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.