Braised mackerel in tomato sauce with bitter melon

Shio-koji marinated mackerels cooked in summer representing vegetables of fresh tomatoes and bitter melon.

Packed with healthy fats of mega3 from mackerel and not only it is healthy but also is tender and full of rich flavor from shio-koji! 

braised mackerel and bitter melon in tomato sauce

Shio-koji marinated mackerels cooked in summer representing vegetables of fresh tomatoes and bitter melon.

Packed with healthy fats of mega3 from mackerel and not only it is healthy but also is also full of rich flavor from shio-koji! 
Do not worry about the fish becoming dry and tough as many other fish recipes does! 
This braised mackerels are tender and juicy thanks to the shio-koji, Japanese traditional all purpose seasoning! 

With many information about healthy eating around in this age, probably many of you know that fish that is high in omega 3 fatty acid are good for you.

Omega 3 fats are one of our essential fatty acids along with omega6 fats. Essential fatty acids are the fatty acids that our body cannot manufacture and need to be taken from our diet. 

We need take both omega 6 and omega 3 from diet but the problem is that now we are consuming too much omega 6 in relation to omega 3.

Why is it a problemof eating too much of omega 6?

It is because omega 6 fats are pro- inflammatory, which means that if you take too much omega 6 fats from food, your body becomes prone to inflammation and this lead to many of  inflammatory chronic diseases such as hear disease, diabetes, cancer, auto-immune diseases that has become epidemic in recent years.   

Omega 3 fats works in the body in way that neutralize the inflammatory effect of omega 6.

In  industrialized modern society with full of processed foods, we are eating too much of  omega 6 fats in the forms of vegetable oil, corn oils, soy bean oil, sunflower oils that are used  in everywhere from fast foods, fired foods, snacks and many other prepackaged foods. 

And we are not consuming enough omega 3 fat rich food like fish to make up for it. 

We need to eat good balance of omega 6 fats : omega 3, often said as 1:1~2:1 and now people, especially in SAD diet (Standard American Diet) people consume omega 6 and omega 3 as high as 20:1!!!

Counties where traditionally fish are part of their diet like Japan, may not as bad as this but still with the industrialization the ratio of omega 6 and omega 3 would be much higher than it used to be.

Important thing to note is that plant based omega  3 fatty acids from food like  flax seed, chia seeds, or walnuts are not well converted into the bioavailable form of omega 3 fats (DHA and EPA), which are the form that has anti-inflammatory effect and many other health benefits.

So we should limit our consumption of omega 6 fats by avoiding all processed foods and any industrialized oils and opt for nuts and seeds as omega 6 fats sources (but consume them moderately).

And for omega 3 it is best to incorporate omega 3 fats rich fish in your diet daily basis. (example of omega 3 fats rich fish; salmon, sardine, mackerel, yellow tail, anchovies..,)


Now back to recipe!!


I naturally like fish and eat it almost everyday but after knowing about the health effect of omega 6 and omega 3, I am more conscious about eating good quality fish while watching my omega 6 rich foods intake.

Living in Japan, we are very lucky to have variety of all-year-round- fish all around year and seasonal fish that can offer good quality omega 3 to us.

And mackerel are one kind of fish that we can get all year around in Japan.

Which is lucky, but it often become stuck in routine dishes, so I try to come up with new ideas to enjoy healthy fish dishes with new excitement every time when I eat them.

This  mackerel dish with tomato sauce and bitter melon were really good one!

I tend to grill when I use mackerel because it is easier, but this blazed cooking method is very easy too.


The Sauce;

To make this braised mackerel, pan fry Shio-koji marinated mackerel first,  sautee garlic, onion, fresh tomatoes and bitter melon and the add back mackerel in the pan, and cook them for 10 minutes until done.

I like using fresh tomatoes rather than tinned tomato sauce when I make tomato sauce because I find the sauce turns to be lighter and has more freshness.

Bitter melon

Bitter melon are one of popular summer food in Japan.


Bitter melon, also called bitter gourd, is a tropical vine that belongs to gourd family and is closely related to vegetables such as pumpkin, zucchini, squash and cucumber.

It has bumpy and ugly appearance (sorry bitter melon!) and has very bitter taste as its name says.

Bitter melon is not only a great source of several nutrients such vitamin C, vitamin C and folate but is high in antioxidants making it one of healthiest vegetables to eat during summer.

In Japan, we often say ” eat bitter melon to go through harsh summer” and bitter melon often comes up as dinner menu in many houses.

Why it is especially good in summer?

  •  It contains momodircin, plant chemical that is responsible for its bitter taste,  and it helps increase appetite that often gets lost during harsh Japanese summer. So bitter melon helps the body to eat properly to get enough nutrients  by increasing the appetite so that the body can deal with the stressful hot weather.

  • Vitamin C in bitter melon is more resistant to heat. Vitamin C is one of key nutrients for healthy skin so eating vitamin C rich bitter melon during summer would help maintaining skin condition that gets damaged by sun burn.

  • also on top of these, bitter melon is shown to have blood sugar control effect, cancer fighting properties, and may be able to decrease cholesterol level.

In Okinawa, one of most famous areas for its longevity in the world, has highest bitter melon consumption rate  in Japan. Maybe eating biter melon is one of the factor that make them so healthy, who knows!!

How to eat bitter melon?

You can eat it raw or cooked but  I would not recommend to eat raw especially if your are new to it because it is VERY bitter! (the bitterness making it so healthy though!)

