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Ochazuke, with flaked salmon, rice and a miso broth, is a meal full of calm comfort

(Rey Lopez for The Washington Post/Food styling by Marie Ostrosky for The Washington Post )
Ochazuke
Total time:15 mins, plus time for cooking rice, if needed
Servings:2
Total time:15 mins, plus time for cooking rice, if needed
Servings:2

This recipe comes from the Eat Voraciously newsletter. Sign up here to get one weeknight dinner recipe, tips for substitutions, techniques and more in your inbox Monday through Thursday.

Have you set any resolutions for the new year? I’m trying not to expect too much of myself right now — these are increasingly unpredictable and unusual times. I’m grateful for my health, and the health of my family and close friends, and am starting to grow cautiously hopeful for a brighter 2022.

One thing on my list for the new year? Learn more about Japanese cuisine. I have a few good friends in Japan, and I’ve loved all the Japanese food I’ve eaten, but it’s not a style of cooking I know enough about. To change that, I’ve started reading Sonoko Sakai’s “Japanese Home Cooking: Simple Meals, Authentic Flavors.”

“There are five keys to Japanese cooking: freshness, seasonality, simplicity, beauty and economy,” Sakai writes. “At its most fundamental level, Japanese cooking, or washoku, is about respecting your ingredients and letting their natural flavor come through.”

In the introduction, Sakai outlines the structure of a Japanese meal and the ingredients commonly found in a Japanese pantry. There aren’t many, but they are needed to compose basic recipes — broth, rice and other grains, noodles, bread, beans, pickles and other fermented foods — which are actually building blocks for individual dishes.

These udon noodles in a simple soy broth are simply irresistible

Once you’ve assembled the key components, a full home-cooked meal — a grain (usually rice), soup (with or without protein), three okazu (dishes of raw or cooked vegetables and protein) and a small serving of pickles — is mere minutes away. If this sounds like a lot of work, it isn’t, because so many components are incredibly simple: Dashi, for instance, is the simplest of broths and can become the base for hundreds of dishes. Other common components include steamed rice, quick pickles and tofu.

And there are exceptions to this rule of three okazu, one soup, one grain and pickles: All-in-one dishes, such as noodle soups and grain bowls. My favorite version of this so far? Ochazuke.

Translated as “soaked in tea,” at its most basic, ochazuke is a dish of leftover rice warmed in hot green tea. “Ochazuke was always the last part of the meals we ate with our grandmother; my obachama didn’t like seeing any grains go to waste,” Sakai writes.

Miso soup delivers simple, warming satisfaction in a snap

Fragrant white rice in nutty green tea is simple and comforting, but Sakai notes that it can be expanded to “make ochazuke a meal in itself.” Make extra rice, and top it with quick-cooking salted or smoked salmon. Then, replace the tea with dashi, another type of broth, or miso soup (as I’ve done in the recipe below). Finally, crown the whole thing in a confetti-like shower of crunchy nori flakes, sesame seeds and scallions.

The first time I made this, I savored a bowl all by myself. I marveled at the flavors and textures, and made plans for how I’d tweak it again and again, using new ingredients I picked up or techniques I’d learned. It’s a recipe I’ll use to build upon my knowledge of the fundamentals of Japanese cooking well into the new year.

Ochazuke

Here, I’ve adapted Sakai’s recipe for ochazuke, often eaten as a late-night meal. A simple mushroom misoshiru adds lots of flavor to plain, leftover white rice. Quickly seared and flaked salmon takes minutes to cook and offers a boost of protein. I’ve included substitution ideas within the recipe below, but here are a few more.

  • Instead of salmon >> you could use any other kind of flaky fish, raw or cooked, or even roe. You could also use tofu.
  • I’ve skipped the dashi here >> but feel free to make one, or use any kind of broth as your base for the miso soup.
  • Dislike mushrooms? >> Use any vegetable instead, just be sure it’s sliced thinly enough that it will cook through quickly.

Where to buy: Find miso in the refrigerated section of most supermarkets. Find surigoma and bubu arare at Asian markets or online.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in covered containers for up to 2 days.

Make Ahead: The rice may be made up to 4 days in advance.

NOTE: Surigoma is a traditional topping of ground, roasted sesame seeds, but you can use any kind of sesame seeds. Bubu arare are tiny rice puffs; a crumbled rice cake adds a similar texture.

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Ingredients

  • 2 thin fillets salmon or arctic char (about 8 ounces total), deboned
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 fresh shiitake or other small mushrooms, sliced (optional)
  • 2 scallions, white and light green parts separated from dark green, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon shiro (white) miso, plus more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce, plus more for serving
  • 1 teaspoon mirin (optional)
  • 2 cups cooked white rice
  • 2 sheets nori, thinly sliced or crumbled, for serving
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil, for serving
  • 2 teaspoons surigoma (see NOTE) or toasted sesame seeds, for serving
  • 2 teaspoons bubu arare (see NOTE) or 1/2 puffed rice cake, broken up for serving (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon wasabi paste, for serving (optional)

Step 1

Pat the salmon or arctic char fillets dry and season with salt.


Step 2

In a medium saucepan over high heat, combine the water, mushrooms, if using, and the white and light green scallion slices. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Ladle about a cup of the hot broth into a small bowl, and whisk in the miso, then stir this mixture back into the pot. Taste, and add more miso if desired. Cover and keep warm over very low heat while you cook the salmon.


Step 3

Heat a medium, preferably nonstick or cast-iron, skillet over high heat. Lay fish fillets in the pan, skin side down, and cook until skin crisps and fish begins to turn opaque, about 3 minutes. Cook until the fish looks almost cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes; you can check using the tip of a sharp knife or just by looking at the sides of each fillet, where you should see a slightly darker center.


Step 4

Remove the skin and allow it to crisp in the pan’s residual heat if desired, or discard it. Using chopsticks or a fork, break the salmon into flakes.


Step 5

Remove the broth from the heat, and whisk in the soy sauce and mirin, if using. Taste, and adjust the seasoning if desired.


Step 6

To serve, portion rice into two bowls. Top each bowl of rice with half of the flaked fish, the crisped fish skin, if using, and 1 1/2 cups of broth. Dress each bowl with the nori, sesame oil, surigoma or toasted sesame seeds, bubu arare or crumbled puffed rice cake, the dark green scallion slices and a dab of wasabi, if using. Serve with soy sauce on the side.


Nutrition Information

Per serving (3 ounces cooked salmon, 1 cup rice, 1 1/4 cups broth)

Calories: 428; Total Fat: 8 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 62 mg; Sodium: 1377 mg; Carbohydrates: 57 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugars: 2 g; Protein: 29 g.

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.


Adapted from “Japanese Home Cooking: Simple Meals, Authentic Flavors” by Sonoko Sakai (Roost Books, 2019).

Tested by Kara Elder; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

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