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A sustainable replacement for unagi (freshwater eel)
Sustainable Seafood Recipe
This recipe, from Tataki Sushi & Sake Bar in San Francisco, puts a sustainable spin on the popular dish, unagi, by replacing freshwater eel with sablefish. The buttery sablefish, paired with a sweet, sultry sauce, is one of the restaurant's most popular nigiri (hand-formed sushi) dishes. "Quite a few of our customers have told me that they actually prefer the sablefish to eel," says the restaurant's "sustainability guru" Casson Trenor.
Sablefish, also known as black cod, is found in the cold waters of the North Pacific. Favored by chefs for its silky-smooth texture and heart-healthy fats, it can be baked, grilled, pan-roasted or eaten raw. It's a great alternative to freshwater eel, which is on the Seafood Watch "Avoid" list
- (Serves 8)
- Sablefish season: May–October
- 1 1/2 pounds sablefish* fillet
- 1 large sheet konbu (kelp)
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons mirin
- 1 1/2 tablespoons sake
- 1 handful katsuobushi (skipjack flakes)
- Potato starch
- Sea salt
- Sesame seeds
- Extra sake
- Extra water
- Steamed rice
Dust both sides of the sablefish fillets with sea salt. Cover the fillets in plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator. Let sit for 15–20 minutes.
Wash salt off the fillets with very cold water. Blot dry with a paper towel.
Tear the konbu into pieces the size of your fillets. Wet a new paper towel with sake and use it to moisten the konbu. Sandwich the sablefish between pieces of sake-moistened konbu. Cover the fillet in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30–40 minutes. Remove the konbu and return the fillet to the refrigerator.
Mix the soy sauce, sugar, mirin, and katsuobushi with 1 1/2 tablespoons of sake, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of water, in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Drain and remove the katsuobushi then set the sauce aside.
In a small bowl, combine 8 tablespoons of cold water with 2 tablespoons of potato starch to create a thickener (add the water to the potato starch gradually, whisking constantly to avoid clumping). Return the soy/mirin sauce to a boil then lower heat to a simmer. If desired, add the potato starch thickener to the sauce, gradually, until the desired consistency is reached. (Some people may choose to add very little or no thickener—you definitely won't want to use it all, but it's easier to mix a large batch.) Remove from heat and let cool.
Slice sablefish into portions approximately 1 inch wide by 2 inches long. Lightly char one side of the fish with a small butane torch or sear it very briefly in a hot saucepan. Top fish with a drizzle of the sauce and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Serve slices of faux-nagi over bowls of hot steamed rice. You can also serve this nigiri style
as they do at Tataki.
*Seafood Watch® recommends wild-caught sablefish
from Alaska and British Columbia.
Hints from the Chef
- If you've got a favorite recipe that uses seafood from the "Avoid List," try using the Seafood Watch Chart of Alternatives to find a substitute—you might discover that you like your new creation even better than the original!
- Sablefish doesn't come in "sushi grade." Just look for the freshest fish possible (this might mean fish that was frozen immediately after it was caught). The rule is if it smells fishy, it's no longer fresh.
- Konbu, mirin, sake and katsuobushi can be found at Asian markets.
Kin Lui, Raymond Ho and Casson Trenor, Tataki Sushi & Sake Bar
Seafood Watch recommends wild-caught sablefish from Alaska and British Columbia as a "Best Choice." The Alaska sablefish fishery is also certified as sustainable to the standard of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Wild-caught sablefish from California, Oregon and Washington are considered a "Good Alternative."
Young eels are taken from flagging wild populations and raised in open net pens, allowing diseases and waste to impact local environments.
SEAFOOD WATCH FOR iPhone® AND ANDROID
Our app brings you up-to-date recommendations for ocean-friendly seafood and sushi. And the newest version, with Project FishMap, lets you share the locations of restaurants and markets where you've found sustainable seafood. As the map grows, you'll also be able to see what others have found near you.