Among friends (and friends of friends, if Instagram is any indication), Japan has become the Iceland of Asian vacation destinations: People seem to either be planning a trip, returning from a trip, or wanting to go on a trip very badly.
As the country prepares to host the Olympics, Japan has also never felt more accessible. You don't even need to fly into Narita Airport and take the hour+ trip into Tokyo at the start of your trip anymore. Haneda, an older airport less than 30 minutes from downtown Tokyo, once again began accepting international flights. We booked a flight to Haneda through Hawaiian Airlines, taking the spirit of Aloha with us as we crossed the Pacific Ocean.
Japan wasn't always such a destination, though. It certainly wasn't when Elizabeth Andoh moved there in 1967 to study Japanese culture. She ended up staying in Japan and marrying the son of the family that hosted her. Back then, fancy computer-controlled toilets had yet to arrive on the scene, and she had to become accustomed to what she called "rural plumbing" when briefly describing what it was like living there at first in her 2005 cookbook, Washoku.
While learning the language, she also began observing Japanese cooking methods, first by watching her future mother-in-law and later while studying at the Yanagihara School of Classic Japanese Cooking. For more than four decades, she has written about Japanese food as well as leads Japanese cooking classes. She's in a rare position of being about to act as a bridge between both worlds, helping to translate techniques and ideas to people who will never speak Japanese but love the food—like me. Alex Ong, the former chef of San Francisco's Betelnut restaurant who now teaches cooking classes at SF Cooking School, told me that Elizabeth should be a national treasure for all things related to Japanese food and culture. And he's right: more people should know about her.
Here's what all this has to do with miso-marinated salmon. After returning from two weeks of eating delightful Japanese meals this past May, I wanted to recreate some of those flavors at home. I pulled out Washoku (which translates to "harmony of food") and then promptly got overwhelmed by the pantry section. I put it aside until I had more time to study it.
A week later, I dipped back in. That's when I realized that there were a lot of accessible—even easy—ideas waiting to be pulled out of the text. This was supposed to be home cooking, after all. Kitchen harmony shouldn't be stressful.
One of the preparations I've made a few times now is miso-marinated broiled salmon. With rice and a simple side of vegetables, it brings to mind the simplest of bento box meals. Leftover salmon on rice with a few sheets of nori crumpled on top is like a deconstructed onigiri. I've now prepared it on frozen and thawed wild coho salmon more than once, and even though this type of salmon cooked up a tad dry, the rich flavor that the miso imparts more than made up for it. On rich, fresh salmon, or on black cod, it would be even better.
Elizabeth Andoh provides two methods to make her miso-marinated broiled fish: "traditional" and "impatient." One requires more marinating time. Both involve wrapping the fish in cloth, which I suppose makes it easier to remove excess marinade before broiling the fish.
I went rogue with my own "even more impatient" method.
My modified version involves mixing the miso marinade and slathering it directly on the fish. It requires a touch less marinade than the original, though extra marinade keeps for weeks in the refrigerator. I also omitted the yuzu peel for simplicity. (Citrus will cut through the oiliness of rich fish such as salmon, so if you happened to have yuzu peel or fresh lemons handy, adding the zest isn't a bad idea. I didn't, so I left it out.)
One of the things I like about this recipe is it's a simple way to serve fish that can span the seasons. Since it's summer, I've served the salmon with sides of green beans cooked with slivered ginger and oven-roasted tomatoes topped with scallions. In the fall and winter, I'd turn to mushrooms and steamed baby bok choy. Some pickled ginger on the side, not matter the season, works too. And it's quick enough to make this on a weeknight.
This "even more impatient" salmon recipe has now become part of my small repertoire of Japanese-ish dishes that I'm attempting to expand. And I can't suggest it enough.
There are a couple of timing options regarding marinating the fish, so read the recipe through before starting.
Serves 4 (or serves 2, just save extra marinade for another time)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 (four-ounce) fillets salmon
1/4 cup light miso
1 1/2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon sake
Pickled ginger (optional)
Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and lightly oil.
Season the fish with salt on both sides. Let stand for 5 minutes, then pat with paper towels to dry. Place the fish, skin-side down, on the lined baking sheet. (If you're doing this with only two portions and you want to refrigerate it for a couple of hours, you can put the fish on a pan (pictured) or plate that fits in the refrigerator if a baking sheet won't fit.)
In a small bowl, mix together the miso, mirin, and sake. Using a spoon or brush, coat the tops and sides generously with the marinade. Let sit 20 minutes at room temperature. (Alternatively, cover and refrigerate for up to a couple of hours.)
Preheat a broiler.
Using a paper towel, gently dab off the excess marinade. Rub a few drops of sesame oil on the fish.
Broil the fish until cooked through, with a couple of charred edges on the top, about 5 minutes or until the fish is cooked through. If you have a kitchen torch and want more of a charred crust, you can finish the job by brûléeing the top of the fish before serving.