Whilst chumming for Japanese jack mackerel in Toyama, as bycatch I took five red sea bream: the so-called ‘King of the Sea’ here in Japan. However they were but babies, no more than 15cm or so in length, and release size. Sadly, three of them suffered from decompression of their swimbladders, resulting in certain internal organs being forced out of their body. Since these fish would without question die, I kept them to consume at home. Red sea bream is a delicious fish, regardless of the size, but since these were too small to eat as sashimi or grilled, I instead slow-boiled them whole and made a dish known in Japanese as nikogori. The bones are rendered from the fish to make a rich broth into which the flesh of the fish is added, along with a little sake and soy sauce, then the whole mixture poured in a shallow glass dish and refrigerated. As the mixture cools, the collagen from the fish bones and skin congeals to form a solid jelly, that is rich and luxurious in texture. Cheaper and more ordinary restaurants make a version with stingray or conger eel that is artificially hardened with animal gelatin: made from sea bream, this is a highly prized dish that commands a high price in restaurants. It is a most pleasant foil to cool sake or wine.
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.
For the third consecutive year I made the trip to Imizu, Toyama Prefecture, a small fishing town located on the southernmost shore of Toyama Bay. The Bay is a deep, wide feature on the Sea of Japan coast, formed by the Noto Peninsula to the west and the Tateyama mountain range to its east. The warm Tsushima Current flowing from the west brings with it a host of rich marine life such as Toyama’s famous firefly squid, and the bay is a winter feeding ground for migrating yellowtail. There is also a host of endemic species such as shiroebi, a type of small prawn that is a local delicacy. The unusual depth of the bay – falling to well over 100 fathoms almost immediately outside Toyama harbour – also makes it a host to a variety of mid- to deepwater fish that are common targets for both commercial fishermen and sport anglers. This year I went in pursuit of a certain variety of stonefish known locally as onikasago, which, despite its appearance and rather vicious poisonous spines, is quite delicious.
Back in Tokyo now after three days and two nights spent in rural Toyama, on the Sea of Japan coast. The catch this time round was not so good as last year, but as ever the breathtaking scenery, fresh seafood, locally brewed sake and the warmth and hospitality of the locals more than made up for lean pickings at sea. I will write about the trip in more detail soon.
After postponing my departure due to the untimely arrival of Typhoon Fitow, I am booked in for my now annual fishing trip to the beautiful Toyama Bay, on the Sea of Japan. I greatly look forward to not just the fishing, but also sampling the local specialties, including delicious ‘Tateyama’ sake and the autumn catch of so-called shiroebi, a type of prawn found only in the Bay. The photo is of a tilefish snagged during my trip last year.