At our recent outer boroughs experience dinner at Zenkichi in Brooklyn, one item on the menu caught my eye: “Bonito Shuto – For Japanese, sake connoisseurs and adventurous eaters only!” Since I am neither Japanese nor a sake connoisseur, I read this as a direct challenge to my culinary mettle. I like challenges, so of course I threw down the gauntlet! The dish did not disappoint. Bonito shuto is salted and fermented stomach and entrails of the bonito fish or skipjack tuna (a smaller, less endangered cousin of the blue fin tuna). Served sashimi style, this chewy delight is a sledgehammer of oozy, fishy, briny saltiness.
The bonito shuto sent shockwaves through my taste buds as I was simultaneously assaulted with the most intense flavors of fish and salt I have ever experienced. The chewy nature enhanced the tasting experience as every bite renewed the powerful flavor with only the slightest muting. I was blown away and I could not stop chewing! Good thing sake was on hand as I doubt water would have been able to cut through the fireworks in my mouth when I was finally ready to cleanse my palette. Bonito 1, KJ 0.
Photo Source: www.bridgeandtunnelclub.com
While the bonito shuto was the most interesting dish of the evening, bonito as an ingredient featured prominently throughout our dinner. Bonito is the backbone of the Japanese flavor as it is the primary ingredient in fish stock or dashi. Skipjack tuna is typically smoked, dried, shaved into little flakes and sold commercially as bonito flakes. Boil the flakes in water and you have fish stock, an umami rich ingredient and flavor base that makes dishes pop with the distinctly salty flavor of the ocean characteristic to Japanese food.
Our meal at Zenkichi began with a very familiar application of this bonito broth in miso soup. Although not terribly original, I loved the richness and simplicity of the miso soup at Zenkichi. Subsequent bonito highlights was the chilled bowl of fresh tofu with a large dollop of uni served swimming in a briny bonito broth. The umami and ocean flavors of the bonito broth mixed perfectly with the texture play of the intermixing tofu and uni. This was a tremendously tasty and fun dish to eat and I could have it everyday! The bonito broth appeared again later in the dinner served warm with fried eggplant and sticky rice balls. This time the bonito broth held together a dish featuring two ingredients with vastly different texture and flavor profiles and made it work. I was amazed and fascinated by the versatility of this ingredient. While I loved the bonito in salted/fermented form, bonito broth is something I am definitely paying closer attention to going forward.