Sardines escabeche イワシの南蛮漬け

japanese cake

This is the second dish I made from some fresh sardines we got. For this dish, I used two sardines. This is a classic preparation of “Nanban” 南蛮 or Japanese-style escabeche. Essentially, the fish was first fried and then soaked in sweet vinegar with other vegetables.

Preparation of sardines: For this dish, I decided to use filets rather than the bone-in whole fish. After scaling the fish, I filleted them into three layers; two fillets of fish flesh and one layer of back bone. In Japanese culinary parlance, this is called “san-mai oroshi” 三枚下ろし. I use my own quick way to do this which is more like the Western style of filleting fish than the more traditional Japanese way.  Using  a narrow-bladed boning or fillet knife (instead of more traditional “deba” knife), I cut across just under the gills until the blade hit the back bone (do not cut through). Then, I turned the blade, 90 degree towards the tail and sliced off the fillet along the back bone. I do not even bother to gut the fish beforehand. I turned the fish over and repeated. I ended up with two fillets and the head with back bone attached (hence “san-mai” or three “sheets”).  Using a fish bone tweezers, I remove all visible small bones especially inside the belly portion of the fish (this is very tedious). I also cut off some of the edges. After that, I washed and patted the fillets dry. I seasoned them with salt and white pepper and sprinkled sake over everything and kept them in the refrigerator covered until I was ready to cook (#1 in the image below).

Sweet vinegar: Again there are many variations but, this time,  I used my short-cut method. I just mixed rice vinegar (3 tbs), soy sauce (3 tbs) mirin (2 tbs)  and sugar (1/2 tsp). I also added two dried hot peppers cut into small rings (removing the seeds).

Vegetables: I julienned carrot (one small) and celery (two stalks) in a slightly larger than match stick size. I also sliced Vidalia onion (1/2, medium). I like my vegetables to be “cured” so I added and soaked the vegetables several hours at room temperature in sweet vinegar in a sealed container.

Frying: I removed the excess sake on the fish filetts using a paper towel and dredged them in potato starch or “katakuriko” 片栗粉. I deep fried the fish in 170F or 340C vegetable oil for several minutes on both sides. I drained the excess oil by resting the fish on a wire rack (I use a small frying pan with just half inch of oil. I will not reuse this oil since the sardines make it taste “fishy”).

Meanwhile, I removed the vegetables from the sweet vinegar and arranged them on two plates (#4 above). While hot, I soaked the fillets in the sweet vinegar and turned them over several times to coat nicely (#3 above). I placed the fillets over the vegetables and garnished them with finely julienned ginger and perilla leaves (#4).

It turned out that the red pepper I used (bought it in a Japanese grocery store) was atomically hot. Especially the vegetables got really spicy. The fish was nicely crunchy with a sweet vinegar taste. No need to worry about bones because of the preparation I did. For me, the spiciness was the higher boundary of “OK” but, for my wife, it was too much especially for the vegetables but she finished the fish with gusto. the only drink we can think of is cold sake for this dish.

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