Sake Lees Marinade Recipe


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?

I was 23 when I started frequenting my local public bathhouse. The first few times being completely naked around so many people, who were busy scrubbing and cleaning, or not at all busy but just sitting and soaking, were intimidating. My boobs are bigger than the average Japanese woman’s, I’m curvy and I’m six feet tall. They had a lot to stare at.

In the beginning, it was mostly me who did the looking. All of the shapes, all of the different kinds of bodies. And boobs. The boobs holding on for dear life to the beautiful 98-year-old lady from down the road, whose bended form I saw in her vegetable patch every morning; the more shapely 45-year-old bodies; the 60-something lady from the supermarket; the young teenage budding bodies; and the lovely, fresh toddlers bursting with life. The chubby, the skinny, the birth marked. Nobody lay down, posing in the ridiculous ways we see on buildings – young backs arched, shiny, pouting, pursed lips. We were just a bunch of women enjoying our evening ritual and relaxing before bed. Coming and going. In and out of that bathhouse.

How beautiful, natural and normal ageing bodies are when you see so many in such an ordinary scene – no self-consciousness, it is all a matter of course. A bath is a family pleasure, a functional experience. I wish we had this culture. It’s nothing like the beach nudity we have in Australia. Trust the Japanese to blend function and routine with community and cleanliness. So efficient!

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Cover courtesy of Hardie Grant Books

Recipes excerpted with permission from Ferment For Good by Sharon Flynn, published by Hardie Grant Books May 2017, RRP $29.99 hardcover.

Published on Apr 5, 2019


Inspiration for edible alchemy.