Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 5 extra: Iwashi no Tsumire-jiru (イワシのつみれ汁) - Sardine balls in clear soup


Now that you know how to gut, bone and clean sardines, one of the nicest ways to eat the sardines is to turn them into little fish balls which can be floated in a hot pot, pan-fried, and so on - or most classically, served in a clear soup. The ginger and onion takes away any kind of 'fishy' taste. You can even serve this in cold soup for a refreshing change. They are very healthy too, since sardines are one of the best sources of the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.

Recipe: Iwashi no Tsumire-jiru (鰯のつみれ汁): Sardine balls in clear soup

Prep time: 20 min :: Cook time: 10 min :: Total time: 30 min

Yield: 4 servings

Serving size: 3-5 balls


For the sardine balls (tsumire)
  • 600g (1 lb. 6 oz) fresh sardines, weighed before gutting/deboning
  • 1/4 to 1/3 teaspoon salt, to taste
  • 1/2 tablespoon sake , omit if you don't have any
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 piece fresh ginger - about a 1cm + / 1/2 inch long piece (should make about 2 teaspoons of grated ginger)
  • 2-3 stalks green onion, about 1 cup chopped
  • cornstarch or katakuriko potato starch
For the soup:
  • 750ml / 3 U.S. cups dashi stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce, light soy sauce (usukuchi) is preferred but dark is ok
  • green onion, ginger, mitsuba etc., for garnish
  • sansho pepper, to taste


  1. Gut, bone and de-skin the sardines as per the detailed instructions here (link).
  2. Finely chop the green onions - you shoul have about 1 cup's worth. Peel and grate the ginger. (No photo for this step...I figure everyone knows how to do this!)
  3. Start chopping up the sardines. First just slice them up.
  4. Keep chopping the fish until the pieces get smaller and smaller.You can also bash the mixture with the side of your knife occasionally.
  5. They should get to about this consistency - rather like rough ground meat. (You can chop up the fish in a food processor if you prefer: use the pulse function so you don't grind them into a paste.)
  6. Put the chopped up fish, ginger, green onion, sake, salt and egg white in a bowl. Mix together thoroughly with your hands until it forms a slightly sticky paste.
  7. Form into balls with moistened hands. (Some people prefer to use two spoons that have been dipped in oil to form the balls, but I just use my hands.) You should have an equal number of balls per serving, around 3-5.
  8. Lightly roll the balls in cornstarch (cornflour) or potato starch. Drop them in a pot of simmering water, and poach for 4-6 minutes until they are firm, and white on the outside. Take them out and drain well. At this point you can use the precooked balls in hot pots, oden stew, or pan-fried gently and served on its own or with a little ginger-wasabi sauce.
  9. Heat up the dashi stock. Add the tsumire (sardine balls) and gently heat through.
  10. Serve piping hot or chilled until it's ice-cold, with julienned green onion or the white part of leek, and/or julienned ginger. You can also add mitsuba, komatsuna, or even watercress to the soup. Some crunchy greens are especially nice in this if you serve it chilled. A sprinkle of sansho pepper on top is great too.

(Below for search engine purposes only)

By Makiko Itoh

Published: April 25, 2013

Type: Japanese, washoku, fish, soup

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7 comments so far...

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Re: Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 5 extra: Iwashi no ...

You missed the Add Other Ingredients to the Fish step... I take it that should be between 5 and 6.

The recipe looks good. I can't usually get fresh sardines - do you know if it would work with other oily fish?

Anne | 25 April, 2013 - 19:14

Re: Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 5 extra: Iwashi no ...

I've added the missing step now - thanks for spotting it!

It will work with mackerel, sprats, herring, etc. Bluefish is a bit too oily and strong tasting. The fish does have to be very fresh in any case.

maki | 25 April, 2013 - 19:34

Re: Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 5 extra: Iwashi no ...

This looks great! I wonder if the tsumire could be frozen for later use?

Miguel Vieira | 25 April, 2013 - 22:54

Re: Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 5 extra: Iwashi no ...

I haven't seen any sardines at the store, but I did see a whole bunch of smelts last time I went shopping. Could this be done with any tiny fish?

Megan | 25 April, 2013 - 23:54

Re: Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 5 extra: Iwashi no ...

Thank you Makiko Sensai for another great and achievable recipe.

Heda | 26 April, 2013 - 12:34

Re: Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 5 extra: Iwashi no ...

would this work with canned sardines?

Sweetie Bird | 6 May, 2013 - 20:36

Re: Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 5 extra: Iwashi no ...

I tried this recipe today and had trouble getting the balls to hold their shape. I think that ultimately I had too much moisture in the mix, but I added very little sake and no other liquid. Any idea why this might have happened and how it could be fixed in future?

Sean | 21 September, 2014 - 23:01

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