Jun 21

Iwashi no Shioyaki—Salt Grilled Sardines

in Japanese, Main Course, Recipes By Region, Recipes by Type, Seafood

Seafood sustainability is an issue that is growing bigger by the minute.  Due to our fishing methods, environmental issues, and pollution, our oceans are in trouble.  Over 90% of the large predatory fish such as shark, swordfish and cod have been fished out of the ocean.  A growing number of marine species are now endangered or threatened, threatening the health of marine ecosystems and our food supply.  Organizations like the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Greenpeace or working to educate the public about these issues and provide information on sustainable options—seafood that is good for human health (low in environmental contaminants and sources of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids) and does not harm the ocean.

Octopi at a market in Tokyo

I recently became acquainted with Martin Reed, founder of the recently launched business i love blue seai love blue sea ships sushi-quality fresh sustainable seafood to your door.  Living in Japan opened my eyes to an overwhelming variety of seafood that I had never seen, let alone know existed.  I loved walking through the seafood area of the market just looking at all of the different fish and shellfish.  I also loved the availability of sushi-quality fish.  Most American seafood counters are very boring in comparison.  When we moved back to the US I found it depressing to walk into the seafood area and only see things like salmon, tilapia, shrimp, and oysters.  I missed seeing things like whole mackerel, squid, and uni (sea urchin), and having access to sushi-quality fish.  I am very excited about i love blue sea, as it gives me a virtual seafood counter that gives me back that variety and freshness that I have been missing from Japan, while providing me with sustainable options.  A similar situation led Martin to start his company.  He was born and raised in San Francisco, spoiled by the bountiful fresh seafood of the Bay Area.  Then he moved to Arizona for college and found himself in the middle of the Tucson high dessert without access to the variety that he had taken for granted.  He decided to find a solution to this problem and in the process learned about the issues that face our oceans.

i love blue sea

Martin and I have teamed up to teach you more about sustainability by talking about different types of seafood, why they are sustainable, and ideas on how to prepare and serve them.  We’re starting out with one of my favorites—sardines.  The first time we moved to Japan I noticed a smaller skinny silver fish, called “iwashi,” that was in every market and was very affordable.  When I finally figured out that the fish I had been admiring were sardines, I was surprised.  These beautiful fish were a far cry from the canned sardines I was familiar with.  The taste was even more surprising—when grilled it is full of smoky flavor and not at all fishy.  When served as sushi, it is delicate and absolutely wonderful.  Martin agrees.  He said, “Sardines are a shock for most people that have only ever had them canned.  In fact, I had my first fresh piece of sardine sashimi just this year.  I thought it was a completely different fish.  Mind-blowing how such a delicious creature could be disrespected and shoved in a can like nerds in a locker!  Not only are they super high in Omega-3s but being so low on the food chain, they have almost no mercury.  Also, just three ounces of the fish (not even a full serving) contain more calcium than a glass of milk.   Though Pacific sardine stocks have been shaky in the past, thanks to solid management and an inherent resilience to fishing pressure, the species has recovered and populations are currently very strong.”  Sardines are listed as a “Best Choice” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Even Oprah has noticed these little guys, declaring them one of her top 25 superfoods.

Fresh sustainable sardines

I decided to show you a simple way of preparing sardines that highlights their fabulous flavor and is quick and easy.  I used a Japanese method called “shioyaki” or salt grilling.  This entails sprinkling coarse salt on small whole eviscerated fish or fish steaks and then grilling them over high heat.  The finished fish is then served with lemon wedges and soy sauce which helps bring out and accentuate the subtle flavors in the fish.

Headless sardines sprinkled with coarse salt

You can cook the sardines with or without their heads, but you don’t eat the heads.  Once the sardines are grilled you can eat around the bones, or you can gently split them open along their bellies and then carefully lift out the backbone, which will lift out the rest of the bones with it.  The finished sardines make a perfect light summer meal when served with hot steamed rice and a simple green salad.  I hope you try iwashi—I think you will love them as much as Martin and I do!

