Many kinds of fish and shellfish are caught off the coast of Japan. Here we introduce some of the most commonly eaten of these "fruits of the sea", which include salmon, tuna, yellowtail, horse mackerel, saury, shrimp and squid.
Find out about recommended ways to prepare these fish and shellfish, which are oftentimes unique to the regions where they are most commonly caught in Japan.
Features and Preparation of Salmon
Salmon start their lives in rivers, migrate to the sea for several years, and then return to the river where they came from to spawn. They are often thought to be red-fleshed because of the color of the meat, but they are actually categorized as a white-fleshed fish. Salmon feed on shrimp and crabs, and the color of these foods cause the flesh to become reddish pink.
There are many different types of salmon. Let's take a look at the features of the main types.
The most common type of salmon in Japan is the chum salmon. It is caught in the Sea of Okhotsk north of Hokkaido, the Sea of Japan near the Hokuriku region, and the North Pacific Ocean near northern Japan. It prefers cold waters and is in season from autumn through winter. It is very tasty and fatty during this season.
Sockeye salmon has a reddish flesh and is very popular in Japan. However, most of it is imported from Alaska and Canada. The fat content is very high, making it a delicious choice.
Coho salmon is a salmon that looks similar to chum salmon. It is characterized by the silvery color of its belly and is often imported from Chile to Japan. It is also very fatty and delicious when smoked.
The pink salmon is often caught along the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk. It is slightly less reddish than other types of salmon. It is characterized by its low fat content, causing the flesh to easily break up. Because it is one of the most abundant salmon species, its price is low. It is sometimes processed into canned products.
Salmon is very tasty when eaten raw as sashimi or sushi. It is also popular as meuniere, a preparation method where the fish is to be filleted, dusted with flour and baked in butter, or simply grilled with salt. It is also sometimes fried. In Japan, nabe, a dish of vegetables and meat simmered in a soup of your choice, often contains salmon and is enjoyed in winter.
Salmon roe, or ikura, is also very popular in Japan. Salmon roe, "ikura" , is also very popular in Japan. It is seasoned with soy sauce and eaten with rice or as sushi.
In Hokkaido, a popular dish called chan-chan-yaki is salmon seasoned with miso and grilled with vegetables.
Features and Preparation of Tuna
Next, let's take a look at tuna.
Japan is one of the top countries in the world in terms of both catch and consumption of tuna. Following are the different types of tuna that are available in Japan.
Bluefin tuna is the most expensive type of tuna. It is sometimes referred to as the "black diamond" of the sea. It can grow up to three meters in length and the fatty, melt-in-your-mouth "toro" tuna is irresistable when served as sashimi or sushi. The red flesh is also very popular for its full flavor.
Southern bluefin tuna
Southern bluefin tuna, also known as Indian tuna, is about 2 meters in length. It is characterized by its rich taste and sweetness. It is also farmed, so you can enjoy it all year round.
Compared to bluefin tuna and southern bluefin tuna, bigeye tuna has less toro, or fat. It has more lean meat than bluefin and southern bluefin tuna, and is often used in conveyor belt sushi restaurants in Japan. It has a light and refreshing taste, and is suitable for a variety of dishes. It is about the same size as the southern bluefin tuna.
Yellowfin tuna, like bigeye tuna, has less toro and is more reddish in color. It is often processed into canned tuna. The meat is firm and satisfying to eat and is about the same size as southern bluefin tuna and bigeye tuna.
Albacore tuna is about 1.5 meters in length, and is the smallest of all tuna. Its whitish flesh is sometimes mistaken for toro. It is relatively inexpensive and can be found at sushi bars. It is sometimes processed into canned tuna.
Koshinaga tuna is not widely distributed and is often consumed where it is caught. It is often eaten fried, covered with potato starch and fried in oil. It is about the same size as albacore tuna.
Tuna is eaten not only as sashimi and sushi, but also boiled or made into steaks. It is a very familiar fish in Japan, and many Japanese people order tuna first when they go to a sushi restaurant.
