Anchovy balls in soup イワシのつみれ汁

japanese cake

Anchovies or “Iwashi” イワシ are generally considered “low-class” fish. In the West, it is almost exclusively used to make cans of salted and oil packed filets or paste in a tube. It is often used in Italian food such as pizza, or in a sauce or garnish but many people do not like it. In Japan, it is also considered a “low-class” fish but it is much better appreciated and eaten in many different ways. One of the problems with these blue skin fish is that they spoil very quickly. When I was in Japan, small blue skinned fish like pacific saury or “sanma” 秋刀魚 or anchovies or “iwashi” イワシ was never eaten as sashimi.  Recent improvement in quick delivery logistics, however, made it possible to consume these blue skin fish as sashimi. We occasionally see “fresh” (meaning not in a can) whole anchovies in the near-by Whole  foods market. Unfortunately, for some reason, they look all beaten up; like they just came out of a bar brawl. For this reason I hesitate to buy them. While I was checking our freezer, I came across frozen filets of fresh anchovies that I bought in our Japanese grocery store.  I completely forgot I had them and decide to make two dishes from them.

This is the first dish. It is a fish meat ball called “iwashi-no-tsumire*” イワシのつみれ. I added the fish meat balls to seasoned broth with tofu, shiitake mushrooms, green beans, and garnished with the white part of scallion which makes this dish “Iwashi-no-tusmire-jiru” イワシのつみれ汁. Since this was in the evening and my wife does not like to eat a lot of soup in the evening, I added only a small amount of the broth.

Here is the close up. The tsumire  turned out to be very soft and friable.  The tofu is silken tofu from “Otokomae“.

*Digression  Alert: I am sure nobody cares about the difference between “tsukune” つくね and “tsumire” つみれ but to make this blog educational, I will try to explain the subtle difference between these two Japanese culinary parlances. Both are balls made of minced fish or animal meat and cooked, either boiled or grilled. “Tsukune” is most often used to describe chicken meat balls and “tsumire” for fish meat balls but that is not the true difference between these two words. “Tsukune-ru” 捏ねる is a verb which means to “mix” or “knead” and if you are forming balls by rolling, it is called “tsukune”. “Tsumu” 摘む is a verb which means to “pick” or “pluck” and ‘Tumi-ireru” 摘入れる is a combined verb (tsumu+ ireru, “ireru” meaning “to place”). So tsumuireru means  “to pluck something (between your fingers) and put it (into cooking liquid). So, for authentic “tsumire”, you pick up a small portion of chopped meat with your fingers and then place it in cooking liquid. In my case, I just used two small spoons to form balls, so this is “quenelle” rather than “tsumire”. This is way more than anybody cares to know, but even I am amazed at my ability to pontificate on such meaningless topics.


Frozen anchovy filets, 3, thawed (see below, I used half for this dish)

Miso, 1 tsp

Sake, 4 tbs+1tsp

Ginger, grated, 1/2 tsp

Potato starch, 1/2 tsp

Alternatively, you could use salt (1/2 tsp) and egg white (one egg) which make more “pure” iwashi flavored tsumire. In my case, I was more afraid of a strong”fishy” smell and flavor and used miso and ginger.

For the seasoned broth:

Japanese kelp and bonito broth (I made it  from a dashi pack), 200ml

Mirin and light colored soy sauce to taste (about 1 tbs each)


Marinate the filets in sake for 30 minutes to overnight in the refrigerator (optional, especially if using fresh anchovies).

Using a chef’s knife, mince it (the finer you mince the fish the firmer the resulting tsumire). You could remove the skin to make it less strong but I included it).

I mixed the miso with sake and worked it into the minced fish meat.

I then added the potato starch (you can add more to make the final products firmer).

Using two spoons, I made a small “quenelle” and dropped into gently simmering seasoned broth and cooked it for 5 minutes.

I kept this in the refrigerator after it cooled to the room temperature and the next day, heated it up with other items seen in the first picture or served it immediately.

This was a very slightly fishy in smell but not in taste. It had a very soft and delicate texture. The texture of the fish went very well with the texture of the soft tofu. Probably I could have minced the fish more finely and/or added more starch. In any case, it was a nice and delicate dish and we enjoyed it with cold sake on a recent holiday.

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