Japanese Salmon Rice (鮭の炊き込みご飯)
One of the things I love about living in Japan is that the ingredients at markets shift with the seasons. Right now, it’s early autumn, and the markets are loaded with Asian Pears, mushrooms, and fall salmon or akijaké (秋鮭).
In fall, salmon are laden with milt and roe, so they don’t have a ton of fat, but the lean meat is loaded with flavor, which makes it a seasonal favorite. Salmon Rice takes advantage of salmon’s wide availability during this season and makes a one-pot meal that can be served with a bowl of miso soup or shaped into onigiri to eat on the go.
Table of contents
Harako Meshi (はらこ飯)
One regional variation of this dish takes advantage of the salmon roe as well. Coming from Sendai on the eastern coast of Japan, Harako Meshi is like the seafood version of Oyakodonburi, with the Salmon Rice being topped with ikura. If you’d like to try your hand at making ikura, it’s not too complicated, and I have a recipe for making ikura from scratch.
Why This Recipe Works?
- Curing the salmon with salt removes excess water from the salmon, which not only reduces any fishy smells, but it concentrates the umami in the fish as well.
- Konbu and sake add amino acids to the rice, which have a synergistic effect with the salmon’s amino acids to give it a ton of umami.
- Instead of cooking the salmon with the rice, I add it at the very end while the rice is steaming. This gently steams it, preventing the salmon from getting dry.
Ingredients for Salmon Rice
- Salmon – Any salmon, will work for this, and for that matter, you could really do this with any type of fish that has a lot of flavor (though you couldn’t call it Salmon Rice).
- Salt – I just used table salt to salt the salmon. If you use salt with bigger granules or flakes, you may want to increase the salt slightly to account for the volume difference.
- Rice – I highly recommend using Japanese short-grain rice for this dish. It has a higher ratio of amylopectin to amylose, which gives Japanese rice it’s tender, sticky texture. If it’s autumn when you’re making this, look for “new crop rice.” Freshly harvested rice has a sweet taste and tender texture that works perfectly for dishes like this.
- Konbu – Konbu contains a ton of naturally occurring glutamic acid, which is an amino acid that triggers the umami taste receptors in your mouth. When brought together with the cured salmon at the end, these amino acids have a synergistic effect, which cranks up the level of umami beyond what either of these ingredients would have on their own.
- Sake – Sake is another ingredient rich in glutamic acid and lends a mild sweetness to the rice.
- Garnish – I like to garnish my Japanese salmon rice with ikura to make Harako Meshi, along with some mitsuba leaves, but if you can’t find these, this rice is also delicious topped with a pat of butter and some chopped scallions.
How to Make Salmon Rice
First, you want to remove any bones in the salmon with clean tweezers. If you don’t have tweezers, you can remove the bones after the salmon is cooked, but I find it easier to spot the bones when the salmon is still raw. Now you want to slice the salmon, so it is about 1-inch thick. Too thin and the salmon will overcook, and if it’s too thick, it won’t cook through all the way.
Sprinkle all sides of each filet with the salt and then place them on a paper towel-lined rack set over a tray. Cover the tray with plastic wrap and refrigerate the salmon overnight. Once cured with salt, the salmon will keep for about a week, so you can do this ahead of time.
For the rice, add it to a strainer and set the strainer in a bowl. Wash the rice until the water runs mostly clear.
Add the rice, water, sake, and konbu to a heavy-bottomed pot, like a dutch oven. This is important because we need a pot that can retain heat as the rice steams. Cover the pot with a lid and let the rice soak for at least 20 minutes.
Put the pot on the stove and bring it to a boil over high heat. Once it’s boiling, turn down the heat to low and cook the rice for 12 minutes without opening the lid.
After 12 minutes, you want to turn off the heat and add the salmon on top of the rice. It’s important to do this very quickly, or the temperature inside the pot will drop too much, and the salmon will not cook through. After the salmon is in the pot and it’s covered again, let this steam together for another 15 minutes.
When the rice and salmon are done, remove the salmon from the pot and keep the rice covered. Remove the skin and any remaining bones in the salmon, add the salmon back into the rice, and use a spatula or rice paddle to crumble and fold the salmon into the rice.
Other Easy Fall Recipes
Salmon Rice is a seasonal Japanese rice dish that’s usually prepared in fall. It’s made by steaming salt-cured salmon together with rice and then stirring them together when they are cooked.
The word for salmon (鮭) is pronounced differently depending on the context. Historically the word was pronounced saké (like the beverage) because salmon is very flaky and the verb sakeru means to flake. Over time it came to be pronounced as shaké, and when it is used in a compound word like akijaké or shiojaké, it is pronounced jaké.
Once the salmon is salted, it should keep for up to a week in the refrigerator. If you don’t plan on using it right away, I recommend putting the salmon in freezer bags and freezing them until you are ready to use it.
If you have leftovers from this Salmon Rice, it makes fantastic salmon fried rice. Just melt a pat of butter in a frying pan along with some chopped scallion stems. Fry the scallion stems until they are fragrant and then crumble in the Salmon Rice. Stir-fry it over medium-high heat until the rice is warmed through and just starting to brown around the edges. Finish the fried rice with chopped scallion greens and season it with black pepper (you shouldn’t need salt, but you can add some if you want).
- 220 grams salmon (deboned and sliced into 1-inch thick fillets)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 300 grams Japanese short-grain rice (~ 1 1/2 cups)
- 1 ⅔ cup water
- 1 tablespoon sake
- 2 grams konbu (2-inch square)
- Ikura (optional for garnish)
- Mitsuba (optional for garnish)
- Sprinkle the salmon with 1 teaspoon of salt on all sides and place it on a few layers of paper towels set on a rack. Refrigerate the salmon overnight.
- To make the rice, wash it in a strainer until the water runs mostly clear. Add the rice to a heavy-bottomed pot along with the water, sake, and konbu. Cover this with a lid and let the rice soak for at least 20 minutes.
- When the rice is done soaking, turn the heat on to high and bring the mixture to a boil. As soon as it’s boiling, turn down the heat to low and set a timer for 12 minutes. Do not open the lid during this time.
- When the timer goes off, have the salmon ready to go into the pot with one hand, and use the other hand to open the lid (careful, the lid may be hot). Quickly slide the salmon in over the rice and close the lid immediately.
- Set a timer for 15 minutes and let the rice and salmon steam.
- When the timer goes off, remove the salmon from the pot. When it’s cool enough to handle, remove, and discard the skin and any remaining bones. Add the salmon back into the rice and stir it all together.
- Serve Japanese Salmon Rice in rice bowls. You can garnish with ikura and mitsuba if you like.