Standard Shime Saba (Pickled Mackerel)

Standard Shime Saba (Pickled Mackerel)

Shime saba (salt- and vinegar-cured mackerel) is quite a sophisticated dish. I catch a lot of mackerel every year, so I've been making this many times over several years, but I wasn't able to make a really delicious version. This is what I came up with after a lot of trial and error. It's standard shime saba. I am still working on my recipe, but I thought I'd upload my current version anyway.

Ingredients: 4 to 8 servings

Fresh mackerel (at least 40 cm long)
Natural salt
as needed
300 ml
100 ml
about 5 teaspoons


1. Remove the guts, gills, and head (see photo). Very fresh mackerel still has scales, so remove them too.
2. Filet the fish and remove the backbone. Be as thorough as possible in removing any fine bones using fish bone tweezers. You could also remove the fine bones just before eating, if you prefer. If you remove the bones while you're slicing the fish to serve, the fish will be easier to eat.
3. Salt the fish with a generous amount of natural salt. Arrange the fillets in a single layer on a tray or plate, and refrigerate for 1-2 hours. If you chill for for too long, the flesh will become tough. If moisture is produced from the fish as shown in the Step 4 photo, that's good!
4. Leave the tray or plate tilted slightly, so that he fish won't be sitting in the liquid that is produced, making it tastier (see photo).
5. Rinse the salt from the mackerel. You could use plain water, but rinsing with sake or vinegar is the real way to do it! But in fact, this might not change the flavor much! When the salt is rinsed off, be sure to thoroughly blot the fish dry (this part is critical).
6. Put 300 ml vinegar, 100 ml mirin and 5 teaspoons sugar in a freezer bag and dissolve well. Add the mackerel from Step 5 to the bag, and let marinate for 5-15 hours. The key is to eliminate as much air as possible from the bag. If you aren't going to eat the fish right away, remove it from the marinade, wrap it in plastic wrap; it should keep for 2 days in the refrigerator!
7. To eat, peel off the skin starting from the head side. Do this carefully so that you don't rip the flesh! You can do this easily with your bare hands. Cut or slice as you like!

Story Behind this Recipe

Everyone has a different idea of what "shime saba" or cured mackerel means! Nowadays, it's usually thought to be pickled or cured mackerel.
It actually took me many years to realize this. The flavor of shime saba can differ depending on the state of the fish of course, but by adding some sweetness to the marinade it becomes more palatable.
Be sure to use fresh mackerel.
It took me way to long to come up with this method, which is actually pretty basic!