Ike Jime Part 2 – What “closing” does to the fish?

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Why Ike Jime closing is needed

Let’s look at the 3 steps of Ike-Jime closing more closely and see why we do this.

Closing The Fish Immediately

The instant treatment is essential. DO NOT let the fish suffer. When the fish suffers, like slowly drowning in the air, there’s a chemical reaction in the muscles. Stress is not just an emotion. Stress eats up the energy source and chemical compounds within the muscle cells which make us feel “tasty”. Stress also leaves fatigue components like lactic acid and ammonia within the flesh. The recent study shows when the fish suffers to death, the chemical reactions in the flesh speed up to decomposition. That also means that the tasty period for the meat comes and goes very quickly.

Some people keep the fish alive in a bucket. The intention is probably to keep the fish as fresh as possible, but this is the worst thing you can do to the fish actually. The suffering lasts longer. The meat will be tasteless, soggy, and quick to go rotten. Fishing boats have fish tanks where the fresh sea water comes in and out. This is much better than a bucket. But if you mean to eat the fish, better close it immediately.

Draining Blood

Blood is bad. Blood is where the fishy odor comes from. Blood is what incubates all the bacterias. Don’t wait. Drain completely as soon as you close the fish.
If you wait, blood will get in the flesh and that’s the end. The meat will soon get smelly, look dark and go rotten.

Breaking spinal cord

What this treatment does is to isolate the muscle “off-line” so that it wouldn’t know that it’s dead. This treatment slows down the breakdown process. resulting in freshness lasting longer, and the tasty period lasting longer, giving more time for the aging process.

In several hours after fish dies, it experiences the whole body contraction, called rigor mortis. Even after death, the muscles keep looking for energy source but there’s no blood supply. So they start consuming the savings of energy within the cells, called ATP. ATP decrease changes pH and results in the whole body contraction. When ATP is all used up, the muscles literally die. That’s when the body is the most rigid, the state of rigor mortis. After this, the body starts loosening and the proteins start breaking down to amino acids and then to decomposition.
By breaking the spinal cord, you kind of set the muscles in sleep. It slows and calms down the break-down process in a way we call “aging”.

Ike Jime makes a difference

Look at the picture of the fillets of flounders below. Left has suffered to death from being left in iced water. Right has been Ike-Jime closed. This is the picture 48 hours after closing.

It is from a research project by Hokkaido University in 2012. As you can see Ike-Jime does make a remarkable difference. Suffered fish looks dull with blood spreading in the meat. Must be smelling by now. The meat is soggy, collapsing. Closed fish looks clean, bright, and solid.

Aging Process

Let’s look more closely at the aging process.

The proper closing, Ike-Jime, and proper storage makes the aging span longer, in results, freshness lasts longer. There’s more time before decomposition, so the meat can sit to mature and develop Umami components for rich flavor.

Umami comes from the Japanese word, a savory taste, now recognized as one of the 5 basic tastes with sweet, bitter, sour, and salty. Our tongue has receptors for L-glutamate. These amino acids in various foods are what Umami taste is based on.

Below is a chart of the aging process. It depends on what fish how fast the aging process progresses. Some are fast and some are slow. Even the same fish is different by the location, by the season, and by individuals. But proper closing maximizes each fish aging span.
Good sushi chefs senses the individual conditions and controls the aging process, and serve each fish at the right time.
The chart shows the process but the time frame is just a general idea. It really depends on various factors.

Phase 1: Right after closing (within 3 to 9 hours)

The meat is definitely fresh. The meat is translucent and beautiful. But the texture is still tough, lively, sometimes too chewy. Because all the fibers and the structure of the proteins are still in a good condition. And the taste is plain, as no Umami components haven’t been produced yet.
Many people still believe that the fish is at its best right when it’s dead. But this is not very true. It’s like immature fruit.

Skipjacks and Bonitoa are exceptions
The fish tank is for LIVE entertainment

Phase 2: Toward rigor mortis (within 9 to 24 hours)

When ATP is broken down, it leaves IMP, inocic acid. This is a Umami component. At rigor mortis, ATP is all gone, meaning that the meat is full of IMP at maximum. On rigor mortis, the body gets rigid but the meat itself is not tough actually. It’s solid and elastic, but soft to chew.
This is one of the best time to eat. The taste is moderately developed with IMP and the texture is still fresh. Amberjack, halibuts, and the kind of fish that you enjoy the texture of, are at their best here.

Phase 3: Post rigor mortis (within 24 to 48 hours)

Once passed the rigor mortis, the meat starts loosening and IMP starts decreasing. But the decreasing pace is slow if the fish has been closed properly.
The other aging process starts taking effects here. The protein has been breaking down by its own enzyme to amino acids and peptides, all Umami components. Especially IMP and glutamic acid combined is a unmatchable Umami.
This is the tastiest period. The taste is rich, even though the texture is a bit softer. Most fish is good here. The kind of fish that is too chewy in Phase 2 would be beautiful to have at this point.

Small Mackerel family should be eaten or heated by this time. Because they are full of unsaturated fats. So good for your health but bound to go bad quickly.

Phase 4: Toward decomposition (within 3 days to 1 week)

The texture has become much softer. The aging continues. Umami develops more and more. The flavor becomes full-body often with a quality of sweetness.
The surface might change to darker color due to oxidation. But the quality is the same. You just need to slice off the surface if you want to have it look good.

