Sakana no Nanban-zuke (南蛮漬け), or Japanese Marinated Fish


The first time I saw a photo of nanban-zuke on Hiroyuki’s Blog on Japanese Cooking I instantly felt I would love it. It was original, not at all what I imagined to find in the Japanese cuisine, but certainly very promising. Hiroyuki kindly told me to look for the recipe in my beloved Japanese Cooking. A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji. Actually, he gave me even the exact page number (here I must add I was extremely proud to discover we had the same cookery book, although we probably use it and see it in a different way). Anyway, as all the Tsuji’s recipes, nanban-zuke proved excellent, so thank you, Hiroyuki, for one more useful tip!

Shizuo Tsuji explains the name “nanban” comes from the XVIth century when Spanish and Portuguese missionaries arrived to Japan. These “nanban-jin” (Southern barbarians) introduced hot red peppers to Japan and, since then, dishes containing these peppers often have the word “nanban” in their name. “Zuke” means “marinade”, so it’s often translated as  “fish in barbarian style marinade”. Nanban-zuke (南蛮漬け) consist of frying fish or meat and then marinating it in a mixture of dashi (Japanese stock), soy sauce and vinegar with onions and, of course, hot peppers. During the time spent in the fridge the fish absorbs the vinegared hot marinade and becomes one of the most cooling Summer dishes I have ever tasted.

I was surprised, but when I first tasted nanban-zuke, it brought my childhood memories. In fact, when I was a child, my mum – who is far from being Japanese – would fry small fish and then put it into a jar filled with vinegar and spices for several weeks. I used to love this home-pickled fish as much as I adore the slightly different and more delicate Fish in Barbarian-Style Marinade.

This recipe can be made with both whole fish (gutted, scaled) or fillets. I opted for small fish fillets and cheap whiting (Merlangius merlangus) proved perfect here (alas, I haven’t found the Japanese name). If you use whole fish, you should keep it for one or two days in the fridge (the bones have to soften so that you can eat them too). Fillets require 3-4 hours only. I am sorry to tell the Japanese cuisine purists i didn’t like it with rice. The best company proved to be fresh French crunchy baguette with a thin layer of good quality butter…

(I have slightly modified the proportions and added more peppers and more onion.)

Preparation: 1 hour + 3-4 hours in the fridge

Ingredients (serves 4):

600-700 g small fish fillets


wheat flour



125 ml rice vinegar

170 ml dashi

2 tablespoons mirin

3 tablespoons soy sauce (or more if using low-sodium soy sauce, I have put 6 tablespoons)

3-4 dried hot red peppers (or more if your peppers are not very hot or if you like hot dishes, keep the seeds if you want it really hot)

1 big onion

Slice the onion and fry it until it softens.

Crush the red peppers.

Bring to boil the vinegar, the dashi, the mirin and the soy sauce with red peppers. Put aside.

Add the onions to the marinade.

Salt the fillets slightly on both sides and leave for 15 minutes.

Pat dry the fillets, cut them into 2-3 pieces (not obligatory, but I found it easier to handle with chopsticks), dredge them in flour, shake off the excess flour and deep-fry about 5 minutes or until they start becoming golden.

Put the warm fish in a shallow dish.

Bring the marinade to boil and pour over the fish.

Let the dish cool and then put into the fridge, covered, for at least 3 hours.

Serve with whatever you want, but do try the crunchy baguette and butter.

30 Replies to “Sakana no Nanban-zuke (南蛮漬け), or Japanese Marinated Fish”

    1. Thank you, Hiroyuki! Actually I am often tempted to take baguette and butter with fried fish… It works very well almost always.
      Thanks for the link! I think I have never had this fish before.

    1. Thank you Clarkie! I am so happy to see you back! I was sure you stopped blogging! I must quickly go and see what’s new on your blog!

    1. Thank you, Jeno! I have always thought only Chinese characters were common in both countries, but the pronunciation always different. Apparently I was wrong! Thanks for letting me know!

