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:
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.