Mackerel Time

Posted on Oct 24, 2014 in Hiroko's Blog, Recipes

mackerel (2)Saba, mackerel, tastes best during cold months of October and November both in Japan and here in NY. I just had the very oily, flavorful one from NY water. When I lived in Japan during the mackerel season I did not miss cooking it at least once every week. My favorite way to cook it is in shioyaki preparation, salt-grilling. In this way I can taste the true, natural and best flavor of the fish – yes it is oily, robust and strong. That is the point of enjoying the mackerel in shioyaki. Whenever mackerel was cooked, strong smell of grilling fish permeated throughout our neighborhood. Every one in the neighborhood was cooking it as well. It was an ubiquitous autumn smell/scenery in Japan. The time seemed to have changed. My mother recently told me that when she cooks mackerel or sardine, some neighbors in the same apartment building mildly complain its odor. My mother is 87 years old. She put the matter into this way: I won’t be too long in this world. I cook mackerel or sardine when I want to eat.

The other ways I enjoyed and am enjoying cooking the mackerel is in tatsuta-age (please find the recipe below) and in shime-saba preparations. Tatsuta-age is a dish, in which cut up fish is marinated in the mixture of shoyu, sake and grated ginger, coated with potato starch and deep-fried. Tatsuta-age is a popular dish at home, izakaya, Japanese casual bar restaurants, and as a lunch box item. The prepared dish tastes delicious both hot and cold. Sake and ginger juice removes strong flavor and specific oiliness of the fish. The resulting fish is crispy outside and moist & juicy inside. Shime-saba is the dish, in which super fresh – very important – mackerel is cured in salt and vinegar. The cured fish is always used for sashimi and sushi fish. I loved grilling the shime-saba.

The importance of freshness of the fish: Mackerel is a migratory fish. Mackerel spoils very quick. Mackerel belongs to scombroid fish group, which has high free levels of amino acid histidine in the body, which produces histamin poisoning under temperature and time abuse. No matter you cook the fish or cure it and eat it raw in sashimi and sushi, you have to start with very fresh mackerel to avoid danger. In addition to the histamin poisoning, when you make shime-saba, please check the fish after filleting and remove any parasite if you find it.

I enjoyed the blog by Allen Afield about mackerel in Maine, and want to share it with you.


Saba no Tatsuta-age, fried ginger-flavored mackerel from The Japanese Kitchen. You can also find an additional popular mackerel dish, simmered mackerel in miso in The Japanese Kitchen.

3 tablespoons shoyu

2 tablespoon s sake

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

2 tablespoons minced shiso or parsley

1 tablespoon grated ginger

1 pound mackerel fillets, cut into 2-inch square pieces, skin attached

1/3 cup potato starch or corn starch

Vegetable oil for frying


In a bowl, combine the shoyu, sake, sugar, shiso and ginger. Marinate the fish for 20 minutes.

Drain the fish, discarding the marinade. Wipe the fish with a paper towel, and lightly coat each piece with potato starch. Let the fish stand for 2 minutes. Deep fry the fish in heated oil (340 F degree). Drain them on a rack. Serve the fish with lemon wedges.