Many people though, becomes “addicted” to its bitterness but for you who may be new to bitter melon here is a way to reuse its bitterness and here is how to do so;

1. Cut bitter melon in half vertically and take off the seeds (spongy part) with spoon.

2. Slice it into about 2 -5 mm thickness. ( you may want to slice thicker if you sautee it)

3. In a bowl place sliced bitter melon and salt, softly ‘knead’ it and leave them for about 10 minutes. (use 1 tsp of salt for one bitter melon)

4. Lightly rinse off bitter melon. Now you can use it for stir fry, sautee, stew or blanch it for salad.

If you live outside Japan or asian country bitter melon may be not available in major supermarkets.

Try got to your local asian or Japanese stores and see if they have it.

If you can not find bitter melon, you can still make this dish without it.

You just will miss the benefits of bitter melon’s part but you will still enjoy the goodness of the dish!


Cooking mackerel;

I marinated the mackerel over night in Shi-koji .

marinating mackerel in Shio-koji

Because ;

A; Shio-koji makes mackerel tender keeping it from becoming dry and hard when it is cooked.

B; Shio-koji helps enhance the flavor and adds ‘richness’ to mackerel

You CAN make this dish without  marinating mackerel in Shio-koji  but I strongly recommend you to try using Shio-koji because it does work like a magic as I described in my Shio-koji Turmeric Chicken.


In this mackerel with tomato sauce recipe, you want to fry the both surface of mackerel before making the sauce.

This step will add the nice slightly ‘burned’ aroma to fish and also prevents the the dish becoming ‘fishy’ smell.

You do not need to cook mackerel completely because it will be cooked in the tomato tomato sauce after.

On the side note, when you cook UNCOOKED fish in the sauce, I would always recommend you to add the fish in well simmered sauce. 

This method of adding raw fish in simmering sauce/ soup is used in many Japanese fish recipes and you can used it when you cook fish in the sauce.


Mackerel is one of the highest omega 3 rich fish and I would love to try using mackerel but I understand not all countries are fortunate to have this beautiful guy.

In this case maybe you can use other fish pieces like salmon, yellowtail, or snapper. Sardine goes well with tomato sauce but make sure to remove the gut beforehand if you are going to use it.


braised mackerel and bitter melon in shio-koji tomato sauce

Now would you like to try this healthy and nourishing “braised mackerel in tomato sauce with bitter melon” recipe to be ready for summer?

Go and find Shio-koji and bitter melon and enjoy all the goodies of this healthy and delicious recipe! 

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Braised mackerel in tomato sauce with bitter melon

Shio-koji marinated mackerels cooked in summer representing vegetables of fresh tomatoes and bitter melon. Packed with healthy fats of mega3 from mackerel and not only it is healthy but also is full of rich flavor and deliciousness from shio-koji! 
Course Maindish
Keyword digestive friendly, fish, maindish, probiotics, shio-koji塩麹
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Marinating fish 6 hours
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 2
Author Mio


Marinating fish

  • 2 pieces fresh mackerel - about 100g each*
  • 1.5 tbsp Shio-koji - look for "nama (raw) " sio-koji **

For the sauce

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil - for frying fish and for the sauce, 1tbsp each
  • 2 cloves garlic - sliced
  • 1/2 onion - chopped
  • 1/3 medium size bitter melon - see the instruction
  • 1 large size fresh tomato - roughly cut into cubes
  • 1/2 tbsp Shio-koji to taste - see the note***
  • pepper


Marinating mackerel;***

  • - if you cook in the morning; the night before, place the mackerel in the container and coat each piece with shio--koji.
    - if you cook at night, do the same thing above in the morning or during the day.
    Keep the the container in the refrigerator and marinate the fish for about 6 hours.***

Make sauce and cook fish

  • First prepare bitter melon.
    - Cut bitter melon in half vertically and take off the seeds (spongy part) with spoon.
    - Slice it into about 2 -5 mm thickness.
    - In a bowl place sliced bitter melon and salt, softly 'knead' it and leave them for about 10 minutes. (use 1 tsp of salt for one bitter melon)
  • While soaking bitter melon, prepare mackerel and other vegetables as instructed above in the ingredient list.
    To prepare mackerel, take the fish container out of the fridge and take off the excess shio-koji from mackerel.
    Heat the 1 tbsp of olive oil in the pan at medium heat, add the mackerel with skind facing down. Cook both side of surface so that the skin becomes "crunchy". (just cook the surface. It does not have to be cooked through here)
  • After 10 minutes, lightly rinse off bitter melon with fresh water.
  • Heat olive oil in the pan, add garlic and onion and sautee until they becomes fragrant. Add prepared bitter melon and chopped tomato sautee them for about 1 minutes.
  • Place mackerel in simmering sauce, and cover the pan and cook another 10-12 minutes or until water comes out of vegetables and mackerel is cooked through.
  • Uncover the pan, season with shi-koji and salt (if needed) and pepper. If you do not have shio-koji just lesser amount of salt. ***


*if you cannot find mackerel you can try with salmon, snapper or yellowtail fish.
** when you purchase Shio-koji, look for "nama (raw) shio-koji" because they have active enzyme in it.
*** I strongly recommend to use shio-koji because it does make difference in taste, texture, and the flavor of whole dish as well as nutritional value of this dish.
But if you are unable t find it you can still make this dish without it and use just salt instead.
You do not need to marinate so just sprinkle salt over the fish and leave it for 5 minutes before cooking. And take off the excess water that comes out of fish before frying in the pan.
Use 1/8-1/4 tsp salt  when seasoning the sauce.
You can buy Nama Shio-koji HERE!

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