Aromatic Steamed Salmon with Sake Butter, Crispy Rice Cakes, and Szechwan Grilled Eggplant
Delicately steamed over a spiced broth, the salmon picks up hints of the spicy flavors of lemongrass, star anise, orange, ginger, and kaffir lime. Grilled eggplant strips and crisp rice cakes accompany the salmon, which is further dressed with sake butter sauce. The entire dish is an interesting spin on the classic Western pattern of protein – starch – vegetable, using Asian ingredients and methods.
- Steaming Liquid
- Water - 4 cups
- Sake - 1/2 cup
- Lemongrass - 1/2 stalk, cut diagonally
- Star Anise Pods - 4 or 5
- Kaffir Lime Leaves - 6 or 8 (optional)
- Scallions - 2, cut diagonally
- Orange - 1, cut in quarters
- Ginger - 1 small piece, fresh, skin on, sliced
- Szechwan Grilled Eggplant
- Eggplant - 1 large (alt. 4 Japanese eggplant)
- Peanut Oil - 1/2 cup
- Garlic - 1 tablespoon, chopped
- Ginger - 1 tablespoon, minced, fresh
- Chinese salted black beans - 1 teaspoon, soaked in water 15 minutes and drained (do not rinse)
- Chinese Black Vinegar - 1/4 cup
- Soy Sauce - 1 tablespoon
- Sesame Oil - 1 tablespoon
- Honey - 1 tablespoon
- Chinese chili paste with garlic - 1 tablespoon
- Crispy Rice Cakes
- Warm Water - 2-1/2 cups
- Japanese pearl rice (commonly used in sushi) - 2 cups
- Fish Sauce - 1 teaspoon
- Chili Paste with Garlic - 1/4 teaspoon
- Ginger - 1 teaspoon, julienned, pickled
- Peanut oil - 1/2 cup
- Fillets Fresh Salmon - Four, 7- to 8-ounce, skinned and boned
- Sake Butter
- Sake - 1 cup
- Rice Wine Vinegar - 1/4 cup
- Ginger - 1 tablespoon, pickled, julienned
- Unsalted Butter - 8 ounces, cut into small pieces
- Nori - 1 sheet, cut in fine julienne
To prepare the steamer: Place the ingredients in a large pot over which a perforated basket or rack will fit. Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn off the heat and let stand until ready to steam the fish. A Chinese steamer could be used as well.
To prepare the eggplant: Heat a charcoal grill until the ash is white hot. Cut off the stem ends of the eggplant. Slice lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Brush both sides of the slices with peanut oil. Grill the eggplant slices on both sides until nicely marked and softened. Cut the slices into 1/2-inch-wide strips. Combine the remaining ingredients and whisk together. Add the eggplant strips and toss to coat. Let stand at least 1 hour before serving. The strips can be served warm or at room temperature.
To prepare the rice cakes: Combine the water and pearl rice, cover, and simmer over medium-low heat until the water is absorbed and the rice is tender. Combine the remaining ingredients and add to the hot rice. Using a spatula, work the combination together until it becomes glossy. Pack into a mold about 7 or 8 inches square; the mixture should be 3/4 to 1 inch thick in the mold. Chill in the refrigerator until firm. When chilled, unmold and cut in fourths, then cut each fourth in half diagonally, making triangles. Using a large non-stick pan, heat the 1/2 cup peanut oil until it is very hot. Add the rice triangles and fry until golden, turning once. Remove and drain on paper towels.
To cook the salmon: Bring the steaming liquid to a slow boil. Place a perforated pan or rack over the steaming liquid and arrange the salmon on the pan. Turn under any thin portions to make the portions an even thickness. Cover with foil and steam 7 to 8 minutes, depending on thickness. Turn off the heat but leave the salmon under the foil tent to stay warm until ready to serve.
To make the sake butter: Combine the sake, vinegar, and ginger in a small non-aluminum saucepan. Reduce to 1/2 cup of liquid over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and whisk in the butter, a few pieces at a time, until all is incorporated. The butter may be kept warm for a short time over a warm water bath, or placed in a warmed insulated container and held for several hours.
To serve: Place one steamed salmon fillet on each warmed plate. Ladle sauce over and around the fish. Pick out a few pieces of julienned ginger and place on top of the fish. Add two rice cake triangles to each plate, and two small portions of eggplant. Garnish the top of the salmon with nori julienne.