Fishing Toyama Part 2

Jack mackerel

With my Toyama catch, I actually cheated and had a local restaurant (which I will review here some day) prepare the grouper and stonefish for me as sashimi; I did bribe the gaffer with a bottle of good Toyama sake and some firefly squid. However, I was left with an ice chest full of fresh Toyama Bay jack mackerel to dispose of. After dropping some off with my neighbours and local restaurants, I was left with about 25 to deal with. This particular type of mackerel is adequate eaten raw as sashimi or sushi, but in my opinion, the best way (and that recommended by Captain Andoh) to eat them is sun-dried then grilled.

There are many different ways of making dried preserved fish, and my method is the product of trial and error and picking up tips from various skippers and veteran fishermen. The first thing I did was drain each fish of their blood and chill in iced seawater immediately on landing. The next was to take the precaution of bringing back some of Toyama Bay’s crystal-clear and pristine seawater in plastic bottles. This may seem rather eccentric but was actually recommended to me by the wife of a fisherman in Ibaragi.

Toyama seawater

Back at home, the fish are scaled, gutted and then opened up from the ventral side to form a flat open preparation. There is no other filleting or cutting required; the diner has to extract the flesh from the bones when eating the cooked fish. The fish is then cured for an hour or so in brine; using clean seawater, with just a little extra added salt, makes the finished fish richer since it contains phosphates and all manner of ions other than just salt. Once the cut side of the fish turns slightly opaque, it is cured. Then the fish is wiped dry with kitchen paper and wind-dried. I normally do this overnight, so the fish catch a little of the sunlight in the morning. Then the fish are ready; those that are not to be cooked right away can be wrapped in cling film and kept for several days in the fridge. They have a wonderful rich colour and the bones are softened by the curing process.

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On the Izu peninsula you can see fishermen and women drying mackerel and squid on huge wooden racks right by the sea and on the roadside, and hawking the finished fish to passers-by; fish has been preserved like this in Japan for centuries. Cooking the fish requires a certain knack of not burning the fins or head too much, and doing them so the fish is just cooked through but not dry. The mackerel from Toyama proved to be very tasty and rich in fish oil, far, far tastier than anything you can buy from shops. I ate several in rapid succession.

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One can become pretty sick of eating even delicious foods everyday, so seeking some variety I asked a drinking buddy to smoke some of the mackerel for me, something I can’t do at home. Since the fish had already been cured and dried, all that was left to do is the smoking process itself. As I am no expert, all I know of the process is that the wood chips used were Japanese cherry blossom, and they were done in eight hours. My friend also smoked some octopus legs, cod roe and hard cheese as well. Again, the smoked mackerel were far more delicious than anything store-bought, and I gave most of them away to my local bar as well as plenty for the smoker himself. The smoked mackerel make an excellent foil to beer or sake, and if I had more, I would have even made some kedgeree. There is always next year.

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2 responses to “Fishing Toyama Part 2

  1. Please explain how to cook them so that the head and fins don’t get burned off. What did you do with the firefly squid?

  2. Hi Amy
    You wet the fins with water before grilling, and fold a small piece of foil over the head for the initial cooking period.
    The firefly squid came cooked – stewed in soy sauce and sake with red chilli – so all I did was open the pack!
    Thanks for your posting,
    Adam

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