Thursday, April 06, 2006

Nobu's Signature Dish Reworked for Cletus and the Rest of Us Slack Jawed Yokels

My mom gave me Nobu Matsuhisa's Nobu Now for my birthday, a very thoughtful present that I'm hoping means she'll never waste her hard earned money on another expensive but matronly linen garment that makes my ass look like forty pound of potatos in an unbleached sack. (I created a monster when I introduced her to the concept of wearing socks with Birkenstocks twenty years ago.)

Speaking of hard earned money, I've only made it to Nobu once, and then only because it was my friend Jeanne's birthday, as well as NYC Restaurant Week and also, I figured it was my reportorial duty to check out this famously fashionable scene in case I some day find myself wanting to write, I don't know, The Bonfire of the Vanitiesor something. I knew that the scolds on Chowhound held a universally low opinion of Nobu's sushi, but something compelled me to order it anyway. There was nothing wrong with it, I just lost sight of the fact that I'm one of those who gets the most pleasure from sushi served in a bustling, proletarian setting, like Taro Sushi, Geido, Sapporo East, or, for that matter, the Tsukiji Fish Market. In retrospect, I should have taken the opportunity to try Nobu's signature Black Cod with Miso.

Back to the cookbook. Its photographs are so mouthwatering and elegant, it's a shame that they're destined to be maimed by my waterlogged countertop and splatterific cooking style, but the recipes themselves seem dictated by the incredibly rarified, divorced-from-reality Emperor of Cathay, as portrayed by Mick Jagger in Shelly Duvall's Faerie Tale Theater. There are casual references to fish my fish store guys have never heard of and Japanese hot plates that stump my Japanese friends and all manner of gilded exotica ingredients-wise. Most of them just made me howl, but the Black Cod with Miso did seem within reach, so when I was shopping for my crab the other day, I also picked up some Chilean Sea Bass (I'd call it the Poor Man's Black Cod if it wasn't so damn expensive.) Did I mention that this baby flips a big birdie to conventional wisdom by marinating for a minimum of 48 hours? So, as soon as the dishwasher was loaded with the pots and pans of one dinner, I had to turn right around and start preparing another. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to buy the sake that's one of Nobu's few indispensible-sounding ingredients. How cruel when a fish that's going to be stinking up the fridge for two whole days forces you to venture into a torrential rain storm at 10pm. Got to get me to that liquor store!

Nobu's second crime is supplying measurements near exclusively in terms of ounces. What's 10 1/2 ounces of miso paste look like? You tell me. If it hadn't been for that vintage Weight Watcher's scale I found on the curb a couple years ago and now use for calculating postage, I could have found myself flushing fifteen bucks worth of Chilean Sea Bass down the toilet! ("Oh my god, what have I done?! Fetch me the plunger, Pa!") All that weighing made me so crabby, I decided that Nobu could shove his Yuzu Miso Sauce up his ass - if I'm going to haul it back and forth to the East Village in search of exotic perishables, I expect to make more significant use of them than just the aesthetic ("dot the plate with the Yuzu Miso Sauce, varying the size of the dots"). I remained open to the the idea of covering the fish with a heat resistant shield of "daikon skin", except that I forgot to buy a daikon and I was still brimming with resentment from my last-minute, inclement sake run.

In the end, though, I have to hand it to Nobu. Even when near-totalled by my ommissions, substitutions and approximations, his original recipe turned out beyond delicious - and as Heloise might say, getting most of the work out of the way 2 whole days before company comes, is a real ring-a-ding hint.

Two Day Miso Sea Bass
(formerly known as Black Cod with Miso)

Combine 3 & 1/2 ounces of mirin (That's midway between 1/3 and 1/2 cup, Cletus)
with 3 & 1/2 ounces of sake
Bring to a boil and "allow the alcohol to evaporate" - which I interpreted as let it reduce itself by half.

Reduce heat to medium and add approximately 3/4 cup of white miso paste in several installments.
(If you want to go postal with it, you can dick around until you've got 10 & 1/2 ounces of the stuff, but don't forget to weigh your battered measuring cup first, so you don't count its weight as part of the final sum. Nobu would have you believe that the dish will be ruined if you're just half a butterfly's wing over the called for amount, but unless you're expecting him to be ringing your doorbell in 48 hours, I think you'll be safe eyeballing it with a measuring cup)
Stir all the while you're adding whatever size dollop of miso you've settled upon - if you were going to spend the next 48 hours marinating in something, wouldn't you want it to be silky smooth, as opposed to lumpier than yesterday's oatmeal?

Jack the heat back up to high, and stir in 1/2 cup of sugar (delivered in several batches).

(Resist the temptation to stick your finger in for a little taste because, speaking from experience, this shit has napalm-like properties.)

Remove it fromthe heat, let it cool for half an hour or so. then pour it into some sort of oven-proof vessel that isn't going to create a total real estate nightmare in your fridge. I used a white ceramic pie plate. Nobu uses "a tray for marinating". Dump in (Nobu's words, not mine, I swear) a half pound of black cod or Chilean Sea Bass or some comparable meaty, expensive ocean filet. Baste it tip to tail in the miso sauce, cover with plastic wrap, refrigerate and spend the next two days reassuring your dining companion that hardly anybody dies from botulism anymore.

When the big night arrives (if you forget and accidentally stuff yourself w/ pizza on what was supposed to be Black Whatever with Miso night, it's no big deal, as 72 hours of marination only deepens the deliciousness), scrape all the miso out of the "tray" and off of the fish, and put it in a preheated 400ยบ oven for ten minutes.

When the timer goes off, plop it into a skillet over medium for like 5 minutes. I know I sound kind of vague, but believe me, Nobu is even worse. I'm thinking this is just a step to make the dish look and smell even prettier than it already does (and keep emergency room visits to a minimum)

Serve with rice, pickled ginger, and a couple of size C batteries in lieu of yuzu sauce.


Anonymous Debra M. said...


did your kids eat it ?? Did you convince them they would hate it so you could have their share ?

Ok this might be worth buying the bottle of sake I have been resisting all these years.

I love sea bass

keep cooking !!

4:15 AM  
Blogger karrie said...


4:02 AM  
Blogger Brandon said...

I ate at Nobu in Las Vegas before an Elvis Costello concert at the Hard Rock Hotel (it was my husband's 40th birthday extravagance, I mean extravaganza). Never have I spent so much money and eaten so little in all my life. However, the miso black cod was truly unbelievable--unctuous and meltingly tender. And very, very small.

I tried to get the publisher of the Nobu cookbook to send me a review copy (I was writing reviews of cookbooks for Christmas in our local alternative news weekly) because it's GORGEOUS--absolute food porn-- but they wouldn't part with their expensive, glossy tome just for lowly me.

I've seen a lot of different versions of this recipe on the web (Wolfgang Puck's site, Star Chefs) and they're all different even though Nobu himself is supposed to be the source. So what gives with the bizarro exact measurements?? By the ounce yet?? I think restaurants attract schizophrenic wackos that present the world with the facade of an anal-retentive maniac to mask the abusive, frying-pan-throwing howler monkey that really inhabits the kitchen. But that fish really is good.

2:05 PM  
Anonymous emily said...

I ate at Nobu for the first time ever today and the chowhounds are right -- the sushi is sub Sapporo East quality, for serious. It is always a bad sign when no one in the whole restaurant is manifestly Japanese.

I am still into making this cod, though!

1:58 PM  
Blogger TBTAM said...

Just found your blog recently, enjoying it immensely!

11:26 AM  

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