Spring Comes to the Plate with Sea Bream, Wild Greens

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Grilled sakura-dai, or red sea bream

Japanese cooking school founder Takamitsu Aihara has brought us a festive recipe for grilled sakura-dai, or red sea bream, that makes use of seasonal ingredients. It’s a special dish that packs the aroma and colors of spring.

In Japan, sea bream (tai) caught during the cherry blossom season is called sakura-dai. In Aihara’s recipe, red sea bream is grilled until tender and doused in a dashi broth tasting richly of spring mountain vegetables and asari clams.

“Personally, I’m in love with this dish, as it brings together the best of Japanese spring cuisine,” Aihara said. All the ingredients have the refreshing look of spring, and just glancing at them is enough to get you giddy.

Featured in the dish are butterbur sprouts, hostas and rape flower stalks — all edibles that grow wild in the mountains. In Japan, the bounty of mountain shoots has long been a treat after the winter cold. “The aroma and bitterness of mountain vegetables are important flavors for spring,” Aihara said.

The decisive factor for the dish is the broth. The dashi broth called for is lavish, combining broth prepared from clams, and rice oil used to stir-fry butterbur sprouts and other mountain vegetables, which thereby gains their aroma.

To start, scrub asari clams under running water to remove sand from the shells, and then soak them in salted water for several hours. Cover with newspaper to block out any light.

Once the clams have been cleaned, put them in a pot with dashi broth prepared from kombu, and cook over heat. To keep the clam meat from turning too hard, turn off the heat when the shells open.

Next comes the wild vegetables. Chop up the earthy and highly fragrant butterbur sprouts, and stir-fry them in oil. When their aroma begins to waft off the pan and the sprouts turn bright green, turn off the heat. Add the stems of the hostas and rape blossom stalks, and apply heat once more. Incorporate the clam broth, and the dashi broth is ready.

Pour the dashi over the grilled sea bream and garnish with hosta leaves and hajikami ginger.

The fish crumbles succulently in the month. The dashi highlights the bitterness of the butterbur sprouts and the richness of the clams. One also detects the stickiness of the hostas and the sweetness of the rape blossom stalks.

The dish conjures feelings of warm sunshine, and wraps the senses in seasonal bliss. Here is the splendor of Japanese cooking, if one ever needs another taste.

Butterbur sprout miso

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Butterbur sprout miso

When you have an abundance of butterbur sprouts on hand, Aihara recommends making butterbur sprout miso.

Mix 15 grams of roughly chopped butterbur sprouts with 1 tablespoon of oil, and stir-fry over low heat. When the sprouts turn aromatic, remove from heat. Mix with 100 grams of white miso, 1 teaspoon each of sake and mirin, and a dash of light soy sauce, and cook over low heat once more. When the alcohol from the sake has been cooked off, it’s ready to serve. This dish goes well with both rice and sake.

Grilled red sea bream

Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 4 fillets (320 grams) of sea bream
  • 500 grams of asari clams
  • 100 grams of hostas
  • 12 rape blossoms stalks
  • 30 grams of butterbur sprouts
  • 80 milliliters sake
  • 30 milliliters mirin
  • 30 milliliters light soy sauce
  • 70 grams white miso
  • 100 milliliters kombu broth
  • 60 milliliters rice oil
  • Hajikami ginger as desired

  • Directions:

    1. Mix 30 milliliters each of sake, mirin, and light soy sauce together with the white miso in a bowl. Marinate the sea bream in the mixture for three hours.

    2. Set aside eight hosta leaves for garnish. Cut the hosta stems and rape blossom stalks into 3-centimeter-long pieces.

    3. Scrub the clams under running water and soak them in 3% salted water to remove sand. Put dashi broth and 50 milliliters of sake in a pot, add the clams and bring to a boil. When the clams open, turn off the heat.

    4. Strain to separate the clams and the broth. Remove the meat from the shells.

    5. Place the fish on the grill and cook on both sides over medium heat.

    6. Heat rice oil in a frying pan, and add roughly chopped butterbur sprouts. Cook on low, and then turn off the heat.

    The Yomiuri Shimbun
    Butterbur sprouts are stir-fried in rice oil over low heat.

    7. Add the hosta stems and rape blossom stalks to the pan, and briefly stir-fry. Add the broth and season with sake, salt and light soy sauce to taste before turning off the heat. Add the clam meat and remove the hosta stems and rape blossom stalks.

    8. Plate the fish along with the hosta stems and rape blossom stalks. Pour the broth over the fish. Garnish with hosta leaves and hajikami ginger.