We have been eating an awful lot of fish since returning from Japan. While drawing the line at anything fishy for breakfast, at any other time we have been hoovering up sashimi, salmon, brill, bream, tuna and cockles. Part of the challenge has been to try and recreate some of our favourite dishes we sampled in Japan, two of which happened to be tataki.
The whole idea of tataki is somewhat confusing as it refers to two quite dissimilar dishes. The word "tataki" means to hit into pieces and the two dishes vary according to which bits are taking the pounding. Tataki type one is a chopped mix of raw fish mixed with other seasonings where the fish is the ingredient that is finely chopped. Think steak tartare. Tataki type two refers to the Tosa-style of cooking where seared tuna is topped with a sauce mixed from ingredients that have been pounded, or tataki-ed, while the fish stays intact.
Confusing? Both tataki options are incredible and also, pleasingly, incredibly easy to prepare. We made and ate the two in one go. Here goes...
First we grabbed the freshest fish, in this case a bream, and filleted it. Traditionally either tuna or horse mackerel is used but any firm flesh white fish seems to be acceptable. Ultimately the fillets are going to be chopped into teeny-tiny pieces so this is perhaps a good dish to make from the first fish you ever fillet; no one will ever know if you ended up with six fillets of varying thicknesses.
We chopped and we chopped until it was in a fine dice, stopping before the fish lost any structure and turned into mush. We then finely sliced some shiso leaves. We used two fillets of bream, two shiso leaves, and four umeboshi plums. This is a very forgiving recipe though. Don't like shiso? Leave it out. Love umeboshi? Add some more. Kinda-like umeboshi but want to know where it is when you are eating it? Then chop it more coarsely. We just tasted as we went and tried not to completely nuke the flavour of the fish itself.
We added the offcuts of the tuna from Tataki take two into the mix. We ended up with enough tataki for probably four people as a starter (hands up here, we did eat it all ourselves). Then we chopped some more.
The final ingredients were a piece of ginger, finely grated. I want to say the ginger was about the size of my thumb but all recipes describe ginger in these proportions. It was about the size of my thumb though. The oroshiki grater is perfect here as you really want to pulverise it and let the ginger juice run off into the mix. We also added a teaspoon of white miso paste.
Without trying to be unhelpful, the exact proportions of the miso and ginger do depend on your tastebuds and the strength of flavour of the fish you have chosen. Just taste as you go. We gave the mixture a final chop through before putting it on the plate. Now, this dish is no looker. It it is the colour a hockey player's thighs in deepest December, and the texture looks proper meaty (I wanted to mention cat food here but I am not sure that this is a good idea).
Cast any doubts aside, similar to steak tartare, while tataki has looks that only a mother could love, it certainly makes up for this with its taste. The freshness of the tuna and pure fish flavour is cut through with the tang of shiso and umeboshi and the umami of the ginger and miso. If you have a knife, ten minutes of time (less, if you get the fishmonger to do your filleting), and aren't squeamish, then this dish is your friend.
Serving suggestions are a little tricky. Number one priority is stopping it from looking like a big pile of pink mush (even if, essentially, it is a big pile of pink mush). A la steak tartare, give it some structure with a plating ring or quenelle (Saunders would like to point out that this is possibly the best quenelle he has ever made). We served it with a little ribboned daikon radish, a blog of wasabi and some soy for dipping. Delicious.