In empty lots close to the piers of small fishing towns, up and down the coast of Japan, stand huge drying racks, hung heavy with the gutted, cleaned and butterflied morning catch. Empty, these racks look like a fantastical gymnastic apparatus. Fully laden, they resemble rows of clotheslines strung with mittens, hats and socks, which on closer inspection are revealed to be fish, squid and marine vegetation.

Quickly passed over a flame in the kitchen or, better yet, briefly seared over hot coals right beside the racks, these dried fish may be grilled to bring out intense flavor — the perfect complement to a warm jigger of nihonshu.

In the days before modern refrigeration, one common way to preserve foods was to eliminate water content by drying. This process drives out the essential moisture that many food-spoiling pathogens need to survive. Salting meats before drying speeds up the process, additionally inhibits bacteria growth and adds flavor to the final product.