Kabayaki is a popular Japanese cooking technique most often applied to eel (unagi). Eels are difficult to prepare at home—if I could even find one!! The eels are cleaned (apparently no easy task), boned, steamed and grilled, then basted with a sweet shoyu sauce. It’s like teriyaki for eel, rather than chicken.
In Japan unagi kabayake is mostly eaten in restaurants, or purchased ready-made to heat and eat. Home cooks frequently substitute oily fishes, such as sardines, mackerel, or pike for the eel.
In the summer and fall of 2007, it was easy for me to find frozen prepared unagi in all the Asian grocery stores here. Often it was even on sale for a really good price! I even prepared a recipe in my project book for eel burgers.
This summer, there has been a shortage of eel and I saw unagi for sale only once, and very pricey. Close inspection of the label revealed that it was imported from China. This recipe makes a reasonable substitute. I had a package of frozen smelt in my freezer so I used them instead of sardines—smaller fish, but still delicious and they look very pretty.
Iwashi no Kabayaki
- 4 medium sardines
I used about 8 ounces of frozen, cleaned smeltI
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Because the smelt were smaller, they had more surface area per ounce so I needed more flour
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup mirin
- 2 Tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 cup shoyu (soy sauce)
- 6 Tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/4 teaspoon sansho pepper
• Scale and clean the sardines. Remove the tails and head, and butterfly each fish. You may need only your hand and not a knife to butterfly them, since sardines are very delicate. Leave the skins attached.
• Dust the sardines with flour, and let them stand for 5 minutes.
• In a saucepan, bring 1/4 cup water, the mirin, and sugar to a boil. When the sugar is dissolved, add the shoyu, and cook the sauce over medium-low heat for 10 minutes.
• In a skillet, heat 3 Tablespoons vegetable oil until hot, but not smoking. Cook two of the sardines over medium heat, turning them once, until both sides are slightly golden. Remove the sardines from the skillet, and set them aside.
• Put the remaining 3 Tablespoons oil into the skillet, and cook the remaining sardines in the same way. Remove the sardines from the skillet, and set them aside with the others.
• Rinse the skillet with boiling water. Whipe the skillet with a paper towel, and place it over medium-high heat. Add the tare sauce, return the sardines to the skillet, and cook until the fish is thoroughly coated with the sauce.
• Serve the sardines garnished with 1/8 teaspoon sansho pepper each, and accompanied by plain cooked rice. Or serve the rice in a soup bowl, topped with the fish, and drizzled with the remaining sauce in the skillet.
The green vegetable is baby bok choy, sliced cross-wise to make it easy to eat with chopsticks. I sautéed some slivered garlic, added some water, and steamed it for a minute or two. For a little more flavor, I added 1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil.
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