February Seasonal Japanese Seafood 2月旬の魚


ankimo monkfish liver

February is one of the coldest months in Japan, so it is a wonderful time for hot pots (nabé). Monkfish (ankō) is one of Shinji’s favorite types of nabé. We always save the liver and serve it separately. Ankimo is often called the foie gras of the sea. It’s very easy to steam – see a simple recipe hereWakasagi is nice lovely when lightly battered and deep-fried.

As the waters are very cold this year, and as fish get ready to spawn in spring, they are rich with fat. This translates well into dishes like sashimi and nabé.


hotaru ika

Some of the local seafood we look for this time of year include hotaru-ika and shira-ebi from Toyama Bay in the Sea of Japan. In Hokkaido there is of course cod (matara), ankō, and a very unusual fish called gokkōGokkō is a local fish in Hokkaido that is often used for nabé.

cod roe

cod milt with Urakasumi saké

As for matara (Pacific cod), there are so many delicious parts of it, from the meat to the shirako (milt) and matara no ko (roe). Milt is a delicacy, and for some, an acquired taste.


Kanburi at Himi Port in Toyama

Hokkaido wild buri sashimi

As for sashimi, we love kinmedai, hirame, kanburi and tairagai. If you get a fresh kawahagi for sashimi, save the liver, mash it in a mortar and pestle, and add it to some ponzu for a creamy dipping sauce. Shijimi miso soup is a wonderful way to start any day. Best of all may be all the succulent crabs that are in season like taraba-gani, benizuwai-gani and zuwai-gani.

A classic winter dish is buri daikon. (recipe here)

If you click on the Japanese name of the seafood you should be directed to a link with a photo.

Akagarei 赤鰈 flathead flounder (Hippoglossoides dubius)

Akōdai 赤魚鯛 rockfish (Sebastes matsubarae)

Amadai 赤甘鯛 tilefish (Branchiostegus japonicus)

Ankō 鮟鱇 monkfish (Lophiomus setigerus)

Ankimo – monkfish liver

Benizuwaigani 楚蟹  red snow crab (Chionoecetes japonicus)

Buri 鰤 Japanese yellowtail (Seriola quinqueradiata)

Fugu 真河豚 blowfish or pufferfish (Takifugu porphyreus)

Gokko 布袋魚 smooth lumpsucker (Aptocyclus ventricosus)

Hamaguri 浜栗  common Orient clam (Meretrix lusoria)

Hata hata 鰰  sailfin sandfish (Arctoscopus japonicus)

Hirame 鮃 olive flounder (Paralichthys olivaceus)

Hokke 𩸽 arabesque greenling (Pleurogrammus azonus)

Honmaguro 本鮪 bluefin tuna (Thunus thynnus)

* also called kuromaguro

Hotate 帆立貝 scallops (Patinopecten yessoensis)

Houbou 魴 gurnard (Chelidonichthys spinosus)

Iidako 飯蛸 ocellated octopus (Octopus ocellatus)

Kaki 牡蠣 oyster (Crassostrea gigas)

Kanburi 寒鰤 winter Japanese amberjack (see buri) (Seriola quinqueradiata)

* The port of Himi in Toyama is famous for its kanburi.

Kasago 笠子 scorpionfish (Sebastiscus marmoratus)

Kawahagi 皮剥 thread-sail filefish  (Stephanolepis cirrhifer)

Kinki 黄血魚 thornhead (Sebastolobus macrochir)

Kinmedai 金目 (sometimes called kinme) splendid alfonsino (Beryx splendens)

Madai 真鯛 seabream (Pagurus major)

Matara 真鱈 codfish (Gadus macrocephalus)

Matsuba gani 松葉蟹 spiny crab (Hypothalassia armata)

Matsukawa 松皮鰈 barfin flounder (Verasper moseri)

Mekajiki  女旗魚  swordfish (Xiphias gladias)

Mirugai 海松食 geoduck (Tresus keenae)

Mizudako 水蛸 North Pacific giant octopus (Octopus dofleini)

Mutsu gnomefish (Scombrops boops)

Namako 生子 sea cucumber (Stichopus japonica)

Nametagarei 婆鰈 slime flounder (MIicrostomus achne)

Nishin 鰊  Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii)

Saba 鯖 Pacific mackerel (Scomber japonicus)

Sawara 鰆 Japanese Spanish mackerel (Scomberomorus niphonius)

Shijimi 大和蜆 corbicula clams (Corbicula japonica)

Shira ebi 白海老 glass shrimp (Pasiphaea japonica)

Shirako milt from fugu or tara

Shirauo 白魚 whitefish or ice goby (Salangichthys microdon)

Tairagai 平貝  penshell (Atrina (Servatrina) pectinata)

Tara 真鱈 codfish (Gadus macrocephalus)

Tarabagani 鱈場蟹 Alaskan king crab (Paralithodes camtschaticus)

Tsubugai つぶ貝 whelk  (Buccinum undatum)

Umazurahagi 馬面剥 filefish scraper (Thamnaconus modestus)

Wakasagi 若細魚 Japanese smelt  (Hypomesus nipponensis)

Yanagi dako 柳蛸 chestnut octopus (Octopus conispadiceus)

Yari ika 槍烏賊 spear squid (Loligo (Heterololigo) bleekeri)

Zuwaigani 頭矮蟹 snow crab (Chionoecetes opilio)

Buri and Hamachi Yellowtail 101

Classic Winter Dish of Buri Daikon

Buri is simmered with daikon in a sweet soy broth until both are tender.


