Cucumber-infused Sake Lees Cured Salmon

So, I’ve kept going with the koji theme. I made sake to serve on draft here over the holidays. I’ve been wanting to make sake for years, and finally made a big batch, 3.5 gallons! It’s nice to have a lot of sake on hand, both for drinking and cooking. However, an unexpected, and very welcome, bonus was the sake lees.

When sake is done fermenting, it must be pressed from the lees. The lees are the remainder of the rice, koji, and yeast. At home, I struggled with an efficient process for this. I settled with a process of straining the sake at progressively smaller strainers. First pass was cheesecloth, second was nylon strainer bags made for straining paint, and then last was a fine mesh strainer placed over a bucket.

My batch of sake consisted of 1340 grams of koji rice, 7500 grams of steamed rice, and 12 liters of water. I fermented with a fruity wine yeast. Amazingly, I was left with only about 3 liters of lees.

The lees from my sake are pretty soft, much like my shio koji. About the consistency of a milkshake. Commercial sake makers have very efficient presses, so lees obtained from them would be pretty firm. I know commercial sake makers often offer lees to the public, so if you are using commercial lees, you will need to dilute them a bit. I suggest diluting with sake, but you can use water or spirits.

I was pretty excited to make pickles using my lees. In Japanese, the lees are called Kasu. I salted some Persian cucumbers for 3 hours to soften them, then rinsed with cold water and placed them in a bed of about 3 cups of sake lees mixed with 2T miso, 2t salt, and 1t sugar. Refrigerate over night, then remove from the lees and they are ready to eat. Very tasty!

I had read that these sake lees could be re-used to make more pickles, but with 8 cucumbers already I needed another use for the lees. They were too valuable to toss!

Lately I have been making a Mexican (sort of) barbecue salmon using some of the peppers I grew last summer (I need to post this recipe!) with shio koji. It is so delicious, and had my mind on salmon already. I immediately thought about curing salmon in the sake lees from the cucumber pickle.

I used about 1kg skin on Norwegian salmon. The first step is to wash the salmon in cold water and use pliers to remove any pin bones. Weigh the salmon in grams and then weigh our salt to 2% of the weight of the salmon. Rub the salt all over the salmon, place in a zip top bag and remove the air. Place in the fridge overnight.

The next day, rinse the salmon with cool water or sake to remove the salt. Pat dry with a paper towel. Place into a new zip top bag with the sake lees from the cucumber pickle. Make sure the salmon is covered completely. Seal the bag and refrigerate.

The following day, wash the salmon with sake to remove the lees. I discarded the lees after using them this second time, especially given that they were used with fresh meat/fish. It sounds like we are using a lot of sake, but (1) I have an ample supply (ha!), and (2) you really don’t need a lot of sake for these rinses. I place the fish in a shallow plastic container, and a small amount of sake easily does the trick.

Next, place the salmon on a small rack and put it either in a cool breezy place (outdoors of an enclosed patio will work if it’s winter where you are), or in the fridge will work, too. Leave the salmon there until the surface is dry and leathery. This is called a pellicle. The salmon is then ready to slice and eat. You could also apply a bit of cold smoke at this point, but I liked the way the sake and cucumber essence complimented the light, fresh fish flavor.

This same treatment can be done with other fish, and I think that grilling the fish after the overnight in the sake lees would also be a treat.

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