January 22, 2010

You say "unagi," I say... Sablefish!

Casson Trenor, author and sustainable seafood expert, decried on Twitter today the fate of the Thames River eel, whose population has crashed 98% in the last five years. This comes on the heels of a 90% decline in the eel population in European waters over the last 30 years. Seafood Watch also encourages consumers to avoid freshwater eel, despite the fact that it is a "farmed" species, because the eels are captured from the wild and raised in pens. Breeding stocks in the wild thus remain pressured and declining.

So, I asked Trenor (via Twitter), what is an unagi lover to do?

He said, try sablefish! He also observed in another tweet that:
We don't generally eat unagi for the taste of the eel itself, we eat it for the sauce, rice, and texture -- can replicate these
He even helpfully provided a recipe from Seafood Watch, which I reproduce below.


(Serves 8)
Sablefish season: May–October
  • 1 1/2 pounds sablefish* fillet
  • 1 large sheet konbu (kelp)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons mirin
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sake
  • 1 handful katsuobushi (skipjack flakes)
  • Potato starch
  • Sea salt
  • Sesame seeds
  • Extra sake
  • Extra water
  • Steamed rice
Dust both sides of the sablefish fillets with sea salt. Cover the fillets in plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator. Let sit for 15–20 minutes.

Wash salt off the fillets with very cold water. Blot dry with a paper towel.

Tear the konbu into pieces the size of your fillets. Wet a new paper towel with sake and use it to moisten the konbu. Sandwich the sablefish between pieces of sake-moistened konbu. Cover the fillet in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30–40 minutes. Remove the konbu and return the fillet to the refrigerator.

Mix the soy sauce, sugar, mirin, and katsuobushi with 1 1/2 tablespoons of sake, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of water, in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Drain and remove the katsuobushi then set the sauce aside.

In a small bowl, combine 8 tablespoons of cold water with 2 tablespoons of potato starch to create a thickener (add the water to the potato starch gradually, whisking constantly to avoid clumping). Return the soy/mirin sauce to a boil then lower heat to a simmer. If desired, add the potato starch thickener to the sauce, gradually, until the desired consistency is reached. (Some people may choose to add very little or no thickener—you definitely won't want to use it all, but it's easier to mix a large batch.) Remove from heat and let cool.

To serve:
Slice sablefish into portions approximately 1 inch wide by 2 inches long. Lightly char one side of the fish with a small butane torch or sear it very briefly in a hot saucepan. Top fish with a drizzle of the sauce and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Serve slices of faux-nagi over bowls of hot steamed rice. You can also serve this nigiri style as they do at Tataki.

*Seafood Watch® recommends wild-caught sablefish from Alaska and British Columbia.
And don't forget to ask for sablefish at your favorite sushi place. They may not have it, but maybe they'll get the message and buy some... Thanks, Casson!

Flickr photo: avlxyz

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