The food you can make really depends on what is available at the store. We went to a local gourmet grocery store one weekend and found a small red snapper called Vermilion snapper. The fish before cleaning was just the right size; weighing about 1 lb. It also looked really fresh. Upon reflection I thought it also looked really lonely in all its freshness so I bought two. My plan was to use them in separate recipes for two dinners. This was a just the right sized fish for me to present as a whole head-on fish (or “okashira-zuki” 御頭付き). It was a much more manageable size than “sea bream” which I posted before. Since the size and appearance were somewhat similar to “Kinme dai” 金目鯛, I decided to try simmering the whole fish or “nitsuke” 煮付け.
Digression alert: I am not sure about the English name for “Kinme dai” but “Splendid Alfonsino” appears to be the corresponding English name. Although the Japanese name bears “dai”, (which is the same as “tai” only changing the “T” to “D” sound when making a compound word), they are not related to “tai” 鯛 or “sea bream”. Kinme dai are deep water fish with large eyes (Japanese name means “golden eye” red snapper). They are suited for “sashimi” and “nitsuke” with firmer and oiler meat than red snapper but I have never seen this fish in markets in the US.
I had the fish monger scale and gut the fish. Japanese generally keep the fins on for decorative purposes but I forgot to tell the fish monger not to remove them so as you can see in the picture they are gone. After I did a little bit of touch-up cleaning and scaling, I made cross cuts on the skin on both sides to prevent the skin from rupturing during cooking (below #1).
Simmering broth: I soaked a 5 inch square of kelp (not the eating kind but the broth making kind) in about 2 cups of water. After 30 minutes of soaking, the kelp was soft and pliable. I placed the kelp on the bottom of the square Pyrex pan (which just accommodated the fish diagonally) to prevent from the fish skin from sticking to the bottom of the pan. It also added a “umami” flavor to the broth. I put the kelp-soaking water (2 cups), soy sauce (4 tbs), sake (2 tbs), mirin (2 tbs) and sugar (2 tbs) in a separate pan and let it come to a gentle boil for few minutes to let the tastes amalgamate and the alcohol to evaporate. I poured it in the Pyrex dish with slices of fresh ginger and placed the fish and precooked daikon (see “Daikon” below) (#1 in the picture below).
I placed my favorite “pink” silicon otoshi-buta 落とし蓋 (#2) on top and put the glass lid on (#3). So, this was a cross between simmering and steaming. After 15 minutes of gentle simmering, I turned the lid slightly askew to reduce the simmering liquid. After a total of 30 minutes, the simmering liquid had reduced in half. I turned the flame up a little, and spooned the simmering liquid over the fish repeatedly for 5 minutes to further season the fish and reducing the simmering liquid (#4).
Daikon: I also cooked daikon. I peeled and cut the daikon into 1 inch-thick rounds. I halved it into half moons. As a short-cut method, I placed the daikon in a microwaveable silicon container with a little bit of water on the bottom and microwaved it for a few minutes or until it became soft (do not over zap, it will become dry). I just placed the half moon daikon in the same pot as the fish turning once during the cooking.
As you can see in the first picture, I served the whole fish with the daikon and very finely julienned fresh ginger root or “ito shouga” 糸生姜 (soaked in water with the moisture wrung out) as a garnish.
The dish looked nice (even without the fins) but in terms of the taste and texture, it was a bit of a disappointment. The meat was soft (too soft) and lacked good flavor despite the simmering liquid and ginger. As usual. my wife was the de-boning expert serving up the meat. At the end of the meal, my wife readily acceded to my request for the eyes (gelatinous stuff behind the eyes are what I am going for) in exchange she got the “cheek” meat (she made it clear she thought she got the better end of the deal). But otherwise the head was kind of too small to be worthwhile. Since we got two fish, I will try another cooking method on the other.