  1. Thank you for the Japanese lesson:) I don’t think I have never tried fish that has been fried and the pickled. I have tried fried fish cooked in coconut milk and thats awesome, the frying gives it a nice flavor and texture. This dish sounds interesting, I just have to attempt it one of these days.

    1. I am actually surprised how many words I know in Japanese thanks to the recipes I make and read about! If you have ever tasted herring pickled in vinegar, then this is 100X more delicate, but equally (at least) good.

      1. I have never tasted herring pickled in vinegar. Didn’t know it existed, the vinegar would cook it like ceviche, unless its a quick pickle. Your blog reminds me that there is so much that I don’t know

        1. I was sure the Scandinavian countries also liked vinegared herring (for example there are several kind of this one in Ikea, it’s just that they pikcle it in vinegar and then put some sauce, which is not always good… sometimes too sweet). I thought that “rolllmpos” (herring rolls in vinegar with spices) were popular all around Europe too! (I eve, saw it in French basic supermarkets).

  2. This sounds so delicate yet spicy, reminds me of an Indian fish pickle my mother used to make!! It sure does bring back childhood memories…Yum

  3. While growing up, I didn’t like Nanbanzuke because it was sour. But then when I started to cook, I realized I can change a bit to make it a little more sweet than how my mom cooked and it quite gets addicting!!! I especially like the onion soaked in Nanbanzuke… I know they are not the main dish, but I love it. You are cooking a lot of Japanese dish Sissi. Oishisou desu ne (soon I can talk with you in Japanese)!

    1. Arigato, Nami! (I knew only “oishii”, you have taught me a new word! Thank you!). Have you noticed how much onion there is on the photo? I doubled the original amount. I also love this soaked onion! Nihon ryoori ga daisuki desu! (As you see I have learnt very useful things during my first class 😉 )

      1. Sissi, I think you are ready to go to Japan! Reading Kanji & Hiragana can be hard when you need to directions and stations etc in big city, but you can ask people there. They usually “take you” instead of pointing out and trying to speak in English. LOL. Your Japanese should be better than most people’s English!

        1. Nami, you are very kind… but I know maybe 5 sentences in Japanese. I must learn quicker! Are you serious??? They are so kind in Japan?? At least from a tourist’s point of view Japan looks like a wonderland (great food, kind and polite people, shochu in every bar 😉 )

  4. Hi Sissi, you really are becoming quite accomplished at Japanese food, and the things you’re making look incredible… great job! I’ve never heard of this before, but it looks delicious. Something to try when I’m back in France again perhaps! Hope you’re having a good day 🙂

    1. Thank you, Charles! You are very kind, but I think I am only scratching the surface of the rich world of the Japanese cuisine… You should definitely try it, it’s not difficult at all!

  5. I just love the name of this dish! The flavor combination sounds perfect for fish. I really would love to try this. Thanks Sissi.

    1. Thank you, Caroline! I’m not the one who will discourage you from cooking Japanese! I’m becoming more addicted every month.

  6. I find Japanese cuisine like a piece of art .. you need a lot of patience .. eye for detail and creativity. This looks so delicious and I am tempted to give a try

    1. Hi Kankana, thank you! This dish is actually surprisingly easy, no patience required (well maybe only during the hours it spends in the fridge).

  7. Wow another interesting recipe, I remembered my Spanish Style sardines when I saw this post at first I thought it might be the same but I am wrong. Great recipe, will certainky try this, its nice to store this onee in the fridge for a couple of days for the flavours to mature and seep through the fish.

    1. Hi Raymund, thank you! I must check your Spanish Style Sardines. You are right, this recipe has something more of the Spanish and Portuguese influence than only the peppers! I have never managed to keep it more than one day in the fridge. It’s too tempting!

    1. Thank you, Tori! I think it would be perfect on a lunch banquet, especially on a hot Summer day.

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