特集 2016年1月15日

There were a lot of predicaments once we caught and ate the wolffish.

This photo was the root of the uproar.
This photo was the root of the uproar.
There is a super cool fish called the "wolffish" in the North Sea.
I desperately wanted to witness this fish under its natural environment, so I successfully hooked it this summer in Shiretoko. And then I ate it.
On top of that, this started a huge controversy.
My purpose in life is to enjoy living creatures with all my five senses.



Set in Shiretoko, the Sea of Okhotsk

A creased bumpy face, with a huge mouth and jagged teeth. The first time I learned about this "wolffish" was in lower level elementary school. It is said that they can chomp down and eat a scallop shells whole using their strong jaws. Pretty scary... However, even that scariness is intriguing.
This little guy is from the aquarium.
This little guy is from the aquarium.
According to the web, they can be caught in Hokkaido and the Eastern region of Japan mixed with other fish. Apparently "if you go further out with the boat, they are reasonably easy to catch."
Since I heard that they sometimes can be caught in the shallow water as well we tried sticking to the shore for three days but it was a swing and miss, which is when we arranged for the boat.
Since I heard that they sometimes can be caught in the shallow water as well we tried sticking to the shore for three days but it was a swing and miss, which is when we arranged for the boat.
I contacted my friend in Hokkaido to get in touch with a fishing boat that would take us out specifically targeting the wolffish. The response I got was "June may still be too early."
But, I can't just give up and come back out in a month. Aside from not being able to wait any more to see the wolffish, the plane tickets are super expensive in the high seasons. I decided to take a gamble on this opportunity.

So I chartered a boat with my friends, and we headed out on the Shiretoko waters.
The moment we stopped the boat and threw the squid bait out by the reefs about 100meters deep, we caught a fish. Could it be a wolffish?
It was a codfish! I got pretty excited about the first catch, but then they kept coming until our boat looked like a  cod fishing boat
It was a codfish! I got pretty excited about the first catch, but then they kept coming until our boat looked like a cod fishing boat
Delicious cod kept floating to the surface. But then there was cod, cod, and more cod!
While we were going through the motion of catch and releasing the cod, we knew. "Defeat.."

An immediate revenge challenge a month and a half later!

It seems we were in fact too early last time, since the captain even commented that "seeing that much cod means that the ocean is still in winter-mode. You'll have better luck if you come back in the summer."

So, here I am again, in Shiretoko.
While it is a beautiful view,all I am having are flashbacks of cod hell.
While it is a beautiful view,all I am having are flashbacks of cod hell.
Despite it already being August it is still a bit chilly, but that's Hokkaido for you. I throw some salt water over the frozen squid bait that doesn't seem to want to defrost. ...The water is warmer. This clearly indicates that the situation has indeed changed. The wolffish have to be back in the place of the cod! A smile spills from my face.
Despite having just started, N seems to have caught a big one!
Despite having just started, N seems to have caught a big one!
A giant cod!
A giant cod!
"N catches a humongous cod fish, leaving me behind."
"What? The cod fish are still around...?"
But, then.
"Wait!? Is it? It feels like it is!"
K's rod bends aggressively. While I was thinking "another cod?", K commented "it may not be..."
Then the captain leans out over the control room yelling "Is it that!?"

A shadow slowly approaches the surface of the water. Brown, and long. Could it be.....
IT'S A WOLFFISH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
IT'S A WOLFFISH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
What was pulled up onto the boat using the landing net was without a doubt a wolffish!
Finally the fish I had only seen in books and through the glass at aquariums was in front of me!
What was pulled up onto the boat using the landing net was without a doubt a wolffish! Finally the fish I had longed for but had only seen in books and through the glass at aquariums was in front of me!
What was pulled up onto the boat using the landing net was without a doubt a wolffish! Finally the fish I had longed for but had only seen in books and through the glass at aquariums was in front of me!

Wolffish, they keep coming!

Having our dream fish within grasp peaked out excitement! ...Or so we thought. This is when things got a little crazy!
Soon after S, a local fisherman, caught a big one!
Soon after S, a local fisherman, caught a big one!
The wolffish started flooding in. It was a wolffish rush hour. Considering this is my dream fish, I wonder if it's okay that we are catching this many.
I got a hit at the same time! My hands shake from excitement.
I got a hit at the same time! My hands shake from excitement.
According to the captain, a large group of wolffish are found by a single reef. Apparently he once caught over twenty in one day.
We caught even larger wolffish the following day, on a different boat!
We caught even larger wolffish the following day, on a different boat!
いったん広告です

The "fish of god" can even crush through shellfish

This is the wolffish I finally caught myself. I need to burn this image of it alive into my memory.
Giant mouth! Thick strong jaw! And these strange teeth!!
Giant mouth! Thick strong jaw! And these strange teeth!!
Some of the larger ones can be nearly 130cm long, and weigh 15kg.
While it is a long squirmy fish, it is also very thick and log-like.
"If it bites you it'll take your hand so be careful" says the captain.
Initially I had planned to let it bite me once as a celebratory memory, but I changed my mind. The teeth are not the only crazy things about this fish. The moment I saw the abnormally developed cheek muscles, my instincts rang the alarm telling me “DO NOT GET BITTEN BY THIS GUY!” This is the kind of fish that will go through bone.
But the eyes are beady and precious.
But the eyes are beady and precious.
When I peek over at its face, its beady black eyes are moving around like crazy. Maybe it's checking out its surroundings to set a target before attacking.

