Chargrilled Ayu—taste of summer on the Nagara river!

In the summer months of May through October, Seki is the site of traditional cormorant fishing (ukai) along the Nagara river. Ukai is an ancient fishing method dating back 1,300 years and it is still practiced today using the same techniques. The cormorants are handled by their masters (usho), who wait until after dark to set the birds on their prey—ayu (sweetfish). Enjoy ayu, on a traditional wooden boat as the sun sets on the Nagara during one of my ukai o-bento workshops. Learn more and sign up here!

But today, no need to fly all the way to Japan! I will be bringing a traditional Japanese dish into your homes. I use fresh ayu, line-caught by my friend, an expert local fisherman at Oze, on the Nagara here in Seki City. This species of fish typically has a one-year lifespan, which accounts for its small size and thin skin. Its sweet flesh makes it popular with folks of all ages, and as the prefectural fish of Gifu, it is a local specialty during the summer months throughout the region. It is often simply skewered and grilled over an open flame and served alongside a bowl steaming rice. Today, I'll share this traditional recipe, so have a look at the video above and join me in Nabe cooking!


Char-grilled ayu cooked with rice in donabe clay pot 焼き鮎の炊き込みごはん

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 5 fresh ayu (alternatively snapper or salmon)
  • salt as needed

To cook rice:

  • 5 cups* short grain Japanese rice (washed, rinsed, drained)
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sake
  • 10g konbu (sun-dried kelp)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger

*1 cup is 200ml

Method

  1. Wash rice, rinse and drain at least 30 minutes before cooking the rice.
  2. Skewer ayu with metal skewer and coat the fins with salt.
  3. Grill over charcoal on both sides for 2-3 minutes. If you don’t have skewers, you can simply grill the fish directly on the BBQ.
  4. Put washed rice in a large pot, heavy saucepan, or donabe Japanese clay pot.
  5. Add the water, salt, and sake.
  6. Stir well.
  7. Sprinkle chopped ginger over the rice.
  8. Place the kelp on the rice.
  9. Place the fish on the kelp.
  10. Cook covered on high heat.
  11. Bring it to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer.
  12. Simmer until rice begins crackling (about 5-10 minutes).
  13. When rice starts crackling, turn up the heat to high for about 5 seconds to slightly toast the rice in the bottom of the clay pot. (This makes the rice smell nice. Try not to burn the rice though.)
  14. Turn off the heat and let it sit covered for 15 minutes.
  15. Remove the lid and take the fish out of the pot and remove fins, bones and head.
  16. Return the flesh to the cooked rice and mix well with a spatula.
  17. Dish out into each serving bowl.

I hope you enjoyed the subtle flavour of ayu, the taste of summer on the Nagara. Be sure to join me next time to cool down with soba kanten. During the hot humid summer, the Japanese use this refreshing dessert to lower their body temperature. Check back soon to follow along!