Editor’s note: The theme of Gohan Lab is to help people make simple, tasty “gohan” (meals).

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Mackerel simmered in miso sauce, known as “saba no misoni,” a popular choice at restaurants serving set meals, is second in our series on “fall and winter fish.”

Follow our tips, and the result will be a fish with a fluffy texture that's attractive to the eye as well as the palate.

A key to achieving the fluffiness is the amount of simmered sauce. A modest measure that covers about half the mackerel is enough. If there's too much sauce, it takes time to boil down and the fish will turn out dry. A drop lid will help cook the fish nicely in a small amount of sauce.

Sample the thickened sauce, and if it has the right strength of flavor and tastes good, it's done. Since you will coat a piece of fish in the sauce before popping it into your mouth, the flavor doesn't have to soak into the fish.

A trick to get a clean finish is to make incisions in the skin beforehand as this will prevent it from tearing from heating. By pouring the sauce on during the cooking process, you'll help cook the upper part of the fish and the fish will also take on a nice glaze.

Stay focused while serving the fish as well. Slide a turner underneath the fish so it doesn't fall apart, support with a pair of cooking-use chopsticks and move it carefully onto a plate.

CATCHES TIED TO SEA TEMPS

Fishermen in Japan are said to be experiencing a record bad catch of sauries, or “sanma.” Tokio Wada, chairman of the Japan Fisheries Information Service Center, a general incorporated association that provides information on fishing areas and market trends to those in the fisheries industry, explained the reasons for the lessening haul.

According to Wada, sauries and other fish that swim near the water surface are strongly affected by changes in the environment, particularly the sea surface temperature.

Every few decades, the period when the sea surface temperature is high on the Japanese side and the North American side of the Pacific switches and the catch quantity corresponds to this change.

Nowadays, when the temperature is high on the North American side, the catch of sardines and mackerel increases in Japan, whereas that of sauries and “aji,” or horse mackerel, falls.

An increase in the fish hauls by foreign vessels is also worsening the situation. It's sad to experience a shortage of sauries in the fall, but there are good catches of other fish and we should be able to enjoy the fish.

BASIC COOKING METHOD

(Supervised by Akiko Watanabe in the cooking aspect and Midori Kasai in the cookery science aspect)

* Ingredients and cooking utensils (Serves two)

One side (or 2 fillets) mackerel (saba), 15 grams (half the size of a thumb) ginger, 2 Tbsp miso, 1 Tbsp sugar, 2 Tbsp sake, kitchen knife and cutting board, frying pan (about 20 cm in diameter), spatula and ladle, wooden drop lid (or parchment paper), cooking-use chopsticks and turner

1. Cut on side of the fish in half, make incisions where the meat is thick (PHOTO A). Finely slice ginger lengthwise without peeling, since its aroma is the strongest beneath the skin.

2. Add miso, sugar and sake to frying pan and mix with spatula until miso dissolves. Add 1 cup water, mix and bring to a boil over medium heat.

3. Line up fish skin-side up and place ginger on the side. When sauce comes to a boil, pour it on the fish with the ladle (PHOTO B). Wet wooden drop lid with water and cover fish with it. If not available, make a hole in parchment paper and use instead (PHOTO C).

4. Simmer over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, while lifting drop lid two to three times halfway and pouring sauce on fish. When sauce has thickened and it tastes just right, turn off heat. Serve on plate, place ginger on the side and pour sauce over the fish.

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Akiko Watanabe is a cooking expert specializing in Japanese cuisine.Midori Kasai is a professor at Ochanomizu University and chairwoman of the Japan Society of Cookery Science.

ARRANGED VERSION

<Mackerel simmered with a glaze of soy sauce and sugar>

Fish simmered with soy sauce can be cooked in the same manner as those simmered in miso sauce. For two servings, have two fillets of mackerel, a piece of ginger, 1 1/3 Tbsp soy sauce, 1 Tbsp sugar, 2 Tbsp sake, 1 cup water ready.

Make shallow incisions in mackerel, cut unpeeled ginger into fine strips. Add seasonings and water to frying pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add mackerel and ginger and simmer as in the miso-flavored version. After cooking over medium heat for 10 minutes, turn off heat when simmered sauce is reduced and tastes good.

COOKERY SCIENCE

When vegetables and fish are simmered in a modest amount of sauce, the sides must be turned since they are not immersed fully in the sauce.

This is when a drop lid that is a size smaller than the pot comes in handy. The ingredients cook evenly since the simmered sauce rises and drops when it comes in contact with the lid and touches the other ingredients. The drop lid is especially useful when cooking fish that tends to fall apart.

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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Gohan Lab column