Eric Akis's Sunday Dinner: Try B.C. sockeye Japanese-style

Eric Akis

B.C. sockeye salmon is in season, so today I’ve chosen fresh sockeye fillets to create a flavourful Japanese-style summer meal for four.

Sockeye is a firm, tightly flaked fish, which makes it a good choice for cubing and skewering, as it holds together well during the cooking process. Its rich-tasting flesh also works well with Japanese-style flavours. That’s why I decided that I would make with it a seafood version of yakitori, which is most often made with chicken.

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I started by making a yakitori sauce, flavoured with such ingredients as sake, soy sauce and mirin. Some of the sauce was used to marinate the cubed fish, before it was skewered with green onion and grilled. The rest of the sauce was drizzled on the yakitori during and after cooking.

To make a meal, I served the yakitori with a sushi rice salad. It’s a cool, pleasingly sticky, sweet- and sour-tasting rice salad that contains a colourful mix of vegetables, cooked and cooled shiitake mushrooms, pickled ginger and aromatic sesame oil.

The salad paired well with the fish, as did the other side dish I served with it, cucumber sunomono.

The “su” in sunomono means vinegar. In Japanese cuisine, sunomono is a term that refers to a range of vinegar-based dishes.

To make my version of cucumber sunomono, I thinly sliced the vegetable and marinated it in a rice vinegar-based dressing.

The resulting dish is a palate-refreshing one that nicely complemented the rich tasting, naturally high-in-fat salmon.

Sockeye Salmon Yakitori

B.C. salmon cubed, deliciously marinated, skewered with green onions, then grilled. Makes a nice Japanese-style summer meal when served with the sushi rice salad and cucumber sunomono recipes below.

Preparation time: 35 minutes, plus marinating time

Cooking time: About 12 minutes

Makes: Four (two yakitori each) servings

1/2 cup sake

1/2 cup soy sauce ( I used Kikkoman brand)

2 Tbsp mirin (see Note 1)

1 Tbsp granulated sugar

1 tsp finely grated fresh ginger

1 tsp cornstarch

500 grams sockeye salmon fillets, skinned removed, flesh and cut into 24 (about 1-inch) cubes (see Note 2)

24 (2-inch pieces) green onion (white and pale green part only; see Note 3)

• vegetable oil for the grill

Make the yakitori sauce/ marinade by placing the sake, soy sauce, mirin, sugar, ginger and cornstarch in a small pot. Whisk to combine. Set pot over medium to medium-high heat, bring to a simmer. Simmer five minutes, or until mixture is reduced by about one-third. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.

Pour 1/3 cup of the yakitori sauce into a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until needed. Pour the rest of the sauce into a medium bowl. Add the salmon and toss to coat. Cover, refrigerate and marinate salmon for two hours.

To prevent them from scorching, while salmon marinates, soak eight, six-inch wooden skewers in cold water (see Note 4).

When salmon has marinated, preheat your indoor grill or barbecue to medium-high. Thread three pieces of salmon, and three pieces of green onion, on each skewer (see Eric’s options). Discard the marinade

In the microwave, or in a small pot, warm the reserved 1/3 cup yakitori sauce to just below a simmer.

Lightly oil the bars of the grill. Grill the salmon yakitori two minutes, then turn over and cook two minutes more. Turn the salmon over again and baste with some of the warm yakitori sauce. Cook yakitori, one to two minutes more, or until cooked through. Arrange on a platter, drizzle with remaining yakitori sauce and serve.

Note 1: Mirin, a sweet, sake-based condiment, is sold in the Asian foods aisle of most supermarkets and at Japanese food stores.

Note 2: If you don’t feel confident about removing the skin from the salmon yourself, buy the fish from a store with a fish counter and ask the fishmonger to do it for you.

Note 3: You’ll need two bunches of green onions to get the pieces required for this recipe. Save the top of the green onion for other uses, such as the salad recipe below.

Note 4: If you can’t find six-inch skewers, simply cut longer ones in half. If you have that size of metal skewers at home, you can, of course, use them here.

Eric’s options: You can skewer the cubed salmon and green onions a few hours before cooking the yakitori. Keep refrigerated until ready to grill and serve.

Sushi Rice Salad

This cool, sticky, sweet-and-sour-tasting sushi rice is tossed with colourful vegetables, earthy mushrooms, pickled ginger and sesame oil.

Preparation time: 30 minutes, plus marinating time

Cooking time: About 22 minutes

Makes: Four servings

1 cup sushi rice (see Note 1)

1 1/3 cups cold water

3 Tbsp rice vinegar

1 Tbsp mirin

4 tsp sugar

1/2 tsp salt, plus more as needed

2 tsp vegetable oil

12 medium, fresh shiitake mushrooms, tough stems discarded, caps sliced

1 Tbsp sesame oil

2 Tbsp pickled ginger, cut into thin strips

2 tsp pickled ginger juice, or to taste (see Note 2)

1/3 cup thinly sliced green onion

4 medium radishes, halved and thinly sliced

1/3 cup grated carrot

• roasted sesame seeds, to taste, (optional; see Note 3)

Place the rice and water in a small pot (mine was 14 centimetres wide), set over high heat and bring to a rapid boil. Turn the heat to its lowest setting, cover the rice and steam until tender, about 15 minutes.

While the rice cooks, place the vinegar, mirin, sugar and 1/2 tsp salt in a second small pot. Set over medium-high heat, bring to a boil for a few seconds and stir to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat.

When cooked, spoon and spread the rice into a large, shallow-sided pan.

Stir in the vinegar mixture and then cool the rice to room temperature.

While rice cools, heat oil in a skillet set over medium to medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until tender, about five minutes. Remove from the heat and let mushrooms cool in the skillet.

When the rice and mushrooms have cooled, put them in a salad bowl.

Add the pickled ginger, ginger juice, green onion, radishes and carrot and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate salad until ready to serve. It can be made a few hours before needed.

If desired, before you serve the salad, sprinkle it with some roasted sesame seeds, to taste.

Note 1: Sushi rice is sold in the Asian food aisle of most supermarkets and at Japanese food stores, as is pickled ginger. Brands of sushi rice I have seen include Nishiki, Lundberg and Kokuho Rose.

Note 2: Pickled ginger juice is simply the liquid found in a bottle of pickled ginger.

Note 3: Roasted sesame seeds are sold in bags or bottles at some supermarkets. If you can’t find them, cook regular sesame seeds in a skillet set over medium heat until lightly toasted.

Cucumber Sunomono

Thin, crisp slices of cucumber are soaked in a rice vinegar dressing with fresh ginger. It’s a refreshing side dish that goes great with salmon.

Preparation time: 10 minutes, plus marinating time

Cooking time: none

Makes: Four servings

1/4 cup rice vinegar

2 tsp granulated sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger

1 3/4 cups thinly sliced mini English cucumber (see Note)

Place vinegar, sugar, salt and ginger in a medium bowl. Whisk until sugar and salt are dissolved. Add the cucumber and toss to coat each slice with some of the vinegar mixture.

Cover, refrigerate and let cucumbers marinate at least one hour before serving

Note: Three, four- to five-inch- long, mini English cucumbers yielded the amount needed, sliced, for this recipe. You can use a handheld slicer, mandolin, slicing attachment of your food processor or very sharp knife to thinly slice it.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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