Well, well, well. If it isn’t a new KyotoFoodie article! And what have I cooked up for you foodies? Donabe Genmai Shake Gohan: grilled salmon cooked with rice, in Kyoto-style dashi broth, of course, in a special clay nabe pot made especially for cooking rice. The rice is served ‘donburi’ style — in a big bowl, garnished with fresh green shiso leaves, heaps of ikura salmon roe and a slab of butter. This dish is lip-smackingly delicious and, very importantly, is something you can probably obtain the necessary ingredients for even if you are not in Japan.
The Jargon: Donabe Genmai Shake Gohan
donabe lit. clay ‘do’ and ‘nabe’ pot (also called gohan-nabe, or rice nabe)
genmai: brown rice
To create a good balance of flavor and texture, I start with a mixture of roughly 50:50 white rice and brown rice, and add some ‘mugi’ rolled oats (10-20% of the total). I sometimes make the dish with just brown rice too, in which case it is essential to soak the rice in water for a day or so to soften it up. Undercooked genmai thoroughly ruins any meal, not to mention being hard on the stomach.
For this meal, I also served salmon sashimi tataki (salmon sashimi that is seared on the outside but raw on the inside) and blanched nanohana (rape blossoms) with red imo yam vinegar. The sake this time is from a brewery in Nara that I have been falling love with recently: Kaze-no-mori.
First, prepare the rice. I use a donabe for this but a conventional rice cooker will also work. For donburi or fried rice-type dishes, I like to use some brown rice as it imparts a complex, nutty flavor — and is more healthy than boring white rice. Brown rice is best cooked in a pressure cooker, but I find that if I soak the rice in water for 24 hours or so, it will cook nicely in the rice cooker or donabe. However, white rice should only be soaked for 30 minutes or so.
After the rice is sufficiently soaked in water, drain it of excess water in a colander for 30 minutes. Re-measure the volume of the rice as you put it into the cooking vessel. This is really important: when cooking rice in a donabe, you need the same volume of rice and water (dashi).
Normally I cook Japanese rice Kyoto-style, in dashi soup stock, not water. (The dashi is made with Kyoto well water.) This dish already has so much flavor in it, though, that you could just place a few pieces of kombu (kelp) atop the rice and liquid mixture in the cooking vessel, which is one of the two or three ingredients for dashi, steeped in water. Add 2 tablespoons each of soy sauce, sake and mirin (sweet cooking sake— if you can’t get hold of mirin, mixing equal parts water and sugar is a good substitute). The more sake and mirin you add the more likely that the rice at the bottom will burn a bit, called o-koge, which many Japanese love. I have cooked this and similar dishes in just sake, no water or dashi and it is excellent. I don’t usually use cooking sake because it has salt added to it, instead I just use the cheapest sake I can find (something I would never drink!). Quality sake is not necessary for cooking, as its deliciousness simply doesn’t stand up to heat.
So, measure out the prepared rice and then be sure that whatever cooking liquid you use is the same volume as the rice. I put the soy sauce, mirin and sake in the measuring cup first and then add the water or dashi.
Grill the salmon, place it together with the rice in the donabe, add heat and wait until the liquid starts to boil. Reduce heat to low heat and cover. Once covered, it takes very little heat to keep the hot nabe cooking. If it boils over, that could ruin the meal, so get to know your donabe. Simmer over low-heat for exactly 10 minutes. After 10 minutes remove heat and allow to rest for another 10 minutes. (I find that to get some o-koge, cooking it for another minute or two helps.)
After cooking, use chopsticks to remove any bones in the salmon. Then with a shamoji rice paddle or similar utensil, break up the salmon and mix it into the rice. This is where I add a few slices of butter, which is perhaps unusual for this dish. Japanese do mix butter and soy sauce (called buta- joyu) and the combination is really great. Be sure to give it a try and add it to your culinary bag of tricks. The buttery aroma emanating from the final dish is divine!!
If you want this to be on the luxurious side, use plenty of salmon and heaps of ikura. in addition to sliced green shiso leaves, I top this dish off with a little cube of butter on top. This quickly melts but makes for a novel donburi garnish. You can also squeeze on some seasonal citrus. In Japan, yuzu would be the usual choice, but I have used seasonal daidai and iyokan oranges too.
Finally, you might want to add a little more soy sauce to taste if you like it more on the salty side.
When I make this dish, I always make a fair amount extra, which I like to make zousui porridge with for breakfast the next morning. Generally, Japanese zousui is not a dish that I like very much, but in this case it is amazing. (Hey, it is KyotoFoodie-style zousui!!) Zousui is made by boiling cooked rice in water until it cooks down to a thick porridge. Eggs are almost always added in addition to vegetables, and sometimes chicken or fish.
Stay tuned for the Shake Gohan Zousui article.