Holy mackerel! The variety of edible seafood available in Japan is a deep abyss. Tackling the long list of choices is challenging, especially with the array of Japanese names (written in kanji, hiragana, or katakana), their English names, regional variations, and fish named differently by size. Here is a list of a few easy-to-cook, affordable choices that frequently make it to the dinner table. The Latin name is included so that you can Google up-to-date sustainability information.
Horse Mackerel Escabeche
Horse/Jack Mackerel (Trachurus japonicus) is a popular fish for dinner entrées. It can be grilled, deep fried (aji karaage), pan fried, or eaten raw in tartare or as sashimi.
Fried Fish Escabeche (a new take on nanban-zuke)
Suggestion and recipe (adapted from Chef Setsuko Sugimoto’s recipe) by KA Mom, A.I.
Salt and pepper the deboned fish fillet, then coat with flour. Deep fry at 170°C (the tip of a dry chopstick should bubble rapidly). In a separate pan, bring 150 ml white wine (or sake), 1 bay leaf, 7 coriander seeds, pinch of salt and sugar to boil. Let the liquid cool completely, then add 3 Tbsp (wine or rice) vinegar and 3 Tbsp lemon juice. Toss with sliced red pepper, celery, onion (1/4), and julienned carrots. Deep fry fish, then add to marinating mix while hot. Let marinate overnight. Refrigerate up to one week.
Japanese Amberjack and Daikon Radish
Yellowtail/Japanese Amberjack (Seriola quinqueradiata) Ah, teriyaki, one of the most popular cooking methods. It is a compound word made up of teri (u), to shine/luster, and yaki (u), to broil/grill. There’s no need to buy teriyaki sauce because it’s simple to make with three ingredients: soy sauce, mirin, and sake.
Buri Daikon (Simmered Amberjack with Daikon Radish) Recipe
Teriyaki Pan Seared Fish
Teriyaki Glazed Japanese Amberjack
Suggested by KA mom, C.K.
Recipe adapted from Kyoto Better Homes Cooking School
Salt fish for 5 minutes, then wipe dry with paper towels. Mix 1 Tbsp each of soy sauce, mirin, and sake and set aside.
Fry (or grill) fish. If frying, heat 1 Tbsp oil in a pan, place the fish skin-side down and cook over medium for 2-3 minutes. Repeat on the other side. Turn off the heat, wipe the pan with paper towel, then add the teriyaki sauce and baste 3-4 times on medium heat until almost all the liquid is gone. Garnish with a sanshō leaf, if available.
Mackerel Braised in Miso Sauce
(Chub/Pacific) Mackerel (Scomber japonicus) Because of the ocean-friendly fishing methods used to catch them and their healthy populations, Saba is a popular and versatile fish for family dinner. Simmering in ginger–miso mellows the flavor; this fish is sometimes on the menu for public school lunch. It is also tasty simmered in tomato-based dishes or simply salted and grilled, shioyaki.
Salmon (genus oncorhynchus) Specific, wild-caught varieties of salmon from popular fishing areas, like Alaska and, in autumn, Hokkaido, are environmentally managed to protect the fish populations. It is salted and grilled (shiozake) when featured in a traditional Japanese breakfast. Also try salmon prepared with shio koji or in a cream sauce. Salmon for sashimi is farm raised and labeled 養殖/yōshoku , wild caught is labeled 天然/ten nen.
Pacific saury/Mackerel pike (Cololabis saira) A favorite choice in autumn, sanma is affordable (under 100 yen) and easy to cook (grilled whole). These are fast growing, ocean friendly fish, and the fishing gear required to catch them doesn’t cause habitat destruction. Serve with ponzu (store bought citrus-y soy sauce), grated daikon radish and a squeeze of a Japan-available citrus fruit, such as sadachi, kabosu, or yuzu.
Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus) A versatile fish for recipes requiring a white fish, and mild tasting for fish stews, fish curry, Mediterranean fish dishes, or fish tacos. Not too stinky or oily, it might just turn your most reluctant diner into a “fish person”.
(Beer-Battered) Fish and Chips/Potato Scallops
Fish and Potato Scallops
Recipe, photo and suggestion used with permission by JFR’s A.M.
For the batter, mix 2 eggs and 1 c. (200 ml) beer (“Kirin Ichiban Shibori” preferred) with sifted 1 1/3 c flour + 1 tsp salt. Dredge and fry in 170°C heated oil in a frying pan.
Butter and Lemon Pepper Meunière
Poached Cod in Sake/Butter
Suggestion by KA Mom, C.K., A.M.I. for the recipe
Remove the skin. Heat 2 Tbsp butter and 2 Tbsp sake in a frying pan. Season the fish with salt and black pepper, then add to the pan. Cover and steam. Season to taste with garlic powder and a generous amount of freshly minced parsley. Serve with freshly squeezed lemon.
Useful Kanji for Reading Fish Labels
刺身用sashimi yō For sashimi (can be eaten uncooked)
生食用/namashoku yō For eating raw
養殖 /yōshoku farm raised
天然/ten nen wild caught
北海道 産/Hokkaido san Product of (Hokkaido)
皮なし/kawa nashi skin removed
骨なし/hone nashi boneless
解凍/kaitou previously frozen
賞味期限/shoumi kigen expiration date
消費期限/ shouhikigen best by
加工年月日/ kakou nengappi processed date
半額/hangaku half price
真, ma, and 銀, gin, before the name of the fish are varieties of that species
〆 , 締め/ shime treated with salt and vinegar
塩 サバ/shio (saba) salted (mackerel)
三枚おろし/sanmai oroshi common “3 cut” fillet technique (Some supermarkets/fishmongers might fillet your fish for free or a small charge, if you buy a whole fish.)