What is Hirame (Large-tooth Flounders)?
Hirame is the Japanese name for the olive flounder or bastard halibut, the term is also used as a collective term for species of related lefteye flounders that belong to the group of flatfishes (karei-me, カレイ目). Hirame is highly appreciated as an ingredient, especially for the preparation of sushi or sashimi. Wild-caught prime specimens regularly fetch high prices.
Juveniles or hirame that are smaller than 40 cm or weigh less than 2 lbs are referred to as soge (ソゲ) [Hirata, 2020].
Hirame as Ingredient for Sushi or Sashimi
The firm and very bright meat of hirame is a perfect for sushi and sashimi. The taste of hirame is mild and delicate, its texture is elastic and firm. The meat appears light white to slightly pink. Depending on the part of the fish from which the meat is taken, it may have pink shades, greyish layers or pronounced veins.
The king of whitefish in the cold season is hirame ...
- Jiro Ono, Sushi Chef [Satomi, 2016]
In Japanese cuisine, especially in sushi gastronomy, fish are classified according to the appearance of their meat. A distinction is made between red meat (akami), white meat (shiromi) and fish served with a silver skin (hikarimono) Hirame is counted among the white fish.
Very fresh or larger specimens have a tough consistency. By letting it rest or controlled aging (under refrigeration) the meat becomes more tender and aromatic. The maturing time depends on the size of the fish and can last from several hours to three days. The maturing process makes the flesh more tender and gives it an additional aroma. Medium sized hirame of approx 2 to 2.5 kg, with a slightly rounded and fleshy body, are considered to be very tasty.
The meat from the upper and lower fin muscles is known as engawa and is particularly appreciated for its crunchy, fatty texture and the intense flavors. Thanks to the high fat content, it tastes deliciously sweet and offers a pleasant aftertaste to the palate. Since engawa comes from the fin sections, the yield of usable meat is accordingly limited and expensive.
The traditional characters in engawa (縁側) are translated as “edge side”. A common reference to engawa is also the wooden balcony of a traditional house. With a little imagination, a certain similarity between the striped engawa meat and the parallel pattern of the bottom of the traditional balcony can be seen.
The best season for hirame begins in late autumn and ends in mid-spring. Young hirame, called soge, are already tasty from mid-September to late October and are suitable as an alternative until the beginning of the period when adult Hirame gain flavor. During the cold winter months the fish visibly increase in fat and become more rounded. The higher fat content gives the otherwise extremely light-colored meat an amber tone, this color tone is also considered an indicator of the taste quality. The more amber the flesh of the hirame is, the higher the quality of the taste.
Hirame from industrial breeding is available all year round in a good quality.
Hirame in Japan
In Japanese colloquial language, people who are particularly concerned about the favor of their superior are given the mocking nickname “hirame person” (hirame ningen, ヒラメ人間). The expression is a reference to the eyes of the hirame that are constantly looking upwards, similar to a person who is permanently looking only after his superiors and seeking their attention.
A regional specialty is hirame from the city of Hirado (ひらどし, 平戸市) in Nagasaki Prefecture. Every year during the fishing season, from mid January to the end of March, the Hirado Hirame Festival (hirado hirame matsuri, 平戸ひらめまつり) is held. During this time the local restaurants offer wild caught hirame in different variations at special prices.
Important centers of landing wild caught hirame are the prefectures of Hokkaido, Aomori, Nagasaki, Niigata and Ibaraki. The prefectures of Oita, Ehime, Kagoshima, Mie and Nagasaki play an important role in industrial aquaculture.
The traditional character 鮃 for hirame is composed of the characters 魚 for fish and 平 for flat.
Characteristics & Ecology of Hirame (Large-tooth Flounders)
Hirame are nocturnal fishes, that hide almost completely in the sandy mud during the day. At nightfall they go hunting for crustaceans, small fish, snails and worms. They also have the ability to adapt their body color to the sea floor and thus camouflage themselves against potential predators.
Their maximum size is 39 inch with a maximum weight of 19 lbs. Usually they are about 18 to 27 inch long and weigh between 3 lbs and 6 lbs. Specimens with an approximate length of 11 inch or weigh less than 2 lbs are called soge.
The natural habitat extends from the Sea of Okhotsk, along the coasts of the Sea of Japan, through the South China Sea to the Gulf of Thailand and the coasts of Indonesia. Hirame prefers coastal waters with a depth of 32 to 656 feet. Occasionally they can be found in the brackish water of river estuaries.
