Kanako's Kitchen

Sanma Shioyaki: Grilled Pacific Saury with Salt

Posted in main dish, Recipe, today's meal by Kanako Noda on November 17, 2009

In Canada, autumn means Apples: they’re incredibly abundant at this time of the year. But in Japan, autunmn means Sanma, a fish so seasonal that its Japanese name brings together the character for autumn (秋) with the one for knife (刀 – because, of course, sanma kind of looks like a long blade) and the one for fish (魚), to make 秋刀魚, literally “Autumn Knife Fish”.

In the west, sanma is formally known as “pacific saury”, but more commonly referred to as “mackerel pike”. Personally, I’ll always call it sanma, and think of it as just another reason to look forward to the autumn. In season, sanma cost almost nothing, and grilling them always brings back memories of the big, back-to-school barbecue parties students at my university always organized at the start of the fall term.

Sanma is definitely best grilled over a charcoal fire and lightly seasoned with a bit of salt or with a light mixture of soy-sauce and grated daikon. It’s already too cold to barbecue here so, for tonight’s dinner, we did it on a stove-top grill.

In Montreal it’s very difficult to find fresh fish, but vacuum-packed frozen fish is also fine. I’m very proud of myself that I paid just $2.10 (for two of them!) for this spectacular fish at Angel Seafoods the other day.

Ingredients (for two)

  • Pacific Saury – two whole fish
  • Salt
  • Daikon – a small section
  • Soy sauce – 3 tablespoons


  • Grate a piece of daikon lightly, to obtain the watery pulp
  • If you prefer, gut the fish. (This isn’t strictly necessarily: personally, I like the fish “whole” – guts and all.)
  • If your grill is shorter than the fish, cut it into two sections.
  • Sprinkle a generous quantity of salt onto the fish
  • Let the fish sit for about 15 minutes, then rinse off the excess salt
  • Pat off the excess moisture using kitchen towels


  1. Heat a stovetop grill (or, better yet, do it on a barbecue)
  2. Grill on each side for about 8 minutes, letting the considerable amount of fat sanma contains drain away.

Serve hot, alongside a little molehill of grated daikon pulp. At the table, add soy sauce to the daikon pulp, mix, and add the soy-sauce-daikon mix to the fish.

Tonight, we had Grilled sanma alongside white rise, miso soup and stir-fried soy sprouts.


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4 Responses

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  1. Kepler said, on November 17, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    I was already wondering why there were no more fish dishes. Montreal may be a bit hard for that.

    I understand fish swim away in total panic as soon as they see a Japanese 1 mile from them. :-p

    Francisco lived for a long time in the Netherlands. Does he know if there is another fish that may do the trick? Does it taste like something from here? I suppose rather not, as it comes from subtropical areas…

    • kanako said, on November 18, 2009 at 11:27 am

      It’s, in fact, not easy to find good, fresh and “cheap” fish here in Montreal.
      In Netherland, or in Europe in general, mackerel and bream are easy to find. And they are popular also in Japan.

      Try with mackerel!

  2. Kepler said, on November 19, 2009 at 11:14 am

    Yes, here we eat mackerel as well, but I was not sure how close they really are.
    I will try.
    We eat a lot of this Spanish speaking mackerel:
    but they are different from the Dutch ones.

    I also miss fish from Venezuelan rivers.
    I’ll see.

    • kanako said, on November 19, 2009 at 2:04 pm

      I don’t know that mackerel, but I think it’s ok.
      In Japan we often eat Saba(mackerel) Shioyaki. So the fish will be different but there’s no problem as Japanese fish dish.

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