Thursday, January 24, 2008

Sake-Simmered Mackerel (Saba Nitsuke)

Longtime readers (all five of you) might have noticed that I cook very little fish. The reasons are manifold. First of all, fish is expensive. Even the cheapest, on-sale fish inevitably costs more than pork. Second, I hate fishy, off-tasting, old fish and, because my fish selecting skill are poor, I have very little confidence that I will choose a fresh specimen. Third, I have lots of experience cooking pork/chicken etc. They are familiar while fish might as well be from a different planet. However, given the delicious fish preparations I have had at restaurants, I have given the consumption and cookery of piscine species a high priority.

So, I have to start somewhere. I end up going to the Japanese market because they sell lots of sushi-grade fish. Given that sushi is meant to be consumed raw, I figure that my chances of finding pristinely fresh fish are higher there than anywhere else. However, immaculate fish comes with a correspondingly high price tag so I have to shop at the low end. Ah yes. Mackerel. Extremely fatty/oily, especially in the middle of winter. Very fishy tasting. I immediately start to have second thoughts. But, aha! The Japanese cookbook I have with me (yes, I go grocery shopping with cookbooks...) has a technique for cooking mackerel which helps "rid the mackerel of odor." Well, then, that's all need to hear!

Here's how it all went down. Ingredients used:
Cleaning and trimming the mackerel...I've got 1 pound of mackerel pieces:
Handsome looking fish, isn't it? I trimmed off some of the fatty belly meat and a few fins. Rinsed the fish and peeled off some gristly looking stuff.
There's all the fish. Really, a fine looking specimen. Only a slight, pleasant odor. I love the stripes on the back of the fish. Set the fish aside.

Measure out 1.5 cups of sake, 1 cup of mirin and 2/3 cup of dark soy sauce. This is a double recipe.

Finely cut 4 tablespoons of ginger.

At this point, I was optimistic. I figured that the simmering technique and the ginger would eliminate any sort of overly fishy flavor.

Find a pan large enough to easily accommodate the fish fillets. Pour in the sake and bring to a simmer. Lay in the fish, skin side up. Bring the liquid back to a boil. Pour in the mirin and soy sauce. Add the ginger. Bring back up to a boil.
Sprinkle in two pinches of sugar and allow to cook over high heat for 10 minutes. Then you're done!
So, umm, how was it? To be blunt, I found it nearly inedible for a number of reasons. First of all, I hate picking around tiny fish bones when I'm eating. It's annoying. Second, I ain't down with the skin. Finally, it still had a fairly intense fish flavor. Just take a look at the thick layer of fat on the fish:So. What to do. Throwing it away would have been too easy. I decided on picking the bones out, removing the skin and getting rid of the overtly fatty pieces, such as this brown piece of oily fish:Now, I know that some people probably consider this sort of thing a delicacy so if I've offended you, sorry. Here's the carnage.
The palatable pieces:
I poured over the leftover simmering liquid and am hoping that it will overpower the natural fish flavor:
So, as you can see, not everything is sugar and spice at TBCC. There will be failures. However, I'm going to chalk this up as a learning experience and not let it affect my desire to cook fish.

Time- 20 minutes.
Food Cost-
Mackerel- $7.00
Incidentals- $1.00
Total- $8.00 I think I can probably get three meals out of this in its current form. So $2.66 per serving


Sushi Times II said...

Just a suggestion, maybe next time you can try using miso to broil the fish in, it is called
Saikyo-Yaki, it is usually used with black cod, but you could try it with mackerel..What you do is.. mix sake & mirin and cook off the alcohol, add miso paste and a small amount of sugar, it will form a thick glaze, you then coat the fish ( you can leave it to marinate, the longer the better)and broil until golden brown and bubbly.
The miso is such a nice, sweet flavor, it really mellows out the fish, This is one of my very favorite Japanese dishes..I own a Japanese Market. My husband has been a sushi chef for twelve years..The store is named -
Sushi and Japanese Market
We sell anything you'd ever need to make Japanese food & Sushi.
I invite you to stop by sometime..
Happy Cooking !
Sushi and Japanese Market

Mike Czyzewski said...


saranade22 said...

I love cooking fish! If you haven't done it a lot before though I would start with a more hearty, substantial variety.. seared tuna maybe? salmon? Those little fish are bony and harder, I find....

Mike Czyzewski said...

yah, i have already decided that my next fish will be something a little less fishy and more mainstream...maybe some bass or something..

grillo7 said...

I was hedging on whether to try mackerel or not and also have a similar, um...restrained budget. Thanks for the play-by-play and honesty.