A photo from The Whole Fish Cookbook, the book from Australian chef Josh Niland where he explains his incredible dry ageing techniques for fresh fish. He did so a few weeks ago at Madrid Fusión. We were there
I’d like to recommend a beautiful grouper. It’s been in our refrigerator for twenty days, says the maître, and we leave the table, appalled. In the recent future, instead, these words could be welcomed with sincere enthusiasm. Hear this: «Is fish better when it’s fresh? Today we can say it’s not. Or at least not necessarily». This statement may sound absurd, but if the person saying this is José Carlos Capel, one of the best food critics in Spain, one should pay attention. The quote comes from the latest edition of Madrid Fusión. And recalls one of the most interesting aspects analysed during the food congress, of which Capel is the curator. Because – again in his words - «here we open a new frontier, which can say and do a lot».
The basic concept is treating fish like meat. With regards to the ageing process of the latter, «this has been discussed for years. As for fish, we’re far behind, at a starting point. It’s a bit like when syphons first arrived in the kitchen», said Dani García, ex tri-starred chef – by choice, as we explained here Goodbye three stars, I want to be happy - while he was on stage in Madrid with one of the global points of reference of fish ageing: Australian Joshua Niland, born in 1988, with previous experience at Fat Duck with Heston Blumenthal. Since 2016 he’s patron-chef at Saint Peter, seating 34 people in Sydney, as well as of the delicatessen next door, called Fish Butchery.
Niland with Dani García on the stage of the congress in Madrid
The Australian chef at work
Continuing the parallel: «Who of you would preserve a steak in ice?», Niland asks. That is to say, this gesture is commonly considered absurd. It’s the same with fish. There’s more: «The first enemy of fish ageing is indeed humidity». The Australian chef has been researching and experimenting the process for years. With some fundamental points: 1) when a fish is caught and gets out of the water, it must no longer touch it, whether in the form of solid, liquid or gas. 2) For the fish to age correctly, you must create the right bacterial environment. 3) The fish must not be handed, to prevent any undesired bacterial contamination. 4) Every problem – starting from the smell that always comes when the fish is not fresh – derives from a bad temperature and from the presence of water, in which uncontrolled bacteria develop. The thesis is that if you follow these rules, «the logic by which we approach this food changes». The best fish to eat is no longer the freshly caught one, but the one that has reached its right ageing point.
The technique – which «only works with fish over 800-900 grams in weight. For smaller fish it’s too complicated» - first of all requires that you remove the scales, because humidity hides between them, as well as the more superficial layer of skin, «the one that gives fish its colour. If you remove these parts, you can preserve the fish for days and days». Basically, with great skill using a knife, you must remove the scales and the external skin gradually cutting stripes that will not ruin the skin itself, because this will help during the ageing by preserving the meat. After that, you carefully remove the internal organs, and then dry everything with kitchen paper.
The technique to remove the scales and the external part of the skin
The cover of The Whole Fish Cookbook, the book from Niland in which he explains his techniques
Niland on the stage of Madrid Fusión. On the table in front of him, all the parts of the fish. He uses 90% of the entire animal
A dish from Niland at his Saint Peter in Sydney: it’s Grilled Blue mackerel from Ulladulla, glazed with a caramel of heart of mackerel, cucumber, shallot oil and salty chilli pepper
Koji Kimura at Madrid Fusión
As chef Koji Kimura, of Sushi Kimura in Tokyo said always at Madrid Fusión - he’s another master of fish ageing, but following Japanese techniques: «It is true that the flavour of the fish is influenced by its freshness and by how it was killed on the boat; but the most important element is in fact how you treat it after cleaning it. It’s at that moment that an evolution in the nuances of flavour and of texture begins». Kimura’s technique differs from Niland’s because of the way it’s processed (he basically removes the blood, rubs the fish in oil, and then puts it in a salty solution for 4 days, changing it daily, removes the humidity, then keeps it in salt for 8-10 hours, then again in a solution of water and salt, then he dries it again, removes all the external oxidised parts...) and because of the outcome, as it gives different nuances of flavour, but always preserving the freshness. This however, allows him to preserve it up to three months.
Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso
An outdoor trip or a journey to the other side of the planet?
One thing is for sure: the destination is delicious, by Carlo Passera
journalist born in 1974, for many years he has covered politics, mostly, and food in his free time. Today he does exactly the opposite and this makes him very happy. As soon as he can, he dives into travels and good food. Identità Golose's editor in chief
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Caranchini during his lesson on the morning of June the 1st in Madrid (all the photos are from Madrid Fusión)