Ingredients, dishes and drinks from Japan by Ad Blankestijn

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Katsuo no tataki, seared bonito fillets

Seared bonito filets. かつおのたたき。

Katsuo is the large fish (bonito or skipjack) that is dried, smoked and mold-cured to become as hard as a piece of wood so that its shavings can grace your soup, hiyayakko and other dishes.
But the fish is also delicious on its own. It is caught in summer near Hokkaido and in autumn in the waters off southern Japan, so it is now in season.

[Katsuo no tataki, without the garnishing to show the meatiness of this fish]

Although it is also good as teriyaki, one of the most common uses is tataki ("Katsuo no tataki"), which means that the sashimi fillets of the fish are briefly grilled, leaving the inside raw. This searing is done in the direct manner to bring out the flavor of the fat under the skin. In the past this was even done by placing the fillet into burning straw, says Shizuo Tsuji in Japanese Cooking, A Simple Art. Now, of course, more modern methods are used. Afterward, the fillets are dipped in ice to cool off.

Anyway, the katsuo fillets combine a smoky flavor with the surprising tenderness of the rare center.

It is garnished with onions and shiso, and eaten with a dip sauce of soy sauce, ponzu and grated ginger.

Hosking, the author of A Dictionary of Japanese Food, rightly remarks that the taste is very similar to beef.

The sake to go with this dish? I had a cold unpasteurized junmai sake by Kozutsumi (Hyogo Prefecture) which fit like a glove. In general I would advise junmai sake as this offsets the oiliness of the katsuo meat. And as the dish is eaten cold, I would also drink cold sake, so an unpasteurized junmai of not too light a character should generally fit the bill.