In October 2018, I donned some unattractive kitchen whites and spent two jet lagged, caffeine-fueled days at the Tokyo Sushi Academy. Many lessons and stories came out of those 48 hours. Among them, this recipe for miso-marinated black cod, now one of my go-to dishes.
I hadn’t expected to spend nearly 18 hours with a famous sushi master. The entire situation had been set up by my Tokyo publisher for a book project. Called Sakana Lesson (“Fish Lesson”), so far it is available only in Japanese.
At the academy, we used a miso marinade to soften and flavor the flesh of barracuda. (Yes, I filleted a barracuda.)
After two days, the once white fillets took on a beige hue from the marinade. Eating the grilled fish, its subtle taste took me by surprise. The marinade’s flavor softened, tempered by sugar and mirin, a sweet Japanese wine.
Although this is a classic method used all over Japan, I based my version on a recipe from Nobu: The Cookbook. The restaurant’s miso-marinated black cod has been a menu staple for decades. It’s a splurge of a dish, even though it’s a simple preparation. What you’re paying for is the three days’ it takes to marinade.
Wait, it marinades for days?
Yes. Marinating fish for two or three days’ sounds like crazy idea, but hear me out. All you do is put together a few ingredients and put it in the fridge. One day three, you can take it out, sear it and finish it in the oven, making it either an easy weeknight meal or main for guests.
In that time, the fish takes on the salty, sweet and savory flavor. When cooked, the sugars caramelize giving the fillet a dark, molasses-y exterior while the interior exudes an almost nutty flavor. As a finished dish, the elegant and complex taste belies the ease of making it.
Fish options, side dishes
I use Alaskan wild-caught black cod, which has a higher-than-normal oil content which makes it fairly forgiving in terms of cooking as it’s less likely to dry out or overcook than other fish.
If black cod isn’t an option, try Alaskan halibut, Pacific cod or any firm cold water white fish.
Pair with some simple rice, braised greens or even steamed vegetables. To give your side dishes a Japanese flair, check out my Cheat Sheet to Flavor Profiles or learn how to whip up a simple Japanese dressing.
Miso-Marinated Black Cod
- Baking Sheet with foil
- Small sauce pan
- Glass dish (for marinating in fridge)
- Stainless or cast iron saute pan or skillet
- ¼ cup mirin
- ¼ cup sake
- ⅓ cup white miso paste
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 4 Black cod fillets about 6 ounces/110 grams each
- Vegetable or avocado oil for cooking
- Combine the mirin and sake in a small saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil. Turn heat to low and whisk in the miso until dissolved. Turn the heat back up and add the sugar. Stir in until the sugar completely melts, whisking quickly to assure the sugar doesn’t burn at the bottom. Transfer to a glass dish. Let cool to room temperature, then add fish and turn to coat. Cover snugly with a lid or wrap and refrigerate at least overnight, but preferably three nights.
- When ready to cook, preheat oven to 400°F/200°C. Prepare a heavy rimmed baking sheet by greasing it with a light coat of vegetable or avocado oil. Set aside.
- Heat a tablespoon or so of oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Wipe the marinade off the fish. If your fish has skin, put into the pan flesh side down. When the oil shimmers and starts to smoke lightly, add the fish. Give it a shake to assure it doesn’t stick. Cook until browned and a white line rises from the bottom, about 2 minutes. Flip the fish onto the prepared pan and put into the hot oven to roast for 8 minutes. It’s done when it just begins to flake and it’s cooked through to the center; an instant-read thermometer should read 140°F/60°C.
Finished dish photo by Magdanatka