A classic Japanese Sanma Shioyaki (grilled pacific saury) is cooked whole over charcoal until the skin crisped up. The smokiness from the charcoal adds a layer of amazingness to the dish. Enjoy with grated daikon and lemon.
Living in the US, autumn seasonal recipes that come to mind usually have pumpkin, baking, and a variety of comfort dishes. However, my first craving for fall dishes is actually fish, mushroom, and chestnut. You might think it’s a bit strange, but these are a few from many autumn ingredients that the Japanese look forward to as the temperature started to drop and air in the evening gets crisp.
Sanma (秋刀魚) or Pacific Saury is fish that becomes available in fall, and literary means “autumn swordfish” 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 it 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 the 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).
- Pour a dash of soy sauce over grated daikon.
- Squeeze lemon/sudashi all over the fish.
- Place the daikon (now soaked in soy sauce) on top of the fish.
- Use your chopsticks to dissect the fish by spreading the fish from the center where it’s scored.
- Place the fish and daikon together in the mouth.
Hmmm! Delicious! I love fall. Sanma can be found in most of the Japanese supermarkets this season. Enjoy!
Sanma Shioyaki (grilled pacific saury)
- 2 Pacific saury (sanma)
- kosher salt (Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt)
- Gather all the ingredients. For a non-charcoal grilled recipe, click here.
- Rinse the fish in cold running water and pat dry. Sprinkle salt on both sides of the fish. Set aside for 10 minutes. This will dehydrate the fish.
- To avoid the fish skin bursting during grilling, insert a sharp knife next to the gill and score lengthwise (see below).
- The fish has a line running across its body where you need to score so just follow that line.
- Repeat on the other side.
- Start the grill.
- 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.
- 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.
- Around 8-10 minutes, the eye turns white, and that’s the sign it’s cooked. Flip the fish carefully just once.
- Grill the other side for 8-10 minutes and serve on a plate.
- 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.
- You can keep the leftovers in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for a day or in the freezer for a week.