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The Art of Kappo

February 02, 1986|ROSE DOSTI | Rose Dosti is a Times staff writer .

Katsu Michite wanted to bring something new to Los Angeles when he introduced gourmet Japanese dishes ( kappo ) at Res taurant Katsu in 1982. To the loyal and appreciative clientele who had followed Katsu from sushi restaurant to hamburger joint near USC to his present high-tech, new-wave establishment, the move was expected. After all, Katsu is a culinary artist whose restaurant ideas are breaking new ground.

The recipe for Katsu's Steamed Stuffed Salmon, shown here, is an example of kappo cookery, one of the signatures of which is artistic presentation. Stark simplicity is relieved by a single ti leaf (found at any flower shop or perhaps in your own garden) that serves as a charming mat for the stuffed salmon rolls. The ginger tip (sold in jars) is used strictly as a garnish because of its beautiful red color and shape, but any other appropriate garnish can be used. Katsu often uses the color black--in the form of marble, slate or ceramics--as a backdrop for beautiful food, but any plain plate or tray can be used.

The inexperienced home cook may want to give this dish a trial run before preparing it for guests. The tricky part is butterflying the salmon to make a large sheet to fill and roll; that's a job that you might leave to the fishmonger. Although some of the ingredients may seem unfamiliar, they are close cousins to Western ingredients that are used similarly and that may be substituted accordingly. Chicken broth may be substituted for dashi , a fish broth; mustard greens, spinach or kale can replace the large-leafed green, mitsuba . All the Japanese products can easily be found at any Japanese grocery store that sells fresh produce, and many packaged ingredients, as well as tofu, are now widely available in supermarkets. If you have never worked with tofu, you will find this salmon dish an inspirational introduction to this versatile and healthful product, which is also known as bean curd. Also, poaching is a health-conscious--and not uncommon--approach to kappo cookery.

The stuffed salmon rolls make a great first course by themselves, but they can also serve as an entree, along with a salad and a California Chardonnay or other fine white wine. Either way, a dining adventure awaits. KATSU'S STEAMED, STUFFED SALMON (Ken-Chin-Mushi) 1 or 2 dried black mushrooms Water cup vegetable oil 1 1-pound block tofu Sesame oil carrot, cut julienne 2 tablespoons chopped canned bamboo shoot 1 tablespoon split ginkgo nuts 1 cup chopped mitsuba (Japanese large-leafed greens), optional 1 2-pound piece salmon fillet, with or without skin Cornstarch 1/2 bunch spinach 1 tablespoon sesame oil Hot water 4 ti leaves 1 cup dashi (Japanese fish broth) Piece of ginger tip (hagi kami shoga) Daikon Roll, optional

Soak dried mushrooms in water to cover for 20 minutes or until softened. Cut into fine julienne pieces and set aside. Heat vegetable oil in skillet. Add tofu and saute, breaking up tofu until heated through and somewhat dry. Remove from pan and cool. Heat 2 tablespoons sesame oil in same skillet. Add carrot, bamboo shoot, ginkgo nuts and mitsuba, and saute until lightly coated and heated through. Combine sauteed vegetables, tofu and mushrooms. Set aside.

Place salmon, skin side down, on large square of foil double the width of the salmon piece. Butterfly salmon fillet by splitting salmon half-way through horizontally, starting from center and cutting up to, not through, one end to form a flap, then cutting flap on other side. Open flaps to form a large sheet of salmon. Sprinkle cut side lightly with cornstarch. Spread tofu mixture over cornstarch layer.

Bunch spinach leaves, stem side up, in your hand. Trim stems and form leaves into a compact column. Heat 1 tablespoon sesame oil and add spinach. Saute, carefully turning spinach, until it glistens. Remove from pan. Place column of spinach in center of salmon. Roll, jellyroll fashion, using foil to aid rolling. Wrap in foil.

Place on steamer rack over, but not touching, hot water. Bring to a simmer. Cover and steam 17 to 20 minutes or until bamboo stick inserted in center of salmon comes out clean. Let stand 1 to 2 minutes to set. Cut into 3/4-inch slices. Place 2 or 3 slices salmon on each plate over a single ti leaf and pour some dashi over slices to moisten slightly. Serve with Daikon Roll (allowing 3 slices per serving), if desired. Makes 4 entree or 12 appetizer servings.

Note: Ginger tips, ginkgo nuts and Japanese greens can be purchased at any Japanese grocery store. To make dashi , purchase the powder and follow package directions to reconstitute to desired amount. Daikon Roll 2 cups water Salt 1 large Japanese radish 1 6-inch carrot 1 6-inch cucumber 2 cups dashi (Japanese fish broth) 1 cup vinegar

Combine water and 1 cup salt. Peel radish and cut into a 6-inch uniform piece. Cut a sheet of radish by cutting with 7- or 8-inch knife or Japanese cleaver around radish vertically, as if peeling, to form a continuous, paper-thin sheet. Cut carrot into 4 lengthwise pieces vertically; then trim to form a stick inch wide and 6 inches long. Repeat for cucumber. Place 2 carrot sticks and 2 cucumber sticks in a checkerboard fashion to form a column. Place column on radish sheets vertically at one edge of sheet. Roll, jellyroll fashion. Fasten with trimmed bamboo stick, if necessary, to keep from unrolling. Immerse in salted water 1 hour. Combine dashi and vinegar. Transfer radish roll to dashi mixture and allow to pickle 24 hours. Drain. Slice to 12 1/2-inch thick slices. Makes 12 slices.

PRODUCED BY ROBIN TUCKER

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