Mackerel Simmered in Miso (Saba no miso ni サバの味噌に)

sabanomisopMackerel is in season. At least this is what I assumed seeing several luscious looking mackerel dishes on my favourite blogs. I was right: my fishmonger had plenty of surprisingly fresh mackerels and apparently the season stretches through whole summer (though I see mackerel at practically any time of the year). As soon as I brought the fish home, I filleted it and prepared once more my beloved, simple dish: saba no miso ni, or simply mackerel simmered in miso.

If you have never cooked mackerel (in many countries it is known only canned or smoked), it is quite easy to handle, cheap, apparently not endangered and, most of all, very healthy with its high content of omega 3 acids. I used to either fry it or grill it until I discovered the Japanese miso simmering method. Saba no miso ni (サバの味噌に) is a very popular Japanese dish, but hardly known abroad (at least in Western countries). It is a pure delight and one of the most surprising outcomes of all the cooking experiments I have ever made. Even though simmered meals are usually served in autumn or winter, this one is particularly light and as such it is perfect in the middle of summer too.

As a reminder, miso (味噌) is a thick paste and it has three main colour types: white (shiromiso), red (akamiso), black (kuromiso), and also mixed miso (awasemiso). There are myriads of different misos, depending on the brand, the ingredients, the region… Even my small Japanese grocery shop in Switzerland carries many miso varieties, most of which I haven’t tasted yet. Miso is very healthy, packed with protein, vitamins and minerals. It is however important to choose it with a lesser amount of salt, otherwise it is no longer very healthy and may be difficult to cook (the miso’s coulour doesn’t have anything to to with its saltiness sometimes, my black miso being the least salty of all). Miso soup is usually the first dish in which foreigners discover this Japanese staple, but it can be used in so many different cold and warm meals. I find miso highly addictive, probably because it is rich in the umami, the famous fifth taste.

Some of you might have already seen this dish on my blog about two years ago. Even though the old recipe was delicious, but it called for whole fish and the bones wouldn’t soften enough even after long cooking hours. I have decided to post this simpler version using fillets and deleted the old post (you can of course use whole, cut up fish if you prefer). This recipe is a combination of the old one (from No Recipes) and Hiroyuki’s method (Hiroyuki’s Blog on Japanese Cooking), with some modifications.

TIPS: If you own a pressure cooker, this is a perfect dish to use it, but of course it can be prepared in a “normal” pan.

This Japanese dish pairs surprisingly well with fresh chopped dill (a staple in fish dishes in many European countries).

If you choose the fillets, one hour of simmering should be enough (though I preferred it after two hours of very slow simmering). If you choose the whole fish with bones, 2 hours are obligatory if you want the bones to soften. The important thing (in both cases) is to simmer on a very low heat and to avoid touching the fish pieces.

Preparation: 1 – at least 2 hours

Ingredients (serves 2):

4 big mackerel fillets

5 tablespoons mirin (sweet cooking sake)

5 tablespoons sake

3 cm piece of ginger, grated or finely chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

5 heaped tablespoons red or white miso

250 ml water

Cut the fillets into bite-sized pieces.

Bring to the boil the sake, the mirin, the garlic and the ginger.

Let it boil for 2 minutes.

Add the water, the miso and stir well.

Add the mackerel.

If using a pressure cooker, let the fish simmer for 20 – 45 minutes (I haven’t tested it though…).

If using a simple pot, cover it with a lid and simmer the fish on lowest heat, covered, for at least 1 hour and at least 2 hours if using the whole fish with bones. Do not turn it and avoid touching during the simmering process! If, before serving, the sauce is still too liquid, remove the lid and let it thicken.

Serve it with rice and a salad or pickles. It was delicious served sprinkled with fresh dill.


39 Replies to “Mackerel Simmered in Miso (Saba no miso ni サバの味噌に)”

    1. Europeanised indeed! I love garlic so much, I couldn’t stop myself, especially since this mackerel in my opinion can stand very strong flavours contrary to most fish species. After such a long time the fish is soaked with miso sauce like a sponge and the sauce becomes very thick…

  1. What a lovely dish Sissi, I can absolutely see this on a light bed of greens or even instead of tinned tuna on a niçoisse! I wish I had seen it earlier as niçoisse is on the menu at the cottage tomorrow night, and we’re en route as I type this. I’ve not had mackerel before but I suspect it must be a hearty fish with a firm texture to stand up to 45 minutes in a pressure cooker. I am very excited to try this recipe.

