Now for something completely different. This narrative is a very long post (6,000 words) so you will have click through to read it.
in the post from Japan Joboji. As I think I have mentioned in previous posts, Japanese urushi lacquer is a natural product that comes from the sap of various trees of the Rhus family. Nowadays there are very few artisans remaining capable of tapping the urushi lacquer from such trees, but one place they still do it according to traditional methods is Joboji, Iwate Prefecture. I use their raw lacquer in all my rod making, and although it requires much longer to polymerise than other brands, is more expensive and has quite potent allergenic effects, I use no other when it comes to lacquering the ground layer of my rods or the final polishing stages.
but so nearly there. Two finishing coats of raw lacquer, a little re-adjustment to the fit of the plug, then my hera/mabuna landing net is ready. I recently bought some lacquer mail order from Joboji in Iwate Prefecture. Joboji is one of the last few places in Japan where local craftsmen still tap lacquer from Rhus trees in the traditional style, by scoring the tree bark with a circular blade and collecting the sap from the wound. I will use this lacquer to finish the net handle.
Well I made it to the Sanriku coast, more specifically the fishing town of Sakihama on Okirai Bay, Iwate Prefecture, for the second time this year. Initially I planned to go fishing for hirame using live sardine bait, but according to the skipper this year’s hirame fishing is not so good. However, in the area both Pacific cod and karei flounder were both apparently putting up a good show, so I booked myself in for two consecutive days fishing, the first, offshore for cod and the next, inshore for flounder. As always, the hospitality of the locals was wonderful, the local produce delicious and the fishing fantastic.
You get a prize if you can tell me what this is. Incidentally, it comes from the cod I caught last Tuesday. I ate it as tenpura, although there are a number of ways of cooking it here in Japan.
When I was a child sometimes my dad would drive us to Southend, for a day of mucking about on the Thames estuary. At low tide one could walk amongst the rockpools and we would go crabbing, using bent paperclips on the end of a piece of string and a chunk of frozen coleyfish (usually reserved for our cat) as bait. After returning the beasts unharmed to their dwelling, we would get fish and chips from a seaside vendor and sit – avoiding, usually, the lumps of tar on the rocks – on the seaside to eat. The fish came on little polystyrene rectangular plates, always far too small for the huge fillets of battered cod or haddock, and the chips in cones of newspaper, drenched with malt vinegar and salt. The fish was always served with those little ridiculous wooden forks, which to me always brought back unpleasant memories of doctors’ wooden tongue depressors (I used to get tonsillitis a lot). At school we were always served a rather sordid variety of fish and chips on Fridays – in the somewhat lazy tradition that passes for Christian belief in England – for lunch, but for me the best place I remember is a fish and chippie in London called the Seashell of Lisson Grove, where queues would come out of the store as people waited in line for the national dish (these days, a crown held by chicken tikka masala). We would often get food there on the way back from visiting relatives in the countryside, and unwrap the newspaper parcels at home to eat, with plenty of HP sauce. The fish was spectacular, and the chips were too; even our cat wolfed them down (I imagine because the chips were deep-fried in the same oil as the fish) as I furtively handed them to her despite my mum’s remonstrances about feeding the cat from the table. Anyway, after catching a hatful of cod from the beautiful and cold waters of Iwate Prefecture, I took a nostalgic trip down memory lane to make fish and chips. The batter is made with cold beer, eggs, salt, strong white flour and the secret ingredient - a pinch of cayenne pepper – and the fish deep-fried till golden and crisp. The quality of the cod – line-caught, bled and chilled but never frozen – did all the work and the result was spectacular. The batter made a crisp noise as I broke it with my fork (metal, this time) and the tender, moist, perfumed fish fell off the skin in chunks just like I remember.
Gladly received tonight, by refrigerated courier, a shipment of fresh uni (sea urchin egg) taken yesterday from the Sanriku sea by Captain Yoshida of the Sei-eimaru, Sakihama harbour, Iwate Prefecture. He rather kindly included some hotate scallops too; they were still alive.
Here’s the uni itself. It is shipped in pure seawater, which means it never touches the alum preservatives that buyers use which imparts a rather chemical taste and discolours the eggs. Also, coming straight from the fisherman who has taken it from the sea the uni never passes through the hands of middlemen and is less than half the price of that at market.
The fish on my chopping board. The two deep cuts in the fish I did on the boat to drain the fish of its blood.
One fillet cut from the fish.
Sashimi, including the hallowed engawa
Another serving of sashimi, with engawa and Sanriku wakame on the side.
I wind-dried the leftover bones of the fish. These will be deep-fried later.
After several delays, I finally managed to make the trip up to the Sanriku region, specifically Okirai Bay on the Pacific coast of Iwate Prefecture, for some winter fishing for inshore flatfish (they are numerous in variety, and known in Japanese collectively as karei).