Kasu Salmon: A 1980’s Starlet Revisited in Honor of a Friend

by Marge Perry on January 2, 2013

It was our friend Andy’s 60th birthday, and we conspired with his wife, Viv, to throw him a surprise party. Many bumps in the surprise-party-road later, Andy walked through our front door grinning ear to ear from the sight of this many great friends and family who had come to celebrate with him.

Viv, Ebo and I designed a menu based on dishes of ours that Andy particularly likes. Some of the recipes for the dishes we served (or dishes very similar to those we served– sometimes we can’t help ourselves and tweak things a bit) are already on this site: click highlighted menu items to link to the recipes. Just below the party menu is a description of and recipe for Kasu Salmon, which is shown in the photo above. Scroll below the recipe for fun step-by-step photos of Andy’s birthday cake.

Hors D’oeuvres

Ebo’s Top Secret*, Best-in-the-Universe Onion Dip with chips and crudité

Spanish Tortilla (a frittata-like dish layered with potatoes)

Pulled Pork (in Coca-Cola Barbecue Sauce) Sliders

Shrimp with Green Chimichurri

Main Course

Kasu Salmon (see below)

Marinated Beef Tenderloin

Grilled Deconstructed Caesar

Green Beans with Balsamic Glazed Onions

Rosemary Roasted Baby Purple, New and Fingerling Potatoes

Roast Asparagus with Balsamic Drizzle


Fruit Salad with Honey Lime Dressing

Cupcakes (which Viv procured)

Old-Fashioned Icebox Cake (see below)

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Kasu Salmon

In the 1980’s when Japanese food suddenly became wildly popular in the US, Kasu Salmon appeared on the scene in a few restaurants (mostly on the West coast) and then, finally, in the pages of the New York Times. It seemed like the dish had It Girl potential…but somehow, it didn’t live up to it’s early signs of beloved-ness and faded out like a forgotten movie starlet.

One of the reasons for its short-lived popularity may be that in the 1980s it was still too difficult to get an ingredient that is essential to the dish: kasu, a.k.a sake lees. Now that Asian markets are commonplace in much of the country, the ingredient is more accessible and the dish is a mature and sophisticated star whose performance is heralded by all.

The recipe below serves 8 as a main dish; you can cut the pieces smaller to serve as an appetizer. Kasu Salmon is equally delicious served warm or at room temperature and can even be cooked up to a day ahead if necessary. (I prefer cooking it the same day; all the work is already done.)

1/3 cup sake

1/2 cup sake lees/kasu

1/3 cup white miso

1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons light soy sauce

1 3-pound side of salmon, skin and small bones removed

1/4 cup white sesame seeds

1/4 cup black sesame seeds

1. Heat the sake in a small skillet over medium high. Tilt the skillet slightly to one side and use a long-necked lighter (or long match) to ignite it. Gently swirl the skillet until the flames go out, about 30-45 seconds. Pour the sake in to the food processor; add the sake lees/kasu, miso, sugar and soy sauce and process until it forms a thick but spreadable paste.

2. Line a shallow baking sheet pan with plastic wrap; place the salmon on top and spread the mixture evenly over the entire (top and bottom) surface. Cover with more plastic wrap and refrigerate 24 to 48 hours.

3. When you are ready to cook the salmon, preheat the oven to 425 and coat a clean baking sheet pan with cooking spray.

4. Unwrap the fish and use paper towels to wipe off the marinade. Cut the fish into individual portions and arrange on the baking sheet, taking care to leave room in between the pieces. Sprinkle half of each piece with white sesame seeds and the other half with black sesame seeds. Place in the center of the oven and roast 8 minutes, or until salmon is just cooked through.

Makes 8 servings (as a main course)

Nutritional analysis per serving: 370 calories, 41 g protein, 8 g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 17 g fat, 2 g saturated fat,620 mg sodium Please note: The nutrition numbers are only an estimate. Most of the marinade is removed prior to cooking and serving, so the calories may actually be lower than these numbers.

By the way, Viv is a very accomplished baker who couldn’t make a cake for Andy without ruining the attempted surprise. That is why she bought the cupcakes, and why I didn’t dare attempt to make his favorite cake: only Viv can do that. But since a birthday needs a cake, I put together the cake pictured below to celebrate the occasion. Its a classic back-of-the-box Icebox Cake made with Nabisco wafers, shaped into a giant 60 and decorated with gold drageés. Those drageés are proof again of the power of accessories to dress up a basic.

First you spread sweetened whipped cream on a chocolate wafer, top it with another chocolate wafer, spread that one with more whipped cream…and repeat this process until you have a couple of inches done. At that point, stand the multi decker sandwich on it’s side and repeat, curving the ever-growing caterpillar to form your number or letter (or any other shape).

Keep going until your number/letter/shape is completely formed.

Spread the outside with more whipped cream. (After all, you can never have too much whipped cream.)

Time to decorate…


* Top Secret means we don’t share or sell this recipe. Really.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Big Mary January 2, 2013 at 5:11 pm

I seem to recognize this dish…… Truth be told I first saw it in Sally Schneider’s Cookbook on Low Calorie Cooking. (Hope I’m remembering that correctly.) She subsequently published a revised recipe that has a substitute for the Kasu lees as they are so hard to locate…. I believe it’s in The Improvisational Cook.
I always say this is salmon for people who think they don’t like salmon!


Marge January 2, 2013 at 6:38 pm

Of course you remember this dish! All good and beautiful food we know has a parent in you, Big Mary. After all, Ebo learned so much from you, and me from him…and so it goes on and on. Your influence on cooks will carry on in infinity. And though I say this light-heartedly, I mean it: your style and finesse in the kitchen and your refined palate was a great influence on Ebo, and his on me. We owe you much. Including the beautiful sesame seed pattern, we believe, on the kasu salmon.
Thank you, dear Ed, for teaching us so much. Truly. XOXO
(By the way, we owe less to Sally Schneider. While I admire her greatly, there are many versions of kasu salmon out there, and hers is but one. The proportions we use are different from hers — perhaps they also are spawns of your culinary genius)


Kristin January 2, 2013 at 5:17 pm

I’m going to make this salmon! Yum!
Lucky number 60!


Stephanie January 2, 2013 at 8:15 pm

gorgeous simply gorgeous


Big Mary January 2, 2013 at 9:41 pm

Well now I need to try y’all’s proportions!!!!! It is a winning dish and I had no idea it was as widely known as you report. There just are NO culinary secrets in the internet age!!! That’s the good news and I suppose some bad news….


Robin January 5, 2013 at 6:49 am

Thank you so much for sharing all of your fabulous recipes from this wonderful evening!
I can’t wait to get started.


Alaiyo Kiasi January 6, 2013 at 3:16 pm

What a feast, and what gorgeous salmon. I deeply appreciate seafood, and I love it when someone comes up with a unique way of preparing and presenting a perennial favorite such as salmon.



Amy Nieeporent January 7, 2013 at 11:52 am

Happy Birthday Andy…and that Onion Dip….is the best in the whole world!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Marilyn January 7, 2013 at 4:13 pm

That salmon recipe looks delicious! And that cake turned out wonderful. We will be checking out some of the recipes in our cooking adventures!


Bobbi January 25, 2013 at 2:34 pm

I want a 60th birthday cake just like that! You took it to the next level, Marge. Bravo.


Marge January 27, 2013 at 9:04 am

Ah, the beauties of Nabisco wafers. And didn’t I just read something about the same in your newly launched, drop-dead-gorgeous


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