Now that you’ve mastered our easy tips for choosing and handling seafood for raw dishes, it’s time to get cracking. Sashimi is a great way for beginners to get comfortable with the the knife skills necessary to achieve clean, even slices. Crudo, Italian-style, is the next step in mastering the art of raw fish. Soy sauce and wasabi can’t help you now, grasshopper.
I consulted with Victor LaPlanca, executive chef at Isola, the Mondrian Soho’s new trattoria and house of crudo, on what specifically distinguishes the two styles of seafood au naturel. Break out that expensive bottle of EVOO — you’re going to need it.
“Compared to sashimi, which I believe is really about appreciating the purity of masterfully sliced fish, crudo is very ingredient-driven. The oil used can dramatically alter the dish’s flavor profile,” says LaPlanca. “At Isola, we use cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil from Sicily. Because part of the beauty in crudo is its simplicity in preparation, the quality of the ingredients really matter. In order to understand how the different nuances of the oil affect the fish, try experimenting with various nut or even truffle oils to see how the dish’s flavor profile evolves.”
The slight acidity of extra-virgin olive oil isn’t enough to cure the fish like the salt and sugar mixture used in making gravlax, but it does create a subtle, flavorful coat meant to complement the fish’s natural flavor, rather than actually flavor the fish.
“The only oils I wouldn’t recommend using would be neutral oils like vegetable, canola or grapeseed oil, as the lack of flavor would detract rather than enhance the fish,” LaPlanca adds.
Using fish that are in season is as important as the prepwork that goes into them. The highest-quality fish you find are going to be the ones readily available within the shortest possible distance from your cutting board.
“With crudo, I find seasonality and quality to be of particular importance when crafting the dish. Each ingredient plays an essential role in making the fish shine. It’s a balancing act between excellence and excess with the ingredients you choose for each fish: you want just enough texture, oil, heat, salt, citrus — whatever your flavorings may be — to enhance the dish without muddling or drowning the fish’s pristine flavors.”
He echoes our advice for keeping fish (which we’re assuming is the freshest you can possibly get your very clean hands on) chilled while prepping. “Remember to always cut the fish against the grain and remove sinew as you go. The proteins in fish are very fragile and can easily get damaged if you apply too much pressure when slicing, so it is important the fish is super-cold when you go in for the cut.”
So the Japanese aren’t the only ones downing raw fish by the planeload? Not by a longshot. “You’ll find crudo in all fishing towns — both large and small — along the coast of Italy, Sicily and Sardinia,” says LaPlaca. “Each village may have its own signature fish or flavoring preferences; however, the most traditional method of making crudo in Italy is dressing the thinly sliced fish with a little olive oil, salt and lemon.”
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