Ajiten or Horse Mackerel Tempura

Horse mackerel, or jack mackerel (aji in Japanese, Trachurus genus in Latin, chinchard in French) is highly praised in Japan, but treated as a cheap, secondary fish variety in most European countries. I have recently noticed my fishmonger carries horse mackerel almost all year round, especially the smaller ones. Following Hiroyuki’s kind advice (from Hiroyuki’s Blog on Japanese Cooking), I decided to make aji tempura or ajiten.

Until now my only experience in tempura was asparagus (see here), shrimp and tiny fish fillets. Ajiten means frying the whole fish only with head removed and I was afraid that both the preparation and frying would be tricky. I needn’t have, since this tempura proved quite simple. Thanks to Hiroyuki’s research I learnt here and here how to prepare the fish, while coating and frying it was easier than in the case of asparagus. The fried fish was juicy inside, slightly crispy outside and, surprisingly, not greasy. I took to horse mackerel at once because it has a delicate flesh and doesn’t have the overwhelming typical saltwater species smell. Moreover, its taste brings me back to my childhood holidays, when I would ask my mum to fry for me freshly caught small river fish for breakfast every day…

I don’t know if my ajiten looked or tasted as it should, nor if my decision to make a thicker tempura mixture was right. I had  this tempura only with the Tomato and Shiso salad (click here) and it was one of the best meals I can remember. Thank you, Hiroyuki, for your help!

Preparation: about 20 minutes + 20 minutes marinating

Ingredients (serves 2):

6 smaller horse mackerels (mine were about 15 cm long)

3 tablespoons cooking sake


5 tablespoons tempura mixture + 3 tablespoons ice cold water

Wash the mackerels.

Gut them and prepare them, scaling them, cutting off the head, removing the main bone and spreading them flat, see here how to make it:

or here:

Wash the mackerels, pat them dry, sprinkle some salt and sake on the open side and let it marinate for about 20 minutes.

Combine very roughly and quickly the tempura mix with ice-cold water (the chopsticks are here perfect, since they will not produce a smooth batter, but a lumpy one).

Check the oil temperature by dropping a bit of the batter. If it stays only a bit under the surface and then quickly moves up and starts bubbling, the temperature is good.

Pat dry the mackerels, dip them in the batter keeping the tail in your hand, and deep fry for about 5 minutes.

Drain with a slotted spoon and put on paper towels before serving.

20 Replies to “Ajiten or Horse Mackerel Tempura”

  1. Good job! Judging from the photo, the ajiten doesn’t look greasy at all, and the texture of the tempura batter seems right! Congratulations on your success!

    1. Thank you so much, Hiroyuki! Your approval means a lot to me. Thank you again for the idea, without your advice I would have never tried making this tempura!

  2. I rarely see mackerals in restaurants here but the supermarkets have smoked fillets etc and the price is reasonable. Its tasty and healthy. Mackeral, herring, sardines and salmon are the top 4 because of high oil content, another reason to eat more ajiten:) The ajiten looks good, I heard tempura is one of those simple things not easy to get right.

    1. I also love smoked mackerels, but the smoked ones are not horse mackerels, just “mackerels”, “saba” in Japanese. Their flesh is more fragile and they are really different in taste. They also look different. It sounds like I like all the healthiest fish varieties! (apart from farmed salmon, since I only like the wild salmon, the farmed one has too much fat…).
      You are right, tempura might be very difficult (the asparagus tempura was not easy), but this one was surprisingly easy! I suppose the level of difficulty depends on how well the vegetable or fish surface keeps the tempura mixture…

  3. Wow Sissi! You have done a great great job!!!!! Tempura is easy if you know how to do it “right”. But it’s a very quick meal if you know how to cook. 🙂 Your Aji no tempura looks delicious. I remember eating this growing up but I realized I haven’t really made much (maybe once, really). You got me inspired! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you, Nami! Your comment makes me really proud 🙂 What does the “no” means in “aji no tempura”? (I try to learn the “culinary Japanese” 😉 )

        1. Thank you, Nami, you explained it very well! (In the meantime Hiroyuki explained it too 😉 so now I think it will be well engraved in my memory!)

