Sardine ‘Meatballs’: Iwashi Tsumire Iri Miso Udon

Sardine ‘Meatballs’: Iwashi Tsumire Iri Miso Udon いわしのつみれ入り 味噌うどん

Sardine 'Meatballs': Iwashi Tsumire Iri Miso Udon いわしのつみれ入り 味噌うどん
Ground sardines make a rich and wonderfully nourishing focal point to miso soup with udon noodles. Hand chopped or pureed in a food processor with ginger and scallions then gently simmered in broth mellows the heavy sardine taste.

Iwashi-no-tsumire, or sardine ‘meatballs’ is a fairly popular food in Japan, but is probably not widely known abroad. Sardines are an aozakana, which means they are in season in the autumn and winter and full of nutrients and energy, and of course rich in flavor. Iwashi-no-tsumire goes very well with rich miso based soup in the cold months.

We added some mibuna greens to ours, which is a traditional Kyoto vegetable, or Kyo-yasai.

Iwashi Tsumire Iri Miso Udon with Vegetables
Sardine 'Meatballs': Iwashi Tsumire Iri Miso Udon いわしのつみれ入り 味噌うどん

Iwashi Ryori: Fishballs in Miso Soup
Hopefully this iwashi ryori dish is also one that you can adapt and make with what you have available where you live. You need sardines or another aozakana, mackerel will taste fine too. Fresh is best, but frozen fish ought to be fine. You need udon noodles, fresh are preferred, but dried is ok. Also, you need miso for the soup, we prefer sweet (light in color) to salty (dark) and some seasonal vegetables. I think that most any root vegetables would be a great addition.

Miwa’s (AKA Paku) iwashi-no-tsumire is particularly ‘home cooking’ tasty. Fishballs can easily be made in a food processor but she makes hers long hand. She cleans the sardines and chops the fillets with a large knife. The taste and especially the texture of hand chopped is different. Hand chopping makes meatballs chunkier and softer.

If using a food processor, simply gut and gill the sardines and chop them up, head, bones, tail and all. The click of a button will save you at least 30 minutes. If you use a food processor it is my theory that the fishballs are actually more nutritious as the skin, bones and head contain a lot of calcium and nutrients absent in the flesh only. If you are using larger fish, you probably don’t want to have the bones or head included, judge according to size. The less ground the fish is, the more it will be like hand chopped.

See our KyotoFoodie article on how to clean sardines here if you want to do it the old fashioned way.

Japanese Meatballs and Fishballs: The Difference Between Dango and Tsumire
Dango Properly, dango is a sweet and made of mochi. Niku-dango 肉団子, or meat dango is made of chicken or meat.
Tsumire Dango made of ground or chopped fish are called tsumire and usually goes in soup.

Iwashi Tsumire Iri Miso Udon – Ingredients
Sardine 'Meatballs': Iwashi Tsumire Iri Miso Udon いわしのつみれ入り 味噌うどん
Sardines, vegetables and udon comprise the main ingredients.

Ingredients

  • 6-12 whole sardines (depending on size)
  • scallion (at least one bunch, for my taste, the more the better)
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • fresh ginger grated
  • miso paste (light/sweet is recommended)
  • dashi soup stock (powdered or liquid concentrate is fine, made from scratch is better)
  • 1/2 cup cooking sake (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon mirin (optional)
  • miso paste (light/sweet is recommended)
  • udon noodles (fresh are preferred but dried are fine)
  • carrot julienned (consider other root vegetables)
  • fresh ginger julienned
  • fresh greens such as mibuna, mizuna, kikuna, (spinach as a substitute)

*As with all our recipes here on KyotoFoodie, we just give you the ingredients, photos of the preparation process and send you in the general direction. Fine tune to your taste. The only thing to be careful of with this recipe is that the fishballs do not get too hard and rubbery from excess flour. You can also use a little starch but they will get rubbery in a big hurry. Adding egg yolk will help hold the fishballs together and add flavor. An egg yolk on top of the soup just before serving is also great.

Preparation

Chopping the Sardines
Cleaning the sardines is step one. Again, see this step-by-step article on how to clean sardines. If you are chopping by hand, Miwa says that you want to be sure to pull off the skin as it makes it much harder to chop.

Chopping in the Flour
Chop the sardine fillets into small chunks then “chop-chop-chop” for about a minute. Then add chopped scallions and about 1/3 of the flour. Continue “chop-chop-chop”ing and fold over the mixture with the knife. Repeat this process several times adding the remaining flour.

Chopping in the Ginger and Miso
After you have “chop-chop-chop”ed for a few minutes add about 1 tablespoon of grated fresh ginger and about 1 tablespoon of miso paste and just keep on “chop-chop-chop”ing, folding over the mixture as you go.

