Fish marinated in seasoned sweet miso and grilled perfectly. Saikyo yaki is served at good Japanese restaurants around the world but you can make it at home at a fraction of the cost. It is pretty simple to make and the flavour is just as good.
Saikyo Yaki (西京焼き) is the dish of grilled fish after marinating the fish in miso mixed with sake and mirin. You need to use the particular miso called “Saikyo miso” (西京味噌) which has sweet and very subtle miso flavour. The colour is quite pale (almost cream colour) unlike normal brown miso.
About Saikyo Miso
Saikyo miso is made in Kansai (the western region of Japan), particularly in Kyoto. The name “Saikyo” (西京) came from the name of the miso production company that started making this miso about 200 years ago to serve to the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Since then, the capital of Japan has moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. Hence, Kyoto became the western capital, ie. “Saikyo” and the miso company adopted it as the name of the miso. But nowadays, Saikyo miso is used generically for cream coloured sweet miso. It is also called shiro miso (白味噌, white miso) because of the colour.
Standard brown miso contains about 12% salt while Saikyo miso contains about 5% salt. Sometimes, Saikyo miso even contains syrup to make it a bit sweet.
You might find miso labelled as “shiro miso” in supermarkets or Asian grocery stores but often they are not as pale as Saikyo miso nor as sweet. In Sydney, I can buy Saikyo miso only at Japanese grocery stores. They are usually stored in the freezer and look like the photo above. You can see the brand name in the vertical kanji characters “西京”.
Fish Suitable for Saikyo Yaki
The most popular and the best suited fish (in my view) for Saikyo yaki is black cod (sablefish). The famous restaurants often serve a Saikyo yaki dish with black cod. The meat has a high fat content and the texture is flaky when cooked. The combination of sweet miso flavour and oily flaky fish is so perfect.
I don’t know about your country, but in Sydney I cannot buy black cod. It simply does not exist at any fish market I have been to. I even searched the internet but no luck. I could buy a frozen black cod fillet at Japanese grocery stores but it is very expensive.
So I usually marinate either Spanish mackerel or salmon instead. They are not as oily as black cod but they still come out wonderful with sweet Saikyo miso flavour. In today’s recipe, I also added a fillet of blue eye cod. I tried ocean perch which was good. I read somewhere on a Japanese website that pomfret fillet works well too. I must try that.
Saikyo Miso Marinade
Marinating the fish is a simple task. Mix Saikyo miso with sake and mirin and coat the fish with the miso mixture. You need to marinate the fish for 1-3 days, preferably 3 days. I tested different marinating durations and found that 1 day is OK but the flavour does not penetrate into the fish sufficiently. 2 days is pretty good but if you can plan 2 days ahead, you might as well plan 3 days ahead and you will get more depth of flavour.
I use a sheet of muslin around the fish, then coat with the miso. It is an extra step to marinate the fish. But when you are ready to cook, you will be thankful for a little extra up front as you won’t need to scrape the miso off the fish. See the bottom left photo below. No miso is stuck on the fish.
If you don’t have muslin, you don’t need to use it. But then you need to remove the miso from the surface of the fish as much as possible, otherwise the miso will burn quickly as it contains a high level of sugar.
Saikyo miso fish freezes well. I marinate many fish pieces at once and freeze most of them after 1 day of marinating. You can also re-use the miso marinade a couple more times.
- 1 salmon cutlet (steak), 260g (9.2oz)
- 1 Spanish mackerel cutlet (steak), 230g (8.1oz)
- 1 blue eye cod fillet , 290g (10.2oz), about 5 cm (2”) wide
- 300 g (10.1oz) Saikyo miso (note 2)
- 1½ tbsp sake
- 1½ tbsp mirin
- 1 tbsp sugar
- A tray or a shallow container with a flat bottom in which the fish can be placed without overlapping
- 2 muslin pieces cut into the size of the tray
- Shiso (Japanese perilla) leaves
- Pickled ginger
Cut salmon and Spanish mackerel cutlets into two portions each by cutting the flesh along the bones, starting from the top (the dorsal side). Please visit my post Japanese Salmon Mirin-zuke (Mirin Marinade) which explains how to cut it, including photos.
