Katsuo Tataki is a form of sashimi. Japanese have been known for our fondness for Katsuo. Almost all soup in Japanese cuisine is based on the broth of the smoked and fermented fillet (Katsuo Bushi).
Katuo Tataki is lightly grilled sashimi, garnished by ginger, garlic, raw onions, and other fresh herbs. One thing about bonito is that it’s full of unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats are ready to intereact, so good for your health. But it also means it’s fast to go bad.
If you leave the fillet raw, it lasts only a day. Making Tataki makes the freshness last longer because the raw flesh inside is coated by the grilled surface. If you catch it on Sunday and close it properly by Ike-Jime, it’s best to eat by Tuesday.
A little bit about Katsuo family
This is Suma. Euthynnus affinis, or mackerel tuna. Amongst all Tuna family, I think it’s the tastiest. The flesh is dark red. The taste is rich and juicy. So tasty.
It’s got black dots on the belly under the pectoral fin. When you see those dots, whatever you do, DO NOT throw away the fish!
This is common Katsuo, or skipjack tuna, Katsuwonus pelamis. This is the fish that has captured the Japanese fondness. It’s got the distinct stripes on the belly. They migrate from the tropics to subarctic waters in a large school, while Suma moves in small groups in tropical to sub-tropical waters. They migrate from the south to the north along Japan’s coast. We call them “the first katsuo”. The taste is refreshing and light. In the fall, they come back down the coast from the north. They carry fats now. We call them “returning Katsuo”. The taste is rich and juicy. So tasty.
This is called Mackerel Bonito, or Striped Bonito. Sarda orientalis. It’s got sharp teeth. The flesh is soft and watery, and pale pinkish in color. It’s not considered as delicacy as others but the taste is good. Especially at the end of summer when they start putting on some fats, the taste is just as good as other tunas. But sushi chefs don’t serve it usually because it can’t hold the shape of its own, it’s quick to go bad, and the color does not look like Katsuo. You should cook it to appreciate it.
This is called Frigate Tuna in Auxis family. They are coastal fish and they usually move around the surface. Not really a jigging target. They taste pretty good, but they are really fast to go bad.
Let’s start cooking.
Get the head off and guts out.
This is Suma that I luckily caught. You can’t really target this fish. A lot of times they attack jigs in mid-water while you are just retrieving to collecting your jig.
They have evolved to lose scales for the speed of swimming. Instead, they developed hard skin behind the pectoral fins and along the back. Scrape it off with your knife.
Along the back like this too. Just slide the knife along the back and the blade will go under the tough skin.
Slice into the dorsal fins from both sides. Then hold the fin, have the back upward, and just run your knife along the top of the back to scrape off all the dorsal fins. They come off pretty easily.
Now it’s ready to fillet.
You can skin it with your hand. But we are doing Tataki and we’re leaving the skin on, saving fats under the skin.
Dark reddish meat. It’s the signature of Suma. Other Bonitos are more pinkish. The dark brown meat down the middle usually smells too fishy with other tuna family, but not this one.
Slice off down the middle to get the series of bones.
It is traditionally supposed to be grilled by open flame like this. You just want to grill the surface in a short time. All the dried straws from the rice field bring high heat and the smoky aroma.
The open flame is best to grill if you can. But I hardly get a chance like that, so I use a gas burner in the kitchen. Lightly grill the surface of all sides.
Immediately put it in the iced water for maybe 10 seconds. Don’t let it soak for a long time. This is just to take off some heat to prevent the heat to penetrate into the meat. Some people do not even bother to ice it.
Wipe off the water well.
Soak sliced raw onions in a bowl of water. 5 to 15 minutes. This is to take out the pungent and lingering aftertaste. With this one step, raw onion becomes a “must” garnish.
Prepare all the garnish. I have here raw onions, grounded ginger, Shiso or perilla leaves, spike of ginger.
Any of your favorite fresh herbs could go in here. Garlic would be great too.
Now slice into sashimi. Tataki is beautifully done.
If the meat is thick enough, you can just slice it straight down. You are looking for a size of one bite.
If the meat is not thick enough, you can slice down diagonally. You want to slice down in a way that you cut the fibers in the meat. If you look close, you’ll see the fibers running in the meat, coming out from the spine, curving backwards toward the outer side. You want to cut the fibers so that you have these stripes of fibers in sashimi like this.
Now decorate in whatever way with the garnish on the plate.
Pour over Pon-zu.
If you don’t have Pon-zu. Sprinkle a squeeze of citrus over it. Lemon, grapefruit, or anything. And soy sauce and vinegar. Any vinegar will do. I personally love Balsamic, black vinegar and other aged vinegar. You can also put some oil over it too. My favorite is sesame oil. So it’s like salad dressing. Use your creativity.
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