Posted on February 2, 2011 at 2:16 AM
String of Fish
As I was gettig ready to leave Sado Island in Niigata last week, I came upon the most beautiful string of fish. I crossed the snow covered street to take a closer look. It was Himono-salted dry fish. The fish had just been salted that morning and hung to dry.
I grew up eating a lot of Himono, having lived near the seaside of Kamakura as a child. When I walked by the local fishmonger's shop on my way to school, I would always find him cleaning fish. He made himono first thing in the morning. I would watch him while I waited for the bus to come. He split and gutted the fish one by one, and dropped the innards into the stone tub right next to his cutting board where the fishmonger kept his gold fish as pets. These gold fish were fed so well, they were as big as Koi.
To make himono, the fish are soaked in a brine and then laid flat on a large screen to dry in the open air. The sun and the wind aid in the drying. This method of drying retains the umami of the fish, without drying the meat out. Kamakura was famous for mackerel Himono, Aji-no-himono. It was my favorite way to eat fish.
When I moved to Los Angeles, my mother would come visit me once a year. She always brought suitcases full of care packages - one of which was a styrofoam box full of Himono. I can still recall the image of my mother when she came out of the plane on a wheel chair one time. She was holding the box of fish on her lap. I thought something terrible happened to her during the flight because I had never seen her on a wheel chair before. It turned out she just didn't feel like carrying the heavy box. My mother always went over board with souvenirs. She never got any of the fish confiscated by customs.
Himono is an ancient invention that allowed people to preserve and transport fish when refrigeration was not available and is still a popular food in Japan. Himono can be fishy in taste for some people. A good introduction to Himono is to eat it as appetizers with sake. The way to serve Himono is broiled or grilled. You don't need to add any seasonings because the salting intensifies the flavors of the fish. Some come smoked. Mollusks like squid and small need only to be pan fried dry. Heated or grilled, Himono softens up. You can keep Himono in the freezer for 3-6 months.
Fresh flounder hanging.
Fin of sting ray