Most people who know me know that I am not much of a traditionalist. Although my father’s side of the family was devoutly Catholic and from Eastern Europe (tradition, anyone?), my mother’s side of the family was very much a bunch of rough-and-tumble ‘Mericans from Oakland, CA. I was the third generation in my family to be brought up in Oakland, and as a result I feel that most of the “culture” I have is a mish-mash of old-world sensibilities rooted in the soils of the Bay Area.
So, what does that mean exactly? For one, it means I don’t cook turkey on Thanksgiving. It’s a ridiculous holiday to begin with, and I cringe every time someone wants to go around the table to say what they are thankful for. Come December, my Christmas tree is adorned with disco balls, chickens, and Star Trek memorabilia. I shop for holiday wrapping paper in the Birthday section. My husband is Jewish, so every year we throw a Christmukkah party (although this year, it was Thanksgivingukkah). My point is, we don’t follow any rules, and we have a great time.
Today I am going to share with you one of my favorite Winter dishes. I’ve served it twice as the main course for Thanksgiving. Anyone who has spent T-Day with us and experienced this Miso Black Cod will tell you about the time a crowd of people stood in my kitchen after dinner was finished, picking the leftover scraps of black cod from the serving platter. I made it again this year, but with a more all-encompassing Japanese theme. Turkey can suck it.
The great thing about this dish is the ease of preparation. It may seem fussy (3 day marinade? Searing in the broiler?), but I assure you that it’s not as hard as it sounds. It’s all about patience and technique. The 3-day marinade changes the fish in a way that is hard to explain – it becomes firmer while still being melty, tender, succulent, and other-worldy. I’ve tried to speed it up and do a 1-day marinade, and it really isn’t the same. So give yourself as much time as you can – 2 or 3 days is ideal.
The most important thing to consider when making this dish is the freshness of the black cod. You are going to be marinating it for 3 days, and under normal circumstances I wouldn’t touch 3-day old fish with a 10 foot pole. My working theory is that the salt in the miso acts as a sort of cure, slowly drawing the moisture out of the fish. My advice is to get your black cod right from the source (fisherman), or as close to the source as you can. I get my fish from One Ocean Seafood - the owner does FREE home delivery, and if you work with him you can find out what days he gets his fresh-caught local fish on. My Thanksgiving black cod (from Monterey) was caught on Tuesday morning and served on Thursday evening.
Black Cod, also known as Sablefish, is a very oily fish that is not actually cod at all. Because of it’s high oil content, it is difficult to over-cook. This is a great recipe for people who are not normally comfortable cooking fish. We get it locally here from Monterey and Half Moon Bay – buy the local stuff if you can. It should cost around $18-$20 a lb, but you can find it cheaper if you try. I’ve seen it for as little as $16/lb at Sun Fat Seafood in the Mission, but they don’t always have it. If you are in the East Bay, Tokyo Fish Market is a good place to get it.
Anyhow, here’s the recipe. It’s from Nobu Matsuhisa, a celebrity chef who owns the high-end Nobu restaurant chain. If you’ve ever seen the $30 “Miso Black Cod” on the menu at any Japanese restaurant (many places serve variations on this dish), this is what you’ll get – although yours will be better and much cheaper.
Nobu Miso Black Cod
For Saikyo Miso Marinade
3/4 c. mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine)
1/2 c. saké (Japanese rice wine)
2 c. white miso paste (aka shiro miso)
1-1/4 c. organic white sugar
4 black cod fillets, about 1/2 lb. each
3 cups prepared Saikyo miso
Make the Saikyo miso marinade
- Bring the saké and mirin to a boil, and boil for 30 seconds (this cooks off the alcohol).
- Lower the temperature to low and add the miso paste. Stir with a wooden spoon until combined.
- When the miso has dissolved completely, turn the heat back up to high and add the sugar.
- Stir until the sugar is dissolved.
- Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
- Reserve a small amount of the miso marinade for serving.
Prepare the black cod
- Rinse the black cod fillets and pat dry with paper towels.
- Trim any ugly bits from the fillets.
- Place fillets into a non-reactive bowl or container and slather with the cooled Saikyo miso marinade.
- Cover tightly and place in the refrigerator.
- Flip the fillets once during the 2-3 day marinade.
Cook the black cod (2-3 days later)
- Pre-heat your broiler.
- Remove the fillets from the container and wipe off the excess miso (but do not rinse).
- Cut the marinated fillets into 4-5 oz serving-sized pieces.
- Place the fillets skin-side down on a broiler-safe, foil-lined, low-rimmed dish or on aluminum foil.
- Place fillets into your pre-heated broiler and broil for 3-5 minutes, or until the tops of the fish begin to blacken and caramelize (see photo). Remove from broiler.
- Pre-heat oven to 400F. Place fillets into the oven and cook for 10-15 minutes.
- Remove the bones from the cooked fish with a pair of tweezers prior to serving, or just warn your guests that there will be small bones in the fish.
That’s it, really! You can serve this with a little bit of the miso marinade you reserved on day 1 on the side. Nobu recommends serving with a stalk of Hajikami, which I have never been able to find commercially (I make my own). You could serve it with pickled sushi ginger instead. This dish is also complimented well with cooked greens such as spinach. The slight bitterness is a nice counter-point to the sweetness of the fish.
As for wine pairing, any white wine with little or no oak would be great with this. I would suggest something with a tiny bit of residual sugar (but not a sweet wine) and medium to full body. Our 2012 Two Shepherds Grenache Blanc comes to mind. It would also be fantastic with Champagne.
Let us know if you have any questions about this recipe in the comments.