Chi Ayu @ Esquisse

This is Chi-Ayu, not just the common Ayu salted and grilled shioyaki is most common and recently I tasted one, if not the best preparations I ever tasted in Japan. I have tasted Ayu at some of the finest Kaiseki restaurants in Japan, and having said that, I did tasted it off season at Kitcho Kyoto Arishiyama and I vowed I would never eat it again until yesterday at Esquisse.

I have first been introduced to Ayu some 39 years ago in the Kyoto, a fish feasting on moss, it doesn’t eat worms or any small insects as many river fish do. Ayu is one of those anadromous fish born in a river and grows up in the ocean and comes back to its native river again. When it’s young, it has ocean microbes until it only eats moss-alga, and is grows in transparent Japanese waters, mostly rivers.

What was particularly interesting about the way it was prepared, a classical preparation it is a technical approach and without it, no satisfaction. It is only 6grams, so “carefulness” and a huge amount of work goes into getting the fat drawn from the mouth without singing the fish.

Chef Lionel’s chi-Ayu was the absolutely perfect, moisture, texture and taste, a combination which I think is very important for this fish aside from the fact that it may have a specific type of taste that appeals to you are not, and that’s another matter. But the skin was so well maintained it had the perfect likeness of the fish which was caught in pristine conditions.

The chef say, “It has to be cooked enough but not too much, has to be eaten entirely and express full variation of its being, has to be crispy only to the head, its liver clots to the near degrees to diffuse its sweet bitterness, but does not explode, the tail must be slightly dried, but not its back, bring out humidity from its body but not too much, the point is to enclose it under 1mm of very cooked flesh but control the inertia of the heat, such a task for a 6 gr grams fish.”

After many, many attempt, here is the way:

• Soak the little animals for 1 hour in a mixture of fermented mushroom water and cucumber
• Sponge them well
•Skewer in order to give a nice shape in motion, without piercing the liver
• Dry for 12 hours in the fridge
• Let the Ayu rise for 30 minutes in temperature
• Using a resistance heat gun, apply the hot air at 170°C , stay at 2 cm from the target as follows:
30 seconds on the top of the head, 15 seconds under the jaw, pass in quickly back and forth 5
seconds on the dorsal spine
• Bake at 150°C, low ventilation for 7 minutes
• Remove from oven and let stands for 10 minutes
• Bake again for 3 minutes at 125°C
• Leave to rest for 5 minutes
• Remove slowly and delicately the Ayu from peaks
• Just before serving, spray cucumber water on the fish
• Bake it one last time 1min at 240 °C

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