Recipe: Cibi's flathead and celeriac tempura in dashi and white soy broth


Cibi in Melbourne's inner north is on its way to institution-dom as one of the city's most beloved Japanese cafe-restaurants. Co-owner and chef Meg Tanaka runs the kitchen, while husband Zenta runs the attached Japanese homewares and grocery store. This recipe is a light main for both hot and cold days, or shrink the fish portion for a delicate entree. 

1 tablespoon cornflour (cornstarch)
400 ml dashi
3 tablespoons white soy sauce*
3 tablespoons mirin
½ tablespoon sake
½ tablespoon salt

METHOD To make the dashi broth, mix together cornflour and 2 tablespoons of water in a small bowl. In a large saucepan, bring the dashi to the boil. Add the soy sauce, mirin, sake and salt. Gently pour the cornflour mixture into the stock and stir until it thickens, about 2 to 3 minutes.

400 g flathead fillets, cut at an angle into 10 cm strips
200 g celeriac, peeled and sliced into sticks
200 g plain flour
Oil for deep-frying

METHOD Season the flathead with salt and pepper. In a bowl, whisk flour and 300 ml of cold water until the flour crumbs disappear and the batter is smooth and runny. Heat oil in a deep-fryer or large, heavy-based saucepan (fill the pan to a depth of approx. 5 cm) until it reaches 170°C when tested with a cooking thermometer. Meanwhile, mix the celeriac into the batter and coat well. Using chopsticks, pick the pieces of celeriac out of the batter and gently put them into the deep-fryer or pan. Put as many pieces in as you can without overfilling; this step may have to be done in batches. Fry the celeriac for 3 to 5 minutes, or until crisp. Take the pieces out and transfer to a wire rack with paper towel underneath to catch the excess oil. Repeat with flathead pieces. Coat the flathead in the batter, and deep-fry it for 3 to 5 minutes, or until crisp.

2 cauliflower florets, boiled and very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons finely chopped spring onion, to garnish
1 sheet (20 x 10 cm) dried nori, crumbled, to garnish
¼ teaspoon sansho** or regular pepper

METHOD Reheat the broth if it has cooled. Ladle about 150 ml of broth per serve into four shallow serving bowls. Rest the flathead and celeriac tempura in the broth and gently arrange the cauliflower slices around it. Sprinkle over the spring onion, seaweed and sansho pepper.

* Regular soy sauce works as well if you can’t find white soy sauce.
** Sansho pepper is a Japanese pepper often used for unagi (eel) and soba noodle soup. It has a nice lemony pepper flavour similar to Chinese sichuan pepper.

Meg Tanaka is co-owner and chef at Melbourne cafe Cibi. This recipe was first published in “Cibi” by Meg and Zenta Tanaka, published by Hardie Grant Books. Photography Mark Roper.