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).
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”).