Tai Meshi: Gilt-head Bream With Rice

Tai meshi
Tai meshi

A fantastic, and (relatively) easy dish: the rice cooks in the juices, particularly from the skull, of a gilt-head bream. Ideally one would have an earthenware donabe casserole, but a rice cooker is just fine. Very clean flavours of fish and rice, with lots of umami coming from the dashi, and as little or much salt as one wants. Use the extra dashi to boil some vegetables or make a soup.

Making primary and secondary dashi
Making primary and secondary dashi

Make a dashi (see my post on oden for a detailed recipe): a piece of kombu in cold water, brought to just below a boil, at which point the kombu is removed. Once the water is boiling, turn off the heat, and add a little cold water to cool the broth down. Add bonito flakes, and turn heat back on. Just before it boils, cut the heat and remove the flakes immediately (neither the bonito nor the dash should be allowed to boil). Strain out the flakes (the used kombu and bonito flakes may be used for a secondary brewing of dashi, though this tends to be a stronger broth that is reduced and used for sauces or simmered dishes). Set dashi aside.

The grilled bream
The grilled bream

The bream should’ve been cleaned and scaled, with head and tail intact. Turn on oven grill, or a real grill if you have one. If using a real grill, skewer the fish appropriately so it doesn’t break apart. Assuming you’re using an oven, lightly salt both sides of the fish, and grill for 8-9 minutes a side. It should blister, crackle and hiss terrifically.

Meanwhile, wash the rice, place in the cooker and cover with dashi. Add some soy sauce (for 1 cup of rice, I use 1/2 tablespoon of “light” soy sauce, which is actually saltier than normal soy sauce; also it is not to be confused with “low sodium” soy sauce), a pinch of normal salt, and a tiny splash of mirin. I also add a few slices of ginger root which is not canonical but freshens the dish a bit.

Must have for any kitchen (that makes Indian or Japanese food). Zojirushi rice cooker.  Teflon lining makes cleaning a snap.
Must have for any kitchen (that makes Indian or Japanese food). Zojirushi rice cooker. Teflon lining makes cleaning a snap.

IMG_2615

Bream snuggled in rice/dashi: before and after
Bream snuggled in rice/dashi: before and after

Once the fish has been grilled, gently lift it into the rice cooker and lay on top of the rice. You may need to snip the tail and/or the head to ensure it all fits. Ideally the head is in contact with the rice and broth. A version of the recipe seems to suggest taking the head apart and putting the meat into the rice/broth to maximise flavour transfer. Sounds a bit grisly…

Cook the rice per instructions of the rice cooker, open up, remove the fish carefully and separate flesh from bones with chopsticks. Put the flesh back into the rice vessel, and mix in. Perhaps grate some ginger on top, and serve immediately.

The noticeably less happy bream.
The, late, gilt head bream.  Noticeably maudlin.

Pretty awesome grub.

Dinner.  Greens have been boiled in dashi, which is served separately as a soup.
Dinner. Greens have been boiled in dashi, which is served separately as a soup.

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