Bold and smoky Japanese grilled mackerel fillets (or Saba Shioyaki as they say in Japan) with succulent flesh and crispy skin. A delicious and nutritious weeknight-friendly recipe that comes together in just 20 minutes.
Serve the traditional way with daikon and a slice of lemon or with rice and steamed green beans with an optional slightly sweet soy and mirin sauce that cuts through the fattiness of the mackerel.
The post contains additional information and helpful tips to ensure the recipe turns out great the first time. Please use the link above to jump to the recipe card at the end if you are in a hurry!
4 reasons why you will love this recipe
- Healthy: Mackerel is rich in omega 3, vitamin B12, vitamin D and protein.
- Affordable: Mackerel tends to be cheaper than other types of fish like salmon, fresh tuna and seabass.
- Quick and easy: Ready in 20 minutes.
- Tender flesh and super crispy skin.
Saba no shioyaki
Saba no Shioyaki is a popular Japanese dish that translates to "grilled mackerel with salt". It is a simple yet delicious way of preparing mackerel commonly found in Japanese cuisine.
To make Saba no Shioyaki, the mackerel is first cleaned and then seasoned with salt. The fish is then grilled, either over an open flame, on a grill, or in an oven until the skin becomes crispy and the flesh is cooked through. The salt helps to enhance the natural flavors of the mackerel and complements its oily richness.
- Mackerel fillets with skin on: The Japanese use saba (or pacific Mackerel) known for its high oil content and firm texture. If you don't have access to Pacific mackerel you can use Atlantic or Spanish mackerel which are more readily available in the US and UK. You can use fresh or thawed frozen mackerel fillets.
- Sake: Enhances the flavour, reduces odour, and helps to tenderise the mackerel.
- Sea or kosher salt: Brings out the flavour of the mackerel, draws out excess moisture and helps to crisp up the skin.
To serve: (optional)
- Eel sauce: Made with soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and sake.
- Steamed sushi rice:
- Steamed green beans:
- Sesame seeds: I sprinkle these on the top of the dish before serving. They complement the flavours of the other ingredients and add a crunch.
Note that the recipe has not been tested with all the substitutions and variations below, so the results cannot be guaranteed.
- Mackerel: Herring is the closest substitute. It's oily and has a similar bold flavour. You can also use salmon, trout or fresh sardines.
- Sake: You can also use rice wine vinegar, lemon juice or dry sherry to tenderise the mackerel.
- Miso-glazed: Instead of just using salt, you can create a miso glaze to coat the mackerel before grilling. Mix miso paste with a bit of sugar, sake, and mirin to form a thick glaze. Brush the glaze over the fish and grill until caramelized.
- Citrus-infused: Enhance the flavors of the fish by adding some citrus zest (lemon, lime, or orange) to the salt before sprinkling it over the mackerel. The citrusy aroma will complement the fish's richness.
- Spicy saba shioyaki: Add a kick of heat to the dish by incorporating some chili flakes or a pinch of cayenne pepper into the salt seasoning.
- Ginger and garlic: Finely grate fresh ginger and minced garlic and mix them with the salt before seasoning the fish.
- Soy sauce glaze: Create a soy sauce-based glaze by mixing soy sauce, mirin, sake, and sugar. Brush this glaze over the mackerel while grilling for a glossy and umami-rich finish.
Preparing frozen mackerel fillets
I recommend taking the fillets out of the freezer the night before, removing them from their packaging and placing them in the fridge on an uncovered plate or tray lined with kitchen paper. I find if they defrost in their packaging they often end up sitting in a little pool of water. This is game-over for crispy skin.
🧑🍳 Recipe steps:
*Be sure to see the recipe card below for the full ingredients list & instructions! *
Step 1: Prepare the optional soy and mirin sauce if using by placing a small saucepan on a low heat and adding the soy sauce, mirin, sugar and water. Stir until the ingredients are combined and warmed through. Turn off the heat and set aside.
Step 2: Pour sake over the fillets and dry them with kitchen paper.
Step 3: Sprinkle both sides of the mackerel with salt and set aside for 20 minutes if you have time.
Step 4: Place the mackerel fillets (skin side down) onto the grill pan lined with foil and grill in the middle of the oven for two minutes until the flesh becomes opaque. Turn them over so the skin side is now up and cook until the skin starts to crisp up. Serve immediately.
🍽️ Serving suggestions
Whether you decide to make the grilled mackerel the star of your meal or serve it alongside other tasty Japanese dishes like tempura fried chicken or katsu pork curry, there are so many ways to enjoy saba shioyaki:
- Traditional: Serve with daikon and citrus fruit like lemon, lime or Yuzo or with steamed rice, a side of miso soup, and a small plate of pickled vegetables (tsukemono).
- Donburi: My favourite way to enjoy saba shioyaki. Top a bowl of steamed sushi rice with the grilled mackerel and serve with steamed green beans and drizzle on the soy mirin sauce.
- Sushi platter: Slice the grilled mackerel and arrange it on a sushi platter alongside a crunchy California roll and crispy rice with spicy salmon.
- Japanese-style Salad: Flake the grilled mackerel and serve it on a bed of mixed greens, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes. Drizzle with a sesame dressing or a citrusy soy-based dressing.
- Mackerel Sandwich: Serve between slices of bread or in a bun with lettuce, tomato, and your favourite condiments.
- Remove as much moisture as you can - from the mackerel fillets with kitchen paper before you grill them. This is especially important if you are using frozen mackerel fillets. If the fillets are too wet the skin will not crisp.
- Line the grill pan with foil - save clean-up time by placing a sheet of foil on top of the grill pan before adding the mackerel fillets.
- Grill on a high heat - for crispy skin and maximum flavour.
🙋 Recipe FAQs
Saba Shioyaki should be served promptly. As it cools the skin will lose its crispiness, and the flesh's tenderness and flavour diminish. However, you can store leftovers in the fridge for up to 2 days. It's best to remove the skin and enjoy leftover grilled mackerel cold in a sandwich, salad, or bento, rather than attempting to reheat it.
What type of mackerel is eaten in Japan?
The most commonly eaten type of mackerel is the Pacific mackerel, known as "Saba" in Japanese. This species is a popular choice for various Japanese dishes, including Saba Shioyaki, due to its rich, oily flavour and firm texture.
In Japan, two of the most popular mackerel dishes are "Saba Shioyaki," which is grilled mackerel seasoned with salt, and "Saba Narezushi," a type of fermented sushi made with mackerel and rice.
It's best to use a dry sake with a clean and smooth taste. Dry sake complements the rich and oily flavor of the mackerel without adding excessive sweetness. Junmai and honjozo are good options. Cloudy sakes are not suitable.
More quick and easy Japanese inspired recipes
Japanese Grilled Mackerel (Saba Shioyaki)
- 200 g (7 oz) mackerel fillets (Note 1)
- Fine sea or kosher salt
- 2 tbsp sake (Note 2)
- 1.5 tbsp neutral oil (Note 3)
Soy & mirin sauce (optional)
- 2 tbsp regular or light soy sauce
- 2 tbsp mirin
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp sake
To serve (optional)
- Shredded daikon
- Citrus fruits like lemon, lime or yuzo
- steamed green beans
- sushi rice
- sesame seeds
Optional soy/mirin sauce
- Place a small saucepan on a low heat and add the soy sauce, mirin, sugar and water. Stir until the ingredients are combined and warmed through. Turn off the heat and set aside.
- Pour sake over the mackerel fillets and dry them with kitchen paper.
- Sprinkle both sides of the mackerel with salt and set aside for 20 minutes if you have time.
- Set your grill to its highest heat. (Note 4)
- Brush both sides lightly with oil.
- Place the mackerel fillets (skin side down) onto the grill pan and grill in the middle of the oven for two minutes until the flesh becomes opaque.
- Turn them over so the skin side is now up and return to the grill and cook until the skin starts to crisp up.
- Move the grill pan up to the top of the grill for 1 more minute for extra crispy skin. Keep an eye on it and ensure you remove it before the skin starts to burn.
- Serve immediately with optional sushi rice, steamed green beans, soy mirin sauce topped with sesame seeds.
- Mackerel: You can use fresh or thawed frozen mackerel fillets. Pacific mackerel is best if you have access to it otherwise Atlantic or Spanish mackerel are fine.
- Sake: Enhances the flavour, reduces odour, and helps to tenderise the mackerel. You can also use rice wine vinegar, lemon juice or dry sherry instead.
- Neutral oil: Such as groundnut, canola, vegetable or sunflower oil.
- Grilling the mackerel: Don't hesitate to crank up the heat to get super crispy skin and the best flavour.