Coriander-crusted Hawaiian yellowtail fillet, barely sautéed and served with wasabi mashed potatoes and a mixed green salad. Recipes below.
A quick note: The two fish recipes in this post call for a specific type of fish. They can also be made with others—I’ll mention some possible substitutes with the recipes. The wasabi mashed potato recipe doesn’t call for fish at all.
I was recently invited by Kona Blue Water Farms to sample some of their sushi-grade Kona Kampachi. This is their name for their own sustainably farmed Hawaiian yellowtail or Almaco Jack, a crisper textured cousin to the Japanese hamachi popular in sashimi and sushi.
Doing a little research, I discovered these 5- to 6-pounders aren’t just your typical farm-raised fish; as CNNMoney.com’s Business 2.0 puts it, “Hawaii startup Kona Blue is pioneering deepwater aquaculture to farm ocean fish and take the pressure off wild species.” The Seattle Post provides further details, explaining that they do this by growing the fish “in large, space-age cages submerged in 200 feet of ocean and by controlling what the fish eat. The fish are given no antibiotics or medications, just a pellet feed containing fish meal, fish oil and wheat. The fish meal and oil come from sustainable wild fisheries and the wheat comes from an organic source.” Healthwise, Kona Kamachi is rich in Omega-3 fish oils, and independent testing showed “no detectable” levels of PCBs or mercury.
Taking pressure off wild species is a particularly timely topic. Just the other day, The New York Times ran an editorial entitled “Until All the Fish Are Gone” about “the disastrous environmental, economic and human consequences of often illegal industrial fishing.”
Next, I took a look at who’s selling and cooking Kona Kampachi. The answer was restaurants and seafood stores in nearly 30 states across the country. Here in Chicago, respected restaurants Blackbird, Meritage Café & Wine Bar and Rick Bayless’ Topolobampo are among the dozens who serve it. And leading purveyors like Dirk’s Fish & Gourmet Shop and Burhop’s Seafood carry it for home cooks.
All of the above was enough for me. Yes, I wanted to try it. In the interest of full disclosure, Kona Blue generously sent me a, well, generous sample for free. I warned them I wasn’t afraid to bite the hand that fed me—if the fish was less than wonderful, I would say so. They didn’t seem worried. And as it turns out, they had no reason to be.
A big box arrived at my office Friday. When we got home, I immediately tore it open. Inside, I found two fresh fillets, each a little more than 1-1/4 pounds, carefully wrapped and nestled in multiple ice packs. When I say fresh, I’m talking the kind of fresh we don’t take for granted in the Midwest, even in a big city like Chicago. The smell was absolutely clean, with just the wonderful briny hint of the ocean that only the freshest saltwater seafood can deliver.
Also in the interest of full disclosure, the first thing we did was slice the little tapered end off one of the fillets and devour it immediately. This was supposedly sushi-grade fish—that demanded testing, didn’t it? Marion sliced it into thin little pieces, and we had some lazy man’s sashimi. Just the fish and a little soy sauce. And soon we were skipping the soy sauce. It was that fresh, that good, satisfyingly meaty.
Now then, what to do with the rest of the fish? At a party, I had discussed our impending bounty—okay, maybe I bragged a little—with our friend Karen. I said that since it was sushi-grade, one thing I wanted to try was based on a tuna recipe long ago read but never tried, in which the fish was barely cooked on one side only and served cooked side up. Karen had just seen Ming Tsai do something similar with Japanese hamachi on his TV show Simply Ming. Since my half-remembered tuna recipe was long gone, this sounded like a great place to start.
The Ming recipe is simplicity itself. Fish fillets seasoned only with salt and pepper and then coated with a crust of coarsely ground coriander seeds and seared for a mere 30 seconds per side. I’d already rejected various recipes with soy sauce or orange juice or countless other ingredients that sounded delicious but might mask the flavor of the fish itself. But this sounded like it would let the fish shine through, with the citrusy brightness of the coriander as just a flavor note.
Ming serves his version of this dish sliced over a shaved fennel salad. I was just here for the fish. So I served my fillets whole, along with a simple salad and wasabi mashed potatoes. You’ll find the recipe below, along with one for the potatoes. You’ll also find more of a description than a recipe for the even simpler preparation I served the next night.
Coriander-Crusted Hawaiian Yellowtail
4 four-ounce pieces of Hawaiian Yellowtail, skin off [you could also use Japanese hamachi or ahi tuna]
3 tablespoons coriander seeds, coarsely ground
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Place the fillets on a plate and let them come to room temperature [less than half an hour; it's just that the cooking time is so short, you don't want them to be cold inside when done]. Grind coriander seeds briefly in a spice grinder or small food processor. Place it in a pie plate. Season the fillets with salt and pepper and press both sides of each fillet into coriander. Heat a sauté pan over high heat and add enough canola oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. Sear the fillets on both sides, about 1 minute on the first and 30 seconds on the second. Transfer to plates and serve immediately.
A quick note about bones. Each fillet had a row of evenly spaced small bones along a seam. They pulled out easily once the fish was cooked, and there were only maybe a half dozen or so in each 4-ounce portion. They also weren’t those maddeningly fine bones you sometimes encounter in fish and were easily avoided. To me, this is all a non-issue, but I thought I should mention it.
Wasabi Mashed Potatoes
Wasabi powder, the horseradish kick of the condiment often served with sushi, adds a little heat and a flavorful zing to these potatoes. It’s available in Asian markets and some supermarkets.
3 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks [I always use Yukon Gold, but russets would also work]
3/4 cup buttermilk [you can also use milk]
1 tablespoon wasabi powder
1/4 cup butter [1/2 stick]
salt to taste
Put potatoes in a large pot and cover by 1 inch with cold water. Season with salt and bring to a boil. Cook until just tender, about 10 – 15 minutes. Meanwhile whisk wasabi powder into buttermilk. Drain cooked potatoes and return to pot. Heat over a low flame for just a minute or so to evaporate excess moisture.
Add butter and buttermilk/wasabi powder mixture to potatoes and mash thoroughly with a hand masher. If potatoes are too thick or dry, add more milk, just a tablespoon or so at a time—you don’t want them mushy. Season to taste with salt.
Potatoes can be made an hour or more ahead. Cover and keep at room temperature. Rewarm before serving over low heat, stirring frequently.
For night two, an even simpler fish treatment
When fish is really fresh, really good, simple preparation is best. The next night, I seasoned two 4-ounce fillets with nothing more than salt and pepper. I sautéed them in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat in a mix of canola oil and butter [enough to coat the bottom of the pan] about 3 minutes or so per side, until just cooked through. Done. If anything, I liked this even better than the coriander-crusted version from the previous night [of course that could be partly because, since I didn't photograph it, it was still warm while I was eating it]. This simple technique can be applied to many kinds of really fresh fish, and with the likes of salmon fillets or tuna steaks, a little rare on the inside is perfect.
We still had a little of this delicious fresh fish left. Next week, we’ll tell you what Marion did with it.
Also this week in Blue Kitchen, 1/23/2008
Ditching the D word. Weight Watchers and packaged goods giant Kraft are abandoning “diet” for “living.” If they really mean it, this could be good. Read more at WTF? Random food for thought.
Is it jazz? Is it hip-hop? Is it rap? “Yes.” When hip-hop producers Us3 invade Blue Note’s vintage jazz vaults with an army of rappers, it’s a victory for everyone. See what I mean, at What’s on the kitchen boombox?