Sanma Pacific Saury, the Leatherjacket, And One Big Ugly Fish

The Good, The Tasty and the ugly

Autumn isn't autumn until sanma Pacific saury hit the market shelves. The kanji characters for sanma read 'autumn sword fish', and these long, thin, oily, and inexpensive fish are certainly at their tastiest in the fall, when they begin their long journey southward from Hokkaido to northern Honshu and beyond.

Pacific saury that make it as far as the Kii Hanto peninsula in Wakayama Prefecture are some of the leanest with most meat - so would you be if you'd swum from Hokkaido - and it is in Wakayama where they are made into the local delicacy, sanmazushi. The saury are salted and pickled in either yuzu or daidai citrus before being pressed onto rice. Foodies heading for Wakayama or Southern Mie Prefecture's East Kishu region must give it a try. Elsewhere, saury are most often served grilled as shioyaki, and if you can find them grilled over hot charcoal, as sanma no sumibiyaki, all the better.

The greasy biker of the fish world, the kawahagi leatherjacket or threadsail filefish, with its tough outer skin and soft white flesh, is used mainlyin nitsuke and furai, and sometimes in nabemono hotpots, though sashimi and sushi are also not unknown. The liver is especially prized, and it is eaten dipped in shoyu. In Wakayama Prefecture it is called tsunohagi ‘bald horn’, in Niigata Prefecture komori ‘the bat’. Indeed, it's a funny looking fish, slightly bat-like, but it's nothing compared to our next fish.

The deep-sea anko anglerfish is a spectacularly ugly creature. Imagine a creature from a 1950s sea-themed horror B-movie, shaped like a giant banjo. That's the anko. Mostly used in nabemono, or is deep fried as kara'age, it is not cut on a cutting board, but while hanging. As they easily grow up to a metre in length, this is perhaps not surprising.

Caught in the cold season, and tastiest - and it is very tasty - from November to February, it is especially famous in Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture, which has its own anko cuisine. Unusually, its skin and guts are tastier than its flesh. A popular saying suggests, "The only part of an anglerfish you can't eat is its teeth". 

John F. Ashburne

John F. Ashburne

Editor-in-Chief Foodies Go Local