Seriously Asian: How to Take a Fat Hiatus
"There comes a point in the life of every fat enthusiast when a brief hiatus is necessary."
Two days ago, my stomach officially called it quits. Over a deep bowl of chile and posole—with beads of perspiration forming around the temples of my head from the sweet, sweet heat of the chili powder—I sensed a voice from my deepest, innermost self that declared, "No more."
What, you mean no more back-to-back cookie marathons following deep-fried milt? No more fatty duck parts stewed in fat, sautéed in fat, served with baguettes smothered in garlic spread (made with fat)?
There comes a point in the life of every fat enthusiast when a brief hiatus is necessary—mostly to enable further indulgence on the lard-laden front. I exaggerate only slightly with the credo that fat is flavor.
Heating food usually involves a fatty cooking medium, be it oil, butter, or various types of animal fat. Still, it is entirely possible to achieve deep and intense flavor without using oil or fat. To get your New Year's off to a lighter start, here are three Seriously Asian strategies, none of which involve pan-frying, deep-frying, or cooking fat of any sort. Plus the rendered flavors possess a pure, light taste that will cleanse the overly stimulated palate.
I've written before on the merits of pickling. Pickling is mistakenly associated with lengthy storage or time-consuming preparations, but the Japanese treat a variety of their fruits and vegetables with quick and easy pickling techniques.
One of my favorite pickling recipes uses persimmons and daikon, two foods that are their sweetest during the winter. Neither the persimmon nor the daikon are cooked, though the raw radish requires an initial salting to tame the bitter undertone. Marinated in vinegar, dashi, and just a touch of salt and sugar, this pickle is a nice accompaniment to a meal of fish and rice. Quick-Pickled Persimmon and Daikon »
Salads with Vinegar Dressings
Needless to say, salads introduce plenty of flavor without any fat. Instead of reaching for the balsamic or sherry vinegar, try dressing a salad in rice vinegar. Crab and vinegar are classic pairings in Chinese and Japanese cuisine.
Steamed whole, I like to dip mine in Chiangking vinegar, an inky Chinese vinegar that's slightly sweet with malty undertones. Highlight the peculiarly nutty taste of blue claw crabs with Japanese rice vinegar made with regular or glutinous rice. (Dungeness crabs also benefit from the same treatment.) Glutinous rice vinegar is especially sweet and pairs well with ginger and dashi—the flavor of the crab meat deepens in this combination too. Vinegared Crab Salad »
When the catch is at its freshest, the Chinese steam the fish whole, rubbed with a bit of salt and adorned with nothing more than slices of green onion and ginger.
Steamed, the fish releases its fat, which is siphoned off the plate along with the less-appetizing juices that exude from cooking. Soy sauce and sesame oil are drizzled over the fish before serving.
If you don't want to de-scale or gut a whole fish, the same preparation can be applied to fillets of fish. Steaming works well for both lean, freshwater fish such as trout and richer-tasting saltwater fish, such as Black Cod (or Sablefish) and Chilean Sea Bass (or Patagonian Toothfish).
The trade-off to this preparation is the pleasure of a browned and crisp surface, but steaming produces a more tender, slippery texture. Steamed Fish with Ginger and Scallion »