A certain fisherman was talking about how "freaky they are because they blink despite being a fish." Does it have eyelids even though it's a fish? I was wondering about that, but it seems this eye movement just looks like blinking.
It has a good face even with its mouth closed.
It has a good face even with its mouth closed.
Anyway, you know at first glance this is no ordinary fish.
...Apparently the indigenous Ainu people felt the same way, and this fish was called "chip-ka-mui" in the native Ainu language, which means the fish of god. When the Ainu fishermen caught these fish, they would feed it sake as an offering and would then return the wolffish back to the sea.

Unfortunately, since fish have a very low tolerance to alcohol, the chances of it dying from this ritual is very high..but I digress. To be honest, I would not recommend anyone repeating this tradition.
We ended up finding a lot of scallop shells from the stomach of the wolffish we kept. The story about them chomping down on whole shells was true. Damn, they eat good stuff. Very god-like.
We ended up finding a lot of scallop shells from the stomach of the wolffish we kept. The story about them chomping down on whole shells was true. Damn, they eat good stuff. Very god-like.

Wolffish eggs are a little gross.

Once we got to see the fish alive, of course we became curious how it tasted. We took a smaller one home for tasting, and filleted it on the shore.
This is another moment I have been dreaming of.
This is another moment I have been dreaming of.
From this experience, I figured out two major points to be aware of when cooking wolffish.
First, the fish starts to degrade fast so act quickly and freeze it immediacy if you plan on storing it.
The slime on the body has a light orange coloring. This is what creates that distinctive smell. Make sure to get rid of all that.
The slime on the body has a light orange coloring. This is what creates that distinctive smell. Make sure to get rid of all that.
Make sure to get all the slime off the body. This will cause an unwanted smell later.
It is a cloudy white fish. Looks pretty tasty..
It is a cloudy white fish. Looks pretty tasty..
The wolffish is from the pholidae fish family, which is known for being a good ingredient for tempura.
The built is almost identical. If you think of it as a large pholidae fish, it's not hard to dissect.
Of course, we do not throw out the head. In fact, it's actually the main attraction.
Of course, we do not throw out the head. In fact, it's actually the main attraction.
The liver is large, and looks meaty.
The liver is large, and looks meaty.
And then, we found a surprise in the belly.
Eggs!
Eggs!
These are the eggs.The size of each egg is about the same as a salmon's egg. It is my first time seeing any eggs this big from a fish from the ocean.
We loosened the eggs up using wire meshing.
We loosened the eggs up using wire meshing.
Since we went through all this trouble, we decided to pickle it in soy sauce once the eggs were loose.
Eating wolffish eggs would be a once in a lifetime experience.
The size of a egg is just about the size of a large salmon fish egg.
The size of a egg is just about the size of a large salmon fish egg.
Once the eggs were loosened, I tried a raw one on its own. What is this acidity. It's a little slimy. Should I be eating this? Can I be eating this? Health safety-wise.
We let the yellow eggs sit in the soy sauce overnight.
We let the yellow eggs sit in the soy sauce overnight.
All done. Wolffish eggs pickled in soy sauce. The pale orange coloring is pretty.
All done. Wolffish eggs pickled in soy sauce. The pale orange coloring is pretty.
The wolffish eggs that were left overnight had a nice soft orange shine to them.
I slowly carried one to my mouth and...What? It's not sour. While it still can't compete with salmon fish eggs, it's definitely good enough to eat.
While not planned, we were relieved that we did not end up wasting the eggs that we had accidentally robbed from this wolffish, before she had a chance to bear them.
Surprisingly tasty!
Surprisingly tasty!
It came out light, fluffy and plain delicious. It has a very subtle and gentle flavoring, which may be unexpected from how it looks.
It came out light, fluffy and plain delicious. It has a very subtle and gentle flavoring, which may be unexpected from how it looks.
いったん広告です

Sashimi, tempura, and a simmered fish head.

Okay, now let's finally get to the actual "meat."
Starting with the sashimi.
Wolffish Sashimi
Wolffish Sashimi
While the sashimi is slightly fibrous, it holds a lot of water which makes the fish very tender. The flavoring is light and fresh. Not exactly very distinctive, but it has a honest tastiness to it.
It is pretty moist.
It is pretty moist.
Wolffish Tempura
Wolffish Tempura
Since it is pretty much just a giant pholidae fish, we decided to fry it up as tempura. It came out light, fluffy and just plain delicious as expected. It has a very subtle and gentle flavoring, which may be unexpected from how it looks.

