Grilled dried ray fin

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At the game meat restaurant Rice and Circus in Tokyo I ordered a portion of grilled ray fin. I had never seen ray on a menu anywhere, but in hindsight it could have easily been skate, which is a little more common. Still it was unusual in the way it was prepared, as it was dried first.

The ray fin came cut into strips with a side of mayonnaise to dip it in. It definitely needed that, as on it’s own the fish was quite dry. No wonder, of course, as it was a dried piece of fish after all. It wasn’t exactly as dry as beef jerky, you could still chew it without too much effort. It tasted just like any other white fish, which is to say just fine. I might have enjoyed it more if it hadn’t been dried.

Fear Factor – 2 / Taste Test – 6

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Vinegar granita

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I don’t often write about food that I cooked myself. I don’t think anybody is waiting for another boring vegetable curry recipe or an egg white omelet. I will leave that to my fellow bloggers who are much more capable at that than I am. Every once and a while though I make something that’s a little more unusual, and would fit well on my blog.

For a special occasion recently I went all out and whipped up a multi-course dinner. All the dishes of that night were inspired by the food and ingredients of my home. Last week I already wrote that in Holland we often eat raw herring with onions, and I decided to make a play on that.

I made a sort of pate of herring, and topped it with crispy rye bread crumbs. To highlight the onion part of the dish, I took some brine of a pickled onion jar I had, and made a granita out of that. The vinegar made it really sharp, but the tang was dulled by the iciness, and it worked really well with the other ingredients.

Fear Factor – 3 / Taste Test: 7

Unagi pizza

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Unagi is the Japanese word for freshwater eel. It is often used to describe a Japanese dish of roasted eels. It is NOT a form of total awareness like Ross believes in an episode of Friends. Recently Pizza Hut in China put out an unagi pizza topped with grilled eel and bonito flakes.

I was hesitant to try, as I don’t usually like fish on my pizza, so I ordered a half and half pizza just in case. Unagi is quite a meaty fish though, and as a result the pizza did not taste fishy at all. In fact, I would say there were so few pieces of the eel on the pizza, I could hardly taste it. The only thing that set it apart from other pizza topping for me were the bonito flakes, which gave an interesting chewy texture.

Fear Factor – 2 / Taste Test – 6

Raw herring

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When in Rome, do as the Romans, but when in Amsterdam do as the Rotterdammers. A typical Dutch delicacy is raw herring. People generally eat it with raw onions and pickled. In Amsterdam it is cut, but in Rotterdam it’s eaten whole by taking it by the tail and simply biting into it. I found myself in Amsterdam at a fish stand, but I still asked for Rotterdam style, as that’s the touristy thing to do. I was on holiday in my own country after all.

I have to say I was a bit worried about this as I had never eaten raw herring before. In my mind I thought it was going to be fermented or sour, but it was so much better than I expected. As I dipped the herring first into the onion and then into my mouth I found the flesh to be very delicate and very sweet. The tiny bones were so soft you could just eat them and the skin was not rubbery at all. It caught me by surprise how much I enjoyed it.

Fear Factor – 5 / Taste Test – 8

 

Bottarga

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I remember when I first saw bottarga on Masterchef a couple of years ago. I was as taken aback as the contestants as I couldn’t figure out what it was, or how to use it. The hosts then explained that it was the dried egg sack of a fish which I believe was a tuna. In Sicily it has been used for ages and is often grated over a fresh bowl of pasta.

That’s exactly how it was served to me at Franceschetta 58 in Modena. This restaurant is chef Massimo Bottura’s second restaurant that is much more affordable than his three starred Osteria Franceschana which was voted best restaurant in the world.

I had ordered a bowl of orecchiette, ear shaped pasta with cherry tomatoes and bottarga with breadcrumbs. Bottarga must be an expensive produce because it was used quite sparingly. On this picture it’s the yellow flecks, not the black which are the breadcrumbs. I tried some on their own and they tasted mildly fishy and were a little chewy like orange rind. I didn’t get the flavor bomb I was expecting though. Perhaps they should have been a bit more generous with the serving.

Fear Factor – 5 / Taste Test – 6

Seaweed Salad

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A few years ago I never ate seafood, as I didn’t like it as a kid. It hadn’t occurred to me that taste buds change, and as people grow older they start liking different things. When I found myself at a Japanese restaurant looking at the menu I thought seaweed salad was a highly unusual choice of salad.

It came with some cucumber and a sweet and sharp sauce. I was hooked straight away. The textures were chewy but not tough, and the taste was very refreshing. I’ve since had seaweed salad on numerous occasions. Most recently was at restaurant “Umami by Han” in The Hague where I took this picture. That was probably the best seaweed salad I have ever eaten.

Fear Factor – 4 / Taste Test 9

Sea urchin tacos

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I never knew you could eat sea urchin until I saw Anthony Bourdain practically salivating all over some uni during one of his trips to Japan. If he likes it, I thought, it must be good. Bourdain is the god of food after all.

I thought uni was a Japanese thing, but I came across some at a food festival in Shanghai, where I also tried Alvin Leung’s molecular soup dumplings. Here the uni came as a topping for a small canape-sized taco. The taco shell was stuffed with a salad and topped with one sliver of yellow sea urchin roe.

I never liked fish as a kid, and I still don’t enjoy things that taste overly fishy, such as caviar, so I was a little hesitant. To my great relief, there was no fishy taste to worry about. Actually I thought there wasn’t a big evidence of any flavor, so I was left underwhelmed. On the bright side, the creamy uni the crunchy salad and the crispy taco shell did make for a great textural play. I’ll have to try some plane uni next time I see it, so I can get a better taste of it.

Fear Factor – 5 / Taste Test – 7

Squid in squid ink

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I always thought that ink was for writing, but then I heard about squid ink pasta and a whole new world of colorful food opened up to me. Not exactly colorful though as squid ink turns your food pitch black. I first tried squid in its own ink at one of Jason Atherton’s restaurants in London.

This dish looked great with some fried baby squid served with a squid ink aioli. It all tasted very squidy, if that’s even a word, with a touch of salt and a hint of lemon. I wasn’t sure though if that taste came from the squid and its seasoning, or from the actual squid ink.

Later, at one of my own dinner parties I cooked a squid stuffed with chorizo served with a squid ink aioli as well. It turned out really great. I was surprised though how much ink I had to add to the aioli in order to make it black. I went through all my small packages. Next time I’d better buy a whole jar of it. Could come in handy if I need to write a letter too.

Fear Factor – 1 / Taste Test – 8