Saba (鯖 / Mackerel)

Category: Hikarimono (silver, shiny fish).

Season: Good all year-round, but with peak seasonality from fall to spring.

When you think of classic Edomae hikarimono, two fish come to mind immediately: kohada and saba. The most prized type of mackerel (pictured above) is ma-saba (true mackerel) caught off Japan’s coastline, although the cheaper Norwegian mackerel, with its vivid dark stripes is more prevalent.

Saba is available year round due to its migration patterns, but is considered to be in season between November and March. It is almost always served as shime-saba (marinated). Much like kohada, chefs will first salt it – using a lot of salt since it is such an oily fish – then will marinate the fish in vinegar. The time spent in vinegar can greatly differ based on many variables; it can be anywhere from 20 minutes to a week or more. This is where the chef’s skills come into play: how long to marinate the saba in order to draw out the best possible flavors. 

Once in a great while you will come across nama-saba (fresh, raw mackerel) as well, although it is quite rare because mackerel spoils so quickly due to its very high oil content. 

Saba features a firm flesh and rich, fatty meat with exceptional flavor that pairs perfectly with vinegared rice. It is typically served with some nikiri shoyu and sometimes a dab of grated ginger.

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