misoyaki butterfish fork to belly
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Misoyaki Butterfish

Mom, if you’re reading this, please don’t be mad… I maybe, just a little bit, might have had an itty bitty fire in the kitchen. BUT TO BE FAIR. It was a little fire. In the pan. A pan fire! And cooks do that all the time in the kitchen, right? Nothing was damaged. And on the bright side, I made the mistake so now you guys won’t have to worry about it! But seriously though, it wasn’t very much of a big deal at all I just like being dramatic sometimes and am such a jumpy person when it comes to fire and heat and hot things. UGH. I’ll tell you the story, because I’m sure you’re interested in hearing it, right?

Last week we had dinner with Roy’s Dad, and I finally asked him how to make misoyaki butterfish. For those of you who don’t know, misoyaki butterfish is miso-marinated black cod (but it is so so so much more than that i.e. heaven). I always firmly believed misoyaki butterfish was a Japanese dish, which it sort of is. Sorry if I’m not making any sense. Basically, in Hawaii I’d grown up my entire life ordering it at Japanese restaurants. My grandma and I would always order it when we’d eat out, and that’s how I learned to pick out any tiny bones in my fish. But when I attempted to order “butterfish” at Japanese restaurants in California, I was given a weird look from our waiter that made me feel like I had just spoken in some foreign language. I later learned that the restaurant did sell it, as “gindara”, which is the Japanese name for black cod/sablefish.

misoyaki butterfish fork to belly

misoyaki butterfish fork to belly

misoyaki butterfish fork to belly


A little googling around and I came across this article outlining the confusion around butterfish. In Hawaii, butterfish refers to a way of preparing fish, not the actual type of fish, though it’s most commonly prepared with black cod. It’s a long process, taking 2 days minimum for marinating the fish. The first time I made butterfish, I marinated it for 3 days in a sugar, sake, miso, and mirin mixture, then cooked it on the stove top. It was good but something was not quite right about the taste. Those buttery and almost caramel-like flavors were missing.

So, back to dinner and Roy’s Dad giving us the scoop. He explained that you reduce the marinade, let it cool, marinate the fish for a few days, broil, then prepare your tastebuds for the most delicious meal ever. I attempted said method this weekend and we’ve been seriously loving the dinner we get to come home to this week. If you’ve never had fish prepared this way before, you absolutely need to try it!

misoyaki butterfish fork to belly

misoyaki butterfish fork to belly

Now to bring my story back to the beginning – and the pan fire. One of the burners on our stove is way more intense than the others, and sometimes I forget about it – which is even worse when I’m using a smaller saucepan. The original directions say, “bring sake and mirin to a boil for 5 minutes”, which is a little confusing because A) does that mean it will take 5 minutes to come to a boil or B) I let the mixture boil for 5 minutes? Anyways, I went with the latter. Roy was supervising while I stepped out of the kitchen and he walked away for a few minutes. When I came back in, a small flame suddenly ignited in the pot and I screamed “FIRE!!!!!!!” and scrambled to turn off the heat as Roy came sprinting into the kitchen thinking it was all up in flames. He was pretty unfazed by it.

There is truly no better name for this dish other than misoyaki butterfish. The sweet miso flavor melts together with each rich and buttery bite of the most tender fish. It’s a meal from my childhood and I’m so happy to be able to share the real deal here for you. PS – I hope I didn’t freak anyone out with my fire story. I debated about sharing it or not but I wanted to give a heads up to be careful when cooking with alcohol in certain dishes. You’ll be fine. Just make sure the sake doesn’t get too hot!


misoyaki butterfish fork to belly

Misoyaki Butterfish
Recipe makes 2 servings. Adapted from Roy Yamaguchi.
Note: Save a little of the miso marinade in a small bowl before coating it with the fish. Cook for another 10-15 minutes to caramelize the sugars more. Drizzle a little over your rice and butterfish for some extra sauce.

1 fillet of black cod (around 1 lb)
1 1/2 cups sake
1 1/2 cups mirin
1/2 cup white miso
1/2 cup brown or white granulated sugar (I use white)

DAY ONE: Prep the marinade
1. In a pot over medium heat, bring the sake and mirin to a boil. Don’t heat the mixture too quickly. Be sure to watch it, if it gets too hot the alcohol could create a flame. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
2. Whisk in the miso and granulated sugar until incorporated. Continue to simmer for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. The marinade will thicken slightly and turn a deeper brown as the sugar caramelizes.
3. Let the miso marinade cool completely. It’s best to let it cool overnight.

