Saba Misoni is a classic Japanese home cooked dish where mackerel fillets are simmered in miso sauce along with ginger. Tender and flavorful, it goes beautifully with steamed rice!
Like many Japanese of my generation, I cannot go a week without proper Japanese-style meal, and a simple yet decent fish dish is a must on the menu. This Saba Misoni (鯖の味噌煮), basically mackerel simmered in miso, is one that never fails to satisfy my cravings.
What is Saba Misoni
Saba (鯖) means mackerel in Japanese. Misoni (味噌煮) or miso-ni is a cooking style where an ingredient is simmered in miso-based sauce.
Because of the stronger flavor, blue-backed fish (青身魚) typically goes well with miso-based sauce. This type of fish includes mackerel, horse mackerel, sardine, and pacific saury (or sanma). Also, any oily fish or fish scraps like tuna scraps, are good with miso-based sauce.
On the other hand, white flesh fish such as sea bream, yellowtail, sablefish, flatfish, or splendid alfonsino, are good with soy-based sauce.
How to Cook Saba Misoni
Ingredients You’ll Need
- Japanese condiments – sake, mirin, miso, soy sauce, and sugar
Overview: Cooking Process
- Blanch mackerel – I’ll tell you more about this!
- Cook the mackerel in the miso sauce.
- Let cool and reheat to serve!
5 Tips on Making Saba Misoni
1. Blanch the mackerel first.
This is an extra step, but it’s important to clean the impurities (like blood) and remove any fishy smell and sliminess. This process is called Shimofuri (霜降り) in Japanese, and it’s a common technique for preparing fish. The ice bath also firms up the flesh which helps retain the flavor of the fish.
2. Don’t skip sake.
Sake not only remove the odor while evaporating alcohol, but it is also known to make the flesh of the fish plump, juicy, and tender.
3. Add miso in 2 separate times.
Miso loses its flavor while cooking for a long time; therefore, add the second half of the miso after simmering.
4. Tilt the pot around to mix and distribute.
Simmered dishes are typically cooked with very little sauce with otoshibuta (drop lid) on top. If you are new to this Japanese cooking tool, click here to learn about it (what it is, why we use it, where to buy or how to make your own, etc).
When you add the miso for the second time along with soy sauce, the best way to mix all together is to gently tilt the pot around to distribute the sauce, instead of mixing with a ladle or utensil.
5. Let cool for 30 minutes.
All the simmered dishes taste the best when they are cooled and reheated. While cooling down, the ingredients absorb all the delicious savory flavors.
What to Serve With Saba Misoni
This homestyle, rich-tasting mackerel is going to be the main star of your Ichiju Sansai, but it is still delicious with steamed rice alone. Any small side dishes such as pickles, soups, and salads make a welcome accompaniment. Here are some of my favorite sides that I like to round up the whole experience:
- Vegetable Miso Soup
- Miso Soup with Yuzu Kosho
- Gobo Salad (Burdock Root Salad)
- Cucumber Salad
- Tomato Myoga Salad
- Japanese Pickled Cabbage or Pickled Daikon
Other Delicious Fish Recipes on Just One Cookbook:
Saba Misoni (Mackerel Simmered in Miso)
- 2 fillets mackerel (saba) (13 oz, 374 g; 2 fillets from 1 mackerel; see the picture below)
For the Seasoning #1
- Gather all the ingredients.
To Prepare the Ingredients
- Scrape off the skin from 1 knob ginger with a knife (or a spoon) and cut into thin slices. Keep half the slices for cooking the fish and use the other half for the next step.
- Cut the other ginger slices into thin julienned strips and transfer to a plate. This is for garnish.
- Cut each of the 2 fillets mackerel (saba) in half, in a slanted angle (this creates more surface to absorb flavors). Make a shallow cross incision on the skin side of the thickest part of the fillets.
To Blanch the Fish
- Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, gently add a fillet, one at a time, for a quick blanch to remove the sliminess, smell, and impurities. Scoop up the fish with a fine-mesh strainer or a slotted spoon. Alternatively, you can pour boiling water over the fillets.
- Quickly shock the fish in the ice bath. And repeat this blanch/ice bath process with the rest of the fillets.
- Clean the fish in the ice water, removing blood or any impurities. The ice water helps firming up the flesh of the fish as well. Once clean, transfer to a plate/tray and set aside.
To Cook the Fish
- In a medium/large saucepan, add the Seasoning #1—4 Tbsp water, 4 Tbsp sake, 2 Tbsp mirin, 2 Tbsp sugar, 2 Tbsp miso (keep the other 2 Tbsp miso for later), and 1 knob gingerhe ginger slices.
- Turn the heat to medium and bring the sauce to a boil while mixing the ingredients.
- When boiling, place mackerel in a single layer, skin side up.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and put an otoshibuta (drop lid). Gently simmer for 13–15 minutes. Otoshibuta keeps the fish down and helps the sauce circulate over the fish.
- Remove the otoshibuta (drop lid). Using the fine-mesh skimmer or slotted spoon, gently take one fillet out to a plate.
- Now we add the Seasoning #2. Add 2 Tbsp miso and let it dissolved completely.
- Put the fillet back in the sauce and drizzle 1 tsp soy sauce.
- Hold the pot and tilt it around to distribute/mix the sauce with the fish (we use a very little amount of the sauce, so this is the best way to distribute and mix the sauce at the same time). Spoon the sauce over the fish a few times.
- Turn off the heat and cover with the lid. Let the fish cool for 30 minutes. All Japanese simmered foods apply this “let cool“ step so the ingredients can absorb the flavors without overcooking them.
To Reheat and Serve
- Uncovered and turn the heat to medium. Reheat the fish, but make sure to stay around the kitchen so you don‘t burn the thickened miso sauce. Spoon the sauce over the fish a few times.
- Transfer the fish and drizzle the sauce.
- Garnish with julienned ginger strips and optional kinome leaf.
- You can keep the leftovers in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on June 8, 2011. The images, the blog content, and the recipe have been updated in June 2021. The video is also added in June 2021.