Category: Preserved Fish
Nare-zushi made with mackerel
Nare-zushi made with mackerel is a domestic preparation originally from the fishing villages in the Province of Wakasa (modern day Fukui Prefecture) and specifically, the Obama city area. Also defined as ancient sushi, it appears to be the origin of modern Japanese sushi.
Testimonies from the Mokkan (ancient texts written on wooden tablets left in the Heijo palace in Nara, the ancient capital) state that the fish, salt and several preparations of ancient sushi arriving at the emperor's table came from the Province of Wakasa.
Families in the area have maintained the tradition for centuries, but producers are now growing old and there are no young people interested in learning this long and complex processing technique.
Those families producing nare-zushi are now so rare that local production is in crisis and the dish traditionally offered to important guests at the New Year's celebration is at risk of disappearing.
The mackerel, caught along the Obama coasts during the winter, is utilized in the preparation of heshiko, a homemade traditional fish preserve. The dorsal side of the mackerel is first cut and cleaned of its internal organs and scales. It is then filled with salt and layered in a wooden barrel or oke, to keep it compressed.
After a period of three to five days, the fish is taken out of the oke and filled with rice bran before placing it back in to ferment under a heavy rock during the hot mid-summer days. As the fermented water filters out, more is gradually added. After six months, heshiko is ready, but it can sit for another six months or longer.
Heshiko constitutes the base for the preparation of nare-zushi. The fermented fish is extracted from the oke and washed, removing the remains of the rice bran and running it under water to get rid of the salt and to take off its thin skin. The body of the fish is stuffed with steamed rice and Kouji (a steamed cereal that ferments with the help of microorganisms that reproduce on it) and closed. It is placed back in the oke for another 10-14 days before it is ready to be sliced and eaten.
The proportion of rice and Kouji utilized differs according to each family recipe. Nare-zushi can be conserved for a week or ten days, depending on the temperature. For this reason, it is a seasonal product (it is traditionally consumed from December to April) and is practically impossible to obtain outside its region of origin.