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Wrasse, Groupers, Kue, Hatahata, Wakasegi

LESSER KNOWN SEAFISH

Kanto dwellers shun the colorful bera wrasse or rainbowfish, but this fish is a Kansai and western Honshu favorite, especially the kyusen or sasanoha-bera, good for shioyaki and nitsuke. It is best from early summer to autumn. In Hiroshima they call wrasse aogizami, in Hyogo aobera or akabera, and in Toyama Prefecture etori. The good people of Nimi in Toyama, a fishing port I occasionally visit, have given the wrasse the lovely nickname bengoshi: 'the Lawyer'!

Wakasagi Fish Tempura Salt-2The hata family of groupers are tasty fish. Largest is the mahata grouper or rock cod which grows up to 90cm. Caught throughout Japan from Hokkaido to Kyushu, it's called ara in Yamaguchi, kana in Shimane, namara in Ishikawa and masu in Mie prefectures. It can be used in nitsuke, ara-ni fish head soup, nabemono hotpot, as kara'age or sashimi, and in miso shiru miso soup.

There's a common assumption in Japan that the uglier a fish is, the tastier it's likely to be. The kue longtooth grouper certainly fits that category. Growing up to 1.2 meters in length, and weighing up to 50kg, they are monsters of the deep, but taste superb. Fans who agree are willing to pay up to ¥10,000 per kilo for the pleasure of sampling some. The classic way to eat kue is as a hotpot, namely kue-nabe, but it is also served as sashimi, as nitsuke, and in miso soup. In Nagasaki they like it yubiki 'scalded' style, briefly immersed in hot water, then iced.

Wrasse Hatahata bora grouperIn Akita and Hokkaido if they don’t eat hatahata sandfish it‘s not yet winter. Its name incorporates kanji for 'sakana' fish and ‘kaminari’ thunder, so in Akita is called kaminari-uo lightning fish as thunderstorms regularly appear during the spawning season. It is the main ingredient in shottsuru fermented fish sauce, and is eaten as tempura and shioyaki. In Northern Japan it is in season from November to the beginning of March.

It is taboo for pregnant women to eat bora flathead gray mullet, due to its dirty estuaries image. However, if you’re not expecting, it makes excellent saikyo-yaki grilled, topped with a sweet miso paste, chirinabe hotpot, and is at its best in winter, when it’s called the kanbora. It is generally thought too smelly for sashimi, but some do eat it that way with strong accompanying spices.

This is another fish that has a multitude of names depending upon its size, including, from smallest to largest, haku, subashiri, oboko, ina and todo.

John F. Ashburne

John F. Ashburne

Editor-in-Chief Foodies Go Local