Japanese Fish Species 13: Mackerel-Saba-鯖

Mackerel or saba is a fish eaten over the whole Northern Hemisphere and does come under many varieties and names.
In Japan it is mainly called “Saba”, “Masaba” or “Sekisaba”.
In this country it is mainly caught off Oita, Saga Prefecture, although quite a few are caught off our coasts in Shizuoka Prefecture, especially off Yaizu.
They feed on plankton mainly.

They are prepared and cooked in many guises. In France, my birthplace, they are steamed and then pickled in white wine and spices before being canned.

Naturally tinned mackerel is available in Japan,too!

In Northern Europe they are also eaten half raw as smorgasbrod and pickled fish.

It can be appreciated as sashimi, but it must be absolutely fresh and is best served with grated fresh ginger and lemon.
As far as sushi is concerned, “masaba” variety is best

Saba Konbujime nigiri.

It is especially popular as “oshizushi” (pressed sushi).

Double oshizushi!

My preference goes for Saba konbujime.

Saba Bogata

The mackerel is kept inside a variety of wet seaweed for an hour or so before put whole on top of a long “bar” of rice, then cut to size.

Saba Heshiko Zuke.
Saba/Mackerel has been a staple fish in Japan since immemorial times.
One way to conserve it for better transport away from the shores was “Saba Heshiko Zuke”, that is, pickled in miso and sake white lees.

Saba/mackerel is easily grilled, either on the stick as above,

or grilled and served cut in slices.

The same grilled saba can be served as oshizushi/presed sushi!

Saba can be also served to a tasty crispiness by deep-frying it!

Or simmered the Japanese way with miso, sake, soy sauce, ginger and mirin!

A very versatile fish!


Green Tea Club by Satoshi Nihonyanagi in Shizuoka!, Mind Some by Tina in Taiwan, Le Manger by Camille Oger (French), The Indian Tourist, Masala Herb by Helene Dsouza in Goa, India, Mummy I Can Cook! by Shu Han in London, Pierre.Cuisine, Francescannotwrite, My White Kitchen, 47 Japanese Farms Through The Eyes of Its Rural Communities, Foodhoe, Chucks Eats, Things that Fizz & Stuff, Five Euro Food by Charles,Red Shallot Kitchen by Priscilla,With a Glass, Nami | Just One Cookbook, Peach Farm Studio, Clumsyfingers by Xethia, PepperBento,Adventures in Bento Making, American Bent, Beanbento, Bento No, Bento Wo Tsukurimashou, Cooking Cute, Eula, Hapabento , Happy Bento, Jacki’s Bento Blog, Kitchen Cow, Leggo My Obento, Le Petit Journal Bento & CO (French), Lunch In A Box,
Susan at Arkonlite, Vegan Lunch Box; Tokyo Tom Baker, Daily Food Porn/Osaka, Only Nature Food Porn, Happy Little Bento, The Herbed Kitchen, J-Mama’s Kitchen, Cook, Eat, Play, Repeat, Bento Lunch Blog (German), Adventures In Bento, Anna The Red’s Bento Factory, Cooking Cute, Timeless Gourmet, Bento Bug, Ideal Meal, Bentosaurus, Mr. Foodie (London/UK), Ohayo Bento,

Must-see tasting websites:

-Sake: Tokyo Through The Drinking Glass, Tokyo Foodcast, Urban Sake, Sake World
-Wine: Palate To Pen, Warren Bobrow, Cellar Tours, Ancient Fire Wines Blog
-Beer: Good Beer & Country Boys, Another Pint, Please!
-Japanese Pottery to enjoy your favourite drinks: Yellin Yakimono Gallery

7 thoughts on “Japanese Fish Species 13: Mackerel-Saba-鯖”

  1. I love Saba, especially when I had it in Japan. It’s very difficult to find it fresh here in the States though, and I’m usually disappointed when I buy it here…such a shame.


  2. Robert-Gilles, have you ever tasted smoked mackerel? It tastes heavenly! It’s very popular in Eastern and Central Europe and now they sell it also here and in France!
    If you talk one day to one of the excellent sushi chefs you know, can you ask if he encounters parasites often in the mackerel? When I buy it raw 90% of the time there are parasites and my fishmonger says it’s normal, but dangerous if eaten raw (apparently they attack human liver). (I buy fish in a big shop for restaurants, so they often sell small fish not even opened, I have to do it on my own which has a good side: I do it qiucker every year 😉 but I see parasites and other things too).


    1. This is all true but again we are talking about freshenss.
      The absolutely fresh mackerel is ok.
      If it is more than one day old it is always partially smoked or seared.
      Mackerel, as sashimi, is a purely Japanese concept, which is possible here as you live by the sea.
      But I don’t think I would try raw mackerel back in Europe!


      1. I would never try it here either! The only living fish I once bought here was freshwater eel. It was delicious, but it took me hours to gut it and prepare it.


  3. I remember when I was a child when we go to my mom’s hometown in the Philippines. I see this in the fish market or just beside the ocean front people selling Mackerel on a stick. It was either smoked or grilled. Nothing beats fresh fish!


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