Saba No Misoni is a classic Japanese fish dish made with mackerel fillets simmered in a delicious broth flavoured with miso paste. The mackerel is tender and flavourful, it’s simple to make and goes perfectly with rice and pickles.
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What is Miso Mackerel (Saba No Misoni)?
Saba no misoni (サバの味噌煮), also known as “saba miso” is a Japanese fish dish consisting of mackerel fillets simmered in a broth made with awase miso paste (mixed miso), fresh ginger and condiments such as sugar, sake, and mirin.
The fresh ginger and umami-rich broth help balance out the strong flavour of mackerel, not to mention that the saltiness of the sauce pairs perfectly with rice. It’s probably one of the most commonly cooked mackerel dishes in Japan!
You can use saba no misoni to make a Japanese set meal we call “teishoku” (定食).
Teishoku consists of several dishes, usually a main dish of meat or fish served with rice, soup, a side salad and/or pickles. Here is a guide on how to arrange a Japanese style teishoku meal.
Japanese style teishoku meals are always full of variety. There are lots of small components so it feels nutritious and never boring. I always feel happy and satisfied after eating a teishoku meal!
Tips and tricks to make an amazing Saba no misoni at home
Saba no misoni is easy to make and one of the most popular washoku (Japanese style) home dishes. Because of this, there are a lot of tips and tricks to share!
Here are some of my favourite tips to get perfect saba no misoni every time.
Use thick mackerel fillets with bones in
The mackerel fillets should be thick with the skin on for this dish. It’s also common for the bones to still be inside.
Not only does this stop the fish from breaking while it’s simmering, but good flavour from the bones and skin add umami to the broth.
Fun fact: This kind of dish made with boney fish is one of the reasons why Japanese chopsticks are pointier than Chinese or Korean chopsticks, we use the chopsticks to carefully pick out the bones while eating!
Wash the mackerel
It is always important to clean the fish before cooking, otherwise an unpleasant fish odor can affect your broth.
In order to remove any unpleasant fishy-ness, pour boiling water over the mackerel and then transfer it to ice cold water.
The hot water loosens any dirt or blood on the fish, then the cold water cools it down quickly so that it doesn’t start to cook. Once it’s in the bowl of cold water, you can rub the skin to remove any debris without burning yourself too. In addition to this, soaking the mackerel in cold water also tightens the mackerel’s flesh and prevents the good flavors from escaping.
Use ginger and spring onion
Even after washing, blueback fish (青魚) such as mackerel can still have quite a strong flavour.
This characteristic is balanced by using fragrant ingredients such as fresh ginger and spring onion. This will make your mackerel flavourful yet delicate in taste!
As for the size, I recommend cutting the spring onions into 5cm (2 inch) pieces and the ginger into 1mm thick slices.
Using otoshibuta (Japanese drop lid)
When we simmer delicate fish, we often use a Japanese cooking tool called an “otoshibuta” or “drop lid”. Not only does this prevent the surface from drying out, but it ensures even cooking and stops the fish from moving too much, therefore also preventing breakage.
You can learn everything you need to know about drop lids including how to make otoshibuta with baking paper here.
Don’t add the miso directly to the pan
Miso paste doesn’t dissolve and needs to be mixed thoroughly, however saba no misoni doesn’t have so much liquid and thorough mixing might damage the fish. In these cases, I use a small separate bowl and mix the miso paste with a small amount of broth from the pan (about 2 tbsp) and some soy sauce. You can then pour the mixture straight into the pan and over the mackerel, the thinned out mixture will combine easily with the rest of the broth!
It’s also worth noting that miso paste tends to lose its flavour when cooked at high temperatures or for too long. For maximum flavour, I lower the heat to a simmer and add the miso paste near the end.
Allow to cool and then reheat on low
I mentioned this technique in my nikujaga recipe, but allowing the dish to cool down after it has been cooked develops the umami and richness of the sauce resulting in the maximum flavour.
So if you have time, it is worth letting it cool down and then heat it up again to maximize the overall flavour. It also makes this dish a good one to make in advance!
Ingredients to make this miso mackerel
- Mackerel fillets (skin-on with bones in)
- Boiling water and ice cold water
- Awase miso paste (mixed miso)
- Soy sauce
- Spring onion
- Shishito pepper (optional)
Instructions on how to make miso mackerel
Here are my step by step instructions on how to make miso mackerel with pictures for clarity. For ingredient quantities, see the printable recipe card below!