A big tuna over 30kg can last over 1 week. They let a 300kg tuna age up to 20 days.

Chewy meat like cods and groupers, sometimes snapper, is at its best around this time if you like rich aged flavor.

Caution

They say food is at its best just before decomposed. Do you believe that? A lot of times I find it true. But I’m talking about eating raw fish that you caught several days ago. And I’m an amateur. I’m just sharing what I and many Japanese anglers do. But you need to be careful with your own responsibilities. Use your own senses. And always play safe.

You will appreciate the difference even when you cook the fish. Not as much as sashimi of course. But the closed fish smells better and tastes better. Before you might have thought that you should freeze the fish within 2 days, but now you don’t have to for a couple more days.

My sashimi preferences

Here is the list of my personal sashimi preferences, on the assumption that the fish has been properly closed and stored on my own responsibilities. Just to give you an idea what Ike Jime can do to each fish.

Fish Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5
Small Tuna Good Good OK
Bonito Good Great OK
Medium Tuna Good Great Good OK
Trevally Good Great Good OK
Amberjack Good Great Great Good OK
Snapper OK Good Great Great Good
Grouper NO OK Good Great Great
Example With A Grouper

Look at this grouper fillet. It’s Day 6. Beautiful flesh with translucent quality. Still looks good for sashimi, but it’s a cold night and we are doing fish soup.

It was caught on Wednesday. It was my first fish of that day around 8am. I think it’s Epinephelus cometae. About 40cm, 1kg.

Ike JimeIke jime closing. I always do it like this. Sandwich the fish with the soles of my shoes, and put in the wire along the spine. I see the target line more clearly this way. Then it was laid in a cooler box, in the plastic bag on the ice for a whole day on the boat. When we were back in the evening, the fish body was not stiff yet, soft like live. Then I scaled, gutted, and filleted that night. Wraped it with a paper towel which sucks out the liquid but stays dry on the contact side, no plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge.

This is Day 6, Monday night. I made the base from the head and the bone, which has been frozen, along with Konbu. Cook the fillet with vegetables and tofu in the soup base. It was fabulous. The texture was still intact, a little softened but the grouper meat is pretty firm to start with anyway, it was a perfect texture. The taste was so rich. Full of Umami.

  1. Kitidas Punyashthiti
    Kitidas Punyashthiti12-06-2012

    Hi Totos,
    Could you add the definitions of ATP and IMP, this would make this article more complete. I really appreciate your effort in sharing such an art of handle the fish which is hardly known to the outside. Thanks again and best regards,
    Kitidas P.

    • Totos
      Totos12-07-2012

      Hi Kitadas,
      Thank you very much for your compliment and feedback.
      I don’t know much about ATP and IMP, except my descriptions for them in the article. But I realized that the words came on the article before my descriptions of them. That was probably what confused you. I changed my writing to avoid the confusion. Thank you very much once again for pointing it out.

  2. Ben D
    Ben D07-17-2013

    Ths is a very good summary of the benefits of ikejime. We have developed a website with information on brain location of a range of Indo Pacific fish species at http://www.ikijime.com. I would like to link to your webpage as it complements the information we have on our site. Please let me know if this is OK.
    Ben

    • Totos
      Totos07-17-2013

      Hi Ben.
      Thank you for kindly asking for a link from your website. Glad you find our site helpful. Go ahead and link, and we’ll have a link to yours.

  3. Dimitri
    Dimitri07-22-2013

    Excellent article. We immediately close the fish, but the trick with the spinal cord is quite new to us…
    Any ready made instruments to make life easier, instead of making our own?
    How do you practice ikejime to a bft tuna which is 1.40m long?

  4. Totos
    Totos07-23-2013

    Hi Dimitri.
    They are selling Ike-Jime wire around JPY1,000. They are made of shape memory alloy so that it’s always straight when uncoiled.
    But it really doesn’t have to be a specific wire. I used to use a stainless heavy gauge wire which is meant to make rigs, about 1mm diameter, you can buy at any fishing store.

    For longer fish than your wire, go into the spinal cord from the head once, and go again from the tail.
    Doing both video 1 & video 2 on Ike-JIme Part 1.
    http://www.anglers-secrets.com/how-to-keep-fish-fresh/

  5. Wei
    Wei02-09-2014

    Quote” Ike jime closing. I always do it like this. Sandwich the fish with the soles of my shoes, and put in the wire along the spine. I see the target line more clearly this way. Then it was laid in a cooler box, in the plastic bag on the ice for a whole day on the boat. When we were back in the evening, the fish body was not stiff yet, soft like live. Then I scaled, gutted, and filleted that night. Wraped it with a paper towel which sucks out the liquid but stays dry on the contact side, no plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge.

    Hi Totos

    Your information on Ike Jime is very interesting and I would like to follow your practice to try this method. You mentioned above that the fish is wrapped in paper towel and put in fridge. I will appreciatevif you could advice by putting in the fridge, what temperature is it stored? It is not in the freezer, I guess.

    • Totos
      Totos02-10-2014

      Hi Wei.
      Thank you for your comment.
      The study of Hokkaido University shows that it’s better to store around 10C for the first day and around 5C for the following days. So just put it in a normal fridge temperature which is about 4C unless the door gets opened frequently.
      One thing to concern is the drip. When the meat is soaked in the drip, it goes bad no matter how cool it’s kept. That’s what the paper towel is for and you want to change it once a day.
      Enjoy your catch!

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