I'm not a clubber. Surprised, huh. But I do love Asian food. And, Bang Bang, the downtown dance club/restaurant, replete with a huge disco ball and subway tile tunnel entrance allows me to skip the loud partying and head straight for the much calmer dining room where John Hong, aka Chef Kappa, presides.
Chef Kappa is Bang Bang's executive chef. Born in South Korea, he first moved with his family at age four to Paris and then to Los Angeles at age 10. By 17 he launched his culinary career. Four years later, Kappa was named head sushi chef of Yamato restaurant in L.A. and for a year ran an all-rice food truck called Bap Pul, which means "single grain of rice" in Korean. Kappa came down to San Diego in 2012 to launch Bang Bang's sushi menu, swiftly working his way up to his current position as executive chef.
While Kappa was trained by a Japanese chef and has traveled to Japan and Korea, he's actually worked in many cuisines. "I like to understand the basics of any cuisine and make it my own," he says. The influences show up in the menu. His Cobra Kai tempura is made up of spicy tuna, poblano chile, avocado, garlic paste, and cilantro with chili aoli and eel sauce. His Hummus Among Us is an edamame hummus served with wonton chips, cucumber, and celery sticks.
I met Chef Kappa a couple of months ago when the restaurant was celebrating its first anniversary. We decided to have an afternoon together in the kitchen so he could teach me one of his most popular dishes, 3 Way Salmon, which features six pieces of crispy sushi rice topped with baked salmon, salmon caviar, and shredded salmon skin, along with wasabi crème fraiche and micro shiso.
The dish is both simple to make and complicated. The best approach is to break it up into three basic steps--cooking and frying the rice, slice and cooking the salmon fillet and skin, and putting the dish together. Chef Kappa advises addressing the skin first. Then you can take your time making the rice and baking the salmon fillet. You'll also combine crème fraiche with wasabi for the dot of sauce. And, to make the crispy rice you'll need a sushi box presser called a battera.
The result is a striking appetizer that can serve two. I loved the crunch of the rice and the skin, the salty pop of the big balls of salmon caviar, and the mellow sweetness of the salmon meat. It just works.
3 Way Salmon
from Chef Kappa at Bang Bang
Serves 2 as appetizer
2 ounces salmon fillet, skin on, of which you'll use 3/4 of an ounce of skin
1 ounce salmon roe (ikura) available at Asian markets
2 ounces cooked sushi rice
1/2 cup panko (If you make more, pull out enough to make a ball the size of a tennis ball.)
Vegetable oil for frying
2 tablespoons crème fraiche or sour cream
1 teaspoon wasabi
Eel sauce (available at Asian markets)
Micro shizo or other micro greens
|You can buy a larger fillet and slice what you need. Chef Kappa likes using Scottish salmon which he cures with salt to pull out the moisture. He then uses the soft bone area between the back and the belly, which he says is very tender.|
1. Skin the salmon fillet by arranging the tall side of the fillet toward you, skin side down. Using a sharp knife, slip the tip of the knife slide it between the skin and the meat and use a zig zag motion to separate the two. Preheat a toaster oven to 350°. Cut off a piece of aluminum foil and drizzle it lightly with sesame oil. Place the skin on the foil, skin side up and sprinkle with a little sea salt. Raise the sides of the foil so any oil released by the skin doesn't drip. Cook for 20 minutes. Let cool. Then remove the skin and slice into strips. Place on a new sheet of foil and cook again for about 10 minutes until crispy. Drain the strips on a paper towel and set aside.
2. Pull out the battera and line it with plastic wrap. Press the rice into the battera. Then press down with your whole weight, giving it four turns to make sure the rice is evenly distributed. Carefully remove the slab from the battera and the plastic wrap. Spread the panko on a surface to coat the rice. You want just enough to cover all of it.
3. Heat a wok with the oil. It should be deep enough to fully cover the rice slab. When it reaches 300° to 350° gently slide the rice into the wok. Turn it over once or twice to let it fully brown. Cook for a total time of three to four minutes. Have a flat plate lined with paper towels ready and pull out the rice, place it on the plate, and let it drain and cool.
4. Slice the two ounces of salmon fillet, without the skin, into three equal pieces. Drizzle a piece of foil with sesame oil and place the salmon on it and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake at 350° in a preheated over or 450° in a toaster oven for 10 minutes.
5. Mix together the crème fraiche and wasabi. Set aside.
6. Choose a rectangular platter. Slice the crispy rice in half by just pushing a sharp knife through the slab (don't saw back and forth). Then cut again until you get six equal pieces. Place them on the platter. On three of them, place a piece of baked salmon. On the other three, a dollop of salmon roe. Scatter the salmon skin around the plate. Top each on with bit of the crème fraiche and wasabi. Drizzle the eel sauce on the place over the salmon skin. Skatter with micro shizo. Serve.
Bang Bang is located at 526 Market St. in downtown San Diego.