefully removed. I use a toothbrush to brush the spine under running water to remove coagulated blood. Take care to rinse away all traces of slime too, especially from the fins as it may cause the soup to have a fishy smell.
3) Fillet the fish into three parts — the two fillets and the skeleton. Pat dry with towels.
4) Set the soaking Konbu on a low flame and allow to come to a slow simmer. It’s considered sacrilegious to boil Konbu.
5) Liberally dust salt on all sides of the 3 pieces. Salt will draw out excess water, blood as well as the fishy smell. Lay on a tray and incline the tray so that the fluids that are drawn out will flow away to the bottom of the tray. Set aside 25 minutes for the salt to work.
6) Take this time to peel the zest from a lemon, and finely chop your spring onions.
7) Set a kettle of water on high heat to boil.
8) Regularly stir the Konbu so that it doesn’t boil. You will see tiny streams of bubbles streaming out from the Konbu leaf which by now will have expanded into great big amber sheet. The bubbles are the umami flavour that is coming out of the Konbu.
9) When the 25 minutes is up, pour away the accumulated bloody fluids from the tray. Pour hot water over the 3 fillets to remove the salt and remnant traces of blood and slime. You will also notice that hot water will tense the skin and raise up whatever scales that’s not removed earlier. Rinse the fillets under cold running tap water and with your fingernails, scratch away any remnant scales.
10) Pat dry. With tweezers, pluck away all bones from the fillets. Cut along the grain into bite sized pieces. Split the head longitudinally, and cut the skeleton into 3 pieces. By sticking your blade into the soft white part between the vertebrae, it’s easy to cut the skeleton without resorting to using a chopper.
11) Remove Konbu and keep for reuse. (Dashi made from reused Konbu is called Nidashi and is acceptable for making miso soup). Add salt and optional Usukuchi Soyu to taste.
12) Add the Sake as well as fish into the pot of Dashi. Turn to high heat and bring to a boil, and lower to medium. You will see oil and foam rise to the surface. Skim these off as they cause the soup to be muddy and fishy.
13) Continue to skim the soup until there is no more foam left to skim, then turn the heat down to low and simmer for 10 more minutes to draw out the flavour of the fish.
Tip: I find that it is easier skim effectively if the soup is boiling. Turning down the heat too low renders the job half done and the soup is milky and fishy. Emptying the ladle into a bowl of tap water make it easier to rid the foam from the ladle.
Skim off the oil and foam to make a clear tasty soup.
Carefully scoop out the fish and arrange at the bottom of the bowl. Because I didn’t have a lot of fish, I placed the skeleton at the bottom as a foundation which make the meat appear to be a lot. The red and yellow colour of the fish also contrast nicely with the white meat. Add soup. Top with spring onions, a piece of lemon peel and serve with rice.
Do not cover the top few pieces of fish with soup. (You’ll feel more appreciated when they ask for refills). Actually, you need the top pieces to stay uncovered so that the chopped spring onions and lemon peel don’t go floating around in the soup and spoil your presentation. Make sure to put the lemon peel into hot soup so that the zesty flavour can be infused into the soup.
So that’s all there is to making this clear soup. You can use almost any kind of white meat fish as long as it’s not too fatty, as well as white clams, to make this.
Do try this yourselves. I hope you enjoy it too, and do drop a comment about how yours turned out!
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