Have you heard of hot fish? Chicken is the new hotness

Over the past decade, I’ve seen hot chicken take over Los Angeles in a way I’ve never seen a dish take over an entire city. Firebirds with Nashville roots are everywhere, with restaurants all over Southern California dedicated to hot chicken-inspired menu items. With the Hotville food truck and two locations of Howlin’ Ray’s, it’s easy to understand the obsession. If hot chicken has become part of your weekly rotation, I’m going to make the argument for hot fish. listen to me

Sea bass fritters (and cheese bread) courtesy of Angler

Esther Tseng, a food writer and Times contributor, once called Angler Los Angeles in the Beverly Center a “seafood steakhouse.” He was right. It’s a place where seafood is celebrated as the main attraction, featuring in dishes traditionally reserved for heavy proteins. Like a steakhouse, it wasn’t somewhere I thought of visiting beyond a special occasion. The restaurant recently opened with a new menu under the direction of Paul Chung, Culinary Director of Saison Hospitality. Now it’s a place with cheesy bread, hot fried sea bass, and plenty of dishes you share and eat with your hands.

It’s a menu inspired by his time spent growing up in Virginia, his love of Southern food, and his Korean heritage. And Chung, like the rest of us, is a fan of Nashville hot chicken.

“I know Howlin’ Ray’s is really big here,” he said. “I wanted to try a version with hot fried collards.”

He sources his collars from sustainable striped bass farms in Baja California. They are fried like good fried chicken, with a rough and crispy crust. To make his hot oil for fish (the ingredient that makes fried fish hot rather than fried fish), he burns chicken fat and combines it with clarified butter and oil. He also roasts dried guajillo, chile de Arbol, California and pasilla chiles and adds other spices to the oil. The collars are soaked in the mixture, coating all available surfaces in the rust-colored oil.

If you’ve ever enjoyed grilled fish neck at a sushi restaurant, you’ll understand why it’s the perfect ingredient for a hot chicken treat. There is enough gelatin in the fish to mimic a juicy, meaty piece of chicken. And the curve of the necks means crisper edges. Chung’s hot oil is something to be bottled. The smokiness of the chicken fat and peppers adds depth and strength, providing an additional flavor profile beyond the heat.

Luckily, I was having dinner with a colleague who wasn’t even shy about digging up every last scrap of meat. Several napkins were stained.

Then there’s the cheese bread, a dish that sells itself. The table to our left spied ours and ordered theirs. We did the same after seeing an order on the table to our right.

Before you cut them, they look like your Parker House rolls, fused together, golden and glistening with butter. It’s actually a creation inspired by the sweet potato and cheese pizzas Chung used to eat as a child in Korea.

“It was something we wanted to do that was fun,” Chung said. “They always put sweet potato on the crust and I hated it as a kid,” she said. “When I came back at my age and tried again, it made sense.”

Chung’s cheese bread is filled with a melted center of cheese and mashed potatoes and a slick of anchovy butter on top. Some Northern California soft rinds add a bit of funk, and there’s enough of a good melted cheese (he didn’t specify the variety) that when you break off a piece, the cheese stretch is incredibly long.

Ma Lu Bian Bian hot pot

Hot pot with beef and shrimp skewers with a homemade heart-shaped spam dish at Ma Lu Bian Bian in Tustin. (Jenn Harris/Los Angeles Times)

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The dining room at the new Malu Bian Bian in Tustin feels like a comic book. Large murals of characters playing arcade games, driving, holding a giant spear or an astronaut on the moon cover the walls. The color scheme is bright royal blue, McDonald’s yellow and red. At peak meals and beyond, the tables are full and so is the condiment bar.

If you haven’t tried hot pot before, let me introduce you to the seasoning bar. This is where you make your sauce from our collection of seasonings, seasonings and ground herbs. You can count vinegar, soy sauce, sesame paste, at least a few iterations of chile (paste, powder, sauce), chopped green onion, chopped fresh garlic, chopped cilantro, and sliced ‚Äč‚Äčoranges to use as a palate cleanser.

If you need some inspiration, there’s a mural above the bar with suggested ingredients and measurements for dipping sauces based on whatever you suggest. Choose your adventure, but if you have enough chiles and vinegar in the mix, you should be fine.

On a recent visit, I ordered the traditional spicy soup base and the tomato soup base, served side by side in a sort of yin-yang metal bowl. The traditional spiciness can appear menacing when your server fires up the bottom burner, the dreaded liquid anathema to anything swimming in its chile-laden depths. It’s hot. Hot, in a way that will make you sweat both because of the spice and because of the heat. And the heat in the way that intensifies as the dinner goes on, making your eyes water and the sweat pour down your bib. Yes, there are bibs.

The traditional spicy broth adds heat and a hint of garlic to everything it touches, and New Zealand lamb, shrimp, cabbage, mushrooms, lemon beef (raw beef wrapped in lemon wedges) and homemade “Spam” make the perfect culinary base. meat.” On the other hand, the tomato base is smooth with a subtle tomato flavor. I found the best way to appreciate the homemade meatball combination, served as 12 scoops, each filled with beef, chicken or fish meatballs.

My hot pot strategy is to cram as many skewers, shredded vegetables and meat shavings into a broth as possible. I’m impatient and hungry. When you go, the pace is up to you. You are the architect of your hot destiny.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.