By Hitoshi Ono / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterODA, Shimane — Nodoguro black throat sea perch, also called rosy sea bass, are gaining popularity and are often referred to as “white-fleshed fatty tuna.” They are found in waters off the Sanin region on the Sea of Japan coast. I joined a group of trawler fishermen searching for nodoguro off Oda, Shimane Prefecture, during the spawning season.
At about 1:30 a.m. on a day in mid-October, I boarded a small trawler at Yunotsu Port in Oda with five fishermen, including Koichi Nakashima, 68, who has worked at the job for 50 years. Three hours later, the boat came to a stop in waters about 50 kilometers off the western part of the prefecture, and the fishermen dropped ropes and a trawl net into the sea. They then motored about the area for an hour, keeping the trawl at a depth of about 140 meters. When the sky began to lighten, they reeled in their catch.
Among the karei flounder, anago conger eels and anko anglerfish, I found about 20 shiny red fish of 20 to 30 centimeters long. These are nodoguro. Nodoguro hauls are never very large and sometimes amount to almost nothing depending on the time and location, the fishermen said.
They repeated the process of dragging the trawl and reeling it in five times before returning to the port in the evening with about 25 kilograms of nodoguro. “Nodoguro caught in Shimane are said to be rich in fat and very popular. But the size of the catch differs from day to day. Today, we had a good haul,” Nakashima said. The fishing season for nodoguro is from September to May. The catch has been relatively small this season, Nakashima said.
Nodoguro live near the seabed at depths of 100 to 200 meters, and are caught across wide areas of the Sea of Japan and Pacific Ocean. The fish is also known as “akamutsu” in Japanese, but people in the Sanin region call it nodoguro for the black color inside its mouth that extends to its throat. (Nodo refers to throat, and guro means black.)
The sea off the coast of the Sanin region, where continental shelves extend, is one of the largest catch areas for the fish in the nation. Shimane Prefecture’s total nodoguro catch last year was 318 tons, according to the Shimane Prefectural Fisheries Technology Center.
In Oda, trawl fishing using small boats has been a popular fishing method over many generations. Local fishermen are normally engaged in “ichinichiryo” (one-day fishing), the traditional practice of starting to fish in nearby waters in the morning and returning to port in the evening. One-day fishing helps keep fish fresh. Fish are put on sale at a “banichi” (evening market) auction held at night on the day of catch, and are quickly delivered to consumer markets in the Kansai region and elsewhere.
“Nodoguro caught during one-day fishing are very fresh, so we can produce dried nodoguro whose appearance is also good,” said Akihisa Okada, president of Okatomi Store Co. seafood processing and sales company in the city. The company, which promotes the advantages of one-day fishing, buys nodoguro at night auctions, cuts them open the following morning, soaks them in brine for a day and then puts them in a cold air dryer for several hours the next day before freezing them. The red skin of nodoguro that has undergone this process is startlingly vivid.
I tried nodoguro dishes at Suimeikan, a ryokan inn that operates a seafood restaurant. Grilled nodoguro with salt was juicy, while simmered nodoguro was tender. The meat was soft and subtly sweet, and the fat was full of flavor. The sashimi, meanwhile, was thick and had a profoundly rich flavor.
Although I felt a little exhausted after being tossed about by the waves during my day of fishing for nodoguro, I was in the end completely satisfied with the rich taste of a high-end fish sometimes dubbed “red jewelry.”
Okada at Okatomi Store recommends grilling fresh nodoguro with salt. Sprinkle salt over the fish and grill over low or medium heat so that the skin does not burn. In this way, the fatty taste of the fish itself can be enjoyed.
Nodoguro that are dried and frozen should not be thawed because of the softness of the flesh. Instead, grill them frozen over low heat. When grilling one side at a time, do the skin side first so that the fish does not fall apart.
Nodoguro are also sold on the internet. Okatomi Store sells the fish on its website at http://www.rakuten.co.jp/okatomi/. A fresh fish weighing about 200 grams is priced at ¥1,598.
Izumoya, a shop in Oda, also sells dried nodoguro on its website at http://izumoya.ocnk.net/. A medium-sized dried nodoguro is sold for ¥1,400 to ¥1,600, excluding tax.
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