How to recreate Nobu’s famous black cod with miso
The recipe I’m sharing today is inspired by one of the defining dishes of the 1990s, and indeed of the whole global fusion-food movement. But first, a bit of backstory.
It was Christmas 2001. My brother Damian was having great success with his record company, which he had started in 1995. After art college he had gone to work as an office boy for a dance record label called Loaded in Brighton. A few months in, he saw a gap in the market and asked if he could set up an offshoot called Skint, which would specialise in albums rather than just the 12-inch DJ singles market – a concept unheard of at the time because few people thought dance music could work over a whole album.
Damian started to get his DJ friends to make music which could work as an album to listen to after a club session. One of these was Norman Cook, who started to record under the name Fatboy Slim, and they came up with the idea of Big Beat: dance music patched together from samples of old records with a breakbeat behind them.
A few million albums later, Damian started to travel around the world, and eat in the world’s best restaurants. The trouble was, he was a very fussy eater. As his older brother by nine years, I knew just how upset he would get if I cooked him anything remotely exotic, so I couldn’t imagine how he would manage to eat pufferfish with Japanese record label executives.
Of course, once he realised that the food in these top restaurants was delicious he never looked back, and by December 2001 he was raving about a fish dish he’d eaten at a place called Nobu at the Metropolitan Hotel in London’s Park Lane. The dish was black cod with miso. For my Christmas present that year he put me up at the hotel and took me to try it.
Nobu was, and still is, very glamorous and very chic, but it’s the cod I recall most clearly. I had enjoyed “fusion” food at a few places in London, such as the Sugar Club in Notting Hill, but this was a notch up. I remember the balance between the sweet and savoury being pushed to the limit. It was a spectacular dish.
The chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa had begun his career in Japan, before a few false starts in Peru and America. Along the way he had impressed Robert De Niro in Los Angeles; by 1994, De Niro had enticed him to New York and an empire was born. (There are now over 40 Nobu restaurants around the world.)
One of Matsuhisa’s defining dishes was – and still is – black cod with miso. He also popularised a new style of sashimi, pouring a hot dressing over the fish so it wasn’t completely raw. Many of his ideas had originated in Peru, when he couldn’t get the same ingredients he had used in Japan. He improvised by using the local alternatives, and a fusion between Peruvian and Japanese food began. Many Japanese chefs worked in Peru and Brazil, and so a food movement that fused Japanese techniques with South American ingredients developed.
It was a time when global food mash-ups like this were becoming more common as travel became more accessible. While I was working on the idea of super-local food based on the French idea of terroir, Australian chefs were learning to cook in Vietnam and bringing Pacific Rim food to Sydney, New York and London. Done well, it was excellent, and it became the dominant style around the world in the 1990s and early 2000s.
As with all food movements, though, fusion didn’t survive the spread to less-talented copyists and was eventually jokingly called “confusion” food, before the focus shifted and an ultra-local angle became the dominant style.
It still intrigues me that Nobu managed to convert my fussy-eating brother away from his Alphabetti spaghetti to Nikkei-Peruvian fusion food so easily. I can’t guarantee that my recipe – adapted to use salmon or wild halibut, as black cod is hard to find here, and teamed with a simple stir-fry – will achieve the same, but why not give it a go?