Highlighted Japanese IngredientRed Sea Bream

Madai—the king of fish known as a symbol of celebration because of its red color

Madai is called “the king of fish” and is well-known to the Japanese, who eat a large volume of fish. Marketable madai is usually 35–40 cm long, but a large-sized one may exceed 1 meter in length. With the longevity of 20–40 years, madai is said to live relatively long compared to other fish.

Tai (sea bream) has long been used in celebrations in Japan to bring in good luck, which is associated with its vivid red color and beautiful shape. Its status as a celebration fish is also supported by the fact that the word tai rhymes with the expression medetai (happy). The habit of eating a whole madai on various celebratory occasions in life has continued. There is a custom of serving a whole madai that has been grilled with a pinch of salt as iwaidai during okuizome—the occasion celebrating the 100th day after a baby’s birth. When the Shiogamayaki, a salt-crusted tai, is served at wedding receptions, the bride and groom traditionally crack it open using a wooden hammer.

Spring and autumn as high seasons for wild madai: Mostly fished in Kyushu and the western part of the country

Madai can be fished across Japan, except in the subtropical region. Though small in number, madai is confirmed to exist in waters close to Amami Oshima Island and Okinawa Prefecture. Sea breams in the southern area start laying eggs in winter whereas those in the upper areas lay eggs in spring or early summer. Young madai grow by eating creatures such as zooplanktons and shrimp and crab larvae in shallow water. When fully grown, they live alone in reefy areas or at the sandy and muddy bottom of the water 30–200 m deep. Madai use their strong jaws and teeth to crush fish and shellfish and also the hard shell of shrimps and crabs.

Nagasaki, Fukuoka, and Ehime are the top three prefectures in terms of domestic catch (as per the survey conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan in 2018), suggesting that madai is mostly fished in Kyushu and the western part of the country. Set net fishery using a preset net and gill net fishery are the two main fishing methods. Madai is available in the market throughout the year but the best seasons for buying wild madai are spring and autumn. “Momijidai” fished at the end of autumn has darker-colored scales and is oilier than “Sakuradai” fished in spring.

Improved madai farming as supportive of the market, with better environment to ensure safe quality

The current madai market cannot be discussed without referring to farming. Most madai sashimi displayed at the supermarket is farmed. A large proportion of farmed madai comes from Ehime followed by Kumamoto and Mie. The research for farming and cultivation of this important fish is said to have started around 1910 but it was only after 1965 that the farming properly took off. Farmed madai grows in the shallow sea area. A farm is built by putting down a net to surround the area underneath the floating raft where young fish are grown. For farming from the eggs, madai are grown in the fish tank on land up to 5–7 cm long before being freed into the farm in the sea. An advantage of farming madai is that it requires low maintenance and enables stable production compared to catching them in the wild. Because of the improvements in farming technology, the shipment of madai to markets is presently stable all year around.

The umami, which is concentrated in between the flesh and skin of the madai, complements sashimi and meunière.

Madai is one of the indispensable ingredients in Japanese cuisine and is well-known for being a typical sushi topping as well. Normally, sashimi is eaten without skin but because with this type of fish, the umami is concentrated in between the flesh and the skin, madai can be enjoyed as “Kawashimo Zukuri” by pouring boiling water onto the skin then quickly cooling it with icy water. Fresh madai is great to be enjoyed on account of its firm flesh but the umami in the fish actually increases when allowed to sit overnight. The hard scales can be removed with ease by scraping with the edge of a knife.

With its simple flavor, madai complements all kinds of cuisine. In addition to sashimi, madai is used in various cuisines including Japanese, Western and Chinese such as kobujime (vinegared fish rolled with kobu), kabutoni (boiled fish head), ara-no-nitsuke (the leftover part cooked and seasoned with soy sauce), taichazuke (boiled rice poured with tea, and served with slices of sea bream on it), taimeshi (boiled rice cooked with minced sea bream meat), meunière, carpaccio, acqua pazza and Chinese-style steamed tai.

Healthy substances that are low in fat and high in protein, thus aiding in the recovery from tiredness.

The prized fish is low in fat, high in protein and easy to digest. In terms of nutritional components, umami tastants such as inosinic acid and amino acids including glutamine acid are abundant in madai and contribute to its great taste. It is also full of taurine, which lowers blood cholesterol. Madai also contains low levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which prevents arterial sclerosis, and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), known to lower blood pressure and blood fat, as found in fish with blue backs. Kabutoni and ara-no-nitsuke are ideal to take in these nutrients because of the concentration of DHA and EPA in their heads and the bones.

Madai also benefits athletes and others who engage in intense work-outs because it also contains a variety of other nutrients such as creatine that boosts energetic metabolism, asparagine acid that aids in recovering from extreme fatigue, and leucine that promotes production of insulin and strengthens muscles.

List of exporters of Red Sea Bream