    1. Thank you so much, Eva. It’s a very original idea to serve it in a salad, but why not? It’s really delicious on white rice though.
      Strangely, the mackerel keeps quite well provided you don’t touch it and the heat is very low… The fillets might be ready after less than 45 minutes (maybe even 20?) but whole fish with bones requires more time.

  2. I have a couple of questions with this dish because I think I would love fish cooked this way, but the problem is, I’ve never seen Mackerel sold anywhere here in New Mexico. Therefore, my first question is “Is there another fish that would work with this recipe?” Also, any fish I’ve ever cooked would fall apart after well within 2 hours of cooking. Is mackerel that tough of a fish? I can see in your lovely picture that you still have “pieces” of fish, so I’m just wondering how it stayed in tact. I know that catfish and salmon would be mush. Anyway, the dish looks delicious and would love to try it! Great post Sissi!

    1. Thank you so much, MJ. I think any fish would work of course. As Hiroyuki says, this is traditionally not simmered for such a long time, so you can use some fragile fish too and simmer it for a shorter period (prepare maybe less sauce then because it thickens and shrinks here). Mackerel is not tough, but the fillets are still there even after 2 hours. I prefer 2 hours but 1 hour should be enough for fillets if you don’t touch them and the heat is very low. You should experiment with different fish species.

  3. Mackerel in Miso is really tasty (must be the shipload of Umami) and yet totally unknown here. I remember the first time I served it my guests they were really delighted and absolutely hooked on the taste but I never tried to simmer for 2 h.

    1. Hi, Kiki. I found the long simmering process great (on No Recipes). It was intended to soften the bones, but finally it’s great even with fillets (though of course you know it can be much shorter…).

  4. Ah no we are not in the fish season right now. The government has imposed a fishing ban so I ll have to wait for after august. Otherwise we get plenty of mackerels here but I have to say there have been fewer in the markets and they cost a lots nowadays, compared to the past. I love cooking this fish it’s easy to handle and the bones are not that irritating, plus it’s super delicious as you said it. But I had never cooked a miso mackerel soup! I have a brownish red paste here and I am a bit uncreative with it, I wish I could try your recipe tonight Sissi.

    1. Thank you, Helene. You can try it with any fish when you have the fishing season back, though I’m not sure how other fish will keep the long simmering. Keep checking and experiment!

  5. I will keep an eye out for fresh mackerel, its nice fish. Where I come from it is extremely popular, but only comes in canned form! Most people probably never taste fresh mackerel. And one of the cheaper fish is tuna – cuts of fish which are not exported to Japan. Very firm.
    Back to macherel, this recipe looks interesting and unique. I’ve never seen a fish recipe, esp fillet, that requires 2 hours of simmering or pressure cooking. I suppose the fish doesn’t get overcooked. And I didn’t know dill existed in Japan:) It apparently does in the Japanese quarter of Switzerland!

    1. Thanks a lot, Mr. Three-Cookies. In most countries people know mackerel only canned! Such a pity. (In Central and maybe also Eastern Europe it’s also smoked; a real delicacy! I can buy it smoked here too: the best is whole fish, not fillets).
      Haha! Of course dill is a typical Japanese herb 😉 Seriously dill goes well with most fish dishes (unless it’s a very hot dish like a curry) so it was good here too. I loved these fillets after two hours, but one hour should be enough (I have updated the post) or even much less… I like however the thickened sauce and the flesh soaked with it… Somehow they didn’t fall apart! The photo was taken after 2 hours.

  6. Sissi, everytime I come to your blog I feel as though I’m in a first class Asian restaurant with all your various authentic dishes. I just love miso flavor in all the Asian cuisine…this looks so inviting elegant and delicious with the mackerel. The sauce is silky and smooth with the spicy addition of the miso!

    1. Elisabeth, thank you so much for all the kind words. Miso goes well with so many ingredients and I am always looking for more recipes which call for it.

  7. Hi Sissi, I’m a big mackerel fan (and herring but I don’t think I ever saw this fresh, sadly). It’s so pretty and colourful when it’s fresh, isn’t it? We almost bought some on Saturday but settled for some fresh sardines instead.

