“Fish ageing is a recent technique for us but we have already found the way”
Jorge Martín del Cañizo is head R&D chef of the Dani García Group. Jorge, originally from Galicia, trained at Lamas de Abade in Santiago de Compostela, but now lives on the Costa del Sol where, since 2006, he researches and develops the ideas, new restaurants, and new products for this group that belongs to Dani García.
Over the past three years, García and the group’s head R&D chef, Jorge Martín, have been working flat out to perfect the technique of ageing fish; something the Japanese have been doing for decades but which Western cuisine still shies away from.
Both of them prefer not to talk about ‘ageing’ fish because it is not the same as with meat, so they prefer to use the term ‘resting’, which better expresses the goal they want to achieve. What they seek with this technique is to dry out the fish so that it loses moisture, thus concentrating its flavour. It’s similar to the way chops are dried. In Japan they have used this technique for fish for a long time, often for large creatures, such as 40-kilo maigres. They keep the fish just as they are delivered, without gutting them, but cover them in ice to prevent rigor mortis and to ensure the flesh stays silky.
Whatever you might think, and that in Europe we believe that the fresher the fish the better, this technique of ‘resting’ is not at odds with freshness. Dani and Jorge stress that the fresher the fish the better, but that this applies to small fish. A just-fished sardine is much better that a three-day-old one. On the other hand, a 5-kilo sea bass, for example, is better after having rested for a few days. The bigger the fish, the more time they need to lose their rigidity. And the fattier the flesh of the fish the better, too.
It is vital to use the technique, imported from Japan, from start to finish. The most important thing is to clean the fish by inserting a very sharp knife between the scales and the skin. Next, a piece from the tail is tasted to check its texture. When working on the fish, not all of them lose this rigidity and, if after seven or ten days the desired results have not been achieved, that fish is deemed useless.
When it comes to offering diners fish prepared in this way, Dani and Jorge prefer to use the term ‘rested’, as it doesn't put people off.
This resting technique transforms the flesh not only in terms of flavour but also visually. It looks different because the little blood that is left oxidises, and the fat is more concentrated because the flesh contains less moisture. It becomes much silkier, and the flavour is more intense but more elegant.
Ageing fish is not the same as it is for meat, which sometimes acquires a nutty taste or one of blue cheese. With fish, you don’t get to that ‘rotting’ point; it’s quite different.
‘Resting’ is still a new technique for these two great chefs, and they recognise that it wasn’t easy to find the right way to keep on working and researching. Even so, they still have their work cut out for them; they are keen to apply this technique to other seafood, and are now testing it on crustaceans, such as lobsters and spiny lobsters, but it still needs perfecting. For the time being they have dried one fish which, when it was cooked, had very crispy skin – achieving a mouthfeel that Europeans are not used to when it comes to eating fish. When large fish lose this excess moisture, the collagen practically disappears and when it is grilled, for example, it becomes a sort of delicious crackling. By researching this technique Dani and Jorge are on the right track, and they hope that in the near future they will attain important gastronomic achievements.