Fusion or Confusion?

Once years ago I was sitting with my friend, Dan, having a beer at the bar at P.F. Chang’s. He said, “You know what no one has tried yet? Mexican sushi!” I said, “Well, there’s probably a reason for that. What’re you thinking — like carnitas sushi?” It because a running joke. But who would’ve predicted Korean beef tacos?

Sometimes fusion cuisine can be good. Sometimes it works. Witness Nobu Matsuhisa introducing butter and Peruvian ingredients to his Japanese cuisine. More often than not, the successful fusion comes about that way — an inspired chef melding influences with a subtle hand. Too often, unsuccessful fusion is a marketing idea gone awry — an uncomfortable collision of cultures. North African ideas, say, superimposed over French preparations. The ascension of fusion to a global trend over the past decade has resulted in all sorts of ill-advised pairings — Asian fajitas and Caribbean pizzas. Some of the worst offenders even put “fusion” in their restaurant names.

Of all the fusing — or “infusing”, I prefer to think of it in a less egregious approach — I find what works best is the transference of certain Asian (particularly Japanese) ingredients or techniques with those of France and Italy.

The following, a recipe of my own, combines Japanese, Italian and Indonesian ingredients and preparations. The key to its success is the subtlety. I would call the dish Italian in spirit, with hints of Asia. The broiled black cod is a traditional Japanese fish and style of cooking, the potatoes and Swiss chard veering Mediterranean, and the complex kecap manis an Indonesian touch tying it all together. (I will do another post on kecap manis, the “miracle ingredient” of Indonesian cooking. You would do well to find yourself a bottle.)

Broiled Black Cod with Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Filets of black cod (Chilean sea bass would work well, too)
potatoes, peeled and boiled
head of garlic
Swiss chard
olive oil
meyer lemon
milk
butter
kecap manis
sea salt & pepper

Roast garlic head until golden. Remove from cloves and mash into potatoes with a little milk, butter and salt & pepper. Place in a dish and keep warm in oven. Place black cod fillets on foil and broil in the oven. Meanwhile, chop Swiss chard and sauté in olive oil. Keep warm on a very low flame. When cod is roasted to a golden brown, turn off oven. To plate:  Place a circle of swiss chard, topped with a circle of potato mixture, then place black cod on top.

To sauce: heat juice of a meyer lemon in a small pan. Remove from heat, and melt in half a stick of butter, stirring constantly, until velveted. Drizzle over top of fish, and then create a circle design around fish with drizzle of kecap manis.

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