The fish skin and tails are oftentimes the forgotten parts of the fish. Usually the first to get sliced off and tossed into the trash, they rarely make it past the chopping block and are scarcely ever seen on the dinner table.
I was excited to see that Chef Shirley Cheng, professor at the Culinary Institute of America, chose to use black cod skin and tails as her main ingredient for her winning recipe this past Saturday at the Japanese Ingredient Culinary Challenge at the Restaurant Show.
Her plate was not conventionally elegant. It was a humble composition that possessed an unspoken familiarity, reminding me of a typical dish served at a traditional Chinese restaurant — lacquered with a glistening brown glaze and served over a bed of blanched vegetables. There was not a micro green in sight.
But while the other two competitors masterfully plated their dishes and leveraged advanced French culinary techniques, what they fell short in was Japanese flavors. Professor Cheng’s fish skin and tails were the perfect vehicle to showcase the mirin, sake, rice vinegar, and soy sauce, which melded together beautifully in every bite.
I hope that Professor Cheng’s victory is an indication that there is a growing appreciation for more versatile and undiscovered parts of the animal. After all, chicken breasts and fish fillets can get a bit boring.
Here is Professor Cheng’s winning recipe:
Black Cod Skin and Tails
12 cloves of garlic
1/2 inch ginger, sliced
8 dried Chinese chilies, whole
2 lb fish skin and tail
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sake
1/2 cup mirin
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 cup Japanese rice vinegar
1/2 cup spring water
1/2 lb napa cabbage heart
1. Remove all scales and rinse fish skin well. Dry with paper towel.
2. Cut fish skin into two inch wide and three inch long pieces.
3. Cut scallion into three inch long sections.
4. Put scallions, garlic, and ginger in the bottom of a one gallon sauce pot. Add fish skin and tails on top then add soy sauce, sake, mirin, sugar, water, and chilies.
5. Cut napa cabbage into three inch strips then blanch in water. Remove and place on the plate.
6. Serve fish skin on top of napa cabbage or on the side.
*Note: do not stir during cooking.
A big thank you goes out to Ron Hsu, a friend and sous chef at Le Bernardin who won last year’s competition, for getting us badges for the show!