In a traditional Japanese house, the engawa is the strip of wooden flooring that usually comes in between an interior garden and the sliding doors to the interior. It’s sort of like this veranda/walkway that sometimes goes around an entire house and sometimes is just a singular platform. When I went on a recent trip to Kyoto, we visited a good few temples, including Ryoan-ji, where I sat on the engawa gazing into the famous zen garden.

The term engawa is also used on fish too. In this case, it refers to the frilly muscle that adjoins the dorsal/anal fin and the main loins of a fish. It’s most prominent on flatfish like hirame/flounder and is generally considered a delicacy and more than worthwhile in its own right. I think the name for this part of the fish is pretty cool and interesting and for ages, I’ve always enjoyed that part of the pomfret but never had a term for it. I just used to call it the bit under the fin.

In Japanese cooking, you can get engawa served as sashimi straight up or lightly seared as well as deep fried and simmered. Each is great in it’s own way. If you do get straight sashimi, engawa tends to have a bitey, almost crunchy texture, which is something most people may not perhaps expect. Another thing that makes the engawa significantly different from the rest of the fish is the fact that it tends to be full of fat, which also makes it ideal for searing. Lightly blowtorching or grilling engawa renders out some fat which makes it feel richer and you also get a little maillard reaction action plus you get a more tender texture. Fully cooking it through as in simmered or steamed dishes just makes it one of the most tender parts of the fish aside from the cheek.

At my current workplace, we have a lot of staple fish like tuna, salmon, kingfish and snapper but we also use a fair few seasonal fish. At present, one of these is kinmedai or alfonsino (more accurately Splendid Alfonsino). This is a deep water fish that has massive eyes and a bright reddish skin that’s got a brilliant silver cast. The whole fish is quite superb, from the tender, unctuous flesh to the head, cheeks and even eyeballs. One of the best parts is undoubtedly the engawa, which is a relatively large and thick muscle that is superb lightly seared. The fat literally just drips off, moreso than say, salmon belly for instance. It’s also got a brilliant mild and delicately sweet flavour that has little of what you’d think is fishy.

If I see kinmedai on a restaurant menu, I’d totally go for it. If I see a place with kinmedai engawa, I’ll know that I’m in a good place. Aside from kinmedai just tasting bomb, it’s also inexpensive and at current, quite sustainable.

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