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What is Tataki?

By Celeste Heiter
Updated May 16, 2024
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Tataki is a Japanese-style preparation of various types of fish or meat. Foods prepared in this style are quickly seared on the outside, then marinated briefly in rice vinegar and thinly sliced for serving. The traditional presentation includes garnishes of thinly sliced scallions and finely shredded ginger, with soy sauce for dipping.

The word “tataki” means “pounded,” but it does not refer to the preparation of the meat or fish. Instead, it refers to the ginger condiment, which was originally pulverized by pounding it with a mortar and pestle. In a modern kitchen, the ginger may also be pureed in a food processor or shredded to a pulp with a fine grater.

Known also as tosa-mi, tataki originated on the Japanese island of Shikoku in the Tosa region, which is now part of Kochi Prefecture. The port of Nagasaki is located in the Tosa region and was the first point of entry for foreigners in feudal Japan. It was here that the technique of grilling meats and fish was first introduced to the Japanese by European explorers. Sakamoto Ryōma, a 16th century renegade swordsman who rebelled against the Tokugawa shogunate, is credited with creating the dish now known as tataki.

In feudal times, bonito was the preferred fish for tataki. Bonito is a large, oily, ocean-going species with firm, strongly-flavored meat that spoils easily. Tataki-style preparation is ideal for enhancing its taste and making it safe for human consumption. Although bonito is still frequently used to make dishes in this style, tuna and salmon have also grown in popularity.

Beef may also be prepared tataki-style. The preferred cuts are filet mignon or sirloin strip. Beef tataki is prepared in the same way as fish and is served with the same garnishes and condiments.

To prepare tataki, the meat or fish should be cut into thick pieces. Before searing, the pieces may be marinated in rice vinegar or mirin. The meat or fish may be grilled over an open flame or it may be pan-seared on a stovetop burner. The grill or pan should be very hot, and the meat or fish should be quickly seared on all sides to cook only the outer surface, with the center of the meat or fish remaining raw. When the searing is finished, the meat or fish should be cooled in rice vinegar or ice water and thinly sliced for serving.

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Discussion Comments
By burcidi — On May 15, 2012

@fify, @alisha-- I guess if one is worried about freshness, you could also seek out Japanese tataki restaurants in your area. They tend to have their fish delivered specially and in areas where there are no seafood markets, restaurants have the freshest fish.

I don't have this problem because I only eat beef tataki. I'm a meat lover and this dish is right up my alley. And there is no shortage of fresh quality sirloin in the Midwest.

I'm not too good with the tataki sauce however. I usually do the soy sauce and vinegar combo too and I might garnish with ginger. I don't think ginger goes too well with beef though. Does anyone have any other tasty recipes for tataki sauce? I want to try something different.

By discographer — On May 14, 2012

@fify-- I love tataki too!

I don't know if you can find this everywhere, but where I live, many specialty stores sell frozen tataki fish in the freezer section. It's a lot more affordable and you don't have to worry if it's fresh or not. They have them cut and vacuum packed immediately so it's guaranteed.

I usually buy several and throw them in the freezer. Whenever I get a craving, I can just thaw it and prepare it. It's great, you should try that if its available.

By fify — On May 14, 2012

Ah tataki! The dream appetizer for the food enthusiast! When I first had tataki while visiting the southern Japanese city of Kochi, I wondered how I had spent years without tasting this. My favorite is tuna tataki recipe and I like to dip my seared tuna in soy sauce and rice vinegar with a bit of wasabi mixed into it. So delicious!

One downside to tataki is that it can get addictive. I don't live on the coast anymore so I don't have access to fresh tuna as much as I used to. In a way that's good because I'm sure I would spend half my salary at the seafood market. It can get expensive!

The other point to pay attention to is that the fish or the meat needs to be extremely fresh and it needs to be consumed quickly. If it's not fresh and not handled properly, you can get food poisoning. So you can't make tataki with just any meat. Even if you don't get poisoned, it won't taste good if it's not high grade meat or fish anyway.

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