The Day Paul Kahan Showed Up and Made Crudo

“I’m planning to hack up a fish and then do very simple sliced crudos,” Paul Kahan says, right after he’s hoisted a couple of ingredient-filled Lexans past the security guys in the building where our test kitchen is, in San Francisco.

Paul is a great chef—he’s the guy behind Blackbird and Avec and The Publican and a couple other ventures in Chicago. The fish-hacking and crudo-making is this morning’s quick agenda—Paul’s been touring with COCHON555, working with Goose Island to promote a pair of sour beers. Today he’s accompanied by a Goose Island rep, a PR person, and some other assistant though I’m not totally sure who she is. Everybody’s so nice.

He’s got some wild hamachi and a whole shima-aji fish. “Don’t be alarmed that I’m not moving fast,” Paul says—it’s morning and he’s tired (the tour and all), but in 15 minutes a side of shima-aji is off and he’s lapping slices of translucent flesh on a plate. He adds delicate clumps of seaweed sott’olio (black hijiki strands pickled in red wine vinegar and olive oil), sprinkles of gray salt, a gold-green oil trail, and a togarashi-like custom spice blend from La Boîte’s Lior Lev Sercarz, with citrus, chiles, and sumac. It’s amazing—the fizzle of citrus, the oil’s peppery fruit, and the seaweed’s meditative depths, all framing the delicate, veal-calf umami of shima-aji.

“You want the fish to shine through,” Paul says, “and that can be difficult.”

He’s on to the wild hamachi, which is milder, leaner, Paul says. He has a vinaigrette made with orange fat rendered from the nduja his guys make at Publican Quality Meats, with shallots, Champagne vinegar, and the juice and zest of some blood oranges he picked up at the market here, with a little honey to take the edge off. He sprinkles it with another La Boîte salt blend, this one with fleur de sel from Brittany, orange, and fennel pollen. The flavor shimmers in your mouth, with a shadow you think is smoke at first, then realize is the gravelly tang of the nduja’s cure. “There she blows,” Paul says.

“Wait,” says the Goose Island lady, “taste it with the beers!” She launches into her description of saisons and Belgian farmers’ wives, but with orange and fennel pollen flitting around my attention like a butterfly in a corner, I’m not really listening.

Photos by Chris Rochelle