Noresore is believed to be a juvenile of the Anago, but the species’ name is not really known. The larvae of Unagi (Japanese eel), Anago (Japanese conger), and Hamo (Daggertooth pike conger) are called Leptocephalus and are elongated and flattened, leaf-like in shape. They are transparent to the muscles and spine and are 5~6 cm in size. This is called Noresore in Kochi Prefecture. It arrives at the market from February to May, but the quantity is small and the freshness fades quickly, so the price is always high.
Many people look forward to it as a delicacy in early spring. Indeed, the smooth slurping and subtle sweetness are something special that cannot be tasted anywhere else. When eaten raw, it goes well with ginger soy sauce, wasabi soy sauce, or ponzu (Japanese citrus juice).
What does Noresore sushi taste like?
When made into sushi, it is served with green onions and ginger as condiments, and in a Gunkan maki. The atmosphere is similar to that of Shirauo (Japanese icefish), but it is much more slippery to the palate, much like the high-end Gelidium jelly. In Tokyo sushi restaurants, it is sometimes served as Tsumami, but almost never as Nigiri sushi.
Sea squirt (Its Japanese name is Hoya) is thought to be a specialty of the Tohoku region, but it is distributed from Hokkaido to Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu, as well as from the Korean Peninsula to the Shandong Peninsula of mainland China.
It has red, hard skin and protruding warts, the tops of which have entry and exit holes, and lives attached to rocks and other objects on the seafloor.
The sea squirt is nicknamed the pineapple of the sea because of its resemblance to a pineapple, which is not clear whether it is an animal or a plant. It is a close relative of vertebrates, although it is not at all imaginable. Its size is about 20 cm.
The two main species of Hoya (海鞘、老海鼠) consumed in Japan are Ma-hoya (Halocynthia roretzi (Drasche, 1884)) and Aka-hoya (Halocynthia aurantium aurantium (Pallas, 1787)). Miyagi Prefecture accounts for about 80% of the nation’s production, while Aka-hoya is mostly produced in Hokkaido.
What does Sea squirt (Hoya) nigiri sushi taste like?
Its edible parts are the muscles and internal organs, which are removed by peeling the skin. Hoya’s gonads get fatter in the fall and its muscles become leaner. Then, after May, the meat gets fatter and has eight times more glycogen than in winter, making it tastier and sweeter. If the body color of Ma-hoya is pineapple color, Aka-hoya is the color of a persimmon seed that has fully ripened to bright red.
Sea squirt takes in a lot of seawater, so it has a strong smell of the sea anyway. It also has a unique umami and bitter taste because it is rich in amino acids such as glycine and alanine.
Ma-hoya is generally considered to have a stronger flavor, while Aka-hoya is relatively mild. Ma-hoya is not for everyone, but it can be enjoyed as an unusual sushi topping.
Namako (Sea cucumber) is a slender invertebrate measuring 20~30 cm in length. It has numerous protrusions on its body surface. The spawning season is from late spring to early summer, and the season is winter. Its scientific name is Apostichopus armata (Selenka, 1867).
There are three types of Namako (海鼠): Aka-namako (brownish-brown), Ao-manako (bluish), and Kuro-namako (blackish). Aka-namako has an elegant aroma and a strong, crunchy texture when eaten raw, while Ao-manako has a stronger scent of the sea, is moderately soft, and is less expensive than Aka-namako. Kuro-namako, on the other hand, is mainly used as a high-end ingredient in Chinese cuisine. The difference in color is due to the difference in habitat, which is the same namako.
What does Namako (Sea cucumber) sushi taste like?
To prepare Namako, it is first gutted and washed with salt. Afterward, the sea cucumber may be quickly passed through Bancha to remove its distinctive odor and soften its meat. It is then sliced into 2-3 mm thick slices and soaked in vinegar quickly. This is then served in a Gunkan maki. However, it is rare for it to be served as sushi, and is often served as a vinegared dish.
Tsukudani (佃煮) is a type of processed food made by simmering small fish caught at the seashore or lakeshore in seasonings. Tsukudani is boiled down in a seasoning solution consisting mainly of soy sauce and sugar, so it can be kept for a long time. In addition to the sterilizing effect of heating, the osmotic pressure created by the salt in the soy sauce reduces the water content in the tissue. This reduces the proliferation of bacteria and thus preserves the fish.
The marine products used to make Tsukudani include small fish such as Spiny goby (Haze), Pacific sand lance (Konago), Half mouth sardine (Shirasu), Crucian carp (Funa), Bitterling (Tanago), and Japanese smelt (Wakasagi); diced Bonito (Katsuo) and Tuna (Maguro); shellfish such as Baby clam (Asari), Orient clam (Hamaguri), and Bloody clam (Akagai); crustaceans such as Shrimp (Ebi) and Mysid (Ami); and seaweeds such as Kombu and Nori. Shio-kombu is also a type of Tsukudani.