Hotojima Island in Oita Prefecture is known as a base for open sea fishing for tuna. Here, people love "hyuga-don", a bowl of rice topped with raw tuna lean meat tossed in a sauce made from soy sauce and sugar.
Features and Preparation of Yellowtail
The most distinctive feature of the yellowtail is that it changes its name as it grows. In the Kanto region, they are called "mojako", "wakashi", "inada", "warasa" and "buri", in order from its smallest form to most developed.
In Japan, the yellowtail is referred to as the "promotion fish", much like the evolution an employee of a company experiences when promoted from associate to section chief and then to general manager.
The season for yellowtail is winter, and the yellowtail caught during this time is called "cold yellowtail. It is very tasty and full of fat. Yellowtail is often mistaken for fish such as sunfish and amberjack because of the similarity in appearance. It is delicious as sashimi, but there are many other ways to eat it. In Japan, yellowtail radish is a popular Japanese dish, along with yellowtail shabu in which yellowtail is quickly dipped in hot soup stock. Toyama Prefecture is famous for its yellowtail. Today, yellowtail and radish is loved all over Japan, but it is said that it was originally a local dish in Toyama Prefecture.
Features and Preparation of Mackerel
There are more than 50 species of horse mackerel, and as many as 150 species of related species. Here we will introduce some of the most common species, along with recommended ways to prepare them.
Japanese horse mackerel
Japanese horse mackerel is the most common type of mackerel in Japan. It is in season from March to June, with the spawning season in the summer. It can be eaten in a variety of ways, including sashimi, sushi, grilled or fried. It is also delicious boiled. In Japan, dried fish is called "himono," and horse mackerel is often prepared in this way. The bones can be fried in oil and eaten as "bone crackers". The fish is loved by the Japanese people because it goes well with a variety of cooking methods.
In Chiba Prefecture, "horse mackerel namero," which is raw horse mackerel pounded finely with a knife along with miso and green onions, is a popular local dish. When the horse mackerel is stuffed into an abalone shell and grilled, it becomes a dish called "Sanga-yaki".
Striped horse mackerel
Striped horse mackerel has yellow stripes on its body, ranging in size from 60 cm to 1 meter. In Japan, they are often caught in the Izu Islands, where they are often farmed. Natural striped horse mackerels are rare and expensive. The flesh is firm and especially delicious when served as sashimi.
The maru-aji is the most commonly caught horse mackerel after the Japanese and the striped horse mackerel. It looks just like horse mackerel and is difficult to distinguish, but it is longer and thinner than the horse mackerel and striped horse mackerel. The best way to eat them is to grill them with salt or boil them.
Muro-aji is a horse mackerel, so named because it is often caught in the Muro region of Wakayama Prefecture. It is considered to be a type of horse mackerel that loses its freshness easily, and is only distributed fresh near the coast it is caught.
Most of them are processed into dried fish. One of the most famous is kusaya, a dried fish produced in the Izu Islands. The fish are marinated in "kusaya-liquid" and then dried in the sun. Even Japanese people who are not accustomed to the smell are often unable to eat it.
Meji (horse mackerel)
Meji is a small horse mackerel, about 20 cm in length. It is characterized by its large eyes. Because it is caught in warm waters, it is often eaten in the Okinawa region, where horse mackerel are hard to catch. Grilled with salt is recommended. It is also sometimes processed into dried fish.
Features and Preparation of Saury
Saury is one of the most popular autumn fish in Japan, in season from September to November. It is black and silver in color and looks like a long, thin sword.
In Japan, saury is usually grilled with salt. Grated daikon (grated radish) with soy sauce is often eaten with the grilled saury.
Although it is less common in modern households, it is very fragrant and delicious when grilled over charcoal using a cooking device called a shichirin. Kamayaki, which is grilled after opening the saury and dipping it in a sauce made of soy sauce and mirin, is also excellent and pairs well with rice.
The freshest saury are also delicious as sashimi.
