Sake Lees Marinade Recipe

Incorporate the umami flavor and tenderness of sake lees into your marinades with this easy and versatile Japanese fish recipe.

| April 2019


Photo by Getty Images/Fudio

Sake lees marinated fish

This is a traditional marinade for fish.

 Serves: 4


  • 500 g (1 lb 2 oz) flathead, salmon, mackerel or other fish


  • 180 g (6-1/2 oz) sake lees
  • 250 ml (8-1/2 fl oz/1 cup) water, plus enough water to make the lees into a paste
  • 2 tablespoons mirin
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • pinch of white pepper
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger


  1. To make the marinade, massage the lees with a little water until it forms a paste, then slowly incorporate the remaining ingredients.
  2.  Coat the fish in the lees mixture, cover and leave in the fridge for at least a day.
  3.  Wipe the paste off and grill the fish as you would normally. This is particularly lovely over a coal barbecue.

You probably know that Japanese food is delicate and refined but humble. Traditional foods are mostly rice, vegetables, seafood, fowl and eggs, but never dairy and rarely beef.

Before World War II, when the arrival of foreigners to Japan was less common, the smell of a foreigner was so pungent to Japanese people, who were unused to meat fats and dairy, that they said an American’s or European’s skin smelt quite sour, like butter. In fact, the rude term for a foreigner was once bata kusai, which means ‘butter stinker’. This was also because the Japanese evening bath rituals were so sophisticated compared to those of the rugged and ship-weary foreigners.

Can you truly smell dairy on a person through their skin? I used to wonder about that on my commute in crowded trains in Japan. Did I smell? I loved Japanese-style bathing so much and ate a Japanese diet. But I also loved butter and cream. Was dairy pouring out of my skin?



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