Notice in the photos below that the mixture is pretty course. Miwa says (and I agree) the secret is to have the tsumire course and chunky but finely chopped enough to hold together for simmering in the soup. If you are not completely confident your first try, just add a little more flour, or God forbid some starch. Total “chop-chop-chop” time is about 5 minutes.

Cooking

Soup
Make the dashi. In a sauce pan bring about 1/2 liter of water to boil and reduce heat to gentle boil. If you have tap water that has a chemical taste to it, consider using bottled water. If you can make dashi from scratch, that is best. The powdered dashi or dashi concentrate is fine too. (We’ve got a great dashi recipe article coming.) Add sake and mirin if desired.

Once you have the dashi ready and gently boiling add the tsumire, forming into balls with a spoon. Cover and simmer gently for a few minutes. Next add the ginger and carrots. Cover and continue to simmer. Add the greens last. Cut the greens into 5cm sections and add to simmering broth, add the root ends first as they will require more cooking time.

Add the miso and dissolve in a ladle as shown in the photos below. Miso should be simmered and not boiled.

Udon
Depending on the type of udon you have, fresh or dried, cooking time will vary. See instructions on the package. Cook until al dente.

Don’t let the greens get over cooked. Ideally, you want the soup and udon ready to serve at the same time.

Point
Miwa says that the tsumire and dashi will taste better the longer it is stewed. This is one dish that will taste better the next day. However, the fishballs can easily disintegrate into the soup with the passing of several hours if you have too little flour. You can cook this dish well in advance and blanch the greens and boil the udon just before serving.

Serving

Udon should be rinsed with cold water after boiling to firm it up. If you want it piping hot at serving, return it to the boiled water for a moment, the soup should be hot enough to reheat the udon though.

Place the udon in a large bowl and ladle on the tsumire and miso soup, placing the veggies on top.

Enjoy!

Kyoto Greens – Kyo-yasai Mibuna
Sardine 'Meatballs': Iwashi Tsumire Iri Miso Udon いわしのつみれ入り 味噌うどん
Kyo-yasai 京野菜 (Kyoto Vegetables) are the traditional vegetables of Kyoto of which Kyoto is very famous for. Mibuna is one of several Kyo-yasai greens and is part of the mustard family.

Kyo-yasai Mibuna – detail
Sardine 'Meatballs': Iwashi Tsumire Iri Miso Udon いわしのつみれ入り 味噌うどん
Mibuna leaves are soft and the taste is quite mild, maybe somewhere between spinach and Chinese white cabbage, with just a hint of mustard green.

Iwashi Tsumire – Chopping Sardines
Sardine 'Meatballs': Iwashi Tsumire Iri Miso Udon いわしのつみれ入り 味噌うどん

Iwashi Tsumire – Chopping Flour and Scallions into the Sardines
Sardine 'Meatballs': Iwashi Tsumire Iri Miso Udon いわしのつみれ入り 味噌うどん

Iwashi Tsumire – Chopping Flour and Scallions into the Sardines
Sardine 'Meatballs': Iwashi Tsumire Iri Miso Udon いわしのつみれ入り 味噌うどん

Iwashi Tsumire – Chopping Ginger and Miso into the Sardines
Sardine 'Meatballs': Iwashi Tsumire Iri Miso Udon いわしのつみれ入り 味噌うどん

Iwashi Tsumire – Chop and Fold, Chop and Fold
Sardine 'Meatballs': Iwashi Tsumire Iri Miso Udon いわしのつみれ入り 味噌うどん

Iwashi Tsumire – Forming Fishballs with Spoon
Sardine 'Meatballs': Iwashi Tsumire Iri Miso Udon いわしのつみれ入り 味噌うどん
Notice that the mixture is still pretty course.

Iwashi Tsumire Iri Dashi – Simmering the Fishballs in Dashi
Sardine 'Meatballs': Iwashi Tsumire Iri Miso Udon いわしのつみれ入り 味噌うどん

Iwashi Tsumire Iri Dashi – Simmering the Fishballs in Dashi
Sardine 'Meatballs': Iwashi Tsumire Iri Miso Udon いわしのつみれ入り 味噌うどん

Iwashi Tsumire Iri Dashi – Add the Vegetables
Sardine 'Meatballs': Iwashi Tsumire Iri Miso Udon いわしのつみれ入り 味噌うどん
Add the greens very last, root ends first.

Iwashi Tsumire Iri Miso Udon – Dissolving the Miso
Sardine 'Meatballs': Iwashi Tsumire Iri Miso Udon いわしのつみれ入り 味噌うどん

Iwashi Tsumire Iri Miso Udon – Dissolving the Miso
Sardine 'Meatballs': Iwashi Tsumire Iri Miso Udon いわしのつみれ入り 味噌うどん

Iwashi Tsumire Iri Miso Udon – Dissolving the Miso
Sardine 'Meatballs': Iwashi Tsumire Iri Miso Udon いわしのつみれ入り 味噌うどん
Repeat this process until all miso is dissolved in the ladle.

