Monday, March 8, 2010

Catching and making your own Japanese style dried fish

Tampa Bay is home to vast schools of a small fish called a Green Back that is usually considered a bait fish and is sold as such. But local Asian folks and I consider them a plentiful food source. A few years back my friend Michael Mowry was here from Denver and when we visited the Sunshine Skyway Bridge we chatted with a Japanese man who was cast netting thousands of them and filling ice chests. He told us he sun dries his raw, stores them, and fries the dried bodies to serve them.

In my early 20s I discovered how tasty the dried salted tiny fish sold in cellophane bags at Asian markets are, eaten as a crunchy salty snack, so when I came back home to Denver for good from Denver in November 2002, I looked into local fishing. I am a lousy fisherman with a pole, but was determined to come home with fish protein. But my cast net tossed from the pier at Picnic Island Beach easily catches hundreds despite my marginal skill. I did some Googling back then, and here is how I prepare and store the greenbacks I catch with my cast net.

I fill my big stainless steel soup kettle with water and add sea time I will try what I've read about.....bring home a few gallons of Tampa Bay's salty water. Sometimes I add garlic powder or hot peppers to the water and bring it to a high boil.

Next I drop in several dozen greenbacks, and per a Japanese recipe, boil them in the salty water for THREE minutes, then drain them in a colander for a while.

Then I arrange them in rows on cookie sheets and Pyrex pans, crowd the oven shelves with them to make the best use of the energy, and crank the oven to 350 for maybe 15 minutes, opening the door a few times to let out the steam. I then prop a kitchen towel in the oven door to keep the light on overnight for further drying overnight as I sleep.

In the morning I usually crank the oven again at 300 or so for maybe ten minutes, then again prop the oven door barely open with a towel for a couple more hours.

When the greenbacks are totally dry and crispy as a potato chip, I pack them into one gallon glass jars I dumpster dive behind restaurants. If I have them, I toss in one of those silica gel packs to dehumidify the air inside the jar.

I like to briefly brown the dried salted greenbacks in a skillet coated with a thin film of coconut oil and roasted sesame oil, and serve them as a high protein nibble. I use most by crushing them with my hands into Thai style coconut soups, and dipping sauce for springrolls for both the savory flavor and the protein.

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