Toasted baby sardines and sesame seeds coated in a sweet honey soy sauce glaze, Tazukuri is a crispy savory snack commonly served as part of Osechi Ryori. They are also great little bites to enjoy with a cold beer!
To kick off my Osechi Ryori Recipe Series (おせち料理), I’d like start with a classic dish called tazukuri or candied sardines. These baby sardines are crunchy, sweet and deeply savory, which make them a fantastic snack to enjoy along with the other delicacies served as part of the Japanese New Year’s foods.
If you love munching on little bites with cold beer or sake on New Year’s Day, you will love tazukuri! What more? They are ridiculously easy to make, and ready in 10 minutes!
Watch How to Make Tazukuri (Candied Sardine)
Toasted baby sardine and sesame seeds coated in a sweet honey soy sauce glaze. Typically served as part of Osechi Ryori for Japanese New Year.
Tazukuri – Well-Meaning & Savory Bites for Osechi Ryori
Tazukuri (田作り) is a very popular dish for osechi ryori and it is made of roasted baby sardines coated in a sweet soy sauce glaze. Cooked in low heat over a frying pan with sesame seeds, these baby sardines are then tossed in sake, soy sauce, sugar, and honey until caramelized and crispy.
Baby sardines play an important role in Japanese cuisine. We eat tazukuri on New Year’s Day as they symbolize a bountiful harvest. Tazukuri (田作り) literally translates as “making (作り) rice paddy (田)” as sardines were once used as fertilizers for rice fields.
Sardines are known for their great source of calcium. Growing up, my mom always made sure I eat tazukuri on New Year as they are good for strong bones. Now it’s my turn to make sure my children eat this dish for strong bones.
Ingredients You’ll Need
- Japanese dried baby sardines (Tazukuri or Iriko/Niboshi)
- Toasted white sesame seeds
- Seasonings: sake, soy sauce, sugar, and honey
I used only sesame seeds for my tazukuri, but you can also add silver almonds or crushed walnuts to the mix.
Different Types of Dried Baby Sardines
For this recipe, we use a specific type of dried baby sardine/anchovy called tazukuri (田作り)—yes, the same name as the dish. Tazukuri are simply rinsed in water and dried, without boiling in salt water. Therefore, they are not salty compared to regular dried baby sardines. They are also flat and straight.
You can find tazukuri at Japanese grocery stores only in December, just around the time when people start preparing for the Japanese New Year celebration. Unfortunately, since this is a very specific ingredient that’s used for the Japanese New Year, you will most likely not find them in Asian grocery stores.
You can definitely use regular dried baby sardines/anchovies. They are called iriko (いりこ) in the Osaka region and niboshi (煮干) in the Tokyo region. Unlike tazukuri, they have been boiled in salt water and then dried, so iriko/niboshi are slightly saltier.
Iriko or niboshi are often used in making dashi soup stock or eaten whole as a snack. The bold, savory taste is unbeatable. They are also very popular in Korean and Southeast Asian cuisine.
👉🏻 You can read more about iriko/niboshi on my pantry page.
Where to buy dried baby sardines: You can find iriko/niboshi sold in plastic bags in most Japanese and Asian grocery stores. Both the Japanese and Korean baby anchovies are interchangeable.
Make Ahead Recipes for Osechi Ryori
There are a variety of dishes that go into making the New Year’s feast, so I like to make a list for the ones that I can make ahead. Tazukuri is often one of the first items I prepare early since they store well in the refrigerator for 7-10 days.
For those of you who would like to adopt Japanese New Year traditions, I definitely recommend making these candied sardines for your osechi ryori!
More traditional osechi dishes you can easily make ahead:
- Instant Pot Kuromame (Sweet Black Soybeans)
- Kuri Kinton (Candied Chestnuts and Sweet Potatoes)
- Datemaki (Sweet Omelet with Fish Cake)
- Kobu Maki (Salmon Kombu Roll)
❤️ Learn more about Japanese New Year’s traditions and browse our complete osechi ryori menu.
Tazukuri (Candied Sardines)
- 1 cup tazukuri (dried baby sardines/anchovies) (tazukuri is only available in Japanese grocery stores in December; you can also use iriko or niboshi (dried baby sardines/anchovies)—they are boiled in salt water before drying; hence they are slightly saltier than tazukuri, which are simply rinsed in water and dried.)
- 1 Tbsp toasted white sesame seeds
- 2 Tbsp sake
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp honey
- ⅛ tsp neutral-flavored oil (vegetable, rice bran, canola, etc.) (optional, but helps to separate the sardines once cooled)
- 1 red chili pepper (some people add a red chili pepper while simmering the sauce)
- Gather all the ingredients. You will also need a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- In a frying pan (no oil needed), toast the dried baby sardines on medium-low heat for 5-10 minutes or until crispy.
- Add the sesame seeds in the frying pan and toast for 2 minutes. Make sure to shake the pan constantly so the sesame seeds won’t burn. When you can break the sardine in two pieces with your fingers, transfer to the lined baking sheet.
- In the same frying pan, add sake, soy sauce, and sugar. Give a quick stir.
- Add honey and oil.
- Bring to a simmer on medium-low heat and reduce the sauce until thicken and you can draw a line on the surface of the pan with a silicone spatula.
- Add the sardines back to the pan and coat with the sauce. Once the sardines are nicely coated with the sauce, transfer back to the lined baking sheet. Spread the sardines to let cool.
To Serve and Store
- Once cool, serve at room temperature to enjoy.
- You can keep the leftovers in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for 7-10 days.
Editor’s Note: The post was originally published on December 21, 2013. It’s been republished in December 2021.