Kanako's Kitchen

Saba Tatsuta-age: Deep Fried Mackerel

Posted in main dish, Recipe, today's meal by Kanako Noda on January 8, 2010

Named after the golden red color of the autumn leaves by the Tatsuta River near Nara, as evoked in a famous poem dating from 9th century, Saba Tatsuta-age is a wonderful recipe to try when you manage to secure high quality mackerel (‘Saba’ in Japanese), whether fresh or frozen.

Though traditionally prized for the delicious taste you get when you seal in all of the fish fat, this method of cooking has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts as scientists have increasingly identified the health benefits of essential nutrients such as Omega-3, which are plentiful in mackerel and other blue-backed fish.

A secondary, but not inconsiderable, advantage is that this way of cooking mostly attenuates the strong, fishy-smell that’s typical of Blue-Backed fish. The result is a succulent fish dinner that’s nutritionally outstanding without the overpowering fishy taste you get from other ways of cooking mackarel.

Ingredients: (for four)

  • One mackerel, which is easy to find. Frozen fish is ok.
  • Sake – two tablespoon
  • Soy sauce – two tablespoon
  • Ginger – one small piece
  • Potato starch – enough to cover the fish
  • Vegetable oil for frying


  1. Place fish pieces on kitchen paper and pat dry to remove excess moisture.
  2. Cut mackarel into 4 or 5 cm. thick slices.
  3. In a deep dish, mix sake, soy sauce, grated ginger. (The ginger will remove the fishy taste.)
  4. Marinade the fish pieces for 20-30 minutes.
  5. Remove the mackarel from the marinade and again place on kitchen paper to remove excess liquid.
  6. Cover fish pieces thoroughly with potato starch.
  7. Heat oil in a large frying pan, withou letting it get too hot (about 170 °C)
  8. Fry fish pieces until golden on all sides
  9. Serve with something green on the side.

click to enlarge

Properly executed, the fritters will hold all of the mackarel’s fat inside, creating moist, delicious bursts of flavor that do not have a strong aroma at all.


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3 Responses

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  1. Meghan said, on January 14, 2010 at 3:15 am

    Hi Kanako! Thanks for posting such good recipes all the time.

    This recipe looks good. I want to cook more with fish (I live in Murakami, Niigata so there are lots of fish, mostly salmon, available in the supermarkets). The only thing I worry about is gutting and boning fish. I never know when I am supposed to do that and with which fish; in this recipe it seems like you just cut up the fish as is, guts and skin and all, and prepare it. Is that correct?

    • kanako said, on January 14, 2010 at 6:57 pm

      Hi Meghan,
      you’re in Japan! How Urayamashiiii!

      For this fish, I used fillet of mackerel, more precisely what we call “Saba” in Japanese. In Canada you can’t get the same Saba mackerel. So it was frozen and ready.

      If you worry about gutting and boning, and especially if you live in Japan, the best way I think is to buy “Kirimi” (which means fillet in Japanese) at the supermarkets. For this recipe, “Saba no kirimi” would be perfect.
      You’ll find some bones with this recipe, but take them away at the table, while eating. It’s ok.

      If you want to do with a whole mackerel, prepare in the way, called “sanmai oroshi” (separating in three parts). Take away the head and the guts. Then slice in three parts: two parts with meat and the spine part.


  2. Meghan said, on January 14, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    Thanks Kanako!

    I will try this recipe this week, with saba fillets. If I can`t find fillets though, I will try to prepare the whole fish myself. I did learn how to gut and prepare fish once, but it was almost 3 years ago so I am not so confident. The link you posted has photos and easy to follow directions so I think I should be ok.

    Thanks for your help!

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