Sake, sometimes called shake, perhaps to differentiate it from the alcoholic beverage, is the chum salmon or dog salmon. It is also called shirozake ‘white sake’, because of its delicately hued pale pink meat. Yes, I know that sounds odd. Will delve to try and understand why. Stay tuned.
Hokkaido is famed for its salmon, (pronounced sa'ke, by the way) and the Northern isle is for sure the best place to seek out the finest examples. There the fish is called akiaji. Visitors from the rest of Japan, quite understandably, assume this is a combination of the word 'autumn' (aki) and 'taste' (aji). However, it actually originates from the name given to it by the island's indigenous population, the Ainu: akiachip.
Incidentally, the Ainu have long understood the need for sustainability and protection of the ecosystem. They are also highly spiritual. Ancient Ainu lore would say that if you caught three salmon, you needed to eat one, offer one to the Gods, and return one to the river for the bears and the other creatures to eat.
This large, handsome fish reaches a length of up to 1m, has a silvery dark blue back, and silvery white belly. The Northern salmon is taken from July to year end.
Salmon is served a number of ways, salted as shiozake and grilled, used in nabemono especially in Hokkaido's famed ishikarinabe, or steamed with sake - the rice wine one - as sakamushi. It is also excellent as sashimi and sushi. Ikura salmon roe is a foodie delight, as sushi, or atop a bowl of rice as ikuradon, or just by itself as an accompaniment to a good glass of Nihonshu. If you happen to be in Hokkaido try the superb Ainu dish ruibe. It is frozen salmon sashimi, and is magnificent with wasabi or shoga ginger infused shoyu soy sauce.
Flying Fish 'Tobiuo'
The tobiuo flying fish is a warm-sea fish found in Southern and Western Japan, most notably Mie Prefecture, famed for its prodigious leaps and constant year-round flavour. Also called tsubame-uo the swallow fish or tombo-uo dragonfly fish, its light, low-fat meat is good as sashimi, teriyaki and shioyaki. It is generally inexpensive and flavorful.
There are four species, tobiuo, shikushi tobiuo, marutobiuo the 'rounded' flying fish, and the large, thus pricey hamatobiuo. It is an ingredient in kamaboko, and makes a fabulous smoky broth known as agodashi. The dried fish is purposefully charred, and termed yakiago, before being used to make dashi.