Making restaurant favorites at home is what #HellaRice is all about. I’ve thrown a few dishes at you recently that require lots of steps; this recipe is simple, but one that brings me a lot of joy. These are the meals that I have cooked for my family at home to the best of my ability during the past five years—recreated in recipe form. We already ate it and for the most part, enjoyed it. I hope you will too.
I love small oily fish. I remember crispy headless smelt my mom would fry on Fridays for Lent (’sup Catholics). I'd mash them with a small mound of rice with my fingertips and lightly dip it all in a mixture of soy sauce and cane vinegar. In Seattle, my wife and I would do date nights at Walrus and Carpenter and alwaysorder™ the sardines dressed in tons of fresh herbs, lemon juice, and toasted walnuts. We'd also crush late-night grilled sardine sandwiches laden with Dijon mustard and tart cornichons at Cafe Presse in between pages of fancy magazines, bites of fries dipped in mayo, and sips of bitter aperol spritz.
But the mackerel at Maneki is the best. My favorite restaurant in Seattle is the kind of place we’d typically bring out-of-town friends and family, directly from SeaTac airport, to give them the warmest of welcomes. We would reserve the “tatami room,” a private dining space just past the bar full of regulars, by the (normally) packed dining room and the kitchen. Before getting settled in the sunken seating area, we’d ask for a few orders of saba shio, or grilled mackerel, along with a couple sushi rolls and the first round of tea, warm sake, and beer.
Saba shio has always been our pick as the "reliable dish" when ordering for groups. The fish has a mild flavor and is subtly sweet—great with pickles and a Sapporo. It pretty much goes with anything else on the menu, even more adventurous offerings like motsuni (tripe and miso stew) or anikimo (monkfish liver). It’s definitely underrated, especially compared with salmon or other more well-known Northwest fishes.
Ok, the recipe. Before you start, just remember that your buddy the fishmonger is going to do most of the work for you. Ask questions, they're there to help. Look for clear-eyed whole mackerel—preferably sourced from Alaska—from your local Asian grocer or fishmonger. I get mine whole from the super helpful staff at Mutual Fish and ask them to clean and fillet it for me at no charge. When you get home, you have two choices. Either remove the tiny pin bones in the middle of the fillet or eat around them during dinner. I usually tackle mine with fish bone tweezers; it shouldn’t take you more than a few minutes.
Since lockdown, I've made saba shio at home in honor of Maneki on a regular basis. The fish's white flesh is firm and gratifying, while the oily skin renders beautifully under high heat; that lightly charred aroma screams for accompanying bowls and bowls (and bowl) of hella rice.
Saba Shio or Broiled Mackerel
Active Time: About 30 minutes
Total Time: Same, but with a marination step overnight
Serves: two people and a small kiddo
- 1 whole mackerel, cleaned and filleted
- ¼ cup sake
- 1 TSP Kosher salt
- 1 TBSP canola oil
- Assorted tsukemono (Japanese for “pickled things”)
- Wedges of lemon
- 1 medium daikon, about six inches long, peeled and grated
- Place the sides of fish in a rectangular vessel (I use what's called a two-inch 1/3 hotel pan) elevated with a metal rack so the fish doesn't sit in its own moisture. Brush the flesh with sake before overnight storage in fridge.
- Thirty minutes before dinner, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Also if the season allows, open all the doors and windows and light a neutral candle: The smell isn’t too intense, but it lingers if there isn’t good airflow in your kitchen.
- Line a large 10-inch pan or sheet pan with foil. Put rack on top and preheat everything in the oven.
- Ten minutes out, pull the preheated pan from oven. Oil rack using a paper towel. Place the fish on the rack, flesh side up, and season with Kosher salt. Cook for five minutes. With a spatula, carefully flip and continue roasting another few minutes, until skin is golden brown and delicious.
- Serve with tsukemono; I use pretty beet pickles. Add lemon wedge and a mini mountain of daikon, squeezed of all of its excess moisture. Present your masterpiece with your preferred izakaya sides made from ingredients you already have in house: lo-fi hip-hop radio, frosted glasses of Sapporo, edamame with sea salt, tots tossed in furikake, miso soup with mushrooms and/or salad greens with a ginger dressing. Always always always #HellaRice.
Chinatown–International District Needs Help
Because of Covid-19 and state restrictions, Maneki is currently open for takeout. Recently my family ordered beef sukiyaki, two black cod collars, and tempura and it was delicious.
I’ve written about it before, but I have to reiterate that the “ID” is a very special place for me. It has always been a refuge for comfort food, the best place to spend a leisurely afternoon or end a late night of drinking.
Please join me in donating to the C–ID Restaurants and Other Small Businesses Relief Fund, which is managed by the Chinatown–International District Business Improvement Area, Friends of Little Saigon, and the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority. Every dollar of the fund will go to small businesses in the C–ID to help them mitigate the impacts of this pandemic. I’m proud to support the neighborhood that has given me and my family so much.