Grilled Saba Fish in Teriyaki Sauce

Sunday, August 26, 2012

I am a fan of Mackerel fish of any type. I love Kembung and Selar, plainly pan-fried or spiced up.

I have blogged the recipe of Chili fish here, which uses the Cencaru or Hard-tail Scad.

Of late, I have learnt to enjoy a good grilled Saba fish. They seem to come cheaper these days. If I have to cook a dish in a hurry, and if I want it to be something I will absolutely enjoy, it has to be this.

There is an interesting write-up on Japanese fish at Ieat where Saba is featured. There Leslie talked about the "Kokumi" in Saba:

The flesh is oily and meaty and this has a lot to do with the presence of the aforementioned histadine which is responsible for what the Japanese describe as "Kokumi" or heartiness.  Kokumi is the latest taste sense that the Japanese scientists from Ajinomoto are now proposing.  We all know Umami is that savoury flavour you find in a good meat broth, but on top of just being savoury there is that feeling of full bodiness that comes from eating, say a good Laksa or Lagsane.  That is Kokumi, and fish like Saba and Tuna are full of histadine and thus full of Kokumi. 
This may explain why Saba is so tasty. While it may be a part of the Mackerel family, to which Ikan Selar and Kembung also belong to, the fat content and taste of Saba is unique. Between pretty pink Salmon and dullish grey Saba, I will choose the latter. Any day. In appearance, it may look ordinary and cheap but the eating experience is different altogether.

I am not sure whether the ones we have here are sea farmed but they are sure a lot cheaper these days. In NTUC, Cold Storage and even Esso Stations, you can buy the fillets in packs. But even better, you can get them in some wet markets such as Ghim Moh. You can buy the fish whole, head and all. The upper half of the fish tastes the best and the head is flavorful (suck it!).

So, if you can, buy them from the wet markets. Ask the fishmonger to fillet the fish into two and remove the middle bones. Marinate in teriyaki sauce for about half an hour. Then grill them skin side up for about 15-20 minutes at 250°C. This is a quick and fast method. Baste with a bit of the sauce and some oil mid way. You can cut some slits for better presentation and to caramelised some parts of the meat. Towards the end, the skin will be crisped and charred. When that happens, remove the fish, You don't want to overcook the fish and dry out the meat.

Alternatively, you can use a pan to shallow-fry it. It is more like pan- searing using just a little bit of oil. The fish will cook faster this way, as metal conducts heat better than air (oven). In fact, this is my preferred method unless I have to cook a large batch.

Note: cooked this way, the fish will look ugly, charred and blackened. That is where you know a tasty meal is awaiting. If the skin is still nicely grey and shiny, then oh well, you might as well steam the fish. Saba fish is perfect for grilling because it is an oily fish. And if you want to Yakimono it (Japanese for grill), give it a good one please.

If the fish is to be divided between my good wife and me, I will let her choose first. She will always choose the tail.

I won't protest. And muttering what a sacrificial husband I am, I will quietly reach for the upper part of the fish, head and all, and enjoy. The word "better half" has a new meaning here :).

The upper half is the better half

It should be obvious to you that Saba is a great candidate for BBQ. Charcoal grilling lifts it to another level.

Now, I won't fuss too much about the type of Teriyaki sauce. If you start with a good fish (and they are always frozen here as flash freezing is best for oily fish), sometimes you can even go by with just salt and pepper. But the teriyaki marinade helps to counter the fishy taste of Saba and its head drunk in teriyaki sauce is flavorful. .

Now if you want to avoid using commercially prepared Teriyaki sauce, just note that Japs normally marinate their fish in cooking Sake, Jap Dark Soy Sauce (they only use one type: "dark") and Mirin. Teriyaki sauce basically comprises all three. So, if you have these in your cupboards, just use them in equal portions. The Japanese dark soy sauce is lighter than the Chinese dark soy sauce. So, don't confuse the two. If you like more of the sauce to stick to the fish, thicken it with corn flour. 

It is quick and simple to make. I regard it as a "101 gourmet dish." A good Grilled Saba Fish simply reminds us that a good dish need not be complicated or expensive.

I wasn't sure a simple dish like this needed a blogged recipe and I am simply responding to a few requests. I hope you have found this post helpful. 

This is something simple you can do at home..with rice and scallions

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  1. Your photos of the grilled Saba are beautiful. I am a great fan of saba fish. The only problem is the strong fishy smell during the cooking, especially now that we have moved to live in an apartment.....Love reading your blog & ieat's too!

    1. Thanks. The lead photo was taken using Iphone :)

  2. My mouth's watering...i'll be cooking this for dinner tonight.

    But you should know that many consider the term "Jap" to be very racist.

    It doesn't take that long to type out the word "Japanese" in full.

  3. Appreciate the feedback. Will correct the word

  4. your site popped up in my search for tips on cooking frozen norwegian mackerel fillets. your grilled saba fish in teriyaki sauce looks absolutely delish. thanks for sharing, i know what i want to do with those mackerel fillets now. :)

  5. Thank's for sharing as Grilled Saba Fish in Teriyaki Sauce. I like this food.
    These foods are good for health. Informative and interesting which we share with you so i think so it is very useful and knowledgeable. I would like to thank you for the efforts. I am tiring the same best work from me in the future as well. thank's for sharing.

  6. Great! My husband always orders teriyaki sauce but with your recipe, we just might not need to go to the restaurant to have it.
    Thank you so much for linking back to my teriyaki sauce recipe! Your saba looks delicious!