100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 3, Hamachi Nabe at Uchi
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.
Photo courtesy of Uchi Here's the thing: It tastes as good as it looks.
Oh, the hamachi nabe. What is there left to say about the hamachi nabe that hasn't already been said?
It's been on the menu at Uchi in both Houston and Austin since at least 2011, when chef Tyson Cole's recipe was highlighted on StarChefs.com. Go ahead and try to recreate the dish yourself.
No, really. Try.
There's no way it's going to be as good as what Uchi will serve you.
The process of serving then eating the hamachi nabe is akin to a theatrical production. It will arrive in front of you in a ceramic dish so hot you dare not touch it with your bare hands. The rice in the bowl is already sizzling, and there's an uncooked egg on top, its yellow yolk glistening in the light. Bonito flakes sway in the mild breeze produced by people walking back and forth, and the flakes begin to shrivel from the heat of the bowl and the rice.
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg Culinary art: the delectable dish mid-mix.
Then the server will take a small ramekin of hamachi sauce and pour it into the hot bowl, stirring it and the raw egg around until everything is cooked and incorporated into one big mess of rice and fish and bonito.
The result is a dish that tastes strongly of soy, dashi, shallots and sesame oil. There are large chunks of hamachi, a hearty white yellowtail that flakes under the weight of chopsticks, and, mixed with it, soy-coated rice with the strong briny flavor of delicate pink bonito flakes and pungent members of the onion family. The egg and broth unite it all, even the dregs of the rice, which eventually become crunchy from the heat of the bowl.
When executed perfectly--which it always is, because Uchi runs like a well-oiled machine--the hamachi nabe is all you need for dinner. I often sit at the bar and order a glass of brut rosé and the hamachi nabe, and that's it. Particularly on a cold and rainy day, that's all I need to soothe my soul and re-acquaint me with the simple wonders that food can hold.
So often I find myself mired in the overwrought and tweezered cuisine that is "haute" in Houston. And there's a time and a place for that, even at Uchi. But with the hamachi nabe, it's a ramekin of broth, a quick stir and an ultimately messy dish that happens to taste amazing.
See the full list of favorites on the next page.