Each season has its own culinary pleasures and treasures, but most in Japan would agree that autumn offers the greatest variety of foodstuffs. The phrase aki no mikaku (“autumnal delicacies”) encompasses a wide range of dishes made from fall foods. I especially enjoy earthy mushrooms and fall salmon combined in takikomi gohan.
Takikomi is a style of rice preparation in which ingredients (such as mushrooms and salmon) are first lightly blanched to create a flavorful broth. The broth is then used in lieu of water to cook the rice. The ingredients that contributed their flavors to the broth are returned to the pot briefly before being folded into the rice just before serving.
Takikomi dishes typically create a delicious crust called okoge at the bottom of the cooking pot. This crust is coveted; be sure to include some in every portion when serving. Garnish with minced mitsuba trefoil, scallions and/or parsley. This mushroom-salmon version, in particular, combines the scent of the forest with the bracing aroma of the sea. If you want to make this dish exclusively plant-based, use twice as many mushrooms and no fish. For greater complexity and depth of flavor include additional varieties of mushrooms such as ruffled maitake, plump eringi or slender enoki. Garnish with briny aonori to include a taste of the sea.
- 3 cups rice (see Note 1 below)
- 250 grams (9 ounces) fresh, boneless salmon fillets
- 150 grams (5 ounces) fresh mushrooms, a combination of several kinds
- For the salmon marinade:
- 3 tablespoons sake
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon mirin (sweet, fermented cooking alcohol)
For the cooking broth:
- 3½ cups water (see Note 1 below)
- strip (about 5-centimeters-long) konbu (kelp)
Minced mitsuba, scallions and/or parsley, to garnish
1. Wash and drain the rice. Wash the rice well with fresh cold water until the water runs clear. Drain and place in a sturdy 4-liter pot or the bowl of an automated rice cooker (mine has capacity for 5 cups).
2. Prepare the salmon. Slice the salmon into eight to 10 broad slices on the diagonal. Combine the sake, soy sauce and mirin in a small bowl. Add the sliced salmon, tossing to coat. Allow the salmon to marinate for at least five minutes and up to one hour, refrigerated.
3. Trim and slice the mushrooms. Use a combination of mushrooms such as fresh shiitake and shimeji. Remove stems from the shiitake and cut the caps into thin slices. If using shimeji that came packaged as a cluster, slice away any gritty material (these mushrooms are grown in squat jars on plant-based material) before tearing the cluster into smaller, bite-sized portions. The irregular nooks and crannies that result from hand-tearing these mushrooms catch more flavor when cooking than knife-sliced ones. Set the mushrooms aside.
4. Prepare the cooking broth. Place the water and kelp in a 2-liter pot over medium-low heat. When small bubbles begin to appear on the bottom of the pot, add the sliced mushrooms and simmer them for one minute. With a slotted spoon or mesh skimmer, remove the mushrooms and set them aside. The mushroom-infused liquid remaining in this pot is the start of your cooking broth; keep it at a bare simmer.
5. Add the salmon pieces, together with their marinade, to the barely simmering broth. Stir once to distribute the pieces. As soon as the surface of the salmon changes color, remove the pieces and set them aside with the mushrooms.
6. Boil the broth until you see clouds of froth appear, about 30 seconds. Line a strainer with a paper towel and set it over a measuring cup; strain the broth. If you have less than 770 milliliters (3¼ cups), add water to make up the difference.
7. Cook the rice in a rice cooker by pouring the strained salmon-mushroom broth over the rice (if you don’t have a rice cooker, see Note 2 below). Before you press the switch to start the appliance, be sure the broth has cooled to room temperature — hot (or very cold) liquids will throw off the thermostat accuracy in your cooker.
8. When your machine alerts you to having completed the active cooking cycle, carefully open the lid — so the hot steam does not burn you — and add back the blanched mushrooms and salmon, laying them on top of the rice. Close the lid and wait about 10 minutes; this is a good time to finish other preparations for dinner or set the table.
9. Just before serving, use a shamoji (rice paddle) or other flat tool to gently cut and fold the mushrooms and salmon into the rice, Garnish with minced mitsuba, scallions and/or parsley.
• Note 1: Japanese rice cookers are sold with a cup (180 cubic centimeters) to measure the raw rice. Using that cup means you can use the lines marked on the bowl of the appliance as a guideline for the water. If you aren’t using a rice cooker, or don’t want to use your appliance’s markings, it’s essential to use the same cup measure for the raw rice and the water to preserve the relative proportions.
• Note 2: If you don’t have a rice cooker, you can use your stovetop and a pot that has a tight-fitting lid. Pour the strained salmon-mushroom broth over the rice. Return the blanched salmon and mushroom pieces to the pot, laying them on top — do not stir or mix with the uncooked rice.
Place the pot over high heat and cook for five minutes, or until the liquid is bubbling. Lower the heat and continue to cook for another five minutes, or until all the liquid has been absorbed. You can hear the changes in the cooking stages: In an old-fashioned Japanese rice-cooking ditty, the first bubbling is referred to as choro-choro, while the drying-off stage is described as pappa. If you must peek inside to check the rice’s progress, do so quickly, immediately replacing the lid to retain moisture and pressure.
When the liquid has been absorbed, remove the pot from the stove and let the rice self-steam for at least 10 minutes (this ensures tender grains of rice). Then gently cut and fold the mushrooms and salmon into the rice, garnish as above and serve.
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