For Katherine Tamiko Arguile, the Japanese food her mother cooked was a portal to a part of her that sometimes felt lost in the past. Ahead of Mother’s Day this weekend, enjoy an extract and recipe from Katherine’s sumptuous new memoir Meshi: A personal history of Japanese food.

When I started university in London, my mother gave me a small, simple suihanki to cook the Calrose Japanese rice you could buy in England. She began filling a washi-covered notebook with her recipes, illustrated with line drawings, so I could re-create them in my digs. In it she included the method for cooking rice without the aid of a suihanki. My mother insisted I should know how to cook rice in a saucepan, appalled that younger generations no longer knew how to cook rice the old-fashioned way. My mother always encouraged me to make more rice than I’d need for one meal, then put away the rest in the fridge or freezer for reheating later, as rice tastes better when it’s cooked in larger quantities.

There are lots of other ways you can use up leftover rice; ochazuke is great for breakfast, a light meal or snack. If the rice has been refrigerated it’s still best to give it a second or two in the microwave to soften the grains, as they become unpleasantly hard and dry in the fridge, or flush it through with boiling water, which is what I do. You then add your topping before pouring green tea over the top. Ochazuke toppings are usually salty to balance out the subtle tastes of green tea and rice.

My favourite ochazuke topping that’s easy to source in Australia is shiojaké, the salt-cured salmon my mother taught me to make. If I have a little of the fish left over, I’ll perch a few flakes on top of some rice in my ochawan, add a pickle or two and pour hōji tea over the top. It’s such a popular ochazuke topping that you can even buy it freeze-dried in most Japanese supermarkets. Still sold in the same traditional green, red, yellow and black striped packets I grew up with, which always come with a little card illustrated with a Hiroshige woodblock print, the ochazukenori mixture is made up of tiny sticks of rice crackers, nori seaweed, powdered green tea and additional toppings like the salmon, freeze-dried nuggets of umeboshi sour plum, or nose-tinglingly spicy wasabi. It might have a few additives you’d avoid if you made it fresh, but it’s still one of the easiest, healthiest fast foods I can think of. I ate a bowlful for breakfast most days.

SHIOJAKEÉ (Grilled semi-cured salmon)

This way of preparing washoku-style salmon was popular amongst Japanese expats in London in the 80s, as it was easy to find the ingredients and even easier to make. The salt extracts the excess moisture from the fish, firming up the flesh, reducing the fishy odour and concentrating the flavour and colour. My mother made up batches and froze them ready for when they were needed.

INGREDIENTS

100g salmon fillet per person, skin on (with scales removed)

1 tbsp sea salt

METHOD

Rinse the salmon and pat dry with paper towel. Sprinkle every part

of the fillet with the salt, including the skin, and set to cure for 24–48 hours, depending on how salty you like things. My mother used a zaru

(traditional flat, round sieve) set on newspaper to absorb as much water from the salmon as possible. A rack set on a plate will work well, too; the main thing is to allow the salmon to cure without it sitting in the liquid that will drain from it.

The salmon is best left in the fridge uncovered while it cures so air can circulate around it (when we were in England, my mother used to cure it on a cold day by leaving it outside, covered with a food net, or indoors near an electric fan. If you prefer to cover it while it’s in the fridge, see if you can fit the whole thing inside a large Tupperware container. The salt minimises the fishy smell, so odour permeating other food in the fridge shouldn’t be an issue.

Once cured, thoroughly wipe off the excess salt with damp paper towel, or rinse it quickly under cold running water, but either way, make sure you dry the fish very well with paper towel before grilling.

Preheat grill to medium high. Set a piece of foil or silicone roasting sheet on a baking tray. If you use foil, oil it very well as the skin tends to stick. Place the salmon skin-side down on the foil and grill until you can see that more than half of the salmon has turned opaque, then flip over to crisp up the skin. It burns easily, so keep an eye on it. If an area looks like it’s browning too fast, fold a piece of the foil over it. Once all of the skin has crisped up, remove from the heat and serve.