Sometimes it was hard to distinguish between Asian and Western at our family dinner table. We grilled mantou in olive oil, topped buttered bagels with savory rousong, and mixed Ovaltine in soy milk. When it came to fish, however, the classifications were obvious. Fish with head - Asian. Fish without head - Western.
The Asian form mostly was Chinese hong shao yu, an entire fish fried and drenched in a soy sauce mixture sticky with caramelized sugar. These dinners would be quiet affairs as we cautiously chewed each bite, wary of stray bones. After one side had been picked clean, my parents would flip the entire fish on the plate to access the other half. Keeping the tender meat intact in the process - using only spindly chopsticks, I might add - required dexterity, teamwork, and conviction. As such, my ever trusting parents wouldn't actually let me participate in the Flipping of the Fish until I was halfway through high school. On the other hand, Western fillets were much simpler to contemplate. They came from the grocery store de-boned and in a manageable rectangular prism form. I thought of salmon as quintessentially American: always drowning in butter, served in individual portions rather than family-style, and eaten with a fork and knife.
These days I'm much more likely to encounter a Japanese-style fish than any other - it seems like every restaurant has a miso-glazed fish or tuna poke appetizer on its menu. I prefer the briny flavor of dashi, a Japanese stock made from dried seaweed and bonito flakes; what makes it even more enticing is that it requires only minutes of stove time to make. Dashi infuses everything with umami depth but can go from pleasant to overkill very quickly, so I like it best when it's more of a heavy scent than a bold taste.
In this claypot, the fragrance of the dashi rice supports the true flavor carriers: salmon and shiitake mushrooms. An egg, steamed until a just barely firm and still quite viscous, finishes cooking when it's mixed through the warm rice and fish and gives everything a custardy texture. Lightly wilted spinach and edamame are for crunch and freshness. And despite the fact that there's no fish head in sight, this recipe is as traditionally Asian as it gets! Here I'm happy to disprove my childhood rule of physical form defining cultural identity.
Dashi Rice & Salmon Claypot Recipe (serves 2)
- 1/2 lb salmon, cubed into 1/2 inch pieces
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp rice wine
- 1/2 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 scallion, chopped finely
- 1 cup brown uncooked rice
- 1/4 cup edamame
- 4 shiitake mushrooms, chopped
- 1 tbsp neutral oil
- 1 1/2 cups mild dashi stock (adjust based on rice cooking directions) (see dashi ingredients below)
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp rice wine
- 1/2 cup chopped baby spinach
- 1 egg
- 4 cups water
- 1/2 cup katsuobushi flakes (5 grams)
- 1 dried shiitake mushroom
- 1 4x4 inch square of kombu
- Bonito or furikake seasoning
Make dashi stock (optional): Soak the kombu and the shiitake mushroom overnight, or at least 30 minutes. After the soaking, remove the shiitake mushroom and heat the kombu & water until bubbles form at the edges - do NOT let the water boil or the water will get slimy and bitter. Remove the kombu and set aside (can be used to make another round of mild dashi stock). Add 1/2 cup katsuobushi flakes and bring the stock mixture up to a boil for a minute. Remove from heat to cool, and set aside for 30 minutes until all the dashi flakes sink to the bottom. Strain; this should make ~3 1/2 cups of dashi stock of which you will use 1 - 2 depending on rice type.
Marinate the salmon: Combine the soy sauce, rice wine, rice vinegar and scallion from the first ingredients list and toss the salmon cubes in the marinade. Set aside in the refrigerator.
Prep the rice and vegetables: Heat oil in a claypot over medium heat. Saute edamame and shiitake mushrooms for 1 minute, then add in the rice. Stir to combine. Pour in the dashi stock, soy sauce, and rice wine. Cover, and turn up the heat to high until the water is boiling. Once it reaches a boil, turn down and maintain a gentle simmer for about 40 minutes. Check every few minutes starting at 30 minutes. When the rice has soaked up almost all the liquid but a thin layer remains at the top, it's time to add the salmon.
Add the salmon: There should be about 5-8 minutes left for the rice to fully cook. Add the salmon to the pot, mix to combine. Cover and let it simmer for around 5 minutes, or until the fish cubes are just starting to turn a matte pale pink color and flake slightly, but interior is still a little shiny and dark. With about 2 minutes left in cook time, crack in the egg and add in the chopped spinach. Cover and let everything complete cooking.
Note: The egg will not be fully cooked; the yolk and white will still be runny but the residual heat from the rice and salmon will cook it more completely when it's all mixed together. It adds more of a custardy texture to the rice, which you can omit if you don't like.
Serve: Season with bonito or furikake seasoning and mix the egg yolk/white through the rice pot.