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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Sake et al.

When I first read this recipe, Salmon in Crisp Rice Paper with Sweet & Spicy Sake Essence (FC 57), I was intrigued by the idea of wrapping rice paper around fish and pan-frying it crisp. Up till now, my only experience with rice paper has been wrapped around fresh cold ingredients for spring rolls. I had to see what the rice paper did for the fish because, you know, anything that promises added crunch is a must-try. I didn't consider the sake essence until I was elbows deep into the recipe. And that's funny to me now because really, it is the sake essence and not the rice paper that makes this recipe quite good.

The essence is comprised of sake, mirin, rice vinegar and some aromatics like ginger, garlic and green chile. You boil it down to its "essence" and then add some soy sauce and tiny diced veggies for a beautiful sauce. I don't know the first thing about Sake, a Japanese rice wine. I used Trader Joe's brand - hoping, at least, they picked a decent one to put their name on. Mirin is a sweet Japanese wine. Here I was stuck with the only brand available from Jewel, Kikkoman's. I'm sure connoisseurs would frown upon these choices; but everything worked out just fine, so relax. I included the spring roll package in the picture, just for reference.

So you prepare this sauce and then move on to the fish. The rice paper is not difficult to work with. You moisten it very briefly (2 sec.) in water, give it a moment to soften out of the water and then wrap your seasoned salmon fillet up in it like a burrito. These little packets are then pan-fried in a med. hot non-stick skillet to which you've added a little canola oil. By the time both sides are browned, the salmon is cooked through. You can then plate the salmon in a pool of sauce. For the best presentation, a white plate would be best. My Fiestaware did not compliment this dish in the least bit.

The rice paper-wrapped salmon does get a little crispy, especially on the edges. But I really prefer the fish itself to be browned, not the coating. So that part ended up not being all that exciting. But the sauce... the sauce is amazing. It gets sweet from the reduced mirin, and there's some heat from the chile. The little diced veg. makes it gorgeous. I didn't use a yellow pepper in mine but that would've made it even more attractive. There is no detectable booziness to the sauce, although it is comprised mostly of strong wine. I will be making this sauce again, but just serving it with pan-fried or grilled salmon. It is great for guests because it can be make in advance and held warm.

Salmon in Crisp Rice Paper with Sweet & Spicy Sake Essence

Serves four.

For the sake essence:
1 cup plus 2 Tbs. sake
1 cup mirin
1 Tbs. rice vinegar
2 Tbs. minced fresh ginger
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. seeded and minced fresh serrano chile
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
2 Tbs. finely diced red bell pepper
2 Tbs. finely diced yellow bell pepper
2 Tbs. finely diced zucchini (skin side only)
2 Tbs. finely diced carrot
1 tsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. chopped fresh cilantro; more sprigs for garnish

For the salmon:

4 skinless salmon fillets (about 6 oz. each)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup canola oil
4 rounds rice paper (8 to 10 inches in diameter)
how to make
To make the sake essence:
In a heavy 2-quart saucepan, combine the sake, mirin, rice vinegar, ginger, garlic, and serrano. Bring to a boil over high heat, and reduce to about 1/2 cup, 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the peppers, zucchini, and carrot until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Add the soy sauce and vegetables to the sake essence; set aside and keep warm.

To prepare the salmon:

Sprinkle both sides of each salmon fillet with salt and pepper and drizzle with a little of the vegetable oil, using 1 Tbs. total for the four fillets. Completely immerse one round of rice paper in a bowl of warm water for a few seconds. Transfer to a work surface and let stand until pliable, about 30 seconds. Set a salmon fillet in the center of the softened rice paper. Fold the paper over one long side of the fillet, and then fold the paper in over the two short sides. Roll the fillet over until it’s completely enclosed by the rice paper. Set it aside with the seam side down. Repeat with the remaining fillets.

Heat the remaining 3 Tbs. oil in a heavy 12-inch skillet over medium to medium-high heat until it’s hot and shimmering but not smoking. Put the wrapped fillets in the skillet without touching and sauté, turning to brown top and bottom, until the rice paper is golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side; don’t overcook. (If the fillets are very thick, you can also brown the sides for 1 minute each, but most fillets will be cooked through—just barely opaque—if just the top and bottom are seared.) Transfer to paper towels and let drain.
Stir the chopped cilantro into the sake essence and spoon some onto each of four warm dinner plates. Put a salmon fillet in the center of each plate, top with a cilantro sprig, and serve at once.

Make Ahead Tips

The sake essence can be made several hours ahead and kept covered at room temperature. Wait to sauté and add the vegetables until just before serving. The fillets can be wrapped in rice paper up to two hours ahead. Put them on a plate in a single layer without touching. Drape with a damp paper towel, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate until ready to cook.

drink suggestions
This recipe calls for sake, which would make for delicious sipping with the finished dish, as well. Try Ginyushizuku Samurai Shion or Nigori Takara.

From Fine Cooking 57, pp. 42

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