Respect the catch – this is the principle behind the ike jime method. If you honor the harvest and properly preserve the meat, the end result will be a superior product. Take note: ike jime or ikejime will take practice. It isn’t a magic trick. Rather, it’s equal parts skill and science. Read on to learn how to ikejime fish properly and slaughter your catch in the most humane way possible!
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How to Ikejime Fish
There aren’t a lot of guides on this online. Some aren’t very thorough in explaining each step of the ikejime technique.
If you’re interested in learning why each step is necessary for honoring your catch, read through our step-by-step guide.
Gather the Equipment
To start, you’ll need to gather the specialized tools and equipment necessary for the species, size, and context of your catch.
The most basic ones that you’ll need are as follows:
- Live fish
- Sharpened brain spike
- Sharp knife
- Clean water
- Insulated cooler (fill with ice)
Prepare the Live Fish
During this stage of learning or practicing how to ikejime fish, you need to control your live catch as it will most likely thrash and jerk as it’s pulled from the water. The method of control you use will depend on your preference, but it can be restraining the catch against a flat, clean surface or getting a good grasp of the fish by holding its gill cover or lower jaw.
Then, firmly plunge the spike into the skill of the fish. You need to make sure that you reach the topmost part of the fish’s spinal vertebrae. It runs along the fish’s mid-line. Your spike doesn’t have to travel far to impale the fish. It just needs to reach down far enough to go through the brain.
If you perform this correctly, the entire body of the fish will just seize moving. The dorsal fins, gills, and the mouth will flare and the body and tail of your catch can begin to spasm. Don’t panic and stay calm as it will pass. Just make sure you maintain control over your fish.
This is the point where the fish can already be considered brain-dead. It’s no longer able to experience any stress from suffocation. If a fish is stressed, it will release natural compounds through its body e.g. lactic acid, adrenaline, and cortisol.
They impart unpleasant smells and off-flavors into the fish’s muscle tissue. They even worsen over time. If a fish doesn’t suffocate and stress, the compounds aren’t released into the body. This means using the brain spike will control fish death’s biochemical consequences.
This is the step where you bleed out the fish. When learning how to ikejime fish, you need to remember that the most bacterial load of a fish is in the gut cavity and blood. Removing the bacterial load is absolutely necessary. It’s, therefore, important that you drain the fish of its blood.
There are particular muscle movements that are involuntary e.g. the heart, which will still function shortly after killing a fish. The heart of a fish will continue beating briefly and supply blood pressure to the fish’s circulatory system.
As much as possible, don’t skip this step as it will help ensure your catch stays pristine. Lift the fish’s gill cover using one hand. Expose the arches, then insert a knife and follow a circular curve of its gill cover. Pierce through the membrane which connects the collar and the gills of the fish. Bleeding the fish will be easier if you rupture the gills.
Passive bleeding will also include you making a tail cut. The major artery of the fish runs on the underside of its spinal vertebrae. You may have to remove some scales before you make a firm cut on the spine. To cut through the spine, you have to quickly slice the flesh until you’re sure you’ve reached the spine.
Then, press down really hard. While doing so, take care so you won’t sever the entire tail. Fold the tail that’s still connected and position it back so you’re exposing the artery, as well as its neural canal and spinal vertebrae.
The blood of fish can coagulate in just a short span of time. There’s also more than you may think. So, it’s necessary that you submerge the fish to clean, fresh water with an ambient temperature. This will help blood come out much quicker and easier. You can also hold the fish on its throat and then give it a vigorous shake while it is submerged in water.
There are species that will need you to fold the fish slightly into a “C” bend and apply a gentle pressure to drain out the residual blood. Just leave the fish so it continues to bleed out slowly. Take it out of the water after ten minutes or so. For large species of fish, you can hold a hose beneath their gill plates. Just make sure that you flush out most of the blood, if possible.
Perform Rapid Cooling
Cold temperatures will limit bacterial proliferation in your catch. Take note: the cooling has to be comprehensive.
You need to cool the fish evenly and not just on one side. This is to ensure its entire body is cooled at the same time and you’re able to maximize its cellular integrity.
As mentioned earlier, the Japanese art of ike jime requires practice to master. When it’s done correctly, the flavor and texture of the fish won’t just be preserved, you also allow its flesh to naturally develop a rich umami dimension.
Having the right tools and following the steps laid out above can help you appreciate your catch more and honor its life.
Have you tried using the ike jime method before? Perhaps you’ve tried a similar method? Share your experience with us by commenting below!