Score the mackerel
Start by scoring the skin side of the mackerel, the incisions should be about 2mm deep. This helps the heat circulate around the thickest part of the fish promoting even cooking. We also don’t flip the fish while cooking, this improves presentation and also allows broth to evenly flavour the top of the fish.
Wash the fillets
Place the scored mackerel fillet in a heat proof bowl and keep a separate bowl of fresh ice cold water next to it.
Pour boiling water over the mackerel to help loosen any debris.
Leave the fillets in the water for 10 seconds and then transfer them to ice cold water. (It was winter when I took the picture so I didn’t use ice this time.)
Transferring them to ice cold water cools them quickly, stopping the residual heat from the boiling water from cooking the flesh. While they’re in the bowl, gently rub the surface to remove any debris without damaging the skin.
Remove the mackerel from the cold water and dry each piece with kitchen paper. This will stop any dirty water from cleaning seeping into the broth.
Heat the broth
Take a large sauce pan and add water, sake, mirin, sugar and sliced ginger.
Bring it to a boil on a medium heat, then lower to a simmer.
Add the mackerel
Place the mackerel fillets in the pan with the skin side facing up. Use a spoon to scoop the broth and pour it over the top of the mackerel, do this repeatedly for 1-2 minutes.
Simmer with a drop lid
Place a drop lid on top of the mackerel and leave to simmer for 10 minutes.
The drop lid helps trap moisture around the top of the fish, stopping it from drying out. If you don’t have a drop lid, you can make one using baking paper or foil. I have instructions on how to do this on my post “How to make Otoshibuta (Japanese drop lid)” here.
Soften the miso
I mentioned earlier that miso paste doesn’t dissolve, it needs to be thinned out before being added to ensure even flavour throughout the broth without large lumps of miso paste floating around.
To do this, a place the miso paste in a small bowl and add soy sauce and a few spoonfuls of the cooking liquid.
Mix it thoroughly until it’s loose and pourable. If it’s still quite paste-like, add more broth.
Pour the miso mixture around the pan and over the mackerel. I also added the spring onion and shishito peppers at this point.
Simmer until reduced by half
Continue to simmer without the drop lid until only half the liquid is left. During this time, continue to spoon the broth over the surface of the mackerel from time to time to stop it from drying out and turn the vegetables occasionally.
Place the mackerel on serving plates with the shishito peppers and a few spring onions. Drizzle some of the miso sauce over the top and enjoy with rice!
I hope you enjoy this classic homemade Japanese mackerel dish with rich miso flavour!
Miso Mackerel (Saba no Misoni)
- First, score 2 mackerel fillets with a cross on the skin side, about 2mm deep. The cut should pierce through the skin and lightly cut the flesh inside.
- Place the scored mackerel into a heatproof bowl and set a bowl of ice cold water next to it. Pour freshly boiled water over the top of the mackerel and wait for 10 seconds.
- Use tongs to transfer them immediately to the ice cold water and rub the surface to clean them.
- Remove them from the water and pat them dry with a paper towel.
- Take a large pan (big enough for the mackerel) and add 150 ml water, 150 ml sake, 2 tbsp mirin, 1 tbsp sugar and 20 g fresh ginger . Bring to a boil over a medium heat.
- Once the liquid is boiling, lower the heat to simmer and place the mackerel into the pan with the skin side facing up.
- Spoon the cooking liquid over the skin of the mackerel for about 1-2 minutes and then place a drop lid on top. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- Take a small bowl and add 2 tbsp awase miso paste, 2 tsp soy sauce and 2-3 tbsp of hot cooking liquid from the pan. Mix well, you should have a loose miso mixture. (If it's too thick, add more liquid from the pan.)
- Remove the drop lid and 50 g green onion(s) and 6 shishito peppers. Pour the miso mixture around the pan.
- Continue to simmer without a lid until the liquid is reduced by half. Spoon the cooking liquid over the mackerel from time to time to stop it from drying out.
- Transfer the mackerel to serving plates with the spring onion and shishito peppers. Pour a generous drizzle of the sauce and garnish with some finely sliced ginger from the pan.
- Enjoy with rice, miso soup and pickles!