DAY TWO + THREE: Marinate the fish
4. Transfer the fillet to a ziplock bag. Pour in the cooled miso marinade. Try to coat the fish as evenly as possible. Let the black cod marinate in the fridge for two to three days.

DAY FOUR: Cook and enjoy
5. Remove the cod from the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes to warm up. In the mean time, line a baking sheet with foil. Make sure to adjust your oven rack to about 6 inches away from the coils at the top.
6. Transfer the fillet to the baking tray and broil on medium for about 10 minutes. You want the fish to be mostly cooked through at this point. Increase the broil to high for the last 5 minutes. The edges of the fillet should start to blacken, and the rest of the fish should turn a dark brown caramel color. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before serving. We enjoyed ours with steamed black rice, furikake, and bokchoy.


About Courtney C.

  • WOW. How to respond to this post? First, I know what dish you’re talking about!! A super tender, miso-delicious fish, omg. I’m so hungry now. I’m so glad you looked into it because learning the history of how a dish originated / prepared is always fascinating, especially given all the migration and fusion of food traditions these days. Second – kitchen fires FREAK me out. During orientation for med school, we had a long lecture about kitchen fires, which seemed out of place but they felt the need to have us listen to it?? They showed videos and what not to do (i.e., pour water on it or fan the flames), and what to do (fire blanket, or put a cast iron lid on). I’ve been terrified of kitchen fires ever since.

    As always, your photos are incredible <3.

    • YAY! So happy you know this one! That is super useful info to have – unrelated or not lol – Roy said if that happens to cover the pot with a lid but I was like, won’t I possibly burn off my hand in doing so???!

  • this is definitely one of my favorites. it’s so silky smooth, and the flavors evoke homey cooked food while simultaneously being uber sophisticated.

    kitchen fires are scary, so i don’t blame you! once i was in the kitchen while my brother was heating up some taquitos in the toaster, but he put the taquitos in parallel to the grates, and they fell on top of the heating element. i had to rescue them, and doused them with water to try to get rid of some of the burnt bits. he later complained about how soggy and wet they were. the gall!

    • You just accurately described everything about this dish<3 PS you win at being an awesome sister - and please feel free to tell your brother someone said that 🙂

  • OMG Courtney, YUMNESS! This fish looks insanely amazing!

  • Helen

    I love this dish and have made it many times. To be honest, I do not recommend simmering the miso in the marinade. My recommendation is to reduce the alcohol and sugar together as suggested, taking care to stir often and not burn anything, then whisking in the miso at the end. It’s way too easy to burn the miso and lose its delicious umami flavor by simmering it in the marinade. Also, burnt miso does not taste good and tastes rather bitter, much like burnt garlic. That’s just my suggestion / preference. Otherwise the proportions given in this recipe are perfect for balance of flavor (erring sweet, as many like it) and the days of marinating are worth the wait!

    • Thanks for the tip, Helen! I’ll try that next time 🙂

  • hahahaha I had a little fire recently too – again, using a new burner which is far stronger than what I am used to, so the flames curled around and up the sides of the small pot..and caught the paper wrapping of my fish lying beside it. That rush of adrenaline is scary though! Gorgeous fish – I haven’t ever marinated fish longer than a couple of hours, so a long, slow marinade sounds incredible. Need to try out black rice too! x

    • That is totally a mistake I would make too! I’m such a wimp but it is totally scary! And yes, marinating the fish for so long is super key in this recipe. The sake in the marinade makes the fish super tender!

  • Mon Petit Four

    Wow, I’ve never had butterfish before but I believe you when you say its heaven because this looks INCREDIBLE! YUM!! I can’t wait to try this recipe, Courtney! Thank you for sharing <3 Hope you had a lovely Easter 🙂

    • Thanks Beeta and a happy belated Easter to you!!!

  • this looks incredible!!

  • Joleen

    LOVE your photos and everything about this blog 🙂 which site do you use to create your gifs?

    • Thanks Joleen!!! I use gifmaker – i think you can just google it?