For Tsukudani, the freshest ingredients are chosen. If small fish are used that are not fresh, their flesh will fall apart and the seasoning will become cloudy, reducing the value of the product.
When making Tsukudani, the first step is to bring water, soy sauce, sugar, and other seasonings to a boil in an iron cauldron. The ingredients are then placed in the pot and simmered over low heat to allow the liquid to absorb into the tissues of the ingredients. After the simmering process, the Tsukudani is removed from the cauldron and cooled quickly by blowing air through a fan or similar device. The reason for this is that prolonged heat will cause the quality of the product to deteriorate.
The name Tsukudani is said to have originated with fishermen on Tsukuda Island (佃島) during the Edo period (1603-1868), a small island at the mouth of the Sumida River, which flows into Edo Bay. It was named Tsukuda Island after a group of fishermen from the village of Tsukuda in Settsu (摂津), who were invited to settle there when the Edo shogunate was established.
Since Edo’s traditional fishing industry was underdeveloped then, Tokugawa Ieyasu is said to have introduced advanced fishing techniques from the west to supply food for the urban population of Edo.
Tsukuda Island fishermen delivered fish to Edo Castle and the lords. On the other hand, small fish that had no commercial value were seasoned and processed for their use.
Their taste became so well known that they came to be called Tsukuda-ni (ni means simmer) after the name of the land. Tsukudani was a way to make effective use of small fish without discarding them and preserving them.
These Tsukudani were brought back to the country as souvenirs by the samurai on the “Sankinkotai (duty of alternate-year attendance in Edo)”. Eventually, local producers began to follow their example, and it spread throughout the country.
Tsukudani has several variations. Shigure-ni (時雨煮) is made by cooking flaked clams, clams, and other shellfish with soy sauce as well as sansho (Japanese pepper) and ginger. Shigure-hamaguri (時雨蛤) is a specialty of Kuwana, Mie Prefecture. Kanro-ni (甘露煮) is soy sauce with more syrup added and boiled down until there is no more liquid. Ame-ni (飴煮) is made by adding sake and mirin to soy sauce, simmering the ingredients in the seasoning liquid, and then adding more syrup. In the past, Ame-ni was often made with river fish such as crucian carp. In recent years, sugar and syrup have been used in Tsukudani, and the distinction between Kanro-ni and Ame-ni seems to have become ambiguous.
Generally, Shiokara (salted fish guts) is a food product made by maturing salted seafood meat and offal. This maturing is a chemical process in which proteins are converted into free amino acids by the digestive action of proteolytic enzymes contained in the offal, creating a rich umami, while the high salt content prevents spoilage. As maturing progresses, the taste becomes less salty and mellower.
Today, shiokara is rarely found in any other food than seafood, but in the past, it was also made from animal meat. As evidence, shiokara made from rabbit and deer meat is mentioned in documents (倭名類聚鈔) dating from 905 to 967.
In the Edo period (1603-1867), eating animal flesh became anathema, and shiokara made from animal flesh gradually declined, leaving only shiokara made from fish and shellfish.
In the Edo period, shiokara was called nashimono (なし物) or natsushimono (なつし物) or nanshimo (なんし物) and included fish and shellfish such as Red seabream (Tai), Horse mackerel (Aji), Pacific cod (Tara), Ark shell (Akagai), Orient clam (Hamaguri), Abalone (Awabi), Prawn (Ebi), and Crab (Kani), as well as birds such as Lark and Quail.
It is said that the term shiokara, which is still used today, took root around the end of the Edo period, and literature from that time describes shiokara being sold as Katsuo, Ami, Ebi, Ika, and others.
These days, shiokara is considered more of a luxury food than a side dish, and many shiokara products cannot be stored without refrigeration because the salt content has been reduced to less than 10% due to low-salt preference. Also, some products are seen with the addition of mirin or rice malt to suppress the salty taste.
And what I must tell you is that there are various delicacies not only in Japan but also in other countries, some of which are characterized by their odd smell and strange appearance, but are also very flavorful.
One of the most typical examples is the shiokara introduced here. It can be said that it is the top 5 stinky food in Japan.
We are fairly sure that Shiokara isn’t the type of dish that will have you coming back for more. But rest assured, Japanese cuisine has so much more to offer.
Types of shiokara in Japan
Ika-no-shiokara (salted squid guts)
Generally, Japanese common squid (Surume-ika) is used, and it is the most in-demand shiokara.
