aozakana(青魚): Seasonal Autumn Fish Dinner
aozakana (青魚) literally, ‘blue fish’ are in season from mid-autumn throughout the winter. These are such species as mackerel (青魚, saba), pacific saury (秋刀魚, sanma), sardine (鰯, iwashi), and jack mackerel (鯵, aji). Their blue colored backs give these well loved fish their Japanese name.
In Japan, the cold months are the time to gorge on fish, and aozakana are the main event. Fish are genki, laid on heavily with fat and rich with oils. Super fresh, simply grilled, this is some of the best cuisine Japan has to offer; uncontrived, straight forward and natural.
Last week I (Peko) was invited to participate in the preparation of an aozakana feast extravaganza with some native foodies here to celebrate the beginning of the next 5 months of exquisitely rich and tasty fish.
We shopped at Nishiki Market (錦商市場店街, nishiki ichiba shotengai) for the fixins. Nishiki Market is the place to go in Kyoto for all the best ingredients for traditional Japanese cuisine. An entire blog could be devoted just to the wonders of Nishiki Market.
The main event for the dinner was of course sabazushi (lightly pickled mackerel pressed on rice and thickly sliced). The sabazushi was actually prepared the day before, so I only have photos of it being sliced. Sabazushi, and many kinds of fish in Japan are said to taste best a day or so after being caught. Saba is the king of aozakana, but there were also a number of other dishes, some cooked some some raw.
I am just going to narrate the photos for each dish and it’s preparation. Here we go, enjoy! I haven’t noted the recipes, but if you can get the fixins, the fish, all you foodies out there can just wing it.
Aji (鯵, jack mackerel) Sashimi Salad
pulling the skin (sorry, bad photo)
The bones of the aji are pulled with a heavy-duty tweezers. (again, sorry, bad photo, the tweezers is blurry)
Battered Sanma Fried with Eggs and Spinach
Sanma (秋刀魚) is a much loved fish in Japan and the characters used for the name are wonderfully suited to this long, silvery fish in season from the autumn; 秋 autumn, 刀 sword, 魚 fish. Sanma are most often grilled whole, with head and guts intact, and eaten with spicy grated daikon radish and a squeeze of sudachi (酢橘), a native Japanese citrus fruit similar to a lime, but with a very unique Japanese flavor.
This rendition of sanma was a first for me.
Cut diagonal and at an angle. Sushi and sashimi is usually cut this way, make it even more beautiful and appealing to the eye.
First, a dusting of chestnut starch, then into the egg and spinach batter. (Any kind of starch will do)
Fry until golden brown
Garnish with some greens — this was really a treat!
Iwashi (Sardine) Sashimi
Iwashi (鰯) is a sardine. Iwashi is often pickled and one of my favorite renditions is fried whole with shoyu and grated ginger.
Cleaning the iwashi was the most time consuming and laborious part of the aozakana feast preparations.
The meat of the iwashi is very soft, especially the belly area. The chinese character for iwashi is; 魚 fish, 弱 weak.
Start with some myoga (茗荷), a ginger-like Japanese yakumi (薬味) flavoring. Myoga and shiso are often served with raw fish to cover any overly fishy odors or tastes. That is the original purpose of wasabi as well.
Start with gutting.
These are going to be eaten raw, the inside is washed very well. The weak belly meat is easily damaged and frayed.
Split them in half and pull the bones out. (The bones are saved for another dish)
Finally, pull the skins off.
Grated ginger is another yakumi.
There are four dainty fillets for each person’s serving. This is served on a bed of sliced myoga and shiso, the grated ginger on the left is generously added to shoyu, for dipping. Iwashi sashimi offers one the most ‘blue’ tastes of the aozakana clan.
Honesenbei, literally ‘bone’ ‘cracker’ (cracker as is Ritz cracker, rice cracker) is a popular treat that goes especially well with beer. Bones such as that of the iwashi, when deep-fried are easily chewed and are an excellent source of nutrition. Eel bones are probably the most popular honesenbei in Japan.
Here we just deep-fried them and served them with a bit of salt.
Sabazushi was discussed in depth in the ‘Hanaore‘ post. Again, I was not present the day before when the sabazushi was prepared. Being a slightly pickled dish, sabazushi is best enjoyed a few days after it is made, giving it a chance to ‘stew’.
Notice the kombu (kelp) on top of the mackerel.
Deepfried Satoimo Crab Ankake
Ankake is a wonderful dish. It is a soupy, dashi-based gravy boiled with lots of starch and then poured over something else. In this case, satoimo. Satoimo is a kind of Japanese potato (taro), that is very, very soft after cooking. Here, after being cooked and steeped in dashi soup stock it is deep-fried. This is very unusual in that the satoimo is rolled in poppy seeds before being deep-fried. Poppy seeds are unusual in Japanese cuisine. The ankake soup is heavily laden with crab meat, another winter favorite in Japan.
Satoimo after being simmered and cut.
Dip the satoimo in egg white, then roll in starch, then poppy seeds, prior to deep-frying.
Crab meat, getting ready with starch mixture on the right.
Ladle over the deep-fried satoimo. Quite an imaginative series of contrasts and layers in this dish!
Persimmon and nashi (asian pear)