This simple Japanese cabbage recipe is a home party in a can! Part of the fun is eating it straight from the tin! It’s meant to be a budget-friendly "fancy" izakaya side dish to pair with sake or wine. Sautéed cabbage with garlic, a peppery kick, and canned fish– in Japan, even budget-strapped college students can eat gourmet!Jump to Recipe
Japanese Spring Cabbage
In Japanese, cabbage that’s harvested in early spring is called haru-kyabetsu (spring cabbage).
If you visit Japan in the spring, you’ll see spring cabbage being sold at supermarkets and vegetable stalls all over.
You’ll recognize a head of spring cabbage by its looser leaves–
the heads aren't so tightly bound as regular cabbage.
The leaves are especially moist and soft, even if eaten raw.
Spring Cabbage – Seasonal Menu
A good restaurant in Japan will change their menu depending on what vegetables are in season.
That’s why when I went to my favorite izakaya in Shibuya, I was recommended “anchovy cabbage” (アンチョビキャベツ) made with spring cabbage.
It looked like something I could make at home. And it was really good!
So I asked Matsui-san, the friendly cook, if there were any tricks to making it.
Following his advice and buying just a few simple ingredients, I easily recreated it at home.
Now you can too.
Cabbage and canned fish, it doesn’t get much easier than that!
Substitute ingredients that you can find locally
When I tried this cabbage salad, Matsui-san explained that he used canned saba (mackerel) instead of anchovies.
In Japan, you can even buy canned mackerel at any 7-11.
If you do use anchovies, I recommend cutting back on the amount of fish you add.
Adding a whole tin of anchovies would be going overboard because of their high salt-content. I would recommend cutting the amount in half (= half a tin).
You can always add more later.
Spring Cabbage Alternative
Also, if you can’t get your hands on spring cabbage, regular cabbage is still a good substitute.
I've tried it with this recipe. Thumbs up.
An Italian Recipe, Japanese-style
Technically, this recipe for spring cabbage is not Japanese.
I would call it Japanese-style Italian.
Italian food is actually really popular in Japan. There are around 20,000 Italian restaurants in Tokyo alone. Who would have guessed that!?
This recipe’s influence comes from a traditional dish from Naples, Aglio e Olio, which literally means olive oil and garlic in Italian.
Sometimes red pepper flakes or anchovies are added as well.
Pe-pe-ron-chi-no(ペペロンチーノ) is actually one of the most popular pasta dishes in Japan. Peperoncino is short for the full name of the pasta: Aglio Olio e Peperoncino.
Low-carb Italian without the pasta
Aside from the tin can, this recipe is just like Aglio Olio e Peperoncino with sautéed cabbage substituted for the noodles.
So basically, you can think of this warm cabbage salad as a keto, gluten-free, low-carb version of spaghetti Aglio e Olio.
If you still need your noodle fix, try mixing in some healthy juwari soba or chickpea pasta.
What is Japanese-style Italian?
I don’t think I’ve ever had spaghetti with meatballs in Japan.
Saying that, I have had spaghetti with spicy codfish roe many, many times.
So I suppose in Japan that “On top of Spaghetti” song might translate into something like:
“all covered with sea urchin, I lost my poor scallop, when somebody sneezed“.
Japan has its own style of spaghetti and pasta recipes.
Ingredients that are locally available are substituted or added on top.
As you can imagine, seafood and even seaweed are commonly added to spaghetti here. It’s an island, after all.
No, it’s not authentic Italian. And yes, it’s delicious.
It’s two of my favorite food-countries combined!
Ingredients for Japanese Cabbage in a Can
Cabbage: If you aren’t able to find spring cabbage or it’s not in season, just use regular cabbage.
Extra virgin olive oil: I usually don’t cook with olive oil because it’s oxidizes easily, even from sunlight. That’s why you should choose olive oil that comes in a green bottle, not clear. I heat the fry pan on low heat to prevent breaking all those healthy plant-based fatty acids.
Garlic: I chop fresh garlic into small pieces. I’m sure you could mince the garlic or even try dried garlic chips according to your preferences.
Dried red chili peppers: It’s important to go easy on the red chilis at first. After taste-testing, then you can add more spicy if you want.
Canned fish: I used canned mackerel in olive oil. I’m sure other canned fish like sardines would probably be just as good! Salmon is amazing as well.
Ground black pepper: I suppose adding freshly ground pepper at the end is optional. I recommend it though– it adds another layer of taste.
Kitchen Tools Needed
Knife: You’ll need a sharp knife to cut the cabbage and garlic. I also slice whole dried red chilis.
Cutting board: Any will do. Placing a moist paper towel under your cutting board will prevent your cutting board from slipping.