There is a saury dish called pawpaw yaki that originated in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture. It is a dish made by mixing ground saury with ginger and miso, rolling it up and baking it. In Totsukawa Village, Nara Prefecture, a local dish called saury sushi is made by opening the fish, marinating them in salt and vinegar, and then combining with rice mixed with vinegar.
Features and Preparation of Shrimp
Shrimp are delicious with a plump texture. They are eaten in many countries around the world, but what are the characteristics of shrimp caught off the coasts of Japan?
It is said that there are 3,000 species of shrimp in the world. There are about 20 species that are eaten in Japan. In Japan, there is a custom of eating shrimp on New Year's Day as a prayer for "good health until the waist bends" since shrimp become round when cooked.
The majority of shrimp are farmed or imported.
Here are some of the typical shrimp types eaten in Japan.
The button shrimp is a pink shrimp with a red spot on its body. It was named after its resemblance to the peony flower. It is very similar to the Amaebi shrimp in texture and sweetness, but the button shrimp is more elastic.
It is delicious as sashimi or sushi, but it is also recommended to dip in flour and egg batter and deep-fry it in oil as tempura.
The kuruma shrimp have a distinctive striped pattern. Most of them are farmed. The black tiger, which can grow up to 30 cm in size, is also a member of the kuruma shrimp family. These prawns are farmed in large quantities and are reasonably priced, so they are often eaten by the Japanese. The kuruma shrimp is delicious fried with bread crumbs or as tempura. It is also recommended grilled or boiled.
Sakura prawns are small shrimp, about 5 cm in length, with a beautiful pink color. They were named after its color, which resembles that of the famous Japanese flower, the cherry blossom. Suruga Bay in Shizuoka Prefecture is famous for its production. They are also known as the "Jewel of the Sea". Sakura prawns can be eaten in their shells. Most of the time, they are dried, but with the improvement of technology, they are now being eaten fresh. They are very tasty when fried with vegetables in a batter made of flour and egg, and then deep fried in oil. They are also sometimes added to okonomiyaki.
Japanese spiny lobster
Lobsters are large shrimp that can grow to more than 30 cm in length. They are called the "king of shrimps" because of their appearance. It is known as a luxury food and is sometimes used as a celebratory dish. It is often caught in the Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture. It has a large body full of meat and can be eaten as sashimi. It is also recommended to cut it in half for gratin or to grill it with salt.
Features and Preparation of Squid
Finally, let's take a look at the characteristics of squid and how they can be prepared. Japan is said to be the country that eats the most squid in the world. With over 500 different species of squid, we take a look at some of the most commonly eaten squid in Japan.
Surume Squid is so popular that it accounts for 80% of all squid eaten by the Japanese people. It is often caught in Hokkaido. They can be eaten raw, and has a delicious elastic and sticky texture. A famous dish using surume is the ikameshi, which is made by removing the squid's internal organs, cleaning it, and cooking it with rice. Ika-meshi is seasoned with soy sauce and sugar.
Cuttlefish have a thick flesh and are very elastic, yet soft to the touch. It is characterized by its sweet taste. The best way to eat cuttlefish is as sashimi.
The name "yari-ika" comes from its resemblance to a spear. Most of the spear squid eaten in Japan are imported. It has relatively thin flesh and is delicious raw or boiled. It has a light and simple taste.
Firefly squid are small squid that glows like a firefly. They have hundreds of light-emitting organs that make them glow. Firefly squid are often boiled and eaten with grated ginger and soy sauce. They are also delicious dipped in vinegared miso. Firefly squid can also be found smoked or canned.
There are also other types of squid, such as "kensaki squid", which are delicious when dried, and "red squid", characterized by its red hue.
Japan has Great Seafood!
We have introduced seven types of seafood that are commonly eaten in Japan. As an island nation, Japan has a thriving fishing industry, and has devised many ways to make the fish and shellfish it catches as delicious as possible.
When you visit Japan, don't forget to experience the seafood!