Slice the blue eye cod down the middle to make two thin fillets.
Sprinkle a pinch of salt over each of the fish pieces and leave for 1 hour during which excess moisture in the fish comes out.
Pat dry using paper towel to remove the moisture.
Place the Saikyo Miso Marinade ingredients in a bowl and mix well ensuring that the miso paste is smooth with no lumps.
Spread half of the miso mixture in the tray evenly and place a piece of muslin to cover the entire surface of the miso mixture.
Place the fish on the miso mixture without overlapping each other, then place the other piece of muslin over the entire fish. Pour the remaining miso mixture over and spread evenly.
Using a thin spatula, press along the inside wall of the tray to ensure that the miso mixture covers the sides of the fish pieces. Trace along the gap between the fish pieces with the spatula and ensure that the miso mixture goes in between the fish pieces.
Cover the tray with a lid (if it comes with it) or aluminium foil/cling wrap and leave it for minimum 1 day, preferably 3 days in the fridge (note 5).
Pre-heat the grill.
Cut aluminium foil to 60cm length and scrunch it gently, then spread it over a baking tray.
Remove the upper muslin of the fish tray gently by folding towards one side. Take the fish out and place them on the scrunched aluminium foil.
Place the tray under the oven grill. The distance between the heat and the fish should be about 10cm (4”). If the grill is too close to the fish, the fish will burn before it is cooked.
Cook for 4-5 minutes until the edge of the fish starts burning. Turn it over and cook further 3-4 minutes. (note 6)
Remove the fillets from the grill and place them on the serving plate.
Add garnish if using and serve immediately.
1. I used three kinds of fish to show you how each fish comes out but you can use one kind of fish instead. The size of the fish can be different, too.
In the case of the fillet, I recommend slicing it into thinner fillets otherwise one side of the fillet is covered with the skin and the marinade does not penetrate well.
2. Saikyo miso (西京味噌) is a particular kind of miso which is very sweet and has a creamy pale colour. It might also be sold as “shiro miso” (白味噌, white miso) due to its colour.
3. Instead of marinating the fish in a tray, you could use a large plastic bag. In this case, you would have to wrap each piece of fish with muslin so that you can put all the fish and the miso mixture in a bag. Mix well to cover every piece of fish with miso.
You don’t need to use muslin to marinate the fish. The muslin is used simply to avoid the miso mixture sticking to the fish. If you are not using muslin, you need to make sure that the miso mixture is wiped off the fish before grilling. Otherwise the fish will burn quickly due to the sweet miso on it.
4. You can buy shiso leaves at Japanese grocery stores. I used shiso leaves merely to give colour to the dish. You could use a large green leaf from your garden instead.
Pickled ginger is thinly sliced ginger marinated in sugar and vinegar which is usually served when you order sushi. It refreshes the palate. You can buy pickled ginger at Asian/Japanese grocery stores.
I used a tiny radish for the salmon Saikyo yaki for a change. To make the tiny flower, slice the radish thinly leaving the bottom part of the radish intact, then slice again in the same way perpendicular to the first cut. Cut the radish into two, sprinkle with salt and gently press down and spread to make it look like tiny petals. Rinse off the salt.
5. You can freeze the marinated fish. After marinating the fish for 1 day, freeze it together with the miso. When I know that I am going to freeze the fish, I usually wrap it with muslin individually then marinate. After 1 day of marinating, take each piece of fish and some miso mixture into a small freezer bag as if it is marinated individually, then freeze.
6. Cooking time varies depending on the grill and the thickness of the fish. The fish I cooked was 1.5cm – 2.5cm (½” - 1”) thick. You could also grill on a BBQ or a grill pan over medium heat. Watch the fish as it could burn very fast.