By Mari Nameshida / Special to The Japan NewsHappy soup season, everyone! The soup introduced in this month’s column is how fisherman ate their fish, or local people ate their preserved food in the old days in Hokkaido, and it’s absolutely delicious. It’s a simple dish made with salt-cured salmon with root vegetables. You will be surprised how much of a comforting flavor it has with its saltiness and sweetness.
It looks like a fish soup — and yes, it is — but thanks to the salt-curing process, it gives more of a burst of umami flavor. For a long time in northern Japan (mainly Hokkaido and Aomori Prefecture), it has been quite popular to send a whole salted salmon, called aramakizake, at the end of the year as a seasonal gift.
People know how to eat it well, even its bones and head. This fish is salted, then dried a little, so the umami is condensed. We usually simply grill the fillets and eat them with plain cooked rice, or make a soup with its bony parts and/or fillets.
I used shiozake salted salmon, which is common all over Japan, instead of aramakizake. You can easily get shiozake at any grocery store. I’m sharing this soup recipe here because it’s delicious, of course, but it’s also very easy to make.
For most Japanese-style soups, we make dashi (Japanese soup stock), which is based on kelp and bonito flakes, then use it as a base. But for this soup, you don’t need to make dashi beforehand. You just dump all the ingredients into a pot. And you don’t even need to season it because the soup is seasoned by the salted salmon.
By the way, sanpeijiru is a bit of an odd name. Jiru means soup, and Sanpei is a guy’s name. There are different stories about why it is called sanpeijiru, and one of them says a man named Sanpei was the person who first cooked this soup.
Some people believe the soup began to be made in Okushiri, southern Hokkaido, and that it dates back a few hundred years.
It is still eaten in Hokkaido as an everyday meal. It is quite common for it to include root vegetables, which people have on hand in winter. Such vegetables as daikon and potatoes absorb all the flavors, and it’s exceedingly comforting.
If you live outside of Japan and can’t find salted salmon, please rub half a teaspoon of salt onto some fresh salmon and let it stand for 15 minutes. Then you can follow the recipe shown here.
Mari’s recipe for sanpeijiru soup
Ingredients (serves 4):
3 pieces of store-bought salted salmon with skin (about 200 grams)
10 centimeter-long piece of daikon
½ naganegi long onion
5-6 cups of water (1.0-1.2 liters)
5 centimeter-long piece of kelp
2 tbsp sake
A pinch of salt
1. Cut salmon into bite-size pieces. Quarter daikon and carrot lengthwise and then slice thinly. Cut potato into 2-centimeter cubes. Slice long onion thinly. Place water and kelp in a pot and soak for about 30 minutes, then heat up.
2. Just before the water boils, remove the kelp, then add all the vegetables. When they are cooked, add the salmon and continue cooking for about 15 minutes.
3. When the salmon is cooked, season with sake and salt. Lastly, add the long onion. (There are many kinds of salted salmon, and the saltiness of the soup depends on what kind of salmon is used. So please adjust the amount of salt to taste.) Remove from heat and serve in individual bowls.
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