How do I make saba maki at home?
July 9, 2007 3:48 PM   Subscribe

My friends and I have recently begun experimenting with making maki at home. My favorite sushi/sashimi has always been saba, but I can't find any DIY recipes online that call for mackerel. Has anyone had any success with this kind of fish at home? I'd like to use fresh/frozen fillets, but I'm open to to the canned kind as well as it is seems fairly easy to come by. I'm also interested in any sort of non-sushi uses for the canned variety (preferably cheap ones as I am a student). I want to give it a go, but have no experience with this ingredient. What makes it taste good?
posted by macrowave to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've never seen sashimi grade mackerel sold in the asian supermarkets before, and I'm pretty sure you don't want to try making sushi with frozen fillets.

An easy way to cook mackerel is to salt it (skin on), broil it and eat it over rice. Frozen whole mackerel are pretty cheap.
posted by mphuie at 4:21 PM on July 9, 2007

I can't answer the sushi question (I can guarantee you, though, that canned sardine sushi won't work all that well...the saba that you hold dear is pickled, not "cooked"). BUT, canned sardines are perfect for an Italian dish called Pasta con le Sarde.

And this guy took all the work out of finding out which canned sardines taste the best

You can make a delicious sandwich with sardines as well. Mash them, then spread butter on some good wheat sandwich bread, spread relish (or English pickle, depending) on the other half, add a nice crisp leaf of lettece, and then spread the mashed sardines onto the bread (around 3 sardines per sandwich. If you like sardines you'll probably like this sandwich.

Unlike tuna, sardines do *not* lend themselves quite as well to making a salad, in my opinion. The texture just doesn't hold up as well and ends up being mushy rather than flaky.

As far as using thawed mackerel fillets: as I understand it, due to health regulations all tuna marked as "sushi grade" must be frozen first anyways, so it's possible that mackerel will survive the freezing process. I'm guessing the key would be pressing all the excess moisture out after it's thawed. Incidentally, if it is the "pickly" and "fishy" flavor you enjoy with saba one alternative (although I don't know how it would stand up on a sushi platter) is pickled herring, which has a somewhat similar color and flavor (although th flesh of the herring is, for lack of a better term, uh, "hairier").
posted by Deathalicious at 4:27 PM on July 9, 2007

I am a huuuge saba fan, but unless you live near a coast you are not going to find good fresh saba. I don't even eat it in the US outside of San Francisco and New York; I had the disappointment of nasty mackerel too many times. It's even hard to get fresh saba in some parts of Japan. It spoils very quickly, the Japanese say it rots even when swimming.

If you are still determined ask the sushi chefs in the area where they get theirs and shop in the same place. I wouldn't trust any sushi place that didn't fly in their own supply, but it is your best shot for finding the best sushi grade saba.

Good luck!
posted by Alison at 4:31 PM on July 9, 2007

Oh, and regarding the canned sardines review, actually you need to start here for the best canned sardines. The other link was page 2 I guess.
posted by Deathalicious at 4:37 PM on July 9, 2007

Most mackerel that I see sold varies between cat food grade and crab bait grade. It is really good if you have the resources to get to a pier, catch one and cut its throat while it it still alive and then keep it in the cool shade. Marinate with a little red wine, olive oil, and fresh basil and its great grilled over charcoal.
posted by Iron Rat at 5:19 PM on July 9, 2007

Deathalicious, the OP was asking about mackerel, not sardines. And pickled herring tastes NOTHING like raw mackerel.

Canned mackerel will be cooked (and likely marinated), so that probably won't scratch your sushi itch. It will, however, be quite fishy- canned fish is generally not high grade.
posted by mkultra at 5:53 PM on July 9, 2007

Funny, I was going to suggest pickled herring, too. I've only had what I suppose is the good stuff served as an appetizer at a high-end seafood restaurant in DC; it tastes nothing like the higher-quality Spanish mackerel, but it's a good approximation of the fishier Boston mackerel (saba) to my taste buds. mkultra clearly disagrees, so you'll have to judge for yourself.

I've never had canned mackerel, but I have to suspect that canned mackerel is to mackerel at a sushi restaurant what canned tuna is to tuna at a sushi restaurant.
posted by commander_cool at 6:46 PM on July 9, 2007

I don't know if this will help you, but I know how saba is prepared at one landlocked sushi restaurant. Whole frozen spanish mackerel is defrosted overnight in a fridge, cleaned and filleted, lightly cured with salt on the skin side (30 min), rinsed, then immersed in rice vinegar (30 min). Saba prepared this way is only served the same day as the quality deteriorates quickly.
posted by pfuller at 11:20 PM on July 9, 2007

I was at a dinner party last year where someone made an awesome saba sashimi marinated salad type thing. It consisted of mostly saba slices, some chopped green onions, and maybe a bit of extra greens (don't recall), and then a marinade that I can't quite recall, but I know it had quite a bit of sake (maybe along with rice vinegar and a bit of soy or ponzu). Delicious!

Not sure where you get sushi grade saba outside Japan though???
posted by p3t3 at 11:35 PM on July 9, 2007

Depending where you live your best shot is frozen mackeral from either a Japanese store or a large Asian market that has a decent Japanese food section.

The packs that you want will be prepared and flash frozen sushi level fillets. You know that you are in the right section when you see other packs of sushi sliced fish, like maguro, flash frozen and cryovac'd. Once acquired just thaw and use promptly.

DO NOT get mackeral unless it has been vacuum sealed and prepped for sushi use. I would avoid getting mackeral from Asian markets as a general rule UNLESS it has a very substantial Japanese food section with frozen sushi fish section. The advice from upthread with whole frozen mackeral is good and if you can do that level of prep, good.

Canned mackeral is PAINFUL to compare to saba. The only way I could see using canned mackeral is by using either as the filling for onigiri or as the topping of nigiri sushi but it will require a lot of flavorful prep like vinegar and lemon. '

You can create mackeral salad similar to tuna with the use of lemon, vinegar, pepper and maybe a dab of mayo. If you do not mind the overpowering flavor of canned mackeral you can toss hot pasta with flavor prepped mackeral. Also marinating saba fillets works as well. I would avoid using canned mackeral straight from the can. Taste the fish before fully executing any recipe idea because canned varieties can vary in quality and taste.

One of the great breakfasts I had in Korea was grilled mackeral, pickles and rice. If you plan to cook mackeral do it outside unless you have a high CFM venting system because it is mighty smelly to grill and fry.

I love mackeral, just like you, and the reason why we love it is the reason why it is difficult to deal with and that is its high oil content. It is the most ephemeral of fish and requires care on sourcing and preparation to avoid poisoning.
posted by jadepearl at 12:30 AM on July 10, 2007

I live so close to the coast that I can fish for mackerel while watching TV in my living room. Mackerel feed below my front door and I can have them on my chopping board before they stop flapping. I'd be interested to hear of any more recipes for fresh mackerel that anyone might have.
posted by biffa at 8:47 AM on July 13, 2007

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