Why It Works
- A quick marinade in soy sauce and other flavorful ingredients transforms plain salt-cured salmon roe into a version that tastes more like the Japanese kind.
- Letting the rice cool slightly ensures the heat doesn't cook the salmon roe.
There's nothing wrong with treating yourself. When I do, it's almost always with seafood. If it's lobster night, that means two whole lobsters for me, and then I'll pick clean the bodies that anyone else is unwilling to touch. A seafood salad is nothing less than a rococo mountain of tender ocean jewels. I've brought home whole trays of creamy sea urchin and shucked a hundred oysters in one sitting. Just the other night, I showed a tiny bit of restraint, deciding to hold off on a half-pound of bay scallops and just eat the three whole fish I'd bought for dinner, instead.
I get this marine-based hedonism from my mom. Once, when I was in high school, she got extremely sick, and after many tests, the doctors finally identified the culprit: the parasite known as giardia. They asked her if she'd been drinking any untreated water, say, from a lake or stream in the backcountry. No, she said; she hadn't been outside New York City in many months. They were stumped. Then she offered up one small detail: She'd been eating a pound of raw sweet shrimp every day for the past two months because they were so irresistibly good. Mystery solved.
There are limits, though—like cost, if nothing else. Not every night can be caviar night. Or can it? I've been turning this question over in my head recently as I've meditated on, and eaten my fair share of, ikura don, the Japanese rice bowl studded with plump beads of salmon roe. It takes advantage of the thing that all rice bowls offer—an expanse of affordable rice—to stretch what is really a relatively small amount of a pricey ingredient. The rice is especially well matched to this ingredient since salmon roe is salty enough to warrant some attenuation.
The thing is, this is all more of an observation than a recipe because ikura don is one of the easiest dishes imaginable. Cook short-grain rice. Top with salmon roe. Serve.
Okay, it's a tiny bit more complicated than that, but just a tiny bit. The salmon roe in this dish should be prepared the Japanese way, which involves marinating fresh, uncured salmon roe in soy sauce, usually with mirin and/or sake and sometimes with dashi. You may be able to find it premade in Japanese grocery stores, but otherwise, your options are limited (assuming you're not in Japan). You can try to procure an uncured roe sac and do the process from scratch yourself, but this is unrealistic for most people.
My solution is a bit of a hack: Buy some basic salt-cured salmon roe from a good fishmonger, then marinate it briefly with soy sauce, mirin or sake, and some dashi. (In this application, even instant dashi is fine.) The idea is just to get some of those flavors into the roe, and it works surprisingly well.
After that, drain the roe, heap it on some freshly cooked rice that's cooled off just a little, and garnish with some wasabi and nori. A shiso leaf never hurts anything, either. For that matter, neither did some fat slices of salmon sashimi. Or a few lobes of sea urchin. Or some sweet chunks of crabmeat. Or all of the above. Treat yourself—that's what I say!
4 ounces (115g) cured salmon roe (see notes)
1 tablespoon (15ml) usukuchi (light) soy sauce
1 tablespoon (15ml) mirin or sake
1/4 cup (60ml) homemade or instant dashi
1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked short-grain rice, cooled slightly
Wasabi, for garnish
Nori seaweed strips, for garnish
Shiso leaf, for garnish (optional)
In a medium bowl, combine salmon roe with soy sauce, mirin or sake, and dashi. Let stand for at least 15 and up to 30 minutes. (This is a good time to cook the rice.)
Scoop rice into a serving bowl. Drain roe, then gently spoon onto rice. Garnish with wasabi, nori strips, and shiso, if desired. If you want, you can add other seafood to the bowl, like slices of salmon sashimi, picked cooked crabmeat, uni (sea urchin), or more.
If you can find Japanese cured salmon roe at a Japanese market, you can use it as is, without the marination step. Otherwise, salt-cured salmon roe (sold by good fishmongers) will work with the marination step listed here.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 9g||12%|
|Saturated Fat 2g||10%|
|Total Carbohydrate 72g||26%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||2%|
|Total Sugars 8g|
|Vitamin C 20mg||102%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|