The latest Key Ingredient, in which local chefs challenge fellow chefs with an ingredient of their choice.
Growing up in Connecticut and vacationing in New Jersey, Sarah Rinkavage was stung plenty of times by jellyfish. “You’re going swimming, and all of a sudden you ride a wave and you’re just in a swarm of them,” she says. So the Lula Cafe chef was less than thrilled when the Publican’s Cosmo Goss challenged her to create a dish with the “terrifying” gelatinous zooplankton.
Jellyfish blooms have been on the rise for the past several decades, a phenomenon that many scientists attribute to global warming (which has caused increased ocean temperatures) and overfishing of other species. Some experts believe that the answer to the problem is eating jellyfish, but while they’ve long been a delicacy in Japan, they haven’t caught on in the U.S. In the past couple years Georgia shrimpers have been making the best of the abundance of jellyfish by catching the jellies and selling them in Asia.
Rinkavage located the ingredient at Mayflower Market in Chinatown, where she says there’s a whole section for jellyfish, including flavored and instant versions. “In my mind, instant jellyfish is like those little dolls you have when you’re a kid that you put in water and they blow up,” she says. There were also jars of jellyfish that looked like “little alien hand things.” She settled on a jar of salted, dried whole jellyfish and a bag of jellyfish strips, also salted and dried.
“They have their little moon head, and then the tentacles,” she says. “They’re also the weirdest texture.” But “once I tasted them, there’s nothing to them. There’s not much to be afraid of.”
In the Asian countries where jellyfish are traditionally eaten, they’re often used in salad. But Rinkavage turned instead to her New England roots for inspiration, and thought about what she’d eat at the beach—fish-and-chips, calamari, fried shrimp.
She soaked all the jellyfish in water to rehydrate them and remove the excess salt, then dredged the strips in a mixture of cornmeal and tapioca starch (which creates a light, crispy coating), deep-fried them, and dusted them with chopped fried rosemary, ground black lime, and Aleppo chile flakes. The tiny whole jellyfish she pickled, along with red onions and morita chiles, in apple cider vinegar and brown sugar with clove and coriander. She added this to a garlic aioli (eggs, oil, garlic, and anchovy) to create a jellyfish tartar sauce in which to dip the fried jellyfish.
“There’s not much flavor to jellyfish, so it’s almost like tofu—it takes on the flavor you give it,” Rinkavage says. She was happy with the combination of flavors she’d added to hers, and says that the frying gave it a nice crunch.
The process helped Rinkavage overcome her phobia. “Jellyfish really isn’t scary,” she says, “it’s actually not that exciting.”
Who’s next: Rinkavage has challenged Johnny Clark of Parachute to create a dish with canned fruit cocktail. “I never liked it since I was a kid,” Rinkavage says. “It’s slimy fruit in this flavored syrup—and you can’t get rid of that flavor.”
50 percent cornmeal
50 percent tapioca starch
Dust for fried jellyfish
10 g chopped fried rosemary
10 g Aleppo chile flakes
5 g ground black lime
Pickled jellyfish brine
750 g water
375 g brown sugar
750 g apple cider vinegar
200 g sliced red onion
Sachet of 2 g allspice, 2 g cumin, 2 g anise, 2 g cloves, 3 g black peppercorn
Heat all ingredients in a pot and pour over the jellyfish while still hot.
4 egg yolks
4 cloves garlic
2 shiitake mushrooms
50 g lemon juice
25 g fish sauce
4 small salted anchovies
500 g blended oil
Heat garlic, mushrooms, anchovies in oil. Let steep until garlic softens. Strain solids from oil and remove the mushrooms. Let oil cool. In a food processor or blender, blend the egg yolks, cooked garlic and anchovies, lemon juice, and fish sauce. Slowly add the oil until an aioli forms, then season with salt.
Pickled jellyfish tartar sauce
Chopped meat of one lemon
1 T chopped pickled chiles
3 T chopped pickled jellyfish
1 T chopped pickled red onion
Add enough aioli to coat all ingredients, creating a chunky tartar sauce