Tataki is a cooking method used mainly for preparing fish. In general, it refers to two very different methods of cooking.
Tataki by Broiling
The food ingredient is cut into blocks, pierced with some skewers and placed over the flame. Only the surface of the food is lightly seared, and the inside is not cooked. This is cut and eaten with herbs and seasonings.
The word 'tataki' originates from patting sauce onto the bonito that has been seared and prepared like sashimi. The sauce is poured into the hand that acts as a plate, and the sauce is allowed to drip through the fingers.
The ingredient used for this cooking method is usually limited to bonito when it comes to fish. However, in some cases, tuna, salmon and moray eels are used to make tataki. Bonito, in particular, spoils quickly, and therefore broiling the surface is expected to kill bacteria. Areas that produce dried bonito, such as Shikoku, Kyushu, Kishu and Enshu, are famous for being home to bonito tataki (refer to Bonito Tataki). Among those that are sold at stores, there are some that are quick-fried instead of broiled.
At home, the food is often broiled over the flames of a gas stove. However, if it is broiled over a flame made by burning rice straw, pine needles or over charcoal, there will be no taste of gas, and a unique flavor will be brought out, making it tastier. In the case of bonito tataki, the trick to a beautifully broiled finish is to cook the skin side first. In addition, if the food is cooled very quickly by plunging it into ice water suddenly after broiling, the flesh will become firm and flavorful.
Besides using bonito, it can also be made with beef. The interior of the roast beef is pink, and therefore some people see a similarity between the two dishes. However, because of the property of the oven the inside of the roast beef is cooked. It is also made in a similar manner with horse meat and fresh chicken.
It is served with condiments such as ginger, garlic, grated daikon radish and leeks. It is often dipped in ponzu sauce or soy sauce made tangy with juice from citrus fruits, such as citrus sudachi. Sometimes the broiled ingredient is sprinkled with condiments and then patted with the flat side of the knife to firm up the flesh.
Tataki by Mincing
The meat or fish is chopped into 1 to 2-cm cubes and topped with herbs or miso. It is then minced into small pieces by cutting it with a knife. Sometimes two knifes are used alternately to chop the food into fine pieces. Depending upon the food, it may taste better if finely chopped, while for others the taste better if not chopped too much.
The ingredients used for this cooking method include bonito, Japanese horse mackerel, pigfish, flying fish, Japanese barracuda and sardines.
(for bonito, refer to Bonito Tataki)
Herbs such as leeks, ginger, shiso (Japanese basil) and garlic are used. Soy sauce is often drizzled over the food when it is chopped or when it is eaten.
Those that are mixed with miso when chopped and mixed well until they become slightly sticky are called 'namero.'
There are dishes that use sansai (edible wild plants growing in the fields and mountains) instead of fish, which are chopped into fine pieces until they become sticky. In this case, no herbs are added. In particular, tataki made with lancet fish is known as a local cuisine of Akita and Iwate Prefectures.
Among traditional cuisine of the Ainu, there is a dish called 'citatap,' in which salmon hizu (fish head cartilage) and gills are made into a tataki, mixed with soft roe and leeks, and seasoned with salt. Citatap is a word that means 'something that is beaten' in Ainu.
The method in which burdock roots or cucumbers are smashed with a rod so as to break up the fibers, making the food easier to eat, can also be called 'tataki.'