    This looks like a great way of preparing mackerel but I never would have thought of pairing miso with dill… I can’t imagine the flavour combination at all! If you say it works then that’s good enough for me though 🙂

    1. Thanks a lot, Charles. It’s not miso with dill but fish with dill 😉 I think your Swedish wife would agree with me if I said that every single fish goes perfectly well with dill… unless the dish is very hot (curry etc.). Hence my idea, which luckily worked with miso too.
      Raw herrings are rare indeed, though I see them sometimes in winter at my fishmonger’s. They have lots of bones so I am not a big fan of the fresh ones. I also love the look of fresh mackerel. It’s smooth and easy to fillet.

        1. Yes, but miso it’s not gochujang or kimchi. It has a very neutral taste, so I cannot say I was shocked by the result.

          1. Well, maybe “neutral” is not the good word… There is something homely and comforting about miso… The first time I tasted it I felt as if I had known it all my life.

            1. Yeah, I was going to reply and say that, but I noticed you beat me to the punch. I don’t think it’s neutral… I think it’s very distinctive, actually one of these flavours which I don’t think really needs “extra” seasoning, so I never would have thought of trying it with dill (even though it’s fish). Next time I will try it!

              1. I guess I got used to this too much! For me it’s almost like cream 😉 (Of course not the dark miso which I use rarely). I thought it was a great combination, but I’m not sure if it would be so good with meat for example. Mackerel is very strong so the fish taste dominates miso here not the other way round.

    1. Thank you so much, Nami. I had no patience for the big bones here… maybe if I had a pressure cooker? The fillets were delicious too.

  8. I love the idea of fish (and meat generally) simmered in broth and what more delicious flavoring than miso/garlic and ginger? I find the method actually gives rise to very tender results and it’s so simple too. Plus you have the added bonus of delicious fragrance wafting through the air – my kind of natural home spray :). This looks so appetizing Sissi – lovely bowl too ;0). Have a beautiful weekend Sissi!

    1. Thank you so much, Kelly. I love miso sauce because it’s so rich, thick and creamy like no other healthy light sauce can be. The garlic is not typically Japanese (though more and more Japanese cooks are fond of it), but since the mackerel is so strong, it is capable to stand much much more than garlic 😉

  9. J’adore, simple tout en étant sans doute bien savoureux (et réconfortant, avec cette sauce) !
    Je suis une fan de maquereau (surtout sachant que c’est bon pour la santé, ça déculpabilise d’en manger beaucoup :)), je n’arrête pas d’en voir en ce moment sur les blogs, ça m’a donné des idées… mais quand j’ai voulu en acheter hier au marché ils n’en avaient plus, la poisse ! Je me suis rabattue sur du maquereau fumé, une bonne trouvaille, mais j’ai hâte d’en trouver du frais pour tester ta recette… Là encore je pense opter pour de la pâte de soja fermenté chinoise, que je trouve moins salée que la coréenne que j’avais déjà pu goûter. Ca me fait penser qu’il faut que j’essaie le “vrai” miso, mais je n’ai pas la chance d’avoir une épicerie japonaise dans le coin, et dans les supérettes chinoises que je fréquente c’est super…cher !

    1. Merci beaucoup, Helena. J’adore les maquereaux fumés. J’en fais souvent une pâté à tartiner avec les oeufs durs et concombres fermentés. Un vrai délice.
      Si tu ne trouves pas de miso dans les boutiques asiatiques, cherche dans les magasins bio. J’ai vu plusieurs sortes de miso dans les deux que je fréquente (en France). Il faut juste faire gaffe à l’étiquette: il faut que ça soit produit au Japon. J’ai récemment acheté d’excellentes prunes marinées japonaises, conditionnées en France. Je ne sais pas si c’est cher (je suis habituée aux prix élevés des produits japonais en Europe) mais les misos que j’achète coûtent je crois 8 euro l’emballage de 500 ml je crois (il y a moins cher mais ce n’est pas la même qualité: je préfère sans additifs et légèrement granuleux). Je n’ai jamais goûté un miso du magasin bio, donc je ne peux te recommander aucune marque ou variété (les clairs sont les moins risqués, mais tu dois le savoir déjà). J’ai de la chance car depuis quelques mois je vide l’énorme pot de miso (1 kg) de très bonne qualité apporté par une amie japonaise 🙂

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