Editor’s note: In the Taste of Life series, cooking experts, chefs and others involved in the field of food introduce their special recipes intertwined with their paths in life.
* * *
When he began writing articles on food, Kosei Ueno visited the Tsukiji Market almost every week.
Starting early in the morning, he would put on rain boots, watch the auctions and make the rounds of the intermediate wholesalers.
“I wasn’t there for business. I went just for the conversations,” he says.
As he met them frequently and grew acquainted, his understanding of the native range and season of the fish, in other words when and from which port they arrived, deepened.
Among the fish, tuna is the star of the fish market. They arrive from different places to the auctions where their qualities are compared.
When Ueno was looking at some tuna at an intermediate wholesaler, he was offered a slice cut off from an end.
“Even if they come from the same sea area, tuna that fed on mackerel tend to taste rich, while those that ate squid offer a light umami,” he says. “I was given the chance to taste and compare them throughout the year and got to the stage where I could tell their native range to some extent.”
It was as if Ueno received a special education on tuna.
“Chiai” is the dark red portion found between the abdomen and back meat. Since it is not usually used at restaurants, it is cut off and thrown away.
Yet tuna is a precious resource and Ueno wanted to enjoy the parts fully.
“It is a fish you can eat completely except for the skin and bones,” he says.
As it tends to give off a fishy smell, chiai is simmered with a generous amount of green onion and ginger. The robust flavor of the meat is a match for rice as well as alcohol.
Ueno, who sees himself as a natural foodie, says that if a gourmet is someone who seeks the epicurean path, a foodie is a person who enjoys a wider range of food.
Foodies love them all, including high-end restaurants, chain restaurants and small establishments on street corners mainly offering set meals. They can enjoy the remarkable aspect of each and if there is a certain dish, they try to come up with a better way to enjoy it.
Ueno hopes to pursue a universal deliciousness that is not influenced by fads or guidelines.
* * *
Born in Tochigi Prefecture in 1962, Kosei Ueno is the chief editor of the gourmet magazine dancyu. He has been working as an editor of the magazine since 2001 and as a chief editor since 2017. He appears in “Nihonichi futsude oishii Ueno shokudo” (Japan’s most ordinary and tasty Ueno diner) aired on the BS Fuji channel.
BASIC COOKING METHOD
Main Ingredients (Serves 4)
300 grams chiai of tuna, 60 grams ginger, 80 grams green onion (including the green part), 150 ml each of sake, sweet mirin sake and soy sauce
1. Cut tuna into bite-size pieces. Slice ginger and cut green onion into appropriate size.
2. Place (1) in pot, add sake, sweet mirin sake, soy sauce and place on heat. Start with high heat, then reduce to medium heat once pot comes to a boil. When alcohol has burned off, lower heat further.
3. When tuna is cooked and green onion has softened, turn off heat. Serve and sprinkle with seven-flavored chili (shichimi togarashi) or Japanese pepper (sansho) to taste.
About 145 kcal and 1.7 grams salt per portion
(Nutrient calculation by the Nutrition Clinic of Kagawa Nutrition University)
If you wish to remove the fishy smell of chiai thoroughly, pour hot water before placing it in the pot. If you still can sense the smell after checking the taste of the cooked tuna, add ginger. If the flavor is light, adjust it with soy sauce and sweet mirin sake. Since the flavor seeps in while the dish cools, aim for a slightly light flavor.
* * *
This column, translated from The Asahi Shimbun’s Jinsei Reshipi (Life Recipe) column, will next appear on Sept. 14.