gintara saikyo yaki

It surprises me that outside Japan, the Japanese food we can get is very unrepresentative of what is eaten in Japan.  It is especially surprising when you see how delicious the real thing is, even to the western palate.  Hopefully, it does not come as a surprise that Japanese people don’t go out in the evening to eat teriyaki chicken (if they ever eat it at all!) or roll sushi. 

There are many great grilled fish (yaki sakana or yakizakana) dishes in Japan.  One of my favourites is “gin tara saikyo yaki”.  Tara means cod, gin means silver (what North Americans call black cod, the Japanese call silver cod), saikyo is a type of very light coloured miso paste that the fish is marinated in and of course, yaki means to grill.

gintara saikyo yaki

gintara saikyo yaki

 

The dish is a little unusual because the fish is packed into the sweet tasting saikyo miso (usually in a plastic box) and left in the fridge for 2-4 days.  That is unusual because Japanese fish dishes are usually very fresh.  When the time comes to cook the very traditional method is to cook it over sumi (charcoal).  Since that is a pain, the next best thing is a kind of gas grill.  This is a very common cheap home dish or a cheap lunch at a yaki sakana restaurant.  Near my old office in Tokyo I could have a large serve of this dish, with rice, soup, tsukemono (pickle) and a small salad for about $10 Australian or $7 US.  The quality was incredible.

The fish itself has a good spread of fat throughout.  When you push it with your chopsticks, the segments should separate from each other but tend to stay in one piece (making it about the easiest fish to eat with chopsticks!).  Just under the skin is a very juicy, fatty layer.  The flavour is surprisingly sweet, smoky and like nearly all Japanese fish dishes, very salty. 

In Australia, the fish is called Patagonian toothfish and Australians generally haven’t eaten it. 

Some Aussies have eaten this dish in Melbourne at a certain high profile Japanese restaurant.  The place in question has branches is the US, UK and Australia and is part owned by a famous actor. It sells “dumbed down” Japanese food, primarily for customers without a lot of experience in Japanese food.  Some of the reviewers really talk up this dish as a really special one and some of his customers come away thinking that he invented it!  In reality, it is basic, cheap family food eaten in every suburb, every day.  I was not surprised when this group’s restaurant in Japan closed down.  There are so many better places to eat and it is sad that outside Japan people think this restaurant’s weak, adulterated, bland dishes are representative of real Japanese cuisine.

I sometimes make this dish at home.  We can buy the fish but we usually have to buy the saikyo miso from Japan and bring it into Australia ourselves.  Now, if we lived in Singapore, we could buy this miso at the supermarket underneath Takashimaya!

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