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By the Book: Anita Lo’s Unagi with Celery Root and Wasabi

August 28th 12:08pm, 2012

Anita Lo is a big proponent of fusion cooking. In her cookbook, Cooking Without Borders, Lo shares her ideas for finding harmony among ingredients and techniques of different cuisines. Her recipe for Unagi with Celery Root and Wasabi explores a marriage between Japanese and French cookery. The dish intrigued me because unagi, known among Anglophiles as eel, is not among the sea creatures that I work with often. I also was excited to taste the results of pairing this Japanese staple with celery root, aka celeriac in rémoulade form – a classically French treatment of the root vegetable.

The preparation of the dish is divided into three parts. The unagi sauce is a simple combination of mirin (sweetened sake), soy sauce, sugar, corn syrup, ginger, black pepper and dashi. The latter is optional, but lends the sauce umami; if you don’t regularly make dashi, substituting fish stock can save you the trouble since the recipe calls for just three tablespoons. After reducing, the sauce is silky smooth with a deep, sweet and salty flavor. Lo’s recipe for the sauce alone is worth adding to the Asian section of your recipe box.

The celery root “rémoulade” can best be described as a creamy, flavored mayonnaise slaw. Once you peel and julienne the celery root, the vegetable gets tossed in a mix of mayo and mustard zipped with lemon juice. This veggie side is a nice change from same-old coleslaw; it’d team well with barbecued ribs.

Since already barbecued, frozen unagi is the easiest form in which to find eel (Bob’s Seafood sells it like this in a 12-ounce package.). Preparing the freshwater snakelike fish is a cinch. Simply brush it with unagi sauce and warm it in the oven. The crisp texture and mild, celery flavor of the celery root was a fantastic contrast to the rich, sweet, oily unagi.

The presentation, however, is what puts this delectable dish into dinner party territory. The rémoulade serves as a nest for the unagi, which is then garnished with pan-crisped celery root and scallions. A ring of that divine sauce and little droplets of wasabi complete the plating for an exemplary entree that bridges nations and is a fantastic transition from summertime to fall.

Unagi with Celery Root and Wasabi
4 servings

For the unagi sauce:
3 Tbsp. dashi* (optional)
1 Tbsp. mirin** (Find it in the same aisle as soy sauce.)
¼ cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp. sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup
2 slices fresh ginger
Black pepper to taste

For the celery root “rémoulade”:
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. dry mustard powder mixed with 1 Tbsp. water
1 tsp. brown mustard seeds
1 tsp. lemon juice
Pinch grated lemon zest
1 small celery root, peeled and julienned (about 2 packed cups)
2 Tbsp. thinly sliced (on a bias) scallion greens
¾ tsp. salt (I found ½ teaspoon to be just enough)
Black pepper

To serve:
1 12-oz. package frozen unagi*** (contains 1 eel)
1 tsp. prepared wasabi (If you can only find the powdered kind, mix it with a little water according to the package directions.)
4 pinches finely julienned celery root, shallow-fried until crisp (optional)
4 pinches julienned scallion greens

• Make the unagi sauce: Place all of the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer over medium heat until syrupy and reduced to about ½ cup. Remove and discard the ginger and let cool.
• Make the celery root “rémoulade”: Combine the mayonnaise, mustard powder mixture, mustard seeds, lemon juice and lemon zest in a bowl. Add the celery root and scallion, season with salt and pepper, and toss to combine.
• To serve: Preheat the oven or a toaster oven to 350 degrees. Cut the unagi into 4 equal pieces, put them on a baking sheet, brush with a little of the unagi sauce, and place in the oven to just heat through.
• Divide the “rémoulade” among 4 serving plates and top with the unagi.
• Ring with a little of the sauce and dot with a few small bits of wasabi. Season the fried celery root (if using) with salt, then top the unagi with it and the scallion and serve immediately.

* To make 2 quarts of dashi, rinse 1 4-inch square kombu in cold water to remove dust. Put the kombu in a pot with 2½ quarts cold water. Bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and add 1½ cups of bonito flakes. Let steep for 15 minutes, then pour through a fine mesh sieve lined with a clean kitchen towel or cheesecloth.

** Mirin is sold at most grocery stores. Find it in the same aisle as soy sauce.

*** Eel is sold at Bob’s Seafood.

Reprinted with permission from Stewart, Tabori & Chang.

What is your favorite way to work with eel in the kitchen? Tell us about it in the comments section below for a chance to win a copy of Cooking Without Borders by Anita Lo. We’ll announce the winner in next week’s By the Book column.

UPDATE 9/4/12: Unfortunately, we don’t have a winner to announce for this By the Book. Guess our question of how you like to cook with eel was a bit too tricky. And so, another way to win Anita Lo’s Cooking Without Borders: Tell us about your favorite sea creature to cook with and why in the comments section below. We’ll announce the winner in next week’s By the Book column.

And now we’d like to congratulate Jill, whose comment on last week’s By the Book has won her a copy of Seasonal Spanish Food. Jill, keep an eye out for an email from the Sauce crew.

By Ligaya Figueras

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One Response to “By the Book: Anita Lo’s Unagi with Celery Root and Wasabi”

  1. Earen Hummel Says:
    September 10th, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    I think shrimp must be my favorite because it is so versatile. I always have shrimp on hand in the freezer to whip up a simple or elegant meal on short notice.

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