How they become “flatfish”
A hirame begins its life first as an upright fish. In the first weeks of its life the metamorphosis starts in which its body shifts in such a way that the eyes and other parts of the trunk move towards the midline of the fish. After about 5 to 6 weeks the development to a “flatfish” is completed.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Japan and South Korea are the only producers of hirame from both marine fisheries and industrial aquaculture. In both countries, hirame also represents the largest share of flatfish from aquaculture.
In contrast to wild specimens, those from aquaculture often show a false pigmentation on the blind side. Although this pigmentation disorder has also been observed in wild fish, it is by far not as common as in hirame from aquaculture. Thus, with a certain probability, an optical distinction can be made between hirame from aquaculture and a wild one. The reason for the occurrence of these patterns is not yet clear and is subject of scientific investigations.
Beast Season for Hirame
Further information on the author can be found in the section on image credits.
Video about Hirame
External video embedded from youtTube.com: Tetrapod Lobo. #Shinkei-zime amazing Hirame #How to fillet #sushi#introducing amazing Japanese ingredients(神経締め)
Warnings Regarding Hirame Sushi or Sashimi
- PARASITES: The meat, especially that of wild-caught specimens, may be infested with parasites that cause infectious diseases. Infection can be avoided if the raw meat has been adequately frozen. Pickling and soaking in salt or vinegar solution is not sufficient to eliminate the parasites. If the product has been farmed, only raw unprocessed seafood from production facilities whose products are approved for raw consumption should be consumed. [FDA, 2020]
- PHARMACEUTICAL RESIDUES: The use of unauthorized drugs or misuse of authorized drugs in seafood aquaculture poses a potential risk to human health. Only eat raw seafood from production facilities whose products are approved for raw consumption. [FDA, 2020]
Species of Hirame
The following species are regarded as authentic. Either historically, according to the area of distribution or according to the common practice in today's gastronomy:
Common Names, Scientific Name
Japanese flounder, Japanese halibut, bastard halibut
The following species can be considered subsitutes. Either on the basis of genetic relationship or because they are similar in taste or appearance:
Common Names, Scientific Name
Japanese tamper, cinnamon flounder
branched ray flounder, branchray flounder, large-scale flounder
gulf flounder, summer flounder
References & Further Reading
- [Die Welt, 2014]: Bremerhavener Zuchtprojekt für japanische Flundern. Die Welt, Hamburg. 2014. https://www.welt.de/print/die_welt/hamburg/article126242004/Bremerhavener-Zuchtprojekt-fuer-japanische-Flundern.html. Retrieved online on December 24, 2020.
- [FDA, 2020]: Fish and Fishery Products Hazards and Controls Guidance. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. 2020.
- [Froese & Daniel, 2019]: Rainer Froese, Pauly Daniel. FishBase. The Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of Kiel, FishBase.org. 2019. https://www.fishbase.org. Retrieved online on December 24, 2020.
- [Hirata, 2020]: 平田 剛士. 脂じゃないんだよ。夏のヒラメは「ソゲ」のほうがうまい (engl. It's not fat. "Soge" is better for summer flounder). oretsuri.com, ORETSURI (俺釣). 2020. https://oretsuri.com/soge-umai. Retrieved online on February 17, 2021.
- [Kang et al., 2014]: Duk-Young Kang, Soon-Gyu Byun, Jeong-In Myeong, Hyo-Chan Kim, Byoung-Hwa Min. Morphological Analysis of Blind-Side Hypermelanosis of the Starry Flounder, Platichthys stellatus during Early Development.. Development & Reproduction. Source.Volume 18 (2). Korean Society of Developmental Biology, Seoul. 2014.
City Foodsters. Hirame (Flat Fish), Sukiyabashi Jiro, Tokyo, JP, Date Visited: December 25, 2013. flickr.com. License: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0). Changes made: image quality, brightness, contrast, colour matching, sharpening, cropping.
City Foodsters. Hirame, Sushi Tokami, Tokyo, JPN Date Visited: January 29, 2015. flickr.com. License: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0). Changes made: image quality, brightness, contrast, colour matching, sharpening, cropping.
Jun Seita. Hirame Kobu-jime (flatfish), Sushi Asao, Tsukishima, Tokyo SIGMA DP3 Merrill. flickr.com. License: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0). Changes made: image quality, brightness, contrast, colour matching, sharpening.