Mackerel Fried in Sesame Batter, Southern Japanese Style

Aji no Nambu Agé

Japanese waters yield an abundant supply of aji, or horse mackerel, and it appears regularly on home and restaurant tables. American waters have a generous supply of mackerel, too, though of a slightly different variety than the petite Japanese aji. For this recipe, both varieties work equally well.

This particular preparation—dipped in a sesame-sprinkled batter and deep-fried—is what the Japanese refer to as “southern fried,” or nambu agé. Quite different from what we associate with below our Mason-Dixon Line, this fried fish dish is nonetheless mighty tasty.

Ingredients

  • 3 large mackerel fillets, about 12-14 ounces in all
  • 1 tablespoon saké (Japanese rice wine)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Batter

  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg yolk
  • cold water
  • tablespoons black sesame seeds
  • vegetable oil for deep-frying

Method

  1. Cut the fillets slightly on the diagonal, to help even out the thickness of each piece. Cut the fish into twelve pieces in all. Toss the pieces with the rice wine, sprinkle them with the salt, and set aside while making the batter.
  2. In a bowl, sift together the flour and baking soda. In a measuring cup, mix the egg yolk with enough cold water to make ¼-⅓ cup. The greater quantity of water will produce a slightly more delicate coating. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture, and stir to combine.
  3. In a clean, dry skillet, toast the sesame seeds for 30-40 seconds over high heat. Keep the skillet in motion to ensure even heat. Add the sesame seeds to the batter, and stir to mix in.
  4. You will need at least 1½–2 inches of oil in a deep-fryer or wok to fry the fish properly. Heat the oil to about 365 degrees. Test the oil with a few drops of batter: it should sink ever so slightly, then rise and puff immediately on the surface. The batter should continue to bubble and sizzle on the surface, coloring very slightly after 1 minute or so.
  5. Dip the fish fillets in the batter, and then fry them, in batches, for about 3 minutes each, turning once or twice during frying. The coating should be crisp and golden, the fish tender and moist. Drain the fish on paper towels and serve immediately for the best texture. If necessary, the fried fish can be held, uncovered and on a rack, in a 200-degree oven for up to 30 minutes.

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