Himi Port in Toyama famous for winter kanburi.

These kanburi are at the wholesale fish market which is open to the public.

Kanburi at the retail fish market an hour later.

Prices range from $100 to over $300 USD.

You can purchase a kanburi and have it sent to anywhere in Japan.

Kanburi sashimi breakfast at the restaurant on the 2nd floor of the wholesale market.

This restaurant is open to the public.

Shioyaki salt-grilled kanburi.

The miso soup in both meals is made with fish heads and bones for a meaty broth.

Here is everything a Japanese fishmonger (Shinji) wants you to know about buri and hamachi:

Yellowtail (鰤 Buri, Seriola quinqueradiata) is a very popular fish in Japan for sushi and sashimi. There are many recipes to enjoy this precious protein gifted from the ocean.

The wild fish swim up from the south to the north along the main island of Japan. Yellowtail eat a lot of seafood to obtain as much fat as possible in their flesh for energy to bear the cold waters in the north. The best season is from December to February, when the flesh color turns gradationally pink to white. In March, it ends its peak season after spawning.

Although the wild fish season ends in March, farmed fish is available all-year long. Farmed yellowtail has white flesh with a lot of fat and it is usually delicious. It is called hamachi (farmed yellowtail in Japanese, wild fish=buri, farmed fish=hamachi) and exported all over the world to fill the demand for sashimi, sushi, and grilled as teriyaki.

Wild fish in winter gets as fatty or fattier than farmed fish, and its gorgeous flavor is unbelievably amazing. If you have any chance to try wild fish sized more than 10 kg, from Hokkaido (Tenjo-buri) in Nov to Dec, Ishikawa (Noto-buri) and Toyama (Himi-buri) in Dec to Feb, you must try it.

You can find frozen yellowtail fillets in the US or other countries, but there is no frozen yellowtail distributed in Japan, so when you buy steaks or sashimi loins in the local supermarkets, they should be fresh. Here are some tips to help you when shopping for yellowtail.

Yellowtail has different names depending on its size. The name also changes regionally.


Kanto Region Names for Yellowtail

Wakashi 10-20 cm

Inada 30-40 cm

Warasa 50-60 cm

Buri 80 cm or more


Kansai Region Names for Yellowtail

Tsubasa or Wakana 10-15 cm

Hamachi 20-40 cm

Mejiro or Inada 50-60 cm

Buri 80 cm or more

Wild or Farmed

The label does not need to show if it is wild, but labeling is required for farmed fish. So If  you see the sign ‘養殖’ (Youshoku, farmed) on the label, it is a farmed fish. Retailers sometimes label the fish as ‘天然’ (Tennen, wild) on the package for wild caught fish, usually with a sticker. If you can tell if the fish is wild or farmed without seeing the sign, it means that you have completed the first step to becoming a fish foodie in Japan.


Hokkaido wild buri sashimi

For Sashimi or Cooking

The label must show ‘刺身用’ (sashimi-you, for sashimi-grade fish), ’生食用’ (namashoku-you, if it can be consumed raw) or ‘加熱用’ (kanetsu-you, for if it needs to be cooked). It is better to check the labeling before you buy the fish. Though it is easy for Japanese people to recognize the usage by checking the portion appearance, but just in case, you should check the label. The sashimi-you ‘刺身用’ label does not mean how fresh the fish is, it just means that the fish was cut under careful hygiene standards for sashimi, using sanitized cutting boards and sashimi knives (yanagiba knife), and the freshness is suitable to consume as raw. So kanetsu-you加熱用’ labeled fish can be as fresh as sashimi-you刺身用’ labeled fish. When they cut steaks, they usually use filet knife (deba knife) which is not usually sanitized very often.


-Steaks or filets (kirimi 切身)

It is easy to know which part of the fish that the steak cuts come from. You can check the skin color, if black, it is back loin (less fat) and if white, it is belly loin (fattier).


buri back (left) and belly (right)

this is how it would look on the fish


buri steaks back (left) and belly (right)

-Sashimi loin

Firstly, filets are roughly divided into 2 loins, back or belly. But when the loins are too big to sell, they are cut into upper (head side) portion and lower (tail side) portion. Personally I love the fatty portions, and chose in this order: 1. upper belly 2. upper back 3. lower belly 4. lower back. Usually it is sold without the skin, so that you should learn to know which part is which by the appearance.

Travel – Himi Fishing Port in Toyama 氷見魚市場

Himi Seafood Auction

Himi Seafood Auction

On the coast of Toyama on the Sea of Japan is a famous fishing port. In the winter it is renowned for its kanburi or winter buri (yellowtail). Rich in fat, it melts in your mouth like fatty tuna. Don’t worry if you miss the early morning auction as there is a retail market next door with several large stalls selling fish caught locally.

Kamasu (barracuda)

Kamasu (barracuda)

While barracuda may have the reputation of being an agressive, predatory fish, it is actually quite small in size. The meat is tender and delicate.

Saba (mackerel)

Saba (mackerel)

You can see that these mackerel are rich in fat by observing the back area, it is almost bulging from its skin.

Saba (mackerel)

Saba (mackerel)

Kanburi (winter yellowtail)

Kanburi (winter yellowtail)

Here is the famous kanburi, the whole reason for our journey to this famed fishing port. We had some for breakfast and it was amazing, rich, and worth the trip.

For more information on Himi: