Yellow goosefish is star ingredient in Japanese winter delicacy

Yellow goosefish, or kianko in Japanese, is the star ingredient in ankonabe hotpot, a winter delicacy in Ibaraki Prefecture.

The fish, popularly called anko, lives on the sea bottom at a depth of 100 meters to 400 meters and can be caught by bottom trawling off the prefecture. Recently, anko caught outside the prefecture often appear on the market.

In the intensely cold season, the liver of the fish swells, which makes it tastier.

"It's a fish to be savoured deeply," said Hiroshi Aoyagi, the executive chef of Oarai Hotel in Oarai, Ibaraki Prefecture.

Anko's body fluids make it so slippery that it is hard to cut on a board. Instead, the fish is hung up for cutting on a stand with a metal hook in its lower jaw.

Almost all parts of the fish are edible. Those called "seven tools" are skin, fins, gills, stomach, ovaries, liver and meat. The liver has been dubbed the "foie gras of the sea" for its rich flavor.

The Yomiuri Shimbun's recipe for ankonabe from 1918 uses all the seven parts of the fish in a liquid seasoned with soy sauce, even though ankonabe often features a miso-based flavor. The liver melts away to add a rich taste, while also offering various textures: the light flavor of meat, skin with a lot of gelatin and the elastic stomach, among others.

Now regarded as a tasty food in eastern Japan, in comparison to fugu in the nation's west, anko used to be ridiculed as a fish that not even a cat would eat because of its ugly appearance. Therefore, fishermen often brought anko to their homes.

A dish called tomozu is another local specialty, with boiled anko marinated with its liver and vinegared miso.

Meanwhile, dobujiru soup, a local home-cooked dish, is said to be a prototype of ankonabe.

"The more we know anko, the more we get to dobujiru," Aoyagi said. "The soup is, so to speak, the ultimate anko dish."

As anko contains so much water, making dobujiru starts with dry-frying its liver. Season the liver with miso before adding other parts of the fish. Their juice will come out to serve as the delicious liquid of the dish.

Preparing dobujiru requires a lot of effort compared to ankonabe, so Oarai Hotel serves dobujiru to a limited number of customers. Some customers from far outside of Ibaraki Prefecture even visit the hotel to eat the dish.

Yuji Shinohara, head of an association for minshuku inns in Kita-Ibaraki, described anko as a fish about which people used to say, "Who'd spend good money on that?"

"However, [anko] is the most important tourist attraction here today," he added.

Our recipe for ankonabe

Put soy sauce, mirin and dashi broth in a pot. Cut anko meat, skin and guts into pieces of a suitable size. Cut green onions into 1.5-centimeter lengths, and slice broiled tofu rather thinly. Put all the ingredients into the pot and simmer them. Sprinkle with dried bonito flakes before eating.

(Note: The 1918 recipe does not specify quantities for seasonings, but this ankonabe can be prepared with 2½ tablespoons of soy sauce, 3 tablespoons of mirin and 5 cups of dashi. Also, it is advisable to use a packed anko that has been already cut.)

(From the Jan. 20, 1918, edition)

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