Thursday, February 14, 2008

Miso Glazed Tilapia: A Valentine Supper

After a week of somewhat heavy meals that included Giada's honey ricotta cheesecake for dessert one night, I was ready for something light for Valentine's Day. Fortunately I knew we had tilapia waiting to be defrosted and was planning to poach it in carrot juice and serve on a bed of greens a la Jerry Traunfeld from the Herbal Kitchen. Arriving home a bit later than usual, I walked into the kitchen and was surprised to find my partner cooking away. He was making some chicken gyoza potstickers and edamame that he'd found in the freezer and was looking on the internet for a way to prepare the tilapia Asian style.

In these situations, I must supress my inner kitchen tyrant (but I'd planned on making something else!) and just let things flow. Most times I really love cooking with my partner. He doesn't mind chopping and cleaning up as we go. But sometimes, I just want him to do what I tell him to do or to get out of my way! After 15 years, I can heartily attest that the forceful approach does not work with him. So, the ancillary benefit to me when we cook is to learn to let go. Cooking can be about so much control: of ingredients, temperature, seasoning, timing, etc. I may think that I know what needs to be done next, but I have to consider my words and tone very carefully when trying to influence him in the kitchen, lest he completely leave the cooking to me and he ends up feeling alienated in our own kitchen! I have to remember that cooking is something I really enjoy and have definite ideas about, but I want to include him in this activity that I love so much so that he can feel the love and success of putting food on the table and getting the love for his efforts. So props to him for starting dinner without checking with me first!

His choice for an Asian style dinner was particularly romantic, because we lived togther in Japan in a postage stamp of an apartment for nearly three years at the beginning of our relationship. Japanese food and style are a sentimental favorite for us. So I whipped out my Washoku by Elizabeth Andoh (the title of which literally translates to "Japanese meals or Japanese food") and discovered a simple miso glazed fish recipe that was perfect for the tilapia at hand. I was immediately reminded of the first time I had miso glazed cod at Nobu in South Beach (which apparently is no longer on the menu according to the website), and again was kicking myself for not coming back to this preparation more regularly, especially given my tribulations with cooking cod. Most recipes for this dish call for marinating it for up to 3 days, but Andoh-san thankully includes an "impatient" marinade perfect for the weeknight cook. Leafing through her 2006 IACP award winning cookbook, I was pleased to find recipes for eggplant, a vegetable I fell in love with while living in Japan. I'd bought many last summer at my local farmers market and made some delicious preparations, but never went farther east than Thailand in any of my recipe wanderings. Now I can't wait for next summer to try some of these Japanese recipes.

So here is my take on this delicious fish preparation. Andoh-san goes into much greater detail on some of these steps, so I would refer to her excellent cookbook if you have the interest to learn more. But for a simple weeknight preparation, my instructions below with modifications will suffice.

Saikyo Yaki, Miso-Marinated Broiled Fish
Adapted from Washoku by Elizabeth Andoh

4 to 6 fish fillets, 1 1/2 pounds to 2 pounds [any fish that you like, such as salmon, is suitable. Cod is typical but I used tilapia]

Impatient Marinade:
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup sweet, light miso, preferably Saikyo miso [I confess I used mild Korean miso]
2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon sake [I had to substitute brandy]
1 tablespoon freeze dried yuzu peel, pulverized, or grated fresh citrus zest [I used lemon and orange zest]

Rinse the fish and pat dry with paper towels. [Personally I never rinse meat products since Diana Kennedy said on the Today Show that it's not necessary. Plus you never see anyone on the Food Network follow this practice.] Place the fish on paper towels and sprinkle both sides with salt. Let stand for 5 minutes, or until it "sweats." Blot away the excess moisture.

Now here is where I diverge from Andoh-san greatly. She recommends wrapping the fish in a single layer in a double layer of cheesecloth and then coating that cloth with the marinade for at least 20 minutes or up to 1 hour in the fridge. The cloth is then removed (thus removing the marinade) and the fish is ready to go under the broiler. The marinade can actually be reused and the cloth rinsed and dried for the next time. Not having any cheesecloth, I just cheated and slathered the marinade on the fish and popped it into a 400 degree oven for 12 minutes. If you want the crust toasted you can always just pop the fish under the broiler for a minute or so. The marinade is salty, but oh so delicious with the citrus notes from the zest!


  1. I have an "inner kitchen tyrant" too, but I have to admit that I'm not very good at stifling it! I've loved reading your posts!

  2. I just revisited this recipe the other night and used the cheesecloth. I was dubious that the marinade would flavor the tilapia, but I was so wrong! Prepping the fish this way, the fish was perfectly seasoned and removing the cheesecloth and marinade was a cinch. This time I had no mirin, but I did have sake, so I just used all sake and added heaping teaspoon of sugar to the miso mix. Sugoku oishikatta!


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