  4. I LOVE tempura…!! Everytime I see tempura (especially the ones with prawns), I always feel that I need to have it…;)!. Your tempura looks really good, I am still struggling to make the perfect tempura like in restaurants, I will definitely give this recipe a go to see if I like it :).

    1. CG, thank you for the kind comment, but you are the one who makes the perfect shrimp tempura! I have never managed to make my shrimps not curled (and I tried all of your and Hiroyuki’s tips…), so with your manual skills every tempura you make must be great (especially this easy one).

    1. Thank you, Robert-Gilles, for the links, I think unfortunately I can’t buy it here. I have never seen it at my fishmonger’s. I should feel very happy I can buy at least horse mackerel 🙂

  5. I love that about well done tempura – it’s like the old British favourite, battered fish (or battered anything) but has the incredible feeling that despite being deep-fried, there’s no, or almost no oil in the batter anymore. Your picture looks great – so crisp and golden!

    1. Thank you, Charles for the compliment. Actually the fish looked 100x better in reality… Some photos just don’t work on cloudy, gloomy days… This kind of thicker tempura is visually similar to the British fried fish, you are right! (Although I have never tasted or prepared it before, so don’t know about the taste similarity). The light, thin tempura, like the asparagus tempura, is completely different.
      I have heard it’s better to deep-fry than to fry in, say, 2 – 3 cm of oil in a pan… Apparently the former method absorbs less fat. I prefer to believe it’s true 😉

      1. I wish I had the capacity to do more deep-frying… I know it’s not the most healthy method of food preparation but there’s a whole world of cooking opportunities which are virtually undiscovered. I just don’t have the equipment or the best location. Last time I tried I emptied a bottle and a half of oil into my giant wok and did it in that, all the while being scared out of my wits in case the pan tipped over, and it made a hell of a mess at the end 😀

        As for the fish and chips recipe… I actually posted a really good recipe here for a beer batter on my site last year sometime. The beer (or lager) in the mix makes it really crispy and although the photo isn’t the best if you gave fish or onion rings a try I think you wouldn’t be disappointed 🙂

        1. Thank you, Charles, for the link. I will certainly try it one day. I don’t have any special equipment for deep-frying, but don’t find it difficult. I think a giant wok is not the best choice 😉 . After many experiments I sticked to a very small but shallow pan (usually I deep fry for two, so it’s sufficient). I empty half a bottle of oil. The best one for me is peanut oil. I also pay attention to put the pan not too close to me, e.i. closer to the wall (it splashes sometimes not only on me but also on the floor, so putting it close to the wall limits the dirty surface) and it really works great. Afterwards, I always strain the cold oil through a coffee filter and reuse it several times (so it’s not expensive, like some people say).
          I wish I had a special electric deep-fryer to control the temperature, but my kitchen is so full of appliances…

  6. I can hardly wait to try this. It’s a civic holiday here today, so I have to wait until tomorrow. This afternoon I will watch the videos, read the comments and generally prepare myself for this adventure. Thank you Sissi for all your help – I saw the last comment you left at my blog, when I have questions, which is highly likely, I will ask. I feel like I embarked on a new adventure.

    1. It’s funny: today is the national Swiss day, so I’m on holiday too 🙂 Good luck once again! I will be very happy to help!

  7. I found a Japanese tempura batter mix at the local store, but the little Asian store is closed for summer holidays until the middle of the month, so I couldn’t buy the cooking sake. On Friday I will try to make white fish fillets in tempura batter anyway. I was wondering wondering though… could I not marinate the fillets in wine?

    1. Hi Zsuzsa, I have sometimes seen sake substituted with dry sherry and of course try dry white wine! There are many French fish recipes using white wine (like the one I saw on your blog lately if I remember), so it should be ok.

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