Shio Yaki Sardines

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Iwashi no Shioyaki—Salt Grilled Sardines

Makes 4 servings

Eight 6-inch iwashi (sardines)
1 1/2 tablespoons fine sea salt
1 1/2 tablespoons coarse salt
soy sauce
lemon wedges

1. Rinse the sardines under cold running water, and pat dry.  Cut open the bottom 1/4 of the belly on a cutting board, and remove the gills and intestines.    Cut the head off the head and pull away with your knife (or leave the head on).  Rinse the inside of the belly with cold water.  Make a brine by mixing 1 quart of cold water with 1 1/2 tablespoons of fine sea salt.  Rinse the fish in the brine.  Pat the fish completely dry.

2. Take 1/4 teaspoon or more of salt between your thumb and forefinger and press it onto the tail, gill flaps, and fins, and work the salt in with your fingers.  This will protect these parts and give them a nice white crust when they cook.  Now lightly salt the entire fish.

3. Preheat the grill for high heat (this prevents the fish from sticking to the rack).  Once it has heated, lightly oil the grill grate.

4. Place the fish on the grill presentation side down.  Grill until the skin is browned and crispy, about 3 — 4 minutes.  With chopsticks and a rubber or wood spatula if necessary (tongs will tear the fish apart), gently turn the fish over and grill the other side until done, which will take about the same amount of time.  Serve immediately with lemon wedges and soy sauce.

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

suki June 21, 2010 at 10:39 am

We tried Iwashi sashimi just the other night. SO GOOD! :)


Paula - bell'alimento June 21, 2010 at 10:40 am

Beautiful post with tons of great information! Nice to finally see some beautiful Sardines and what a fantastic preparation! Love it! {See Sardines don’t have to come in cans “like nerds in a locker” ; ) }


Jenny Flake June 21, 2010 at 10:41 am

Gorgeous post girl!! I’m a bit afraid of sardines, but you better believe I’d give your yummy recipes a try!! Have a great Monday :)


Fuji Mama (Rachael) June 21, 2010 at 10:43 am

@Jenny Flake, If you’ve only ever tasted canned ones, it’s no wonder! Fresh ones are SO good. If you like other kinds of fish, I can almost guarantee that you would love fresh sardines!


She's Cookin' June 21, 2010 at 10:48 am

Were you able to buy the iwashi locally or did you have to order online? I’ve posted about seafood sustainability and use the Monterey Bay Aquarium as a resource. Will check out i love blue sea – thanks for sharing this great info!


Fuji Mama (Rachael) June 21, 2010 at 10:56 am

@She’s Cookin’, My iwashi came from i love blue sea. I’m about 45 minutes from the coast, and thus 45 minutes from the markets with the fresher seafood. There is an Asian market about 20 minutes from me that I’ve purchased iwashi from, but they weren’t as fresh, and that definitely came through in the flavor!


Julie @ Willow Bird Baking June 21, 2010 at 10:54 am

Gorgeous dish!


Laura T. June 21, 2010 at 11:14 am

Thanks so much for posting a sardine recipe! As someone with high cholesterol, I’m always looking for good sources of omega-3s (and wow do sardines count for that!), and so am always on the look-out for recipes like this one.


jenjenk June 21, 2010 at 11:32 am

i HEART iwashi!! i don’t know what it is about them but it’s so great with rice! :) beautiful photos!!


Jen @ How To: Simplify June 21, 2010 at 1:02 pm

This is a great grilling recipe!


Christine @ Fresh Local and Best June 21, 2010 at 1:15 pm

This is the method I use to prepare sardines, which I absolutely love! I am so glad that you highlighted the diversity of fish that are available in the world and integrated this recipe with a message of sustainability. Great job!


Michelle @ Brown Eyed Baker June 21, 2010 at 1:26 pm

I admit, I shudder at sardines, but you make everything look so approachable and easy! Thanks for the great tutorial/recipe on preparing sardines.


Andrea @ Fork Fingers Chopsticks June 21, 2010 at 2:32 pm

This is the second time I’ve come across i love blue sea, so I’ll be investigating further. Since I live in Colorado, fresh seafood isn’t so fresh. Thanks for such an informative post.


Maria June 21, 2010 at 5:30 pm

Never been a fan of sardines so you can have my share…ha!


