Back pocket dinners + shiozake
Take a break.
How are you doing?
This week’s uncertainty is almost too much to take in, and you’d be forgiven if your brain has turned to mush. We’re hoping today’s newsletter can be a comfort: a recipe for when you’re feeling too distracted/exhausted/disheartened/confused/jerked around to think about anything else, but your heart and body demand delicious food.
This is also a perfect recipe for dinner parties, and we’re going to spend some time talking about hosting, to distract from the confusion swirling around us. Because hosting means having people over to cook for, and to take care of — and it’s a way to take care of ourselves.
I’m Anna, and I’m the member of this Little Fish team who is not a chef. I firmly believe that dinner parties are about warmth, expressing your love for your friends through food, and setting aside time to take care of each other. It is also about me “effortlessly” dazzling and impressing you with my hosting skills. And more than anything, I believe in a world where both can be equally true.
But here’s the problem. As I said, I am not a chef. Look, I can cook from a recipe. I can riff. I can improv a little. But when it comes down to it, putting together a menu for a dinner party still gives me heartburn. I’ve been known to throw out and re-make a recipe twice (or three times. ONE time it was four) before feeling confident enough to serve it to guests.
As much as I wish I did, I don’t have the easy breezy kitchen attitude that I absolutely lie about having. I invite people to dinner and then promptly open 50–200 tabs on my computer of different recipes I could make. And then the questions start flowing. Will the sides taste weird with the main? How will I make sure everything is done at the right time? What if I spend eight hours cooking some meat and I end up over cooking it and my boyfriend’s high school friends who are coming over tonight taste my dry dinner and think I’m lame and not funny and secretly think he should date someone else with a smaller nose and correctly cooked meat?
Herein lies my obsession with the idea of a back pocket dinner. It’s a dinner that you know backwards and forwards. You know that the sides all taste good together. It’s not crazy expensive and doesn’t require more than a few special ingredients.
Most importantly, a back pocket dinner has two crucial traits: It looks fancy and impressive and has very little room for error. Little room for error. I can’t stress how important this is. If you’re anything like me, knowing that by tomorrow night I can be dazzling people with a beautiful dinner spread and there is almost no way I can fuck it up is just about the greatest gift you can give me.
Below is a back pocket dinner recipe that has popped up several times in our household this year. It’s beautiful, simple and absolutely delicious. And I promise you everyone will like you and think you’re cool if you make it.
Salt salmon with koji mushrooms, pickled turnips, sautéed greens, and steamed rice
This seems like a lot of steps, but each one only takes a few minutes and it comes together really quickly! Serve with white rice.
Make these in this order: Preheat broiler. Marinate mushrooms. Make the turnips. Start your rice. Put salmon in the oven. Sauté mushrooms. Sauté spinach. Serve.
Salted salmon (Shiozake)
This is a traditional Japanese technique for preparing fish, often seen in Japanese breakfast. Salting ahead of time will allow the fish to give up excess moisture, resulting in a cleaner flavor and a pleasantly firm texture. Note that the salted salmon has to sit for at least eight hours, so plan ahead.
1 lb salmon filet, cut into four 4 oz portions
.5 oz salt (about 4 teaspoons). Kosher salt will do, but this is a great opportunity to use a nicer sea salt if you have it. You just want something pretty fine—no large crystal finishing salt
1 oz sake
Place salmon on a plate or in a baking dish where the fillets can lay flat without touching. Pour sake over the fish so it is evenly spread, let sit for 10 minutes, and then pat dry with paper towels.
Season dried salmon all over with salt, going heavy on the skin.
Line a container large enough to fit the salmon with paper towels and place fish in the container. If you have to stack the fish in your container, place paper towels between your layers. Cover the top in paper towels, too, and then cover the container with a lid or with plastic wrap. Let the salmon sit with the salt in the fridge for at least eight hours, and as much as two days. More time will result in a slightly saltier and firmer finished product.
When you are ready to cook, remove the fish and pat dry with fresh paper towels to remove any possible moisture.
Preheat your broiler and if possible position your rack about 6 inches away from the heat.
Line a baking sheet with foil and position the salmon skin side up.
Broil 6–8 minutes until cooked through. You do not have to flip it! Use a toothpick to test for doneness: It should slide all the way through the fish easily with no resistance.
Shiitake mushrooms with shio koji
2 cups shiitake mushrooms, cut into bite size pieces (about 6 oz)
2 tablespoons shio koji
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Add mushrooms to a bowl and dress with shio koji. Allow to rest for 30 minutes.
Heat vegetable oil in a pan over medium-high heat until oil shimmers and you see light wisps of smoke.
Add mushrooms to pan and sauté until browned and tender, about five minutes.
Salt pickled turnips
2 bunches Tokyo turnips, or any white turnip, cleaned and cut into bite size chunks
2 tablespoons salt (Again, kosher works, but this is a good opportunity for high quality fine sea salt.)
zest from 1 Meyer lemon or yuzu (Regular lemon will also work.)
¼ teaspoon togarashi (or red pepper flakes)
Combine salt and turnips in a bowl and mix well, massaging the salt into the turnips
Add zest and togarashi to the turnips and mix to combine. Let rest for 30 minutes before serving.
Wilted spinach with garlic
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
8 cups spinach, cleaned and stems trimmed (about 1 lb)
Add oil and garlic to a cold pan and put over medium heat. Cook for 1–2 minutes until garlic is softened but not browned.
Add spinach and sauté until wilted. Season to taste with salt.
If you make a recipe from our newsletter, please tag us in pictures! Feel free to respond to these emails with questions, comments or requests. You can find us on instagram at @littlefish_echopark.