Sunday, August 21, 2005

How do you eat mackerel?

The cooking page of The Sunday Times' Style magazine today has a point.

Don't cook mackerel if you want to extract maximum flavour.
I completely agree. And all Japanese people know this. We pickle mackerel fillets (called shime saba, where shime means pickled, and saba mackerel).

The last time I went to the Billingsgate Market, I bought a mackerel for 99p. I filleted it at home, spread a generous amount of salt on a large flat metal plate, placed the mackerel fillet on it, add more salt on top of it, and left it for an hour and a half. Then I washed the fillet with water, dried it with paper towels, soaked it into rice vinegar on a metal plate, placed paper towels over it as a lid, and left it for 20 minutes. That was it. Eating sliced pickled mackerel fillets with soy sauce (just like when you eat sashimi) was full of pleasure.

Everytime I talked about this, people here in London was like "You eat raw mackerel?" They don't understand. Heston Blumenthal, the guy quoted above, understands this. But he is still an amateur when he says, "When the fish is ready, wash it thoroughly to remove all the salt, then remove the skin from the fillets." Come on! The skin of a mackerel is an important part of appreciating the taste of a mackerel.

This is why Japanese people sometimes find it hard to live abroad: nobody but Japanese people seems to understand how to eat fish "properly". I'm always amazed by looking at how small the area for selling fish is in Britain's supermarkets and how unfresh and pricey the fish fillets they sell are. That's why I have to go to the Billingsgate Market from time to time. Japan's per capita fish consumption tops the world ranking, which sometimes troubles the rest of the world, including the whale conservation debate and the environmentally-unfriendly fish farming in Southeast Asia to export fish to Japan.

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