Last year, well-known New York chef Anthony Bourdain published “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly,” a scathing yet passionate book on the inner workings of a professional restaurant kitchen. In the tome he tells tales and anecdotes drawn from the personal lives and kitchen habits of New York’s chefs and cooks.

While the personal lives are certainly interesting, the kitchen conduct of some of the professionals he describes seems, at best, horrendous. Through these stories, he warns us not to order the fish on Monday and to never, ever, order the mussels unless we know the chef personally.

Bourdain’s alarmist intentions are well-received but must be taken with the proverbial pinch of salt. Of course, the public shouldn’t be served anything less than fresh, and many Western methods of food preparation currently in vogue do not lend themselves to a long shelf life. So maybe, yes, while in New York, do avoid the fish on Monday, but when you are in Osaka, come on in and let me show you a way to deal with the no-fish-deliveries-on-Monday problem.

When I first came to cook in Japan, I was surprised to learn a method of serving and preserving foods so that they may be enjoyed the first day or the fifth day after passing through the kitchen door. Unlike in the West, almost all of the fish we use in Japanese restaurant kitchens comes in fresh enough to be considered sashimi quality the first day. If I have more fish than I will use that day, or if I know I cannot get any tomorrow, I will prepare the dish appropriately so it may be enjoyed on following days as much as the fresh sashimi is on the first.

On the second day, fish is no longer used in any raw preparations. Traditionally, it is fried, grilled, or salted and preserved. Various preservation techniques have become so popular that today fish is brought in just for that purpose.

Saba no kizushi

Two of the most common methods are kobujime (pressing lightly salted and vinegared lean fish between konbu kelp to impart flavor) and kizushi (soaking heavily salted, fatty fish in sweetened vinegar for a sweet-tart taste).

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Saba no Kizushi

For the past two weeks I have written on saba (mackerel). In this last installment on the subject, I present saba no kizushi, vinegared mackerel. In contrast to the light salting of the fish in last week’s senba-jiru, this week I employ a very heavy salting technique called beta-jio. Beta means heavy, and jio (shio) is salt. The salted mackerel is immersed in vinegar to impart flavor and draw out the excess salt. For the best results, use rice vinegar, which is less acidic than other vinegars. For this dish, only the freshest saba should be used. Shio-saba (presalted mackerel) may not be substituted.

1 mackerel (450-500 grams, fresh cleaned and filleted)
500 ml rice vinegar
50 grams sugar
ginger, grated
water pepper (benitade)
radish, finely julienned
sudachi, halved
dark soy sauce (koikuchi shoyu)

1) Clean and fillet the mackerel. Don’t pull the pin bones or cut out the bones on the fatty belly, they will come out more easily after salting. If you have your fishmonger fillet it for you, have him take the bones out before you take it home and salt it.

2) In a shallow pan, put enough salt to coat the mackerel heavily. Lay the mackerel in the pan and cover with salt. Without shaking off the salt, set the fish aside on a cutting board or other clean surface, skin-side down, for two hours. Afterward, wipe a little of the excess salt from the thin belly section and the thinnest part of the tail.

3) In a large stainless steel or nonreactive bowl, dissolve the sugar in the vinegar. Set aside.

4) After the mackerel has sat for two hours, quickly rinse under cool running water and then pat dry with a clean kitchen towel. At this point, remove pin and belly bones with tweezers, if not already done.

5) Place the two mackerel fillets in the vinegar, skin-side down, and let soak for 25 minutes.

6) Remove the fillets from the sugared vinegar and let drain on an inclined board or pan. Do not pat dry.

7) Peel the paper-thin skin off the mackerel fillet, careful not to remove the shiny underskin.

8) Slice the mackerel into 1/2-cm slices and serve with grated ginger, benitade, sudachi and soy sauce. Add julienned radish for garnish.

Serves 2-4.

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