Awesome Local Blue Fish & Yuan-yaki

Posted on Sep 28, 2017 in Hiroko's Blog

No to butter. No to olive oil or any other cooking oil. Blue fish enjoys a Japanese treatment. The fish shines in the traditional Yuan-yaki style of grilling producing a dish that is moist, juicy and flavorful. The ‘Yuan-yaki’ grilling method is timeless. See my Instagram Yuan-yaki grilling video. Here you see the photos in which fish was prepared in ‘Yuan-yaki’ grilling and takikomi gohan.

Blue fish from the Atlantic waters was a bit of a disappointing “oily” fish when I first encountered it in New York City more than a decade ago and remained so until my recent cooking discovery. I was expecting blue fish to display the similar rich, oily and heavenly delicious flavor that is typically found in other “oily” fish such as mackerel (saba), sardine (iwashi), Pacific pike (sannma) and herring (nishin). I have eaten blue fish many times since my first cooking try and it is always sautéed in cooking oil or butter in the skillet and has been a bit disappointing. Well, that’s how I cooked,  for me, ‘foreign’ blue fish in my kitchen until now.

Recently I bought a locally caught blue fish from our farmers’ market fish monger, Blue Moon (best in he area!!). And I wanted to say to everyone, “Blue fish season is here!” The whole fish I purchased weighed over two pounds. During the usual scaling, cleaning and filleting of the blue fish in my kitchen, the idea of cooking it using two distinctive Japanese preparation methods jumped into my mind. The first I already mentioned and I told the blue fish that you will be Yuan-yaki grilled. The second is salt encrusted shiogama baking. The blue fish seemed very pleased with these ideas. And I must admit that the scaling, cleaning and filleting process the whole fish is rather messy, but by doing this not so pleasant task, I can get the freshest and best fish fillets in the world.  But in your kitchen use previously prepared filets if you wish or don’t have the time and inclination to challenge a whole fish

The yuan-yaki grilling method is said to have been developed by the tea master Yuan Kitamura (16th -17th Century). In this method the fish is marinated in “Yuan-ji” marinade and traditionally grilled over a very hot bincho-tan charcoal fire. Slices of yuzu citrus fruit in the marinade are important because the yuzu cuts the fishy flavor, and at the same time add slight fragrance and flavor to the grilled fish. Fish cooked in this way tastes marvelous even at room temperature.

Here is how you can challenge Yuan-yaki grilling. For grilling I use the salamander in my kitchen. You may use the oven broiler.  Please see the Instagram video

  1. Prepare Yuan-ji marinade by mixing equal volumes of mirin, sake and usukuchi (light color) shoyu. Add sliced yuzu or other citrus fruit. Marinate the fish in the marinade for 15 to 20 minutes.
  2. Remove the fish fillets from the marinade and put them on a thin steel skewer. Cook the fish under the broiler heat for about 4 minutes until the skin becomes lightly crisp.
  3. Remove the fish from the broiler and paint the skin with the remaining yuan-ji marinade. Place the fish back under the broiler heat for 30 seconds or until the skin becomes dry. Be careful not to burn the skin. Repeat this basting process additional two times.
  4. Turn the fish over and paint the other side of the fish with the marinade. Put the fish back under the broiler heat for 30 seconds. Repeat the process additional two times. At the end of cooking the fish will be fully flavored, plump, and cooked through with crisp skin.

By the way, some sushi chefs in New York City have begun serving fresh local blue fish sushi and sashimi. Cheers to the blue fish!

Stand by for salt crusted Shiogama blue fish techniques. Coming soon. Hirokoshimbo