The Japanese often use various natural products to wrap food in before cooking it. Dried bamboo leaves and broad, softened kelp are two of the most popular, each imparting its own fragrant nuance to the dishes in which it’s used. Since neither bamboo leaves nor broad kelp is readily available to the American home cook, I’ve adapted the steaming technique here to make use of cooking parchment. To add a subtle aroma to the final presentation, I line the paper with fresh slices of lime. The recent and increasing availability of fresh shiitaké mushrooms in North America has encouraged me to keep them a part of this recipe. If you can’t find them when you wish to make this dish, substitute fresh button or other wild fresh mushrooms for the shiitaké.
Snapper is called tai in Japanese, and this fish is served on special occasions since it provides a culinary pun on the word omedetai or “congratulatory.” On a less formal table, scrod or sea trout might be a more economical choice.
Check the fish for scales or bones that might have been overlooked at your fish store. Remove any that you find, rinse the pieces of fish under cold water, and then pat dry on paper toweling. In a shallow glass or ceramic container, marinate the fish in the rice wine for 5 minutes.
Cut four sheets of cooking parchment into
In the center of each of the four papers, lay a portion of lime slices. (It’s most attractive if you arrange the slices so that they overlap each other slightly.) Lay one slice of fish, skin side down, over each row of lime slices. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over each portion of fish.
With a clean but damp sponge, carefully wipe the fresh mushrooms to remove any soil or foreign matter. Remove the stems and save them for enriching stock, if you wish, or discard. Then cut the caps into narrow (about
To seal each packet, bring the bottom and top edges of paper together over the middle of the fish. Fold the paper over twice to snugly enclose the food. Fold and crease the paper just to the right and left of the fish. Open either side just enough to slip the other side into it. Carefully turn the package over and place it in a flat steamer. Repeat to seal the remaining three packets.
Steam the packets over vigorously boiling water for 7 minutes.
To serve, either bring the packets on plates to the table and pierce the paper just before eating, or carefully remove the pieces of fish from their paper casings and transfer them, skin side up, to individual plates. A broad spatula slipped under the mushrooms will help keep the fish intact. Serve with extra lime wedges and soy sauce, if desired.
© 1985 Elizabeth Andoh. All rights reserved.