Jan and Eilene have been on me to make meals are less heavy on the meat and starch. They want more vegetables. A simple green salad though is so boring.
I have some pressed tofu from San Jose Tofu Factory that I wanted to do something other than my usual mapo dofu. I also decided that I wanted to make salmon tonight. This meal appeared as a picture in my head full grown, like Athena from the head of Zeus.
Cooking the tofu and salmon on a grill plate seemed like a good idea. Teriyaki marinade and sauce seemed to follow. I had a few left over shitaki mushrooms left over from Memorial Day and they ended up on the grill as well.
I have been a bit pickle crazy since Jan bought me a mandoline. I had made some pickled cucumbers last weekend and after four days they were just getting well pickled. I had a bit of napa cabbage and salted cabbage pickle was the result. One thing led to another and I had made several quick pickles: daikon and carrot, celery, red pepper, and red radish pickles.
In Chinese cuisine all of these ingredients would be tossed together in a lightly pickled salad. In Japanese cuisine they would all be kept separate. A center piece of salmon and tofu, surrounded by an artistic arrangement of little piles of colorful vegetables, really appealed to me. The addition of a small pile of sushi rice was almost an afterthought.
You might think that things covered in teriyaki sauce and pickles would all taste the same. You would be more wrong. This meal allowed you to write a symphony of tastes and textures in your mouth.
The salmon alone had three different tastes and textures: the caramelized crust, the melt-in-your-mouth flesh and the chewy crisp skin. The pressed tofu was both tough and soft. The meaty bite of the mushrooms completed the base notes of the score.
In addition to the different vegetables themselves, varying the amount of vinegar, sugar, salt, and pickling times produced a wide variety of tastes and textures. You could choose your high notes by your selection of pickle, followed by a bite of a teriyaki low note or a pause of rice. You could literally compose your personal taste melody with your choices.
Note: This meal takes some time and thought. It is not something you throw together at five o’clock, unless of course you are Japanese. Many Japanese kitchens would already have a selection of pickles on hand at all times.
After Dinner Note: While this is a long and complicated recipe, each step is relatively easy. Many parts of it may be done days ahead—in fact, it is better if you do some of them days ahead. The complexity of textures and flavors and spectacular presentation led Jan to say that this was the best Japanese meal I had ever made.
Karl’s Salmon and Tofu Teriyaki with Six Pickles
1 Japanese cucumber, about 1 cup
1 small head of napa cabbage, about 2 cups
1 medium heirloom carrot
1 piece of daikon radish, about one cup
2 stalks celery, about one cup
3-4 red radishes, about ½ cup
½ red bell pepper, about ½ cup
Pickling sauces, separate uses
1 cup rice vinegar
7 Tbs. sugar
5 Tbs. mirin
4 ½ tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. pickled ginger. (gari), sliced into thin strips
Karl’s Teriyaki Sauce/ Marinade
½ cup low sodium soy sauce
¼ cup mirin
¼ cup sake
2 Tbs. rice vinegar
2 Tbs. fresh grated ginger
2 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. corn starch mixed into 1 Tbs. water
1 piece/person pressed tofu
1 piece/person 6 oz. salmon filet (leave out for a Vegetarian/Vegan version)
1 Tbs. sugar
1½ tsp. kosher salt
1-2 fresh shitaki mushrooms per person, stems removed
1 tsp. black sesame seeds
Note: Many of these are quick pickles which may be started two to four hours before dinner. The cucumber pickles and salted cabbage may be started early on the day of the dinner, but they are best if given three to seven days to ferment.
Tip: If you do not have a set of Japanese pickling containers, you may use wide mouthed canning jars to make small amounts of the individual pickles. Add the sliced vegetables and pickling sauce to the jar. Use the lid of a smaller jar to press the vegetables down. You can add a series of lid rings to press down on the vegetables.
Note: I had already made my cucumber pickles before today, but I am assuming that anyone trying to follow this recipe would be starting from scratch.
Japanese Cucumber Pickle
1. Trim the ends off of the cucumber and slice it thinly on the diagonal.
Tip: If you are cutting the vegetables by hand give yourself an extra hour. If you cut them with a mandoline it is done in minutes.
2. Shred the pickled ginger and mix it with ¼ cup vinegar, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon mirin and ½ teaspoon of salt.
3. Mix the cucumber with the pickling sauce and put it in a jar. Press the cucumbers down with a lid to submerge them and refrigerate for at least six hours and up to seven days.
Napa Cabbage Pickle
4. Shred the head of cabbage cross ways into ¼ in slices. You want two or three cups of raw cabbage.
Note: Normally for this pickle, I would cut the leaves in half and cut them into one inch slices. For this dish, I want the cabbage to be the base for the tofu and salmon. Cutting them more finely also helps to pickle them more quickly.
5. Put the cabbage in a large bowl and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of salt. Toss to distribute the salt and let the cabbage sweat for one hour.
