Monday, September 28, 2009

Cooking "Karei no Nitsuke" (Braised Flounder) with Donabe

Fish "Nitsuke", or braising fish, is one of the very common Japanese rustic dishes. To call yourself a good (Japanese) home cook, "Nitsuke" is also one of the basic cooking techniques you must have.

I bought already-cleaned whole Karei (flounder) fish. The first and probably most important step for making the good "Nitsuke" is to do "Shimofuri". It means to quickly blanch the ingredients (fish, in this case) before start braising. By doing so, it will remove the sliminess and smell from the fish. It will also prevent the braising broth from becoming cloudy.

One way is to put the fish in the boiling water for a brief period of time (time varies depending on the size of fish) and immediately transfer it to the ice bath. Another way is to pour the boiling water over the fish. Today, I just poured the boiling water to both sides of the fish and quickly rise them with the cold water.

Then, I started the broth. In the classic-style doanbe, I combined 2 cups (500 ml) dashi stock, 100 ml sake, 100 ml soy sauce, and 100 ml mirin. I brought it to simmer with some gobo root and green part of scallions. Once the gobo root is tender, I gently placed the fish on top and waited until the broth started simmering again. Then, I placed an "Otoshi Buta" (drop lid - you can substitute it with a piece of parchment paper or foil), and covered with the top lid.

Another important step for "Nitsuke" is to gently simmer the fish, especially when you are handling a delicate fish like Karei (flounder). If the heat is too high, the fish could fall apart in the cooking broth and/or the broth becomes cloudy.
I simmered the fish for about 10-12 minutes or until the broth is reduced by more than 1/3. At the end, I added the shimeji mushrooms and sliced ginger, and cooked for another couple of minutes. Because of the gentle even distribution of the heat of the donabe, the fish becomes tender without getting dry when it's done.

The fish was plated. We enjoyed the dish with the donabe rice. The fish had the beautifully delicate texture and the flavor had the natural pure sweetness. Donabe brought my "Nitsuke" dish to another level for sure!

For more information about the classic donabe, please check out toiro's website.