Ankimo: Beyond the Usual Raw Fish and Nori


Photo Credit: takaokun

Maki, California roll, Nigiri sushi, temaki, and uromaki are among the favorite items of sushi lovers whenever they visit a Japanese restaurant or a sushi bar, but not too many will order ankimo. Many call ankimo the foie gras of sushi, mainly because it is made from monkfish liver. This high end delight is creamy and light; it is Japanese food at gourmet levels.

What Ankimo is All About

Ankimo is not always available in sushi bars. In fact, it you want to be sure it will be served when you eat out, it would be best to inquire before you go. Ankimo is becoming progressively rare as a treat today because the population of monkfish or anglerfish has dwindled considerably. In World’s 50 Best Foods, CNN Travel says, “The monkfish/anglerfish that unknowingly bestows its liver upon upscale sushi fans is threatened by commercial fishing nets damaging its sea-floor habitat, so it’s possible ankimo won’t be around for much longer.

“If you do stumble across the creamy, yet oddly light delicacy anytime soon, consider a taste — you won’t regret trying one of the best foods in Japan.”

Beyond Raw Fish and Nori

In SF Gate’s Liver of Monkfish: A Controversial Delicacy, Troy Sawaisanyakorn  quotes restaurateur Yoshi Tome who describes ankimo as “very rich and creamy, but yet at the same time very light and delicate, feeling silky and velvety to the palate”.

Ankimo is very pricey, one that Troy Sawaisanyakorn acknowledges as a dish that elicits mixed reactions. He says, “It’s the great delicacy of Japanese cuisine. This traditional dish is becoming increasingly popular in sushi bars, especially upscale ones, despite concerns that monkfish are overfished…

“Ankimo has been eaten in Japan longer than anyone can trace. Many believe that fishermen first prepared it because they could not afford to discard any part of their catch, including the big liver. And it is big. One monkfish liver generally is more than a half-foot long and weighs over a pound…

“Sushi restaurateurs find that it may take some persuasion for their American customers to try ankimo. Tome used to promise his customers that if they didn’t like it he would pay for it himself, although he does not have to do that anymore…”

Different Ways to Serve and Enjoy Ankimo

To prepare the fish liver that goes into ankimo sushi, salt is rubbed all over it and it is rinsed with sake. Generally, the liver is rolled into cylinders and steamed after its delicate veins are painstakingly extracted. It is traditionally served with grated daikon, finely sliced scallions, and flavord with ponzu sauce, which is made of gently simmered mirin, rice vinegar, dried tuna flakes, seaweed, and citrus. However, for discriminating diners, ankimo is a much coveted ingredient for special sushi.

As it is with all Japanese foods, this dish is presented in an artistic and appetizing way. The steamed ankimo cylinder is cut into neat slices with the daikon, the scallion, and the ponzu on the side, ready for whoever is ready for an adventurous bite.

Apart from getting your ankimo steamed and served with ponzu, Sawaisanyakorn mentions other ways it is served in restaurants. “Some restaurants, such as Kabuto A&S in San Francisco’s Richmond district, also serve it sushi-style, wrapped in nori with rice, with the traditional condiments and ponzu drizzled on top. Unlike other Japanese seafood dishes, ankimo is never eaten with soy sauce, which can overwhelm the liver’s delicate flavor. The acidity from ponzu sauce alleviates any fishy smell, and instead of wasabi, momiji oroshi provides a kick of hot red pepper and horseradish…

In Shizuokasushi’s Ankimo Presentations 2, Robert-Gilles Martineau presents other options for enjoying this delicacy. He has illustrations of how this can be prepared as a topping (instead of foie gras) for pasta, and he shows how good it looks with pressed sushi topped by fish jelly, or seasoned with sesame oil. Today’s cuisine provides chefs with a lot of leeway for creativity, and this new freedom applies to the way ankimo can be prepared.

Pairing Ankimo

In Wine Lover’s Page Japanese Food and 50 Year Old Wine, Dale Williams ventures to bring about fusions between akimo and Western wine. He says, “I love ankimo. And in some ways it resembles foie gras. I’ve had great experiences with demi-sec to moelleux Vouvray with fg, am I crazy to think this might work with the Moulin Touchais (I thought I’d save the Sauternes for end, likely to have less acidic verve, hard to serve in middle of savory courses)?”

Tradition and common sense dictate that a glass of good delicate sake would work best with ankimo, but thankfully, experts today have widened diners’ choices when they try to enjoy this delicacy to the fullest.

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