Japanese-Inspired Salmon Rice Bowls Deliver Big Flavor, Fast!
While many PWWB recipes are longtime favorites, others are the result of more recent inspiration. This salmon rice bowl recipe falls into the latter category. During a recent brainstorm session together, my mom (aka the QUEEN of no-fuss, satisfying weeknight cooking 👸🏻) suggested we try some kind of rice bowl with salmon. And let me tell you…this Soy-Glazed Seared Salmon Rice Bowl recipe is one you’ll come back to time & time again. It is good.
Like all of our Mom-inspired recipes, this easy salmon rice bowl uses a handful of ingredients to keep things simple but also makes the most out of every element for the best flavor. It’s seriously one of the easiest & most satisfying recipes you can make, perfect for any night of the week.
Cubed salmon quickly soaks up a sweet-savory marinade made of shoyu, mirin, & dark brown sugar. (This is a slightly simpler version of our go-to teriyaki sauce!) From there, toss it into a hot skillet & let the stove do the rest of the work. In a matter of minutes, the salmon takes on a restaurant-worthy sear & the sweetness of the marinade caramelizes, creating a crave-worthy glaze that clings to the salmon.
From there, all you have to do is pile the sticky-sweet seared salmon into a comforting rice bowl. We like to add carrot & cucumber namasu (Mom’s take on the Japanese-style pickled veggies of her childhood), which adds fresh texture & bright flavor to balance out the richness of the salmon. The rice soaks up all of the saucy goodness of the soy-glazed salmon, which gives every bite a little extra flavor – it’s just so good.
Seared Salmon Rice Bowl Recipe Highlights
This sticky-sweet rice bowl with salmon is the perfect weeknight meal because it’s…
- FUN & FLAVORFUL. With delicious Japanese-inspired flavors, salmon rice bowls make for a fun way to mix up your weekly dinner rotation.
- SUPER SIMPLE & QUICK. For a really straight-forward weeknight dinner, this recipe leans on pantry staple ingredients with minimal prep. Plus, it takes just minutes to cook this soy-glazed salmon perfectly, with a beautiful sticky-sweet sear.
- BETTER THAN TAKEOUT. This salmon and rice bowl is totally restaurant-worthy, with sushi restaurant-inspired flavor, but you can throw it together faster than any delivery would arrive!
A weeknight dinner winner! ♡ Read on to learn more about how to make Soy-Glazed Rice Bowls with Namasu, or jump straight to the recipe & get cooking!
Key Components of this Salmon Rice Bowl Recipe
Note: Full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.
This salmon rice bowl recipe has 3 main components: sticky-sweet seared salmon, cucumber & carrot namasu (i.e. Japanese-style pickled veggies), & a pile of short-grain rice. Each component is made with a couple of different ingredients, but they’re mostly staples you probably already have in your kitchen:
- Salmon – As the star of any salmon rice bowl, use the best quality salmon you can find. I suggest looking for wild-caught salmon with firm, pink flesh & nice marbling throughout. For this salmon rice bowl recipe, you’ll also want skinless salmon. If you’re not familiar with removing salmon skin, the folks behind the seafood counter should be able to help you with this very quickly at no extra cost.
- Salmon marinade – This marinade is a slightly simpler version of our favorite teriyaki marinade. A blend of brown sugar, soy sauce, mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine), & green onion create the perfect savory-sweet flavor. I highly recommend hunting for mirin in the “international” aisle of your grocery store, but you could also use dry sherry or vermouth as imperfect-yet-quick substitutes.
- Namasu – Prepare these Japanese-style pickled vegetables by soaking English cucumber & carrot in rice vinegar seasoned with sugar & salt – so simple!
- Rice – Use either white or brown short-grain rice here – your choice!
How to Make Namasu (Japanese-Style Pickled Vegetables)
What is namasu? ⇢ Japanese namasu is made by marinating thinly sliced raw vegetables in rice vinegar, pickling them slightly. Original namasu recipes, traced back to China, will also typically include meat or fish, but the meatless, veggie-heavy version is more common in Japan. Mom makes her namasu with cucumber & carrot, which she typically keeps on hand in her kitchen, though daikon radish (available at most Asian grocery stores) also makes for a great addition.
We love it because… ⇢ Namasu adds beautiful acidity to this salmon rice bowl recipe. The rice vinegar helps create a sushi rice-like flavor without actually having to make seasoned rice. It’s the perfect balance for the sticky-sweet salmon & it gives the meal a lazy salmon sushi bowl-feel (you know how we love our lazy girl recipes!).
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
How to make Mom’s namasu – it’s easy as 1-2-3!
Season the vegetables. Place thinly sliced veggies in a bowl & season liberally with salt. Set aside to let the mixture stand for 15-20 minutes, then rinse well. Why? ⇢ The salt pulls all of the excess water out of the vegetables, which helps them maintain their texture & prevents them from getting too mushy once pickled.
Prepare the pickling liquid by combining rice vinegar, sugar, & salt, then microwave for 30 seconds. Why? ⇢ The heