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Apr 4, 2009 10:30 AM

Sashimi - identification help?

The itamae at my favorite sushi-ya went crazy on my chirashi bowl this week and tossed in a couple of new things. In addition to a whole soy-cooked baby octopus (yum!) he added a couple of slices of fish that were unlike anything I've had before.

There was intact silvery skin on one edge of each slice, but the meat was VERY yellow. And it was quite sweet, with a vinegar tang. There was an oily fish flavor, but the sweetness was about as prominent. Most interestingly, it was very firm - not quite crunchy, but close. Similar to the texture of frozen fish, even though it was not particularly cold.

Shige-san said that the fish was herring, and said that it had been marinated in sweet vinegar, but this was a lot more than ordinary marinated fish. He didn't elaborate further, and between the press of business and the language barrier I didn't get any more info.

That was three days ago and I'm still thinking about this stuff. Is it a traditional dish that anybody else is familiar with? I'd love to get more information (although I won't complain if I have to be satisfied with just finding more in my bowl again next week).


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  1. Mackerel, or Saba, you described it perfectly. The vinegar is both for flavor, to cut the oiliness some and also part of the preparation. Mackerel spoils quickly and it also has a tough outer layer on the skin. It is cured for a few hours in salt, that allows the tough membrane to be peeled away while leaving the pretty skin behind. It is then bathed in rice vinegar, to remove the salt, cut the oil and add another layer of preservation. Mmmm....chirashi!

    7 Replies
    1. re: chromacosmic

      Definitely not saba (or aji or sawara). This stuff is bright yellow and almost crunchy.

      More Googling leads me to think that maybe it's herring roe. A picture is attached which is pretty close, color-wise.

      But this stuff definitely had fish skin on it. I need to look more closely next time.

      1. re: alanbarnes

        The Japanese call salted herring roe, kazunoko. It has a very firm texture and "crunches and pops" as it is eaten. It's normally something eaten during New Year, and usually has a briney earthy flavor. Sushi bars in Japan do serve it in various forms as well, but I don't know about here in the States - I don't go very often any more. I believe this can be found in Korean cuisine as well. The roe is also harvested when the herring spawn and attach the roe to kelp - it is prepared and eaten that way as well. Normally, the intact roe is separated from the carcass and soaked in brine. To prepare for consumption, it's soaked in water and sake, and then is simmered in some form of dashi/shoyu/etc solution. But I'm sure any inventive chef who is familiar with this ingredient can do as he or she pleases.

        I'm also thinking that your itamae has sourced some fresh herring - I think it's called, nishin. Maybe what your itamae served you was fresh herring roe that he has prepared himself? The Pacific Herring is a "silver fish, and I could easily see it being served in a fresh manner with at least part of the carcass attached. Maybe you can ask him if it is some form of kazunoko or nishin. And you may catch him off guard - my guess is not many outside of those who celebrate Japanese New Year here in the US would be familiar with it.

        1. re: alanbarnes

          If it reminded you of kazunoko, but had fish skin, it may have been saba kazunoko, where a piece of kazunoko is topped with a slice of mackerel.

          1. re: Humbucker

            Ding ding ding! We have a winner! That is exactly what I was served. Thank you!!!

            (What's the emoticon for "I am not worthy"?)

            1. re: alanbarnes

              The only question in my mind is that saba is not herring. Maybe the itamae can clarify if it was indeed herring (nishin) or saba, or both. And the combination does sound very intriguing.

              1. re: bulavinaka

                He may have just been talking about the roe when he said it was herring. Although maybe the fish that was "laminated" onto the roe was herring, too. I'll ask for more info next time I'm in. Either way, it was very tasty stuff, and now I at least have a general clue as to what it was.

                Thanks again.

                1. re: alanbarnes

                  The saba would indeed be laminated on to the kazunoko, which has the pliability of vulcanized rubber. :)