Food & Drink

Full steam ahead: Sake and salmon delicately flavor salmon fillets

Spike the steaming water with sake and lemon, letting the science of evaporation carry flavor to and through the salmon; styling by Joan Moravek. (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
Spike the steaming water with sake and lemon, letting the science of evaporation carry flavor to and through the salmon; styling by Joan Moravek. (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

By Leah Eskin, Chicago Tribune

The water cycle mandates that rain drop to earth, meander through rivers, evaporate into clouds. Over and over and over. Any student with a blue crayon can sketch the schematic.

But water doesn’t care. Lately it’s been plummeting from the sky, gushing through the roof, streaming across the floor. It’s been pulling down branches, pooling in the flowerbed, rising through the sidewalk. Where’s the decorum? What happened to the cycle, with its pause between deluge and steam bath? Where’s the garden party? Indoors.

There, sullen and sodden, we think wistfully of the way puddles used to shrink. Pulling out the steamer pot, we build a model: liquid below, fish in the center, lid on top. We spike the groundwater with sake and lemon, letting the science of evaporation carry flavor to and through the salmon.

The result is a dish that’s neither dry nor wet, but perfectly moist. We smile at the stovetop ecosystem, hoping someone up there takes note, someone with a sunshine-yellow crayon.

STEAMED SALMON

Prep: 15 minutes

Rest: 1 hour

Cook: 9 minutes

Makes: 2 servings

1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon sugar

2 center-cut portions salmon fillet (6 ounces each), skin and bones removed

6 ounces sake (1 single-serve can, 180 millliliters, would do nicely)

Warm rice or cold salad, for serving

Rub: Finely zest the lemon. Rub zest together with salt, pepper and sugar; set aside. Juice the lemon.

Marinate: Settle salmon, would-be-skin-side down, in a glass container that offers a snug fit, say the off-duty brownie pan. Pour lemon juice over salmon. Pour sake over salmon, leaving the top flesh exposed (not submerged). Set aside any unused sake. Spread lemon rub over the exposed salmon. Cover and chill, 1 hour to 1 day.

Steam: Lift salmon out of its marinade and settle in a steamer basket. Set aside. Pour marinade and any remaining sake into the bottom of the steamer pot. Pour in water to raise liquid to a depth of 1 inch. Bring to a boil. Fit in steamer basket, cover, lower heat to a simmer and steam until salmon is just cooked through, about 9 minutes. Lift out salmon.

Serve: Nice warm over rice or cold over salad.

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