Grilled Sanma 秋刀魚の塩焼き

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  • A classic Japanese fall dish, grilled Sanma (pacific saury) is cooked whole over hot charcoal until the skin crisped up and golden. The smokiness from the charcoal adds a layer of amazingness to the dish. Enjoy with grated daikon and lemon. 

    Grilled Sanma, daikon and lemon on a plate.

    Living in the US, autumn seasonal recipes that come to mind usually has pumpkin, baking, and all variety of comfort dishes.  However, my first craving for fall dishes are actually fish, mushroom, and chestnut.  You might think it’s a bit strange, but these are a few from many autumn ingredients that Japanese look forward to as the temperature started to drop and air in the evening gets crisp.

    Grilled Sanma on a white dish.
    Sanma (秋刀魚) or Pacific Saury is fish that becomes available in fall, and literary means “autumn sword fish” in reference to sanma season and its body shape resembling a sword.

    As you know, the Japanese eat fish raw for sushi and sashimi; therefore, fish in Japan is generally very fresh.  In order to enjoy the fundamental quality of the fresh fish itself, the most common preparation of fish is to sprinkle salt and grill.  We call it Shioyaki (塩焼き) – shio means salt and yaki means grilled.  Now you start to recognize the menus from Japanese restaurants such as Saba Shioyaki (Salt-Grilled Mackerel), Salmon Shioyaki, and so on.

    One unique feature about preparation for sanma is that it is usually grilled whole with the head and guts intact.  This highly nutritious gut part is very bitter, but some Japanese actually eat the guts.

    Last year I shared Sanma Shioyaki recipe but I broiled in the oven toaster.  Since my husband mastered in charcoal grilling over the summer (see our BBQ recipes), we actually charcoal grilled this fish for the first time, just like how some of Japanese restaurants cook their grilled dishes over charcoal.

    The smokiness from the charcoal added another layer of flavor to the dish and it was AMAZING!

    Just in case you wonder how we eat this fish, I’ll quickly go over.  The fish is usually served with grated daikon radish and a wedge of lemon (usually we use sudachi).

    1. Pour a dash of soy sauce over grated daikon.
    2. Squeeze lemon/sudashi all over the fish.
    3. Place the daikon (now soaked in soy sauce) on top of the fish.
    4. Use your chopsticks to dissect the the fish by spreading the fish from center where it’s scored.
    5. Place the fish and daikon together in mouth.

    Hmmm!  Delicious!  I love fall.  Sanma can be found in most of Japanese supermarkets this season.  Enjoy!

    Grilled Sanma on a white dish.

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    4.34 from 3 votes
    Grilled Sanma | Just One
    Grilled Sanma
    Prep Time
    15 mins
    Cook Time
    20 mins
    Total Time
    35 mins
    Sanma (秋刀魚) or Pacific Saury is fish that becomes available in fall, and literary means “autumn sword fish” in reference to sanma season and its body shape resembling a sword.
    Course: Main Course
    Cuisine: Japanese
    Keyword: grilled fish, pacific saury
    Servings: 2
    Author: Nami
    1. Gather all the ingredients.

      Grilled Sanma Ingredients
    2. Rinse the fish in cold running water and pat dry. Sprinkle sea salt on both side of fish. Set aside for 10 minutes. This will dehydrate the fish.
      Grilled Sanma 1
    3. To avoid the fish skin bursting during grilling, insert a sharp knife next to the gill and score lengthwise (see below).
      Grilled Sanma 2
    4. The fish has a line running across its body where you need to score so just follow that line.
      Grilled Sanma 3
    5. Repeat on the other side.
      Grilled Sanma 4
    6. Start the grill.
      Grilled Sanma 5
    7. Place the sanma on the grill. Face down the side that is going to be showing when you serve. Grill about 8-10 minutes each side.
      Grilled Sanma 6
    8. Grill over strong heat but no flame. When charcoal gets too hot and the fish is about to catch fire, sprinkle some water on the flame so the fish doesn’t get burnt. This is common since Sanma is fatty.
      Grilled Sanma 7
    9. Around 8-10 minutes, the eye turns white, and that’s the sign it’s cooked. Flip the fish carefully just once.
      Grilled Sanma 8
    10. Grill the other side for 8-10 minutes and serve on a plate.
      Grilled Sanma 9
    11. Right before you serve, grate daikon. Squeeze liquid out gently and serve next to lemon wedges. Pour soy sauce over the grated daikon and place it on top of fish to eat together.
      Grilled Sanma 10
    Recipe Notes

    For non-charcoal grilled recipe, click here.

    Recipe by Namiko Chen of Just One Cookbook. All images and content on this site are copyright protected. Please do not use my images without my permission. If you’d like to share this recipe on your site, please re-write the recipe in your own words and link to this post as the original source. Thank you.


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