Shime Saba (pickled mackerel sushi)

I love mackerel.  

You’ve got to eat it fresh, it looks beautiful, it tastes really strong and it reminds me of fun times trying to catch them in the summer from a very young age.

I also love sashimi, or meat and seafood that is lightly cured, smoked or marinaded rather than cooked outright.

So here is a simple recipe for preparing mackerel to eat, without the use of a cooker.

You will need:

  • 2 mackerel fillets
  • 4tbsps salt and an extra pinch or so
  • 240ml clear vinegar (preferably rice vinegar)
  • 20ml vermouth (optional)
  • 1tbsp mirin


  • Put the mackerel fillets in a container and cover them with the 4tbsp salt, making sure that no parts are left uncovered on either side.


  • Transfer the fillets to a sieve and place it over some sort of container to catch any of the liquid that the salt will draw out.
  • If you’re left with any salt in the container sprinkle it over the top of the fillets.
  • Leave the fillets on the sieve for an hour then carefully take each one and rinse it under a cold water tap.
  • Make sure the tap is not set on high pressure or you could damage the fillet.
  • Carefully dry off the fillets with kitchen towel.
  • Find a sealable container. It should be able to hold the two fillets and when filled with the liquid mixture you are about to make it should cover both the fillets.
  • Mix together the vinegar, mirin, optional vermouth and extra pinch or two of salt.
  • Stir so that the salt dissolves.
  • Pour a little of the mixture into the sealable container.
  • Lay the fillets in the container flat, side by side then pour over the rest of the vinegar mixture.
  • Seal the container and put it in the fridge for 3 hours.


  • Take the fillets out of the container and carefully dry them with kitchen towel once again.
  • You will notice that the flesh has become more firm, almost as if the fish has been cooked.
  • It feels like a drier version of ceviche.
  • The next step can be quite satisfying once you get over the fiddly bit at the beginning.


  • Start at the top end of the fish and find yourself a bit of the skin to hold on to. It’s sort of like trying to peel back a new piece of sellotape.
  • Once you’ve peeled back a bit, gently pull the skin off all the way along the fillet.
  • Some of the iridescence will inevitably come off but don’t worry. This is normal.


  • Next, turn the fillets flesh-side up.
  • Look carefully and feel along the middle groove of the fillet for any bones.
  • Gently but firmly use a pair of tweezers to pull the buggers out.
  • This task is less satisfying than peeling off the skin but it’s worth it, if you want to avoid having to give (or receive!) the Heimlich manoeuvre later on.
  • The fillet is now ready for the final serving stage.
  • There are several options here. It could be served as a simple sashimi piece, it could be pressed onto sushi rice to make battera or sliced into sticks and made into maki rolls.
  • For this post I opted for a low-carb option and served it as a simple sashimi.


  • I sliced the fillet into 4-5mm pieces, with a thin groove cut deep into the middle of each one.
  • This groove allows the fish to soak up a little more sauce when you dip it.


  • You can serve it like so with chopsticks and some dipping sauce.
  • Soy sauce on its own is fine but for Shime Saba’s strong, oily taste I like to mix half soy sauce with half fresh lemon juice.
  • I also served the mackerel here with cucumber tsukemono, grated fresh ginger (to help cut through the oily fish) and some simple shredded spring onion, with a dab of wasabi.
  • Note that this is a very nutritious dish. It’s a much better drinks accompaniment than crisps or peanuts!


  •  You can also serve it as a lunch or other meal.
  • It keeps for at least a day in a sealed refrigerated container.
  • I love how the blue skin colour contrasts with the salad.


  • You can also serve the shime saba with small slices of lemon between each piece.
  • Not only do the colours contrast nicely but again, the sharp citrusy lemon cuts against the oily fish. And what else goes well with lemon and seafood?
  • Obviously a martini. I would recommend a classic martini with lemon peel, not olives.
  • Alternatively you could try my nice winter warmer the Japanese Pickled Ginger martini.

3 thoughts on “Shime Saba (pickled mackerel sushi)

  1. Pingback: Martini Izakaya Dishes | THE MARTINI DIARY

  2. Pingback: More Izakaya dishes | THE MARTINI DIARY

  3. Pingback: Even more Izakaya food | THE MARTINI DIARY

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