And then, we finally came to this part.
What to do.
What to do.
It's a head.
It's upper jaw is stuffed with molar-like teeth.
It's upper jaw is stuffed with molar-like teeth.
More teeth on the bottom. Leaving behind any function to hold onto or bite through, these teeth are designed to destroy or grind down. I bet she's been eating delicious scallops, crabs, and sea urchins using these teeth. I'm jealous.
More teeth on the bottom. Leaving behind any function to hold onto or bite through, these teeth are designed to destroy or grind down. I bet she's been eating delicious scallops, crabs, and sea urchins using these teeth. I'm jealous.
In the end we decided to just cook the head whole since it was so impressive.
When in doubt, cook it whole.
When in doubt, cook it whole.
Simmering Wolffish Head
Simmering Wolffish Head
Of course, we ended up with a pretty impressive looking dish. However, it was still less scary looking than expected.
The reason for this was because by cooking it the skin tightened, which made those distinctive wrinkles go away, and also the heat made part of the canines fall out.

And then we got another shock when the chopsticks were inserted!
いったん広告です

Unlimited Cheek Meat

Once the melting skin was pulled off, an abnormal amount of cheek meat was waiting for us.
The volume and meatiness continued to shock us.
I feel it looks more wolf-like now, than when it was alive.
I feel it looks more wolf-like now, than when it was alive.
A gold mine of unlimited cheek meat.
A gold mine of unlimited cheek meat.
Have you seen a fish with such large cheeks? And this is only one part of it.
Have you seen a fish with such large cheeks? And this is only one part of it.
It's nice and chewy too. Similar to chicken or scallops.
It's nice and chewy too. Similar to chicken or scallops.
The fish we took home was give or take 1 meter long, which is on the smaller side. However, both cheeks had about one large fist worth of meat on each side. While the flavoring was simple, when paired with the meatiness, it reminds you of chicken or scallop rather than fish. What a delicacy.
Since I'm breaking it apart to eat anyway, why not investigate the jaw bone a bit more.
Since I'm breaking it apart to eat anyway, why not investigate the jaw bone a bit more.
There are a bunch of holes along the lining of the teeth. If you take a closer look, you can see smaller teeth are growing in. I guess this is how they rotate new teeth in.
There are a bunch of holes along the lining of the teeth. If you take a closer look, you can see smaller teeth are growing in. I guess this is how they rotate new teeth in.
Fried Wolffish Cheek Meat. While fibrous, it came out a lot softer than I had expected.
Fried Wolffish Cheek Meat. While fibrous, it came out a lot softer than I had expected.

Another chance to feast!

On top of getting to see a whole bunch of live wolffish, I also got to experience the entire fish without waste, including the eggs, sashimi, and head. I had the best time. Getting to eat wolffish is a once in a life time experience. Or so I thought...
The fishermen treated us to wolffish soup. When used as a broth, the skin had a lighter flavor, and was even more delicious.
The fishermen treated us to wolffish soup. When used as a broth, the skin had a lighter flavor, and was even more delicious.
Two months later in October, an unexpected opportunity arose.
While visiting Abashiri for work, the fishermen treated us to wolffish soup.
The warm, deep flavoring of the soup heated my body up from the core, and was delicious.
Braised Wolffish Liver. Very light, and similar to a softer chicken liver.
Braised Wolffish Liver. Very light, and similar to a softer chicken liver.
The fish eggs are also gently cooked into the soup. There is absolutely no concern for sliminess or acidity, like there was with the soy sauce pickled fish eggs we had made before..
The fish eggs are also gently cooked into the soup. There is absolutely no concern for sliminess or acidity, like there was with the soy sauce pickled fish eggs we had made before..
Wolffish Stomach. Soft and chewy. Delicious, as expected.
Wolffish Stomach. Soft and chewy. Delicious, as expected.
By actually catching, touching, and eating it, I gained a deeper understanding of the wolffish.
And the more I learned about it, the more I liked it.
While I doubt I'll be proactively going out looking to eat it, I suspect I will plan another adventure to encounter the wolffish one day.
!

Digressing...this became a big deal.

I posted a picture of the wolffish I caught on twitter, which caused a huge uproar.
For some reason it got reported and overly sensationalized overseas as being a "Godzilla fish that was born from the nuclear disaster. The strange fish that was caught in the Fukushima waters."

Except we caught it in Shiretoko, and not the Fukushima waters. Also It's a known fish that has existed for centuries in the Sea of Okhotsk. But no matter what you say, to most people a wolffish is strange and unknown. Its looks don't exactly help either. I guess I can understand why some may blindly believe the stories.
At one point, amongst many others, they had even manufactured and issued this article. (by NATURE WORLD NEWS)
At one point, amongst many others, they had even manufactured and issued this article. (by NATURE WORLD NEWS)
“I felt horribly how these lies had tarnished the wolffish' reputation, and the fact that I was the cause of all this pained me for a while after.”
But eventually reports from LE MONDO from France, or vice motherboard from the UK came out with the true story in detail, and thankfully the fuss was put to rest. The wolffish regained it's pride and reputation (I think).
Well, I guess there are still plenty of articles out there online with random made-up information.

That's it. A story about how the internet and SNS are actually scarier than a wolffish's face☆

Now if you serch images under my name on the internet , you'll pretty much just get pictures of a wolffish☆.
It feels like my identity has been taken over by a wolffish.
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