How to prepare fish for aging
With Ike-Jime closing, moderate cooling, and proper cleaning, you can enjoy your fresh catch for days without freezing. The tasty period of my common catch here in Okinawa, for example, would be small tunas for 2 days, amberjacks for 4 days, snappers for 5 days, and groupers for 6 days.
In this post, I’d like to discuss how to clean fish to prepare for aging.
Here is the video to start with. I’m not a professional chef. But here’s how I do it.
Since I found this Ginrin Fish Scaler, scaling has became so much easier for me. The sharp edged cup slides under scales and lifts them off. Because it doesn’t flick off scales, you don’t mess your kitchen with flying scales. Of course you will get a few, but as a matter of fact, my wife used to forbid me scaling in the kitchen but she allows me now. That is a huge difference! I know many anglers around the world would agree with me on that. The scaler also has jaggy edges on both sides of the cup and these work very well around the fins.
I have it for sale at JPY2692 + shipping and handling.
I have cut the head off in the video but you don’t have to at this point. In fact, you better not to. You should make the least possible cuts on fish when you age fish. If you leave the head on, make sure to take out gills and clean blood chunks around the head thoroughly.
But a lot of times I find that cutting the head off at this point will just make everything easy. Storing will be easy. Cleaning the head will be easier when it’s separated too.
I love to cook the fish head by the way. I think the most tastiest meat is concentrated in the head. Neck has such silky texture. Cheek is delicate and awesome. Around pectoral fins is juicy flaky meat. I’m not a big fan of eye sockets, but it contains lots of essential fatty acids like DHA, which are not to be missed.
I usually cut the head off at this point. Clean and store separately.
Brush off blood
Blood is bad. Yes, that’s the code.
There’s a major blood vessel running on the belly side of the spine. When you open the belly and take guts out, you will see air bladder. When you cut it open, you will see reddish black blood vessel on the spine. You want to thoroughly clean this with a toothbrush or a bunch of toothpicks. This is very important process when you age fish. Without complete cleaning, aging would become smelly and fishy.
After you brush it off, pat to dry. No fresh water on fish from this point.
Whatever you do, do not wash fish with fresh water after this.
No matter where you store fish, wrap it with paper towel. You want paper towel to absorb drips from the fish. The last thing you want to do is to let it soak in its drips. That would be the end of sashimi. If you store for several days, you should change paper towel everyday.
Some people don’t like to store fish in fridge because the circulated air will dry out the fish. It’s true that fish dries out faster than meats. But a little dry surface is good to preserve hygiene and moisture inside. I think it’s perfectly OK to wrap fish only with paper towel and keep it in the fridge. The circulated air dries only the skin.
You sure want to leave the skin on at this point no matter what. Big fish like tuna would need to be sliced into fillet bars to be kept. But after aging, sushi chef would scrape all the surfaces of the meat. You want to keep the fish as a whole as much as possible, with as few cuts as possible. We are talking about aging the fish. You want to leave the skin on for as long as you can. And with the skin on, and with the paper towel to absorb drips and avoid direct contact with circulated air, leaving fish in the fridge is no problem.
Curing fish with Pichitto!
Pichitto! is a liquid absorbing sheet. I just love this product. I just can't thank enough those engineers who invented this. I think only Japanese are fish crazy enough to even think of creating this thing.
Pichitto! is a plastic sheet with special gel that absorbs liquid and edgy odors. The gel is made of glutinous starch and seaweed adhesive.
DO NOT cut the sheet when use it. Each sheet is like a plastic bag which holds the gel inside.
There's no right side. Both sides of the sheet works at the touch with the meat surface.
You just need to wrap fish or meat with this sheet and let it sit in the fridge. The sheet has tiny holes, and by its osmotic pressure, the gel sucks in liquid and edgy odors from the fish. But it still leaves Umami components like glutamic acid in the fish, because these amino acids are big components and can not go through the holes in the sheet.
- It takes out the excess liquid and edgy odors and condenses Umami (savor).
- Overnight with Pichitto! wrap is usually enough to absorb liquid from surface. Pichitto! will stick to the surface and seal it. You can just leave it like that to store.
- Usually you brine before Pichitto! and the fish will maintain its sashimi quality for at least a week. Of course you can cook in any style.
Liquid Absorbing Sheet
Regular 32 sheets: JPY2,268-
Brining and Semi-drying definitely extends sashimi quality, giving enough time for the meat to age.
Here's how I prepare it.
I always treat some fish with Pichitto! when I catch lots of fish that we can't eat within the tasty period. The treatment extends sashimi quality period by at least 2 days.
Cold smoking is a great thing to do after Pichitto! It adds another dimension of flavor and helps to extend sashimi period too.
When sashimi period ends, what I think is the best thing to do is to sous vide the fish, whether it's been smoked or not. Put small portions of fish meat in a plastic bag with olive oil, a bay leaf and some other herbs and spices if you want. Let it bathe in 60 ˚C water for 30 minutes. When done, rapid cooling with ice to bring it down to storing temperature. Then transfer from the plastic bag to a air-tight jar to store in fridge, and it will last a month. (Oil should be enough to cover all the meat in the jar. Add oil if necessary.)
The meat portions will make great appetizer or sandwich. Also it can be used as a seasoning for pasta or salad, like anchovy.
For some fish, freezing may work. But I've found breaded deep-fry is the only way that I can be happy with. So unless I want deep-fries, I would try everything to avoid freezing my catch. Please let me know if you know any other way!
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