King mackerel tataki
John – Houston
This Japanese preparation takes advantage of how fish texture and flavor contrast before and after it is cooked. It is a very simple technique and maybe that is why it is so elegant. The biggest trick is creating the dipping sauce and any variation of ponzu works well. Ponzu is a good choice since they’re not very tricky to make either. In Japanese restaurants you’ll see this method used for tuna primarily but it can be used on any fish with a relatively high oil content and that makes king mackerel a perfect candidate for tataki. The last several years have seen numerous warnings about mercury level in fish and king mackerel is usually at the bad end of those indictments. The trick to avoid becoming a human thermometer is to only eat smaller kings. Fish acquire mercury in their food and once they’ve got it, it’s a permanent acquisition. So the longer a fish has been around, the heftier the Hg load. Besides, baby fish are tastier anyway. Also, due to their high oil content mackerel don’t keep well on ice, or even frozen so you want fish caught within 3 days for tataki. Unless you live near a really good fish monger, that limits you to fish that you catch yourself. Lastly, you want to use the center cut portion of the fillet or the loin above the ribs. The tail portion is too fibrous to use for tataki and the belly doesn’t have the right cross section. This is what you want. Notice the equal amounts of meat above and below the lateral line and that there are no ribs in the lower section.
Mackerel have an abundance of red meat along the lateral line that many folks consider too strong, but that’s not much of a problem because it’s easy to remove. However, don’t take of the skin! It lends important color and texture qualities that you don’t want to miss.
In a very hot skillet, or even better on a charcoal grill, sear all the long sides of each loin about 1/8 inch into the meat.
Cool the loin before slicing. The seared portion has a tendency to crumble and refrigerating it for 15 minutes or so really helps keep that to a minimum.
The dipping sauce we used here is a simple equal parts mixture so you can make up as much or as little as you need very easily. Float enough of the aromatic vegetables to cover the top generously.
Quick and Dirty Spicy Ponzu
2 Tbs soy sauce
2 Tbs lemon juice
2 Tbs mirin
2 Tbs seasoned rice wine vinegar
1 Tbs minced garlic
1 Tbs chopped scallion tops
1 Tbs Serrano pepper slices
Dash of sesame oil
Mix all ingredients and use immediately or up to a week
Chili oroshi enhances mackerel tataki to a whole new level, but it is a bit of a hassle to make. Take about a 3 inch length of 2 to 3 inch diameter peeled daikon radish and drill holes in one of the cut ends with a chopstick.
Insert dry Thai chilis into your holes and then grate on a fine grater. Our stick grater is perfect for this.
Place a small dollop of chili oroshi on each slice of mackerel and top with some finely sliced scallion tops. Drizzle a mixture of 1 part lemon juice, 1 part rice wine vinegar and 2 parts mirin over the finished tataki slices.
Tataki is an excellent preparation for folks who are not quite ready to do sashimi. For some reason cooking the fish on the outside eliminates mental and cultural barriers to raw fish. Don’t explain, just let them enjoy!