In our cooking series Quickies, we invite chefs, bartenders, and other personalities in the world of food and drink who are serious hustlers to share their tips and tricks for preparing quick, creative after-work meals. Every dish featured in Quickies takes under 30 minutes to make, but without sacrificing any deliciousness—these are tried-and-tested recipes for the super-busy who also happen to have impeccable taste.
Anthony Bourdain once said, “Good food is very often, simple food.” No one sticks to this better than Shuko Oda, head chef and co-founder of Koya Soho. When the restaurant opened in London’s Soho in 2010, the concept was simple: serve traditional Japanese udon noodles—and do it really, really well.
“I wanted to do a Japanese restaurant that specialised in one particular thing rather than doing ten different things at once,” Oda says. “I think [udon] is a type of noodle that you can eat every day. They’re like rice. I actually miss them if I don’t eat it often enough.”
Affordable, tasty, and with a long Tokyo-style communal counter, Koya Soho soon had diners lining up to eat there. At the end of last year, Koya City, a much bigger, second site opened in the fancy Bloomberg Arcade in Central London.
Alongside the ambitious task of running two popular noodle bars, life has become even busier for Oda as she recently became a mother. She has little time for creativity in the kitchen at home, so one of her go-to, after-work meals is a noodleless comfort dish: salmon and mushrooms with ponzu sauce, cooked in a no-fuss foil packet.
“This is super easy dish that I’ve done with different fish and my mum always did it when I grew up,” she explains. “I never spend too long cooking dinner because I’m so busy, so it’s one of the quickest, less labour-intensive meals to make. It takes five minutes to prepare and the ingredients are so adaptable.”
Oda begins by taking out a medium-sized salmon fillet and placing it skin-down on a large piece of aluminium foil.
“There’s no special place to get this salmon from. I just got it at my local Sainsbury’s,” she laughs as she adds a mountain of juicy-looking mushrooms, shredded carrot, and onion on top of the dish. You can use any mushrooms you like, but Oda prefers the shiitake, oyster, and enoki variants—all of which are staple ingredients in Japanese cooking.
No garlic or seasoning is required. She adds a generous chunk of butter, then folds the foil in the middle and rolls either side up to create a perfect aluminium boat, ready to be cooked.
The trick to cooking Oda’s salmon is not baking it in the oven or steaming it over hot water. Instead, the chef uses a process she calls “steam-frying,” which involves heating the foil parcel in a frying pan with the lid placed over it. No butter, sauce, or water is added, making it ideal for anyone who doesn’t like doing dishes. The pan remains as clean as it was before you started cooking.
Oda stream-fries the salmon for about five minutes on a medium heat, then for seven minutes on a low heat. As it cooks, she makes the ponzu sauce by mixing soy sauce with rice vinegar—nothing else. Oda doesn’t like to over-complicate things.
With the cooking time up, it's time to open the foil for a peak at the fish. A steamy aroma billows out telling us that it’s cooked, and Oda pours the ponzu sauce over the bubbling, orange fish, finishing with a dash of lemon juice. When she eats this at home, the salmon is usually complemented with a bowl of traditional Japanese rice and of course, the customary miso soup.
“Nobody has ever told me they don’t like this," Oda says proudly.
I believe her. This salmon and vegetable foil packet might be the biggest culinary optical illusion of all time: it looks and tastes like it was served in a high-end restaurant, but requires minimal effort to make and—more importantly—no washing up.