6. After the cabbage has softened put it in a jar. Press the cabbage down with a lid and refrigerate for at least six hours and up to seven days.
7. Rinse the cabbage well to remove excess salt before serving.
Carrot and Daikon Pickle
8. Grate the carrot with a box grater.
Tip: I had only one small carrot in my vegetable bin. To distribute it more through this pickle I decided to grate it. I have tried cutting the carrot into matchstick the same size as the daikon in this recipe, but they do not soften as well. The thick carrots are a bit tough to chew unless they have been given days to pickle.
9. Cut the daikon into matchsticks.
10. Place the carrots and diakon in a small bowl and sprinkle them with 2 teaspoons of salt.
11. Toss to distribute the salt and let the vegetables sweat for one hour.
12. After the vegetables have softened rinse them two or three times. Squeeze out as much liquid as you can.
13. Mix ¼ cup vinegar, 2 tablespoons sugar, and 1 tablespoon mirin.
14. Put the vegetables into a jar and pour the pickling over them. Press them down with a lid to submerge them and refrigerate for at least three hours.
Celery, Red Pepper, and Red Radish Pickles
Tip: While you may pickle each of these vegetables separately, I took a short cut. I used a large flat bottomed plastic container and I piled the vegetables in groups. Once they had pickled for a few hours I separated the different vegetables and jarred them separately.
15. Thinly slice the celery on the diagonal into “Vs.” Lay the curve of the celery flat on the cutting board and, holding the knife at a forty-five degree angle, slice toward the top of the stalk. The cut slice will look like a little “V.”
Note: This is where a mandolin really comes in handy. The slices come out evenly thick and perfectly shaped in seconds.
16. Thinly slice the red peppers into long strips.
17. Thinly slice the red radishes into circles.
18. Mix ½ cup vinegar, ¼ cup sugar, and ¼ cup mirin.
19. Place the vegetables in groups in a flat bottomed plastic container and pour the pickling sauce over them.
20. Put a weighted plate over the vegetables and refrigerate for at least one hour (two is better).
Marinating the Tofu
21. Mix the soy sauce, mirin, sake, vinegar, ginger, and sugar in a small pot and bring just to a boil.
22. Cut extra firm tofu into individual portions and place them in a shallow bowl.
Note: I am using pressed tofu from the San Jose Tofu Factory, but I assume that most people would not have access to this resource. Commonly available extra firm tofu is a good substitute.
23. Pour the teriyaki marinade over the tofu.
Tip: Continue turning the tofu and spooning the sauce over it for at least one hour, so that the tofu absorbs as much as possible.
Curing the Salmon
24. Rinse, scale and pat dry the salmon filet.
25. Cut the filet into individual portions.
26. Mix 1 tablespoon of sugar with one teaspoon of kosher salt.
27. Sprinkle the mixture over the salmon portions and spread it evenly with your fingers.
28. Put the salmon on a plate and cover it loosely with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for one hour.
29. Pat the portions dry and wipe off any excess salt and sugar.
30. Steam the rice.
31. Remove the tofu from the marinade and set it aside.
32. Mix 1 teaspoon of cornstarch into 1 tablespoon of water.
33. Pour the marinade into a small pot and bring it just to a simmer.
34. Add the cornstarch and cook, stirring, until the sauce thickens, about two minutes.
35. Place a grill pan on the stove top and heat it on high.
36. Oil the ridges of the pan and place the tofu, salmon and mushrooms on the grill.
Tip: Place the salmon flesh side down and the mushrooms cap side down to start.
37. After one minute turn the salmon skin side down and flip the tofu and mushrooms.
38. Brush the salmon, fish and mushrooms with the teriyaki sauce.
39. After one minute, flip the tofu and mushrooms. Baste all with the teriyaki sauce again.
40. After one more minute, carefully remove all from the grill.
Tip: Be very gentile removing the salmon so that it does not fall apart.
Plating the Meal
Note: This meal is designed to be served as individual plates assembled in the kitchen and presented to your diners.
41. Drain all of your pickles and have them at the ready.
42. In the center of the plates lay a bed of the salted cabbage.
43. Lay the tofu on top of the cabbage and brush it with teriyaki sauce.
44. Lay the salmon on top of the tofu and brush it with teriyaki sauce.
45. Wet a small custard bowl and pack a portion of rice into it, about ¼-½ cup.
46. Invert the bowl of rice at the edge of the plate and garnish with a sprinkle of black sesame seeds.
Tip: You will need to re-wet the custard bowl each time to prevent the rice from sticking. You may use plain steamed rice or mix in some sushi rice dressing—this is the same as the vegetable pickling sauce. I simply used 2 tablespoons of the sauce from the pickled radishes.
47. Arrange the remaining pickles and mushrooms in decorative piles around the edge of the plate and serve.