Iwashi Tsumire Iri Miso Udon – Served
Sardine 'Meatballs': Iwashi Tsumire Iri Miso Udon いわしのつみれ入り 味噌うどん

Iwashi Tsumire Iri Miso Udon – Served
Sardine 'Meatballs': Iwashi Tsumire Iri Miso Udon いわしのつみれ入り 味噌うどん

Reference and Links
More on mibuna at the ‘Vegetables of Interest’ blog.

11 Responses to “Sardine ‘Meatballs’: Iwashi Tsumire Iri Miso Udon”

  1. diva says:

    oh that looks fantastic and so comforting. and with soup as well! what a lovely dish.

  2. PlainJane says:

    Thank you for the wonderful recipe!! I love Japanese cooking.

  3. Peko-P says:

    hi diva and PlainJane,

    Thanks for stopping by KF. If you try this recipe, I am very interested to see what you create!

    P

  4. Wow that looks great. I’ve never had mibuna before, but yours looks like it was just picked from the field. I have to ask, how do you like your ceramic knife? I’ve always been curious but thought they looked kind of gimicky. Do they really never need sharpening? Are they brittle? If they really are as good as they’re supposed to be, I might have to pick one up when I’m in Tokyo next month.

  5. Chris says:

    Foodies:

    Okay, I’m off to do this tomorrow. Iwashi — yum!

    Marc:

    Please, if you don’t already own one, DON’T buy a ceramic knife. Yes, they never need sharpening, because you can’t sharpen them: if you try, you will either chip the knife or cut your stone — not kidding. They do not, however, remain perfectly sharp forever: they hold an edge a long time, certainly, but they do dull.

    They are indeed extremely brittle. If you have any tendency to “flick” a knife after cutting, i.e. if you cut something and then push or flick the pieces to the side before the next cut, a ceramic may micro-chip slightly when you do this.

    They are also rather dead-feeling, meaning that if you are used to a steel knife and a wooden board, you will find that you get very little feedback from the blade.

    They do come very sharp out of the box, I will say that.

    Here’s the #1 question. Have you ever dropped a knife (not just to the counter, but into the sink, on the floor, etc.)? Like, EVER? Not on purpose, sure, but have you? Because you don’t want a ceramic if you cannot be 100% certain you won’t drop it: if you drop it, it’s going to break, and that’s that. And, of course, you have a bunch of super-sharp fragments to clean up.

  6. Chris says:

    Yum! Thanks for the recipe — lovely.

    Couple of minor suggestions, though, for anyone following up:

    1. For the chop-chopping, by hand is definitely superior. But you don’t have to skin or bone the sardines. Get the heaviest knife you have, put a passable edge on it, hold it well back on the handle, and with a motion that is all wrist, bounce the knife on the sardines, hitting mostly with the heel end rather than the tip, and letting the weight do the work. A Chinese cleaver or Japanese deba bocho is perfect. But DON’T do this with one of those awful glass cutting boards or you’ll have no edge in seconds.

    2. If you want that low-flour light texture but want to simmer them a long time, I suggest whipping an egg white or two medium-stiff and stirring them in. You don’t need to fold much, just stirring will be fine. This is how you make matzoh balls that aren’t like lead.

    3. To form them, again, learn from Jewish grandmothers. Keep a little bowl of cold water next to you, dip your hands in it, and form the balls freehand. Dip quickly after each ball. It’s quicker and easier than with a spoon, and you can make them as smooth or rough shaped as you like.

    4. I thought it needed a bit more liquid and quite a bit more miso, but I have an unrefined sort of palate. I used Saikyo white miso, and thought it was the right flavor but needed a lot more of it to stand up to the sardines. I did go whole hog on the Kyo-yasai thing, with red carrots and kyu-jo negi and stuff, all of which was just fine but sort of pointless, I suppose.

    5. I also thought this would be really best made in a nabe pot and served tableside, though you’d have to keep the heat low to avoid overcooking the miso. When you’ve finished eating all the bits, you can throw in the par-cooked udon.

  7. Fuji Mama says:

    This sounds absolutely heavenly!

  8. Dave Lewis says:

    Thanks so much for posting this… I took a trip to japan three years ago and have really missed eating the lesser-known japanese things…

  9. Jonny H says:

    Yum, I’m on this.
    Check out sardinesociety.com

  10. Mary Ho says:

    great comfort food!!I can taste this dish in my mouth already….I cant find fresh sardines in Shanghai, do you think canned sardines can be an alternative? Never had japanese-style fish-balls before. thank you again for the great efforts in the step-by-step instructions and photos and also to you chris, for the most detailed tips/suggestions.

  11. Stefani Sarah says:

    Thank you for posting this recipe. I have tried this but my soup turned out to taste like my usual miso siru but with more vegetables. Is it so or have I done something wrong?

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