Japanese Soba Noodle Soup With Mackerel

I’ve written before about how the synergy between various ingredients that are high in the umami producing molecules (glumates, inosates and guanylates) works and this dish is another attempt to try to maximise that interaction. Of all cultures Japan has turned working with umami into an artform so I decided to make a noodle soup using dashi, mackerel (cured as though for sushi) and shiitake mushrooms as these all contain ample amounts of these compounds.

The recipe here for the basic noodle broth comes from one of the finest English languages guides to this cuisine, Shizuo Tsuji’s Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art. He lists the various types noodles you can use such as udon, somen or soba and I chose the latter. There are a many types of soba but all contain buckwheat either wholly or in combination with normal wheat. Unfortunately the only all buckwheat ones I can find are wide and flat like linguine and for me don’t go well with the soup so I used the mixed grain version that’s more like thin spaghetti.

As mentioned, I lightly cured the mackerel before cooking: it’s a fairly simple process and only takes around an hour although I made a couple of changes to the curing process described in the link above. I arrived at this through trial and error as there are no measurements given and leaving the fish coated in salt for an hour rendered it almost inedible the first time I tried so I reduced the time to fifteen minutes. The most surprising thing for me here was how much moisture the first step involving sugar removes but contrary to what you’d expect the flesh tasted much juicier than an uncured fillet does.

Mackerel coated in sugar

The amount of moisture expelled by the sugar was surprisingly large

The other components in the soup are Japanese staples: wakame is a type of seaweed readily available, in fact, you’ll even find it in supermarkets now and mirin is a type of sweet rice wine which once again is very easy to find. If you don’t have any light soy sauce just use the dark stuff and double the amount although as the former is saltier you may want to adjust the seasoning a bit.

Japanese Soba Noodle Soup With Makerel

Serves: 2

For the cured mackerel
2 small mackerel fillets
40g sugar
25g salt

For the soup
1l dashi
125g soba noodles
5g wakame
4 small dried stiitake mushrooms
25ml light soy sauce
25ml dark soy sauce
15g sugar
15ml mirin


  1. For the cure, place the mackerel on a plate and sprinkle the sugar over each side (i.e., skin-side and flesh-side) of the fillets.
  2. Place in the fridge for 40 minutes.
  3. Remove from the fridge and wash the sugar off with water.
  4. Dry the mackerel and the plate thoroughly and then sprinkle the salt over each side (i.e., skin-side and flesh-side) of the fillets.
  5. Place in the fridge, for 15 minutes.
  6. Remove from the fridge and wash the salt off with water.
  7. Thoroughly dry the fish and return to the fridge.
  8. For the soup, in separate bowls, soak the mushrooms and seaweed in warm water for around fifteen minutes.
  9. Remove the rehydrated seaweed and roughly chop.
  10. Remove the rehydrated mushrooms. Reserve the shiitake water remembering to strain through a sieve to remove any grit.
  11. Slice the mushrooms in two and if the stalks are too tough remove them.
  12. Boil the noodles in a pot of water according to the packet instructions.
  13. When cooked, strain and rinse the noodles under cold running water.
  14. Bring the dashi to the boil and pour in the shiitake water, soy sauce, mirin and sugar.
  15. Add the noodles, wakame and mushrooms and simmer for 2-3 minutes to reheat.
  16. Heat some oil in a pan on a high heat and fry the mackerel skin side down for around 2 minutes.
  17. Take the pan off the heat and turn the fillets over to finish.
  18. When cooked, slice the fish into bite sizes pieces.
  19. Divide the soup between two bowls and top with the mackerel.

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