In Kappo Chishin, famous Japanese chefs in Kyoto will make an unexpected, creative dish that is beyond the scope of Washoku. In this feature, Takahiro Mizuno, the head chef of Gion Rakumi, will introduce his special "Fried bancha-flavored ayu".
"Fried Bancha-flavored Ayu": a creative, unique dish
Enjoy fried ayu (sweetfish) together with bancha (green tea harvested in the second flush) aroma and uruka (salted viscera of sweetfish) sauce
Chef Takahiro Mizuno was born in Gifu. After working at a Japanese restaurant of a hotel in Nagoya, he started working at Gion Sasaki. With his 15-year work under the tutelage of the owner and chef Hiroshi Sasaki, he became the owner's right-hand. He became a head chef at Gion Rakumi, the sister restaurant of Gion Sasaki three years ago. Since then, he has been demonstrating his cooking skills there. Gion Rakumi offers a multi-course meal that the chefs cooked with seasonal ingredients based on the customer's preference. The restaurant's customers will be seated up close at the counter at his restaurant. The restaurant is always packed with food enthusiasts who know delicious food well.
Secret behind the creation
Ayu (sweetfish)is usually grilled with salt. Some regular customers visit my restaurant during the season of ayu and have salt grilled ayu several times. Therefore, I have been thinking of another recipe of ayu that can become a popular dish at my restaurant. "Fried ayu with roe" that is served at Gion Sasaki, our main restaurant, was in mind but I thought serving the same dish won't inspire my customers. Then, I came up with an idea to combine the new recipe with our classic dish "Ayu simmered with obancha, which we cook as a pre-prepared ingredient.
After having fried ayu, I smoked it together over bancha leaves. I took out the ayu's viscera, which is its important feature,to make uruka (salted viscera of sweetfish) sauce. I placed the sauce back to the bancha-flavored ayu's belly. The dish looks like swimming ayu and has a distinctive bitter flavor of ayu's viscera. In addition, it can surprise those who are served.
I cut ayu open and took its viscera out to make uruka. Then I blended the uruka together with kelp, kelp broth, and oyster sauce, and mizanshou (Japanese green pepper). While kelp enhanced umami and stickiness of the ayu-flavored sauce, oyster sauce created its richness and mizanshou added refreshing and pungency to it. Needless to say, the broth flavor is Sasaki's specialty.
To avoid sticking the bottom of the opened ayu together, I placed a sheet of parchment paper into it and skewered the body. After coating the ayu with rice flour, I deep-fried them. My restaurant use rice flour for fried dishes instead of flour. Actually, I don't know which flour other restaurants normally use. Anyways, rice flour makes the crust crispy.
Next, I placed a sheet of aluminum foil into a wok and spread bancha leaves over it. Then I placed the fried ayu on a grill and smoked them over the wok for about one minute. Heating the fish too much will tighten their tenderness.
Finally, I took the paper and skewer out of the ayu and placed the sauce into the bottom of the opened ayu. It looks regular fried ayu but once you bite it, you will be surprised by its taste like "Something different?". While its outside is crispy, its inside is juicy and tender. If you bite it, the umami, richness, and pungency of the uruka sauce will spread through your mouth. In the end, bancha aroma will go through your nose. You can enjoy different deliciousness compared to regular fried ayu.
When I was asked to make a creative, unique dish, they allowed me to make a dish that doesn't belong to Japanese cuisine. However, the more I thought of what to make, the more I wanted to make something traditional rather than Western-style. That is exactly to gain new insights through restudying old material. Although salt grilled ayu is a perfect recipe to enjoy seasonal ayu, I would like you to try this ayu dish that offers rich aroma and broad flavors. Perhaps you can try this recipe at home too.
■ Gion Rakumi
570-206 Gionmachi Minamigawa, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
Opening hours: 17：30-23：00 (L.O.)
Closed on Sundays, and the second and the fourth Monday of each month