Sakuraba-yaki / grilled fish in cherry leaves

A grilled fish dish for spring. The fish is wrapped with salted cherry leaves for some time before grilling, so that it takes on an aroma that reminds of the season. That said, this would seem awkward outside the cherry blossom season if served as part of Japanese cuisine.

As with many other grilled fish dishes in old-style Japanese cooking, preparation does not use oil, and this works best with very fresh, somewhat fatty white-fleshed fish. Below is an example with lingcod. Lean fish tends to be too dry with this method, but if that is the only kind available, serving with gin-an thickened dashi sauce can be a tasty solution.

<Ingredients>

Approx. 200 g fish (224 g lingcod in photo)
4-6 sakura no ha no shiozuke salted cherry leaves (4 leaves in photo)
1 tsp sake (not in photo)

<Directions>
1.

Soak salted cherry leaves in water for 5 minutes.

2.

Pat dry cherry leaves, and wrap fish fillets with leaves.
Pour over sake, and let sit in fridge for 90+ minutes.

3.

Grill until top (fish and cherry leaves) becomes slightly golden (for 20 minutes at 440F/225C).
Here, foil is crunched up once to create lots of indentations in the bottom to capture excess fat and liquid during grilling (helps with clean removal of grilled fish, too).

4.

Serve with lemon wedge (optional).
Also served is koshin daikon watermelon radish marinated in sweetened rice vinegar, at left.

<Notes>

  • Cherry leaves are to give aroma and salty taste to the fish, and eating leaves is optional.
  • Letting lingcod wrapped between cherry leaves sit for 90 minutes results in a soft aroma and a faintly salty taste. If a clearer aroma is desired or if not familiar with reduced-sodium diet, 2 hours is probably a good starting point.
  • How fast fish fillets take on the aroma and salty taste depends on their fat content and thickness. 
  • Above, cherry-blossom-cut koshin daikon watermelon radish is a bit too strong in terms of color. A much paler pink would be more suitable (the photo at right features nagaimo Chinese yam cooked in dashi colored with beet; the pink hue in this case is a bit too weak but more suitable to imply cherry blossoms).