What is Māji (Aji) マアジ 【鯵】?
The Japanese horse mackerel or Japanese jack mackerel is called maaji in Japanese, which is translated as “true horse mackerel”. In addition to sushi and sashimi, maaji is used in numerous Japanese dishes and is considered one of the most popular edible fish in Japan. If you find aji (アジ) on the Japanese menu or presented in the neta box of a sushi bar, it is usually maaji or sometimes chiri-maaji.
Māji as an Ingredient for Sushi and Sashimi
Maaji is a popular dish and belongs to the most important commercial fish species worldwide. The meat is soft, pink and very fatty. The garnish is either ginger (gari, ガリ) or spring onion (negi, 葱). In upscale sushi restaurants, freshly grated ginger is usually added between the rice and the meat.
Ki-māji and Kuro-māji
In Japan a distinction is made between the yellowish ki-maaji and the dark kuro-maaji. The yellow variety is less migratory and remains predominantly in coastal areas and bays. Since ki-maaji therefore has to expend less energy for migrations, they are more greasy, wider and larger than kuro-maaji. Due to the fact that kuro-maaji continues to live in the sea, it is more easily accessible for industrial fishing and therefore represents the greater part of the catch. Ki-aji from the southern bay of Tokyo are particularly popular in Japan upscale cuisine, as they are caught by hand and in small quantities. The bay has a large supply of plankton and is therefore rich in food, which is important for the growth of ki-aji.
In Japan, several regional brands of maaji mackerel exist. Among them, Maaji fished in the narrows of the Bungo Channel (sekiaji, 関あじ) and those caught off the west coast of Shimane Prefecture (don chitchi aji, どんちっちアジ) are considered especially popular (OFCSB, 2015. HCMIE, 2019).
Maaji tastes delicious all year round, but it is said to be most tasty from May to July. During this time the fish begin to build up increased fat reserves for the spawning season in autumn. In contrast to late summer, the fatty tissue is in perfect balance during this time. They are neither too lean nor too fat and are therefore remarkably tasty. In Japanese the word aji (味、あじ) also means taste. So it is not far to believe that the fish was given this name because it is so tasteful.
Today, maaji is mostly used as a raw ingredient, although pickled in a vinegar-salt solution (sujime, 酢じめ), it is also very delicious. Using the sujime method adds to the already tasty meat an additional refreshing aftertaste.
Characteristics & Ecology
On average maaji reaches a size of 35 cm, single species can reach a size of up to 50 cm. Their main food source are mainly small crustaceans and smaller fish. Usually they are found in depths from 50 to 275 m. Usually they are found in depths from 50 to 275m.
Maaji is of high commercial importance and is mainly caught in trawls, purse seines and pots.