What is Tsukudani?

a photo of Tsukudani
Assorted Tsukudani

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.

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We hope this information will be helpful.

Revision date: February 17, 2023


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