Today I took part in yet another Field Trip for Parents organized by the kids’ school. Our group of eleven St. Maur parents joined an equal number of participants from the other international school in town, Yokohama International School. We set off on the train for a cooking class at the Yokohama Fish Market.
Because I am a giant nerd–huge–I prepared for the cooking class by packing kitchen towels, an apron, a cap, clogs, and my knives. Upon arriving at the fish market I had to surrender the clogs–you know, shoes with closed toes and non-skid bottoms, designed specifically for safety in a commercial kitchen, etc. Instead I received a pair of plastic sandals that likely came from the 100 yen store and hosted hundreds of feet since they were last cleaned. At least I wore socks today.
After a short introductory video we headed into the demo kitchen. The staff demonstrated how to fillet aji, or horse mackerel. It’s a small round fish, and I’ve filleted lots…and lots…of round fish. They asked for two volunteers from each school; I was itching to do it and wondered how to raise my hand without looking like too much of a geek. Thankfully my fellow tour-goers had me covered! They essentially pushed me forward and I couldn’t have bowed out if I tried.
I stepped up and followed the example set by the fish market staff member. He started to guide me through step by step but quickly became flummoxed by my left-handedness. In Japan it’s considered extremely rude to even say no, never mind contradict someone. Within a few minutes it worked out, but it felt like it took forever. I cleaned my fish, removing the guts, skin, and bones, and earning polite applause from the audience.
After the fish cleaning came a cooking demo of the days’ recipes: steamed cod with seasonal vegetables, fried wontons with horse mackerel and cheese filling, and fried tuna cheeks and tails.
We assembled the steamed cod with vegetables and butter in the same old-school, en papillote fashion that I learned in cooking school. I tend to prefer fish broiled or seared to give it a crisp coat, so I had low expectations of this dish. I was pleasantly surprised by how delicious it turned out.
On to Dish Two, friend wontons with horse mackerel and cheese. Cheese and fish sounds…wrong. It sounds even worse when you realize that the cheese in question is called Melting Cheese and includes plastic around each slice just like American cheese slices. And as teammate Manisha discovered, that cheese is really, really secure in its packaging. That said broiled cheese on fish is a sushi-go-round staple and surprisingly delicious, as were today’s mackerel and cheese wontons. I ate a lot of them. Like, really a lot.
The most exciting moment of the day came during the frying of said wontons. I stepped away from the table to pick up some equipment, and my teammates got the paper towel-lined plate of finished wontons a little too close to the gas burner…and set it on fire. “I step away for a minute!”, I declared. The others scrambled around and were all “Put out the fire!” and I was all “Save the wontons!”. Thankfully the fire was extinguished, the wontons were spared, and we all earned a great story to tell over dinner that night.
The final dish was pan fried tuna cheeks and tails. The cheeks are just what you think: the face of the fish. The staff leading the demo explained that this cut of fish usually goes straight to restaurants and pubs called izakaya without ever reaching the lowly retail market for people like us. So I really enjoyed the chance to cook with this cut, since I will likely never have the chance again. The preparation was simple: salt, pepper, flour, fried in garlic butter over medium high heat. We cooked the fish five minutes per side, then drizzled it with a splash of soy sauce.
In addition to these three dishes, the staff prepared three more: miso soup with crab, turban shells with butter rice, and a dessert of fresh fruit and yogurt creme.
After enjoying our meal and a quick clean-up, we stopped for a quick group photo. We thanked the staff for the experience and headed home.
The Yokohama Fish Market is open to the public on the first and third Saturdays of the month; for more information visit https://www.ambassadors-japan.com/en/yokohama-portscape/393/ .