Crispy Nori-Wrapped Walu & Shrimp with Papaya Coulis

The three times we’ve gone out to dinner for our anniversary here in Hawaii have all been disappointments. So this year I decided to make something at home instead. Armed with a new cookbook from local chef Elmer Guzman (recommended by Laurie in Alaska!), I borrowed ideas from 2-3 different dishes to create this: a nori-wrapped walu and shrimp lumpia and a citrusy papaya coulis.

Walu is sold here as “Hawaiian butterfish” but is properly known as Escolar — a very white, flaky and oily fish that is actually banned in Japan and Italy because it can cause intestinal upset if not prepared properly (grill or pan-fry to release the oils that cause upset) or if consumed in too great a quantity (no more than 6 oz. per person). But I’m not scared! I love the unusual firm but most texture and mid flavor, and especially enjoyed this preparation. However, any firm flaky fish, such as tilapia, cod, halibut, snapper or even catfish would do well as a substitute here.

I love the flavor of nori in this, and I think it makes for a nice presentation, but if it would dissuade you from trying this, then feel free to leave it out. For the coulis, I paired the papaya with lime juice — a winning local flavor combination — and added a splash of wine vinegar for acidity to cut through the oiliness of both the walu itself, and the deep-fired shell. If you can find nigella, also called onion seeds, at a health food store (in the bulk spice section) or an Indian grocer, the peppery black seeds make a wonderful counterpoint to the flavors in the coulis and fish; otherwise, black sesame seeds or even crushed papaya seeds can be used for presentation.

It was a great marriage of contrasts and balance — crispy yet meltingly soft fish, and sweet but tart fruit sauce.
Kind of like a couple I know. . .

(inspired by The Shoreline Chef, by Elmer Guzman)
For the Papaya Coulis:
1 ripe papaya, peeled, halved and seeded
sea salt
1/2 tsp. raw sugar
2 tsp. white wine vinegar, or 3 tsp. rice wine vinegar
2 tsp. fresh lime juice

Place all ingredients except lime juice in a small saucepan. Using a hand or stick blender, puree papaya until smooth. Cook over medium heat until it just starts to bubble, about 10 minutes. Then reduce heat to low and simmer an additional 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add lime juice. Taste and correct seasoning — you shouldn’t “taste” vinegar or salt at all, only the papaya and lime.

For the Shrimp Filling:
6 oz. shrimp, peeled and coarsely diced
1 large piece of dried Chinese black fungus (tree ear, or mok yee), rehydrated and cut in slivers
sea salt
ground white pepper
2 tsp. sake or Chinese rice wine
1 stalk of Chinese flowering chives, or flat garlic chives
1/2 tsp. corn starch

Combine all ingredients, and leave to marinate at least 20 minutes, but no longer than 2 hours in fridge.

3-4oz. of walu, tilapia, cod, halibut or other firm flaky fish, filet cut into 4 equal pieces
(This step is only necessary if you are using Walu. For other types of fish, I would skip this.) Pan-fry each filet piece in a lightly oiled skillet over medium-high heat. Brown all sides. Lay on paper towels to cool completely.

To assemble:
4 sheets of lumpia or egg-roll wrappers (covered with a lightly dampened cloth while working)
2 sheets of nori for sushi, each cut in half
water, to seal rolls

To Finish:
Nigella, or onion seeds
Flowering chives

Preheat oil in wok or other deep-fryer to 375F.
Lay lumpia wrapper on clean dry surface. Place nori in center of wrapper (you may have to trim nori so it doesn’t cover the top end of the wrapper, or you won’t be able to seal it).
Place fish on nori near the bottom edge, and a few spoonfuls of shrimp on fish (see photo at left).
Bring bottom end to cover fish/shrimp, then fold sides to center around filling (middle photo).
Keeping gentle pressure on the filling as you roll (to keep it tight), roll to the top. Wet top edge of wrapper with water (photo at right), before last roll to seal.
Repeat 3 more times.

Fry 2 at time so they don’t crowd the wok. Cook for about 5 minutes total, turning lumpia over after 3 minutes. Remove to paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining lumpia. If using flowering chives, make certain they are completely dry (or it will splatter and you will burn yourself), and hold one end of chives and briefly dip flowering end into hot oil. Drain.

To serve, slice each roll in half on a sharp diagonal. I originally wanted to serve this on a bed of chewy soba noodles, but in the end I was really craving rice so that’s what we had this time. Buckwheat soba noodles would also go well with both the fish and the coulis. Place fish on and around rice or noodles, drizzle coulis around edge of plate and sprinkle with nigella. Garnish with chives.