I’ve made this recipe several times
, but never with the iwashi (sardines) as recommended by Ms. Shimbo. Sardines are not easy to find in my neighborhood, at least not fresh sardines. I finally bought a package of frozen iwashi imported from Japan. Being frozen could explain the trouble we had trying clean them. Ms. Shimbo suggests that for a more attractive presentation of cooked whole fish, you can remove the gills and intestine together without cutting the belly. To do this, she says to insert a pair of disposable wooden chopsticks through the mouth of the fish and deep into the belly. Rotate the chopsticks several times, and then gently pull them out, with the intestine and gills sandwiched between them. I couldn’t get any thing caught with the chopsticks, though I did mush up whatever was in there. We cut the bellies, a bit too far as they did begin to lose their heads. The only fish I ever learned to clean very well were the smelt that we dipped in the spring
—buckets full of small shiny fish. We did this back in the garden with the hose running cold water. Cut off the head, slit the belly and scrape the guts out with your thumb. Spring in Northern Michigan is cold, so we worked fast before our fingers would freeze! Appearance was not the goal of this activity; dipped in egg and seasoned cornmeal and flour, fried in butter, these little fishys were a pleasure to eat.
Classic Salt-Grilled Fish
Sakana no Shioyaki
- Four 8-inch iwashi (sardines) or 6-ounce swordfish steaks
- 1 cup grated daikon
- 4 teaspoons shoyu (soy sauce)
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
Rinse the sardines under cold running water to remove bacteria from the skin. Scale the fish. Cut open the belly, and remove the gills and intestine. Rinse the inside of the belly. Rinse the fish again in salted water. Dry with paper towels.
If you are using the swordfish steaks, rinse them in cold salted water quickly, then dry them.
If you are not cooking the fish immediately, wrap them in plastic and refrigerate.
A half hour before serving, salt the fish and fire up your grill.
Salting fish before cooking removes unpleasant “fishy” juice and firms the flesh. Sea salt is best! A general guide is 2% salt of the weight of the fish: a little less than a teaspoon for a half pound fish, oily fish needs a bit more. Place the fish on a rack so they won’t bath in their own juice. Sprinkle the fish with half the salt, turn, and sprinkle with the remainder. Let the fish stand for about 20 minutes, the rinse the fish in brine (1 1/2 Tablespoons salt in a quart of water). Dry the fish well.
Be sure grill rack (or broiler pan) is very hot. This prevents the fish from sticking to the rack. Place the fish on the hot rack with the side that will face the diner toward the heat. Cook with high heat until golden. Turn once. An inch thick fish takes about 8 to 10 minutes total cooking time.