Cookin' Canuck June 21, 2010 at 9:06 pm

Really interesting post, Rachael! I have had the pleasure of eating fresh sardines and, as you said, they don’t even remotely resemble their canned counterparts. This method looks like a great way to highlight their taste and texture.


Robert-Gille Martineau June 22, 2010 at 3:30 am

Dear Rachael!
I agree that fishing should be controlled, although such issues have become too political, and I’m getting a little tired of all the Japan bashing. Especially when considering that Japan is the single biggest country to conduct positive and productive human-raised seafood, whereas some countries (follow my sight) try to impose to all and sundries laws that they broke in the past, depleting the seas of creatures they want to protect!
Oh well,…
Great report!
Best regards,


Barbara @ VinoLuciStyle June 22, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Willing to join the Sardinistas…now to just find some here in landlocked Denver. I love your posts although some are so exotic I would have to spend a day shopping for ingredients..but this? This I can handle!


Kim at Rustic Garden Bistro June 22, 2010 at 7:22 pm

I totally hear ya about the lack of seafood options here. I spent some time in Oregon (college) and was spoiled on their fresh fish… so now the markets close to home just aren’t the same?

LOVED reading about your collaboration with Martin; what a great way to spread the word!

Have you been to Shin Sen Gumi in Fountain Valley?! I’ll bet they have some of these lovely sardines there, too. :) In fact, there, I think you get it served on a stick. If you make it out to The OC, I’ll be happy to treat you so we can get our fish fix in!



Fuji Mama (Rachael) June 27, 2010 at 6:51 pm

@Kim at Rustic Garden Bistro, No, I haven’t! I’ve heard it’s good though! Sounds like we need to plan a trip… :)


Jean June 23, 2010 at 7:58 am

Thank you for a very informative post and for highlighting one of my favorite foods. I love, love, love grilled sardines. They’re so underrated. I will have to look into the I Love Blue Sea program.

Thanks again.


She's Cookin' June 23, 2010 at 11:31 am

Congrats on today’s Top 9! Since I live near FV – I’ll check out Kim’s suggestion of Shin Sen Gumi for some sardines.


Linn @ Swedish Home Cooking June 23, 2010 at 11:44 am

I just got back from Guam, a tiny little island outside of the Philippens. We had grilled fish everyday and sometimes grilled sardines. It is amazing!


EMK@eat, drink and be merry June 23, 2010 at 7:25 pm

Oh my… Looks so good!!! Iwashi is one of the fish varieties I grew up with, along with Sanma and Aji. I’m Japanese and am surprised by your knowledge about Japanese food. The Japanese dishes on your posts are authentic. I think you are better Japanese cook than I am!!


Fuji Mama (Rachael) June 27, 2010 at 6:51 pm

@EMK@eat, drink and be merry, Aaaaah, that’s the best compliment ever—thank you!


Wizzythestick June 23, 2010 at 9:29 pm

Popular breakfast dish in the Caribbean too. If you are interested you can check out the Caribbean version on my blog posted in April. Love these


Maggy@ThreeManyCooks June 24, 2010 at 8:56 am

I ate something very similar in Malawi – they were called Usipa. They were cooked in many, many ways — but my favorite was salted and roasted/grilled. SO delicious. We ate them heads, bones, tails and all! Great memory.


ivoryhut June 25, 2010 at 9:21 am

That takes me home. It is very similar to tuyo, which is also salted but the cooked until quite tough. It was eaten with rice, or used as a condiment much like saltfish is. We even sometimes put it on top of sweet chocolate porridge!


Chris September 16, 2010 at 3:29 pm

I live in Denver and H-Mart near Havanna and Parker Road has sardines. It is a giant Asian market. The fish counter is some of the best quality and price and the fish mongers will prepare the fish for you for no charge (e.g. remove the head and guts, fillet or chop.)

I’ve been reading a lot about grilled Sardines in Steven Raichlen’s BBQ Planet book and just did them. Yum.

I too am looking for Omega-3 rich fish.


Cecilia Long March 2, 2011 at 10:10 pm

Any links to recipes where you dont need a grill? Sadly I live in an apartment and we are not allowed them.


Cláudio Duque May 24, 2014 at 8:05 pm

You don’t have to eviscerate them.


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