Japanese cuisine emphasizes the use of seasonal ingredients. We call ingredients in season “Shun” . In Japan seasonal ingredients are not limited to just vegetables, which may be the case here in America. We love to enjoy seasonal seafood harvested in different parts of Japanese water. I, however, admit that the consumer’s awareness of seasonal seafood has been changing. Today most of the fish we eat are aqua-cultured. Over fishing without strict management policy in Japanese water wiped out much wild fish stock in Japanese water. Aqua-cultured fish is available all the year round, so the consumer’s appreciation of seasonal seafood has been weakening.
I was the most happiest person at the Union Square (NY) farmers market several weeks ago. Blue Moon fishmonger, which resumed its operation after about four month of winter break ,was selling herrings. In Japan we say that ‘herrings announce the arrival of spring. After this pleasurable and delicious bite of bit spring NY weather has remained in winter mood until today. Today at Blue Moon tile fish is back. So, the fun of eating local, wild and seasonal fish continues. Big thanks to Alex and Stephanie.
Herring reminds me of Kyoto. Kyoto is famous for nishin-soba (buckwheat noodle soup bowl topped with gently simmered, flavorful herring, in hot broth). In the past tons of herrings, nishin in Japanese, were caught in the water of Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. The harvested fish was dried and transported to the capital of Kyoto, which is located far from the water. Nishin has become an important part of Kyoto diet.
Over-fishing of herring in Hokkaido caused the plunge of its population by 1950s. The number became too small to harvest. Since herrings have established an important culinary status in Japan in 1982 herring nursery production program was initiated in Hokkaido. http://hatcheryinternational.com/restocking/japan%E2%80%99s-herring-hatcheries/
Herrings from Blue Moon this time were in the freshest status. I headed, cleaned and cooked them in the traditional Nimono-style, in which fish was cooked in sake (rice wine) added water along with slices of ginger, then, flavored with some good quality shoyu and little brown sugar. Traditionally we add good amount of sugar, but I am not doing that kind of preparation any more. I happened to have fresh thyme in my refrigerator, so I throw some of the sprigs into the fish simmering pot. I also added apple cider vinegar to cut off the richness of the fish. The gently simmered fish were meaty, flavorful and sweet.
Cooking fish in Nomono-style, ‘ni-zakana’, is one of the most popular fish cooking techniques. Here is the recipe with salmon. You can find the recipe in The Japanese Kitchen, page 385. Please check it out for additional information.
2 slices peeled ginger
Four 1-inch thick salmon steaks
1 cup sake
3 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons shoyu
Into a large, shallow pot place ginger slices and fish without overlapping. In a small pot bring the sake and mirin to a boil. Add the sake mixture to the pot. Add enough boiling water to barely cover the fish. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Reduce to low, add the sugar, and cook, covered with a drop lid for 5 minutes. Add the shoyu and cook, covered with the drop lid for 10 minutes. If you are using rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar add it toward the end of cooking to adjust the flavor to your likeness.