Sea-Steamed Snapper

Chiri Mushi

Kelp adds a subtlety to foods and liquids cooked with it. No wonder the Japanese use it often to prepare delicate steamed dishes. Here the kelp imparts that incomparable saltwater aroma and brings out the natural sweet flavor of the snapper. Tilefish is also very tasty prepared this way.


  • 4 2-inch lengths dashi kombu (dried kelp for stock making)
  • cups cold water
  • 3-4 fresh shiitaké (dark oak) mushrooms, about 1 ounce
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce, preferably usukuchi shōyu (light soy sauce)
  • 2 teaspoons mirin (syrupy rice wine)
  • 4 small fillets of snapper, about 14-16 ounces in all
  • 1 tablespoon saké (Japanese rice wine)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon cold water
  • teaspoons grated fresh ginger


  1. Place the kelp in a saucepan with the cold water, and bring it to a boil over high heat. Remove the kelp, and set the pieces aside.
  2. Remove the stems from the mushrooms and add them to the kelp broth. (Set aside the mushroom caps.) Continue to cook the broth over medium heat for 10–15 minutes, or until it has been reduced by half. Strain the broth through a cloth-or paper-lined strainer, and season it with the soy sauce and syrupy rice wine.
  3. Toss the fish in the rice wine, then sprinkle the fillets with the salt.
  4. In each of four heatproof, deeply rimmed plates (or wide, shallow bowls), lay a piece of softened kelp. Lay a fish fillet on top of each piece of kelp, skin side down.
  5. Brush the mushroom caps to remove any gritty material that may be clinging to them. Cut the caps into julienne slices, and scatter them across the four portions of fish.
  6. Bring the water in the bottom of a steamer to a boil (for a discussion of steamers). Adjust the heat to maintain a steady flow of steam. Cover, and steam the fish for 3–4 minutes, or until the fish looks barely opaque.
  7. Combine the cornstarch and cold water to form a thick paste. Bring the kelp and mushroom broth to a rolling boil. Add the cornstarch paste, stirring constantly to thicken the sauce. Spoon enough sauce over each portion of fish and mushrooms to moisten them well; reserve the remaining sauce for later. Continue to steam, covered, for 4-5 more minutes, the longer time for fish more than 1 inch thick.
  8. Carefully remove the plates from the steamer, and just before serving, pour the remaining thickened sauce over the fish and garnish each portion with a small mound of grated ginger. Each person can then dissolve as much of the condiment as they wish in the warm sauce surrounding their portion of fish. Serve immediately.