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Monday, January 29, 2007

Dinner tonight: Ponzu-Marinated Salmon with Baked Brown Rice

I went a little fish-crazy in the frozen foods section of my local Trader Joe's last week in a valiant effort to up my lean protein intake. I really don't eat a lot of red meat--it's a pain to cook, all bloody and expensive, and despite the risk of salmonella bacteria, chicken and fish are so much easier. My grandma Kazuyo is the family fish expert, and she whole-heartedly recommends the Trader Joe's frozen fish selection. Besides, all a girl has to do to prepare for dinner like this is just pull a filet out of the freezer and pop it into the fridge to thaw in the morning...the worst part of the ordeal is prying open the vaccum-sealed packaging!

Back to Grandma Kazuyo, she has been gracious enough in the past twenty-odd years to let me stand behind her in the kitchen and learn somewhat how to make the world's greatest Japanese food, with a few shortcuts along the way. For my dinner tonight, I was tired of my usual student-y semi-Italian fare (boil water-put in pasta-whole wheat if you are feeling guilty-drain pasta-sautee vegetables and perhaps shrimp or bacon-add pasta and cheese) and had time to prep a little beforehand.

You can buy bottled ponzu sauce (it's usually used for dipping), but it's essentially made up of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and lemon or yuzu juice with a zest garnish. The soy sauce gives the fish a wonderful dark hue, and if you love salty food as I do, a good savory bite. Because of the salt content and marination, the fish will end up dark and slightly drier than other preparations of salmon, but I've found that it combats any sogginess frozen fish may have.

For the salmon:
1 salmon filet, fresh or frozen
1/4 cup soy sauce
juice of 1 large or 2 small lemons
1/8 cup rice wine vinegar
1 thumb-sized knob of ginger root, peeled and cut into chunks
a couple of dashes of chili oil
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter

1. Rinse off and pat your salmon filet dry. Combine all ingredients in a plastic sandwich baggie and allow to marinate in the fridge while you take a nap between classes.
2. Spray a baking sheet or small baking dish with vegetable oil. Drain the liquid out of the plastic baggie, rinse and pat your fish dry. Pop into an oven at 370 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for ten minutes.
3. Pull the salmon out of the oven and dot with butter. Return to oven for another five to ten minutes, depending on what doneness you like. Remove skin from the filet before eating if you like.

I happen to have a faulty, forty-year-old dinky little rice cooker that absolutely fails to cook rice properly and a gas stove that won't maintain low heat without the burner going out, so I have to resort to cooking rice in the oven. Tonight was, in fact, my first try. Alton Brown has always been an excellent source for basic recipes and procedures that I, as the daughter of non-cooking parents, have no idea what the hell to do with. Thus, his recipe for baked brown rice became the basis for tonight's side dish.

Baked Brown Rice with Mushrooms:
1 1/2 cups short-grain brown rice
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon sansho powder (you can find this at your Asian grocery, it comes in a little green bottle)
1 cup mushrooms, lightly sauteed
1-2 cloves of garlic, lightly sauteed

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Put the chicken broth, olive oil, sansho powder, mushrooms, and garlic into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, covered.
2. Measure out the brown rice into a baking dish and spread it around until in an even layer. Pour the broth mixture over the rice and stir to combine. It will be hot, so be careful.
3. Bake uncovered in the oven for an hour, stirring occasionally to ensure even cooking. If you are impatient like me and open the oven door every five minutes to check on it, add ten minutes to the cooking time. (Use those ten minutes to cook the salmon alongside the rice.)

The resulting pilaf is nutty, crunchy, and wholesome. It makes about three cups of rice, so put some away for tomorrow. I just had a mounded cup of rice with half of my fish filet, and the butter definitely mellows out the slightly teriyaki-tasting salmon. If you are a veggie fan, add green beans or a salad on the side. Let us know if you try it!

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