Large bowl or glass pan: After you add salt to the cabbage, mix in with your hands and cover with a lid or use paper towel.
Fry pan: You don’t need a wok or anything special. Cooking with olive oil, you shouldn’t have any problem with food sticking to the pan. The garlic pieces may stick just a bit if you prefer to use a non-stick pan.
Wooden spatula: You could also use cooking chopsticks.
Tin can/s: for serving, rinsed out and dried. It's not necessary to wash with dish soap. I try to not get the label on the can wet, so it doesn't peel off.
Health Benefits of the Ingredients
Cabbage– is nutrient dense, high in vitamin C and a good source of fiber. It's low carb, good for your heart, and may help prevent cancer.
Canned mackerel– is high in inflammation-fighting omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, a good source of protein, and lower in mercury.
Extra virgin olive oil– a superfood, is incredibly healthy if it's good quality oil. It benefits your heart, brain, joints and more. According to Dr. Gundry, "Extra virgin olive oil specifically is arguably the most nutrient dense food you can put in your body. It’s loaded with antioxidants and polyphenols".
Garlic– boosts your immunity, acts as an anti-inflammatory, improves your cardiovascular health, and can give you better hair and skin.
Japanese Cabbage with Canned Fish
- ½ medium-sized spring cabbage
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp salt
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 can mackerel
- 1 dried red chili adjust to your preference for spicy
- freshly ground pepper to season
PREPARING THE INGREDIENTS
- Chop cabbage into bite-sized pieces and remove hard stem.
- Cut out any brown spots if needed.
- Put chopped cabbage in a bowl or pan and rinse clean with water.
- Sprinkle salt on top.
- Mixed in salt with your hands to cover chopped cabbage leaves.
- Cover with lid or paper towel and keep in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, remove the cabbage from the refrigerator and rinse.
- Wrap the cabbage with a cheese cloth or paper towel. Squeeze the cabbage to remove as much water from the leaves as you can. Set cabbage aside.
- Finely chop garlic and chili pepper. Set aside.
- Preheat fry pan on low heat.
- Add olive oil to pan.
- Add garlic and chili pepper. Cook until garlic until it begins to turn golden (approximately 1 min)
- Remove water or oil from canned fish and add to fry pan.
- Stir contents in fry pan with spatula. Cook for 1-2 minutes.
- Add chopped cabbage to fry pan and stir.
- Season with fresh ground black pepper.
- Let cool and serve in can.
Frequently Asked Questions:
1) What are other Japanese cabbage recipes I can try?
In Japanese cuisine, there are many different uses for cabbage. Try these out!
Okonomiyaki (Japanese savory cabbage pancake), hot pots, Japanese coleslaw with rice vinegar, soy sauce sesame seeds, and bonito flakes, sengiri cabbage, Japanese stuffed cabbage rolls, salted cabbage with sesame oil, and stir fry.
2) Is cabbage popular in Japan?
Yes, you can find cabbage at supermarkets in Japan year round. Green cabbage and Chinese cabbage are commonly used in Japanese cooking. Red cabbage is also used, though it's not quite as common as other varieties of cabbage.
In Japan, cabbage is a main ingredient in healthy recipes that are low cost. It's also a main ingredient in Japanese comfort food like okonomiyaki.
3) What's the difference between real Italian and Japanese Italian recipes?
If it's your first time trying wafu (Japanese-style) Italian, you might be surprised. For example, in Japan it's pretty common to find mentaiko spaghetti, which is made with spicy cod fish roe and topped with kizami nori.
This article goes in-depth about the differences between authentic Italian and Japanese Italian recipes.
The lesson I learned …
I’ve found that every recipe for my blog teaches me a new lesson.
Every creation is the result of a process of trial and error, a string of successes and flops.
This Italian-style Japanese cabbage recipe was so easy to create.
It was something new on the menu– I wanted to try it.
I immediately fell in love with the idea of serving it out of the can, probably because it makes me feel like I was on a camping trip.
The same night during dinner I asked the cook how to make it.
Then, he taught me what to do.
One day later, I easily recreated the dish at home.
I tested out a few variations of ingredients and amounts.
Basically, that's it.
In some good morning light I took some picts to share with you.
This experience taught me how easy it can be to take an idea and make it real.
"Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve." -Napoleon Hill
Maybe I discovered the secret recipe for success for myself:
Set an intention – get inspiration – ask for what you want – take the necessary action – and let it come to you with ease.
And have fun all along the way!
So I guess this can of cabbage and fish taught me how to get anything I want in life.
Did it take hard work? Nah.
Rather than hustling, forcing it, and fighting for what I want,
I did the opposite.
Relax, have fun, ask for help, and let what you want come to you.
Really, it's more like play.
And when it's done, I get to eat it.