Cattail-Seared Mackerel, City Style

Aji no Kabayaki, Machi Fū

Kabayaki, or “cattail-searing,” is an ancient method of preparing eels in Japan. The name derives from the resemblance of a skewered, soy-glazed fillet of eel to a cattail growing in a marsh. Today, many Japanese make a home version of kabayaki with the more easily accessible and less costly mackerel. Most urban Japanese kitchens are equipped with a small but powerful broiling unit, and many people will grill directly over a gas fire. This method produces a fair amount of smoke, which the Japanese have come to expect and tend to ignore. When I tried making kabayaki- style mackerel in the traditional manner in my New York apartment, my neighbors were ready to call the fire department. Wanting to savor this flavorful fish dish more than just once a year at an outdoor barbecue, I adapted the method to what I call “city-style” grilling, using a skillet.

Ingredients

Taré Sauce

  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon mirin (syrupy rice wine)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 mackerel, filleted, each fillet about 3½ ounces
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Method

  1. In a small saucepan, combine the taré sauce ingredients. Over low heat, cook while stirring to dissolve the sugar. Set aside.
  2. Quickly rinse the mackerel fillets in cold water, then pat them dry.
  3. Heat a cast-iron or other heavy-duty skillet over high heat. Pour the oil in and tilt the pan to coat it evenly.
  4. Sear the mackerel fillets, skin side up, for 1 minute or until golden. Flip the fillets with a broad spatula, and sear them, skin side down, for another minute.
  5. Press lightly against the fish with your spatula, and pour off all excess oil from the pan. Add the taré sauce, lower the heat, and cover the skillet. Allow the fish to braise for 1 minute. Flip, and repeat the braising for another minute, covered.
  6. Remove the lid, return the heat to medium-high, and, shaking the pan, reduce the liquid to a richly colored glaze. Serve hot, or allow to cool to room temperature.

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