How To Use the Fish Grill in a Japanese Apartment to Cook A Lot of Other Things

In this chapter in our series on how to live in a Japanese apartment, we explain how to use the fish grill that comes standard in many Japanese apartment stoves. We’ll also share a few easy recipes to get you started.

As we’ve mentioned in other posts (how to organize a small Japanese kitchen), Japanese kitchens can be fairly barebones and small, but the great thing about a fish grill is that it can be used as a substitute for other appliances (like a toaster) and to cook a lot of other things besides fish. It can make toast, grilled chicken, pizza, desserts and puddings, and lots of other things.

The Built-In Fish Grill in Your Kitchen Range

In a typical Japanese apartment, the kitchen range consists of one, two or three (usually gas) burners and a small pull-out grill right below the burners. This is a called a 魚焼きグリル (sakana yakiguriru, fish grill) and is much smaller than the oven you would find in a typical kitchen in the U.S. or Europe.

In fact, it is very rare to find an apartment in Japan with a large built-in convection oven. Also, in a typical Japanese studio apartment, you may only get one electric burner no grill at all.

A typical kitchen range in a Japanese apartment. The “fish grill” is located under the burners.

But don’t let the small size fool you! The temperature inside the grill can reach 300 degrees C (around 570 degrees F), which means that it is excellent for getting the outside of your food crispy, while keeping the inside tender and juicy.

An example of a higher-end fish grill with an iron grill pan. Pictured is grilled Pacific saury (秋刀魚, sanma), which is one of the most well-known seasonal (autumn) fish in Japan.

Two Main Types of Grill

Important to Add Water in Some Models

In lower-end and older model fish grills  you need to fill the metal tray (below the grill) with water before you turn it on. This is to prevent the temperature from getting too high and possibly setting the range on fire.

Higher-end Models

In newer models, there are gas burners on both the top and bottom of the grill, and you don’t need to add water to it.

Heat sources

An important thing to keep in mind when using a fish grill is that the heat source (gas burner) is very close to your food. Until you’re used to how your grill cooks, keep an eye on what you’re cooking to prevent scorching it.

In lower-end and older models, the gas burners are only on top. If you are grilling fish or meat, remember to turn your food over to grill both sides. In higher-end models, there are gas burners on top and bottom of the grill.

How To Use a Fish Grill

  1. In lower-end/older model grills: Take the bottom tray out of the grill and fill it with water. You can also add potato starch to the water to make it easier to clean afterwards.
  2. Press the button or knob to ignite the grill and turn the knob to adjust the temperature.
  3. Pre-heat the grill for about 5 minutes.
  4. Place your fish on the metal mesh and cook until crispy.
  5. If your grill only has top burners, flip the fish over to crisp the other side.

Safety and Cleaning Tips

  1. If you are using a lower-end or older model grill, remember to add water to the bottom tray before turning it on.
  2. Line the bottom tray with aluminum and add baking soda or potato starch to the water in the bottom tray to make it easier to clean afterwards.
  3. Until you’re familiar with how your grill works (how hot it gets) do not walk away from it while cooking.
  4. Take your cooked food out of the grill immediately  to prevent smells from building up inside.
  5. Clean the inside of the grill, metal mesh and tray after each use.
  6. In the unlikely event that the grill catches on fire, switch off the gas, cover the ventilation vent with a wet towel, and wait for the fire to subside.

Making Toast!

Making toast in a Japanese fish grill.

To make toast in a Japanese fish grill, pre-heat the grill and set it to medium heat. Toast for about 1-minute. Flip over for another 1-minute, if you only have top burners. Adjust time as suitable for your particular grill!

Mini-Pizza

You can make quick mini-pizzas in your fish grill starting with ready-made pizza crust (available in many Japanese supermarkets).

Ready-made pizza crust from Aeon supermarket.

  1. Prep the crust on your stove top: Using olive oil, brown the ready-made crust on both sides in a frying pan on your stove top.
  2. Pre-heat the grill.
  3. Add pizza sauce, grated cheese, and your desired toppings.
  4. Grill pizza for about 5-minutes on low heat or until cheese is melted and toppings are cooked.

Mini pizza cooked in a Japanese fish grill. Recipe and image: Cookpad Recipe Japanese

Roast Chicken

You can also make delicious grilled chicken in a fish grill! The trick is to flatten out the chicken before grilling it and covering with aluminum foil when grilling.

  1. Pre-heat the grill.
  2. Use a rolling pin to flatten out two pieces of chicken thighs between plastic wrap. Marinate for at least 30-minutes in cooking oil and seasonings. Use about 3 tablespoons of cooking oil. Salt, pepper, powdered garlic as desired and 3-tablespoons of honey optional.
  3. Tightly cover the metal mesh with aluminum foil to prevent the meat juices from dripping.
  4. Place the chicken on top of the aluminum foil-covered tray and tightly cover chicken with more aluminum foil.
  5. Cook for about 10-minutes on low heat. When the chicken is lightly brown brush the top with soy sauce. Cover tightly again with aluminum foil to prevent the soy sauce from burning. Cook for another 5-minutes.
  6. Chicken is done when the juices from the center run clear.

Roast chicken cooked in a Japanese fish grill. Recipe and image: Cookpad Recipe (Japanese)

Grilled Veggies

Grill vegetables to go along with that juicy chicken!

Pre-heat the oven. Wrap the metal mesh with aluminum foil and lightly spray or brush with cooking oil. Place your chopped up vegetables on the foil-wrapped tray and season as desired with salt, pepper, and herbs. Cook for about 5-minutes on low to medium heat. Sprinkle again with seasonings. Cook for another 5-minutes.

Grilled vegetables cooked in a Japanese fish grill. Recipe and image: Cookpad Recipe (Japanese)

Japanese-Style Purin (Custard Pudding)

Japanese-style egg custard cooked in a Japanese fish grill. Recipe and image: Cookpad Recipe (Japanese)

  1. Make the caramel: In a saucepan heat 1 to 2 tablespoons of water and 20-grams of sugar to make a caramel sauce. Stir and watch carefully to prevent burning. Coat 2 to 4 small oven-safe containers with caramel. Work quickly before caramel hardens. And be careful not to burn yourself!
  2. Make the pudding base: In a microwave (on a 600-Watt setting) heat 100-cc of milk and 40-grams of sugar for about 40-seconds. Make sure sugar is completely dissolved.
  3. Add 3 eggs to the pudding base and gently mix (do not foam). Add another 300-cc of milk and vanilla essence to the pudding base.
  4. Gently pour the pudding base into the caramel-coated containers.
  5. Place the bowls in a small oven-safe tray and fill the tray with water about half-way up the bowls (basically, make a bain marie).
  6. Cook on medium to high-heat for 6 to 7-minutes. Turn the tray for a more even bake. Cook for another 10-minutes.
  7. Pudding should have a slight wobble when done!

Do you have a good Japanese fish grill recipe? Please share below!

You may also be interested in: How to organize a small Japanese kitchen