#SaturdaySessions: Sake-steamed sea bream
Recipes for the weekend
If you asked the people the eastern part of Japan what their most beloved fish is the answer might be tuna — but those from Kansai would undoubtedly say tai (sea bream). The bright red bream is valued as a festive fish in Japan, and is a vital component of celebratory meals.
Sea bream is sourced from many of Japan's shores, but those from the Naruto straits connecting the islands of Honshu and Shikoku fetch the highest prices. The sea bream here is grown in the tides of the fast current of this area, giving it thick and tight flesh, with the pomp and dignity appropriate for the 'king of fish.'
There are several restaurants serving sea bream in Tokushima Prefecture. Hamagiku is one of those, and it is particularly renowned for its sakamushi, or sakesteamed dish. Here, the kabuto or head of the bream is steamed with sake and konbu seaweed. Head chef Toshihiro Hamada proudly claims that the Naruto sea bream is the best in Japan. "The sea bream itself is the best of all Japan, and so we don't add too much flavor to the fish. We slice it from the gills, and remove the kabuto, steaming this generously. The deliciousness of the sea bream can be enjoyed as sashimi, but it is the gelatinous area around the bones which is the true delight of the bream. Even if it might seem rather bad manners, the best way to enjoy it is to slurp on the fish, bones and all." The sakamushi when delivered is a beautiful sight. As if demonstrating the freshness, the pectoral fin is taut. The sea bream is a fierce fish, which eats mostly squilla, shrimps and sometimes shellfish which live in the sand. "First, eat the check flesh of the bream. This is the muscle it moves when hunting for prey, and it has a springy texture. Next, flip it over and take the part to which the gill is attached, and try slurping on it bones and all. You can enjoy the rich umami flavours that cling around the bone. And finally, the gelatin part of the fish's eye. People that really love bream will often fight over this eye."
In the Kansai region, it is said that the restaurant is judged on what bream it has. Because this is a wild fish, it is not easy to catch. Owners go to the market first thing each morning to try to obtain good bream before it is taken by another restaurant. "People who say that they don't like fish have not tried really delicious fish. It is said that Japanese cuisine is based on subtraction, and this means respecting the flavours of the ingredients themselves, and not adding any superfluous, unnecessary flavours. I think that this shows the highest respect towards the ingredients."
Here's what you need
500-800g fresh sea bream, chopped into bite-sized pieces
15cm long kobu
300 ml sake
1-2 tsp light soy sauce
1tsp zest of yuzu (Japanese citrus), to serve
How to make it
1. Place the kobu in a large heat-resistant dish and lie the sea bream on top.
2. Pour the sake over the sea bream. Place the dish in a steamer, cover and cook for 10-15 minutes.
3. Remove the lid and mix the soy sauce into the soup.
4. Serve topped with a sprinkling of yuzu zest.
- Image: Lonely Planet
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