Saturday, March 29, 2008

Monkfish heaven

We fell in love with monkfish when we had our first ankimo sushi in Berkeley’s Sushi Banzai. The liver was velvety and creamy, and when dipped lightly into ponzu sauce, was quite orgasmic. J and I could never stop at one… each.

So when we got to Tokyo, one of the restaurants I had to try was Isegen, which specializes in anko nabe, a monkfish casserole that is the perfect dish to warm one up during winter or a cool spring. In fact, Isegen serves its signature dish from September to April, so we went right at the tail end of the season.

Located in the greater Marunouchi area, Isegen has been operating out of its charming wooden premises since 1830 and serving anko from the fourth generation of owners onwards (whenever that is, you do the math).

The monkfish is not a delicate, willowy creature that is easy on the eye. Its meat, not surprisingly, is correspondingly firm, yet very succulent and full of character (which is another tactful of describing its looks). Isegen’s anko nabe is a cornucopia of various cuts of anko meat and skin, as well as generous servings of mushrooms, beans, radishes, gingko nuts and other stuff, in a light broth flavoured with shoyu.

Our middle-aged server spoke no English, which didn’t stop her from trying to carry on a conversation with us, and being generally helpful, friendly and obliging. She put the pot on a small gas stove on the table, and let us admire the dish, before turning on the gas.

La di da, merrily cooking away…

After a few minutes of boiling, I dug my chopstick into the pot just as she returned from the kitchen, and she immediately shushed me, in a kind matronly way, to leave it alone and wait for it to cook (meaning, she’s going to return and tell us when it was okay to dig in).

So, what to do? Prepare for the next leg of our trip, lor.

While we waited, we had a couple of side dishes as well, the highlight, not surprisingly, was ankimo dressed in subtle miso sauce. Mmmmmmmmmm.

The anko nabe didn’t disappoint when it was finally ready. I had feared the flesh was going to be overcooked, but it remained firm, juicy and flavourful. The skin was slippery and delicious – a wonderful texture food. An unexpected find were pieces of liver, which surprisingly stood up well to the cooking. It may not have had the creaminess of raw ankimo, but it remained somewhat delicate, and equally yummy.

The non-fish parts of the nabe were also a delight, having absorbed much of the goodness of the fish and the broth.

After finishing up every last bit of the nabe, our server returned to top up the pot with more broth and shoyu. She then put some cooked rice into it and turned on the stove again. After some time, as the consistency of the rice became more congee-like, our server returned, beat up to eggs, poured it into the pot and gently mixed it in. Just as it got done, she topped the dish with a generous serving of spring onions!

The rice/congee dish was a little salty for us, but still delicious and warming. J and I have relatively light tastebuds (I even like bland), so on hindsight, we should have asked our server to use more broth than shoyu when she topped up the pot for the rice dish. Having said that, Isegen was a winner all round!

[Check out Isegen’s website for details. When anko is not in season, the menu revolves around ayu, a trout-like sweetfish, and other freshwater fish, according to the Time Out Tokyo guide.]

1 comment:

Jen L. said...

My memory of the cooked monkfish liver was that it actually turned lusciously soft and silky, a real contrast to its pate-like texture when served as sashimi.

I could really live in Japan for the food alone.