The process is to mix squid liver, commonly called “goro,” with shredded squid meat in a ratio of 1:15 to 20, add 10 to 20% salt, and allow the mixture to stand for about half a month, stirring occasionally, until the meat is broken down by enzymes to produce the characteristic umami, which is then ready to eat. There are three types of shiokara: shiro (shiro means ‘white’)-zukuri, in which the skin is removed; aka (aka means ‘red’)-zukuri, in which the skin is left on; and kuro (kuro means ‘black’)-zukuri, in which squid ink is added.
Tsubu-uni (salted and preserved sea urchin)
Tsubu-uni is a specialty of Yamaguchi Prefecture and was invented around 1887, using Bafun uni, Aka uni, and Murasaki uni as ingredients.
The process begins by rinsing the gonads removed from the sea urchin. The product is then sprinkled with about 10% salt, packed in a bottle containing about 20% alcohol, shaken well, and aged for about half a month. The resulting product has a low salt content of about 8%, but can be stored at room temperature for about a year because of its alcohol content of about 9%.
Shuto (salted bonito guts)
Shuto (酒盗) is a shiokara made from bonito entrails. It is a specialty of Kochi Prefecture and is said to have been named by Yamauchi Toyosuke. Fatty bonito that has been frozen for a long time will become discolored, so bonito caught from spring to summer, when it has less fat, is the best material for shuto.
Among the removed internal organs, the pyloric appendage, stomach, and intestines are rinsed and aged with 30% salt. The one made with meat and offal is called “Tataki”, while the one made with only the stomach and intestines is called “Hantou (飯盗)”. It is also called Japanese anchovy and has a distinctive smell.
When making dried or pickled sea cucumbers, the digestive tract is removed, washed, and soaked in 30% salt. The value of konowata is diminished when it is torn off and the yield is only about 1%, making konowata especially expensive among shiokara. The moment you put it in your mouth, you can smell the mellow aroma of the sea, and it is characterized by its unique sticky texture.
Mefun (salted salmon guts)
Mefun is a shiokara made from Salmon’s kidney.
The removed kidneys are washed in salt water, sprinkled with salt, hardened, then washed in thin salt water to reduce the salt content to about 12% and dried in the shade. The fish is then packed in containers and aged for about six months before being made into a product. The product has a maturing smell peculiar to salted fish.
Uruka (salted ayu guts)
Uruka is the shiokara of ayufish entrails. There are ko-uruka made with ayu fish ovaries, shiro-uruka made with testes, kiri-uruka made with chopped meat mixed with the entrails, and shibu-uruka made with entrails other than ovaries and testes.
The process is the same for all ingredients: add about 30% salt, remove the leaching liquid, repeat the process of adding more salt, and let the product mature for about one year.
Sukugarasu (salted orange-spotted spinefoot)
In Okinawa, shiokara is called karasu. Kara means spicy and su means salt. Suku refers to the juvenile orange-spotted spinefoot, which are caught around the new moon of the sixth lunar month, when they gather in large schools on coral reefs.
The fish is matured in a dark place with 30% salt added to the fish. The fish is ready to eat within 2 to 3 days after being marinated, but the longer maturing fish is considered tastier. In Okinawa, shiokara of bonito entrails is called Watagarasu, shiokara of squid is called Ichagarasu, and shiokara of sea urchin is called Gashagarasu.
Ganzuke (salted fiddler crab)
A specialty of the Ariake Sea coast of Saga Prefecture, it is mainly made from fiddler crab and is said to have been invented around the 18th century by the lord of the Nabeshima feudal lord at that time.
The process involves removing the abdomen, mashing the fiddler crab with a mortar, adding about 30% salt, chili peppers, and other seasonings, and maturing the mixture for about three months.
Types of shiokara in Southeast Asia
On the Korean peninsula, shiokara is called jeotgal or jeot, and there are over 40 varieties. Among them, 새우젓 made with small shrimp and 멸치젓 made with half mouth sardine are consumed in large quantities because they are essential for kimchi (김치) production.
The Fujian Han Chinese in Taiwan refer to the shiokara as 鮭 or 鹸鮭. Ingredients include shrimp, small fish, and crab.
In Vietnam, shiokara, fish sauce, and narezushi are collectively called mắm, all of which are produced with the main purpose of flavoring dishes.
For example, mắm tôm, a shiokara paste of small shrimp, is made by adding about 20-30% salt to freshly caught shrimp, grinding them in a blender, and then spreading them on winnows and drying them in the sun for 2-3 days before maturing them in a container. It will be ready to eat in about a month, but those that have been around for more than a year are considered tasty.