Have you noticed that when you order grilled fish at a Japanese restaurant that the fish is always served with some accompanying condiment: grated daikon and lemon (for oily fish such as mackerel and sardine), pickled turnip, pickled hajikami ginger (ginger with a red stem), pickled cucumber, pickled myoga ginger, sweet simmered broad bean, sweet simmered kumquat to name a few. These garnishes are called ‘ashirai’. All of them serve to refresh your palate while consuming the fish.
The Japanese way of grilling fish does not employ any spices, dairy products or cooking oil. This allows us to produce a dish in which we can taste the very true, natural flavor of the fish. For example, salt grilled mackerel tastes like mackerel – rich, oily and super flavorful. The ashirai for grilled mackerel is grated daikon (and sometimes with lemon). It cleans our palate, making the grilled mackerel dining experience the very best.
Here is a recipe for a classic delicious ashirai that can accompany so many fish simply grilled in the Japanese way
Pickled turnip ashirai:
¼ cup + ½ cup water
¼ cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
In a small saucepan add ¼ cup of the water, rice vinegar and sugar. Bring the mixture to a simmer and dissolve the sugar. Turn off the mixture and let it cool.
Cut off the top and the bottom of the turnip. Make closely spaced incisions (depth: 2/3 of the way down the turnip) from right to left on top of the turnip. Rotate the turnip 90 degree and again make closely spaced incisions in the turnip. You are making fine checkerboard-like pattern on the top of the turnip. Cut the turnip into 4 pieces from top to bottom. Add the remaining ½ cup of the water to a bowl and add the salt stirring with a spoon until the salt is dissolved. Add the turnips in the salt water for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the turnip become tender. Remove the turnips from the water and discard it. Squeeze the turnips gently to remove excess water and place them in the vinegar marinade. Pickle the turnips overnight.