Grilled Mackerel

Grilled Mackerel


Melissa Clark's excellent article on cooking bluefish that appeared recently in the N.Y. Times got me thinking about preparing oily fish, Japanese-style. Oily fish like mackerel, herring, anchovy, and, yes, bluefish don't suffer from overfishing (learn more here) -- but in America, at least, they often fall victim to undereating (is that a word?). That's a shame, because these fish are so rich, juicy, delicious and flavorful, and a snap to cook. In Japan, mackerel, herring and anchovy are enormously popular (although I haven't seen bluefish there); I've been to joint outside Tokyo that served anchovy over thirty ways, while mackerel has long historical significance in Kyoto (read about the Mackerel Road). So why aren't we eating more of these fish?

Here's an absolutely simple way to prepare mackerel, perfect for summer. In her piece, Melissa talks about using lemon to cut the fish's oiliness. But when cooking Japanese-style, pair the fish with grated daikon (daikon oroshi) and soy sauce to balance the oiliness. Daikon, in fact, has natural enzymes that help you digest rich foods. So here's the technique for the mackerel in the picture above, which you can try with other oily fish, too:

  1. Liberally salt a filet of mackerel (Boston mackerel is perfect) and let it sit at room temperature for 20 minutes. Salting concentrates flavor, expels water and makes the flesh denser for grilling.
  2. Grate a piece of daikon, using a coarse grater (Japanese stores sell inexpensive graters specially made for daikon, which is what I use, very convenient). Set aside.
  3. Preheat a heavy cast iron skillet with the cover on, I mean really preheat it - you want that sucker hot. I love cooking with cast iron pots, they're extremely versatile and distribute heat so much better than stainless steel. This is the skillet I use. It rocks.
  4. Wipe off any excess moisture on the fish. Cut an X into the skin of the fish so it doesn't shrink when it hits the heat.
  5. Add a little high-smoke-point oil to the skillet -- do this carefully, the skillet is now theoretically super hot -- and coat the entire surface.
  6. Add the fish, skin side down. Cover and sear for 2 minutes. Uncover, turn and sear on the other side for about 2 minutes, or until the fish is just cooked through - you don't want to over cook. Open a window or turn on the hood, in case it gets smoky.
  7. Serve with a clump of daikon oroshi on the side. Pour a few drops of soy sauce on the daikon oroshi. Eat together with the fish, enjoy!
  8. Posted by Harris Salat in Fish | Permalink | Comments (6) | Email | Print

    Comments (6)

    The rule of thumb that I learned from my gidi-imoto on how to grill fish was, fish from the ocean(umi): start grilling from the flesh(mi)side. fish from the land(kawa, mizu umi-lakes included) start grilling from the skin(kawa) side first.
    Yum, that's what I'm talking about.
    Matcho-san can you go into detail why that is?
    As you've proven time and again, the simple dishes are the best. Can't wait to try this in my cast iron Dutch oven. I'm hoping that the extra few inches of depth will minimize any spattering.
    I was never told why, but you don't argue with family traditions that work. When I was told, I was grilling shio saba on a shichirin, and things were not going right at that time with fire and smoke. Lots, and lots, of black smoke which saba is famous for. Was never told why, but I think it has to do with the fat content in the skin, depending on the fish. With salt water fish the skin seems to be oilier than of the fresh water types. So ocean types only need the skin to be lightly seared to become cooked, and sill be edible. The opposite might be true for freshwater varieties, but I haven't cooked that many to know.
    I concur with matchosan. An old japanese friend taught me to start with the flesh side and skin side second when grilling mackerel. It works

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