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Notable Nosh: Grilled Sanma

Sanma 1

When I ate at Ken’s Japanese Restaurant in Ottawa last December, there were several items on the menu that I wanted to try but just couldn’t manage on that occasion. On my most recent visit to the capital, however, I rectified that situation and the offering that most interested me was the fish appetizer identified as ‘Grilled Sanma’ …

Actually, although Ken’s online menu still calls the fish ‘Sanma’, the menu in the restaurant itself now lists it as ‘Pin Mackerel’. That name, though unfamiliar to me, is actually somewhat apt as the fish, I discovered, is very like mackerel, and it’s thin pointed head is, indeed, very pin like. Unfortunately, though the picture on Ken’s menu shows a plate with two ‘sanma’ complete with heads, the dish I was served held only one, and the head was removed. I thought that last fact rather as shame from a presentation standpoint as keeping the head would have made for a much more attractive dish, in my opinion.

Anyway, on doing a little research, I also learned that the fish is most commonly known in North America as the ‘Pacific Saury’. I have not, to my knowledge, eaten this species before, but the name is, at least, one that is somewhat vaguely familiar. Here is what it looks like before being prepared in the kitchen:

Sanma 2

The Culinary Experience

The fish was served in a very light sauce that was chiefly soy with some faint citrus notes and, I believe, a little dash of mirin. I am not sure what the kitchen at Ken’s uses for a grill but the job was nicely done and the finished product had something of the aroma and taste of a proper char-broiler.

Sanma 3

Eating the fish using chopsticks actually proved very easy as the fillets lifted cleanly away from the bone and bite-size pieces of the flesh were simple to pick apart along the flakes. As I mentioned, sanma is very like mackerel as they both have dark, oily flesh that is very rich and meaty. I found the flesh in this particular serving to be just a little dry in places but, when dipped in the sauce, was still very pleasant. I liked the light caramelization of the skin from the grilling process although, except for at the edges, and near the fins, a little more crispiness would have improved things a little. Still, I very much enjoyed it and thought worth a rating of 4 out of 5.


11 Comments Post a comment
  1. I hadn’t heard about that fish before.

    March 19, 2013
    • It was a first for me too… and a lovely size for this sort of dish!

      March 19, 2013
  2. What you had looks like grilled saba, not sanma

    March 19, 2013
    • I don’t think so. Saba, as I understand it, is what would be called mackerel here. The fish are certainy very similar but the one I ate did not have the characteristic skin markings of mackerel.

      March 19, 2013
      • I believe there are several different Hikari-mono that are invariably called saba. Sure doesn’t look like Aji to me.

        March 19, 2013
  3. The citrus and soy flavouring sounds lovely. Since you’ve given the dish a four out of five, I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for grilled sanma.

    March 20, 2013
  4. That fish looks delicious!

    March 21, 2013
  5. Interesting Japanese dish. Never tried it.

    March 22, 2013
  6. I’m not the biggest fan of mackerel, but this could make me change my mind.

    March 24, 2013

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