The taste of early summer can be characterized by the delicate flavor of early-season katsuo, or skipjack tuna.
Sayuri Kondo, who gives cooking classes in Tokyo's Tsukiji district, shares a recipe for seared katsuo that can be easily made using a grill and a frying pan.
Seared katsuo is a local specialty in Kochi Prefecture, where they sprinkle the fish with salt before grilling it and eat with seasonings, such as garlic and ginger. It is a great way to enjoy the uniquely scented fish, and the dish is popular nationwide.
There are various theories concerning the origin of the dish's Japanese name, "katsuo no tataki" - literally, pounded skipjack - with some claiming it derives from the custom of tenderizing the fish to help it absorb flavor when cooking.
These days, "katsuo no tataki" more often refers to seared skipjack tuna.
Traditionally, the dish is prepared by skewering portions of fish and searing them over an open flame, but this is difficult to do at home.
This recipe has two steps: First, grill the skin of the fish to give it a smoky aroma. Then, finish by frying it in a pan.
Sprinkle salt over the entire fish and leave it for a while.
Dab the fish with a kitchen towel to remove any excess moisture and sprinkle with salt again. Wrap the fish in aluminium foil, leaving the skin exposed.
Place it on a grill skin-side up and heat it over a medium-to-high flame until the skin is nicely charred.
A key point is sprinkling salt on the fish twice.
The first time helps to reduce the odour and remove excess moisture from the fish; the second is to season the fish.
Kondo recommends cooking katsuo using garlic-flavored oil.
Put thinly sliced garlic in one or two tablespoons of sesame oil and heat over a low flame.
When the garlic turns golden brown and the oil becomes aromatic, remove the slices from the pan.
Place the fish skin-side down in the pan and lightly cook over medium heat. Be sure to cook each side.
When it is cooked, submerge the fish in a bowl of iced water.
Then remove the fish from the bowl, pat dry and slice into bite-size pieces.
Ideally, the exterior of the fish should be cooked while the interior retains the fresh texture of sashimi.
Therefore, to prevent the fish from overcooking, it is best to cut the portion in half and cook it while keeping an eye on the centre to ensure it retains its raw reddish hue.
Submerging the fish in iced water immediately after cooking helps to halt the cooking process.
Serve the seared katsuo on a plate with sliced new onions, radish sprouts, a slice of lemon and grated ginger.
Soak the onions in water before serving.
Drizzle some of the oil from the pan over the dish and garnish with the slices of garlic used to make the oil.
It tastes great as it is, or eaten with grated ginger and soy sauce. The rich taste of garlic perfectly complements the flavor of the fish.
"Seared katsuo can be prepared as a Japanese, Western or Chinese dish," Kondo said.
One example is katsuo mixed with Japanese mustard and vinegared miso sauce. Combine a tablespoon each of white miso and sugar, two tablespoons of vinegar and a teaspoon of Japanese mustard.
Cut the fish into bite-sized pieces and mix with the sauce. It is also great atop salad.
"If you want to try a Western version of the dish, try using olive oil instead of sesame oil," she said.
Mix two tablespoons of plain yogurt, a teaspoon each of curry powder, lemon juice and mayonnaise and pinches of salt, pepper and grated garlic.
Serve the seared katsuo with vegetables of your choice on a plate and drizzle with the curry yogurt sauce.
It looks great topped with thinly sliced grilled gyoza skins or a pinch of paprika powder.
"Seared katsuo is a great dish for beginners. I hope people enjoy experimenting with different kinds of seasonings," Kondo said.
1 large katsuo portion
1 garlic clove
½ new onion
Slice of lemon