What is Japanese red fish?

A photo of red fish fillet
Red fish cannot be distinguished even by fish professionals when filleted.

Red fish is a common name for several species of fish. In Japan, it is most commonly applied to certain deep-sea rockfish in the genus Sebastes. Red fish means the word ‘Akauo’ (赤魚). ‘Aka’ (赤) is red, and ‘uo’ (魚) is fish.

Since there are numerous red looking fish, Splendid alfonsino (Kinmedai) and Broadbanded thornyhead (Kichiji) may also be considered Akauo.

Originally, Akauo referred to Akoudai (Sebastes matsubarae Hilgendorf, 1880). This fish is in season during the winter. It was once used as a substitute for Madai or Pacific cod (Madara), but in recent years its catch has declined dramatically and it has become an ultra-premium fish. It is also caught in the Kanto area and is still caught in Tokyo Bay. The term “Akou” for short refers to red-spotted grouper (Kijihata), which is quite confusing. Besides, Akauo is also the standard Japanese name for a species of goby family.

According to the “Guidelines for seafood names” issued by the Consumer Affairs Agency, three types of Akouo can be labeled: Golden redfish or Atlantic Ocean Perch (Taiseiyouakauo), Pacific ocean perch (Arasukamenuke), and Beaked or Deepwater redfish (Okiakauo).

In most cases, the fish sold in the market as Akauo are Pacific ocean perch (Arasukamenuke) and golden redfish (Taiseiyouakauo), which are closely related species frozen and imported from Alaska and Russia. The flesh is white without any particular flavor, and is widely used in dishes such as miso zuke, kasuzuke (pickling in sake lees), shioyaki (grilled with salt), and simmered. Pacific ocean perch (Arasukamenuke), which is caught in the waters around Japan, is also used in Nigiri sushi.

In any case, there is no doubt that red fish is a delicious fish.

*Sebastes norvegicus (Ascanius, 1772) and Sebastes marinus (Linnaeus, 1758) are the same species.

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