Japanese School in Japan,Fukuoka - NILS

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NILS Blog – “Sanma”

I would like to write about Sanma (Pacific saury) today. Most Sanma is fished in open seas off the coasts of Aomori and Chiba prefectures. Sanma caught in October is fatty and full of nutrients which help alleviate symptoms of lifestyle illnesses like high blood pressure, etc. Sanma in Chinese characters is written as ”秋刀魚”which translates to “autumn sword fish” because of its sword like apperance. Frozen Sanma is as good as fresh, and I recommend you eat frozen Sanma as soon as it’s defrosted.

How do you pick fresh Sanma? First of all, look at the skin. Does it look firm and shiny? Then, examine the color of the spine area. It is blue and silver? Is the mouth yellow? Finally, choose Sanma with firm, and not soft, flesh.

Let me tell you an interesting episode. There is a famous Rakugo (Japanese comic storytelling) involving Sanma. One day, a lord in Edo (Tokyo) went on a hawk hunting trip in Meguro. His servant forgot to take lunch and started looking for something for the lord to eat and saw a freshly grilled Sanma. Now, Sanma was not considered a high-end fish at that time, but the lord ate it anyway since it really smelled good. He loved the taste.

Upon returning to his castle, the lord wanted to eat Sanma again. Since there was no Sanma in the kitchen of his castle, the lord’s servant had to go shopping for one. In those days, Sanma was not considered worthy enough for people of high social standing to consume. So, the servant cooked the fish in ways he thought would be appropriate for his lord to eat. He removed all the fat and the bones causing the fish to disintegrate. The fish, served in a bowl, no longer looked very appetizing at all.

The lord ate this Sanma but did not really enjoy the taste. He asked his servant where he bought this Sanma to which the servant replied “Near Nihonbashi.” Nihonbashi was considered a premier location to purchase fresh fish. The lord said, “There is nothing better than Sanma from Meguro.” Well, Meguro is in the mountains and has no ocean nearby. The lord loved the fish from Meguro not because fish from Meguro is better but because of the way it was prepared. Sanma from Nihonbashi tasted bad because all delicious fatty part was removed.

Here is a recipe for grilled Sanma.

1. Remove all the scales.
2. Rise the fish in water containing some potato starch and salt.
3. Pat dry the fish using paper towel.
4. Sprinkle salt on the fish and wait for 10 minutes.
5. Preheat the oven.
6. Grill the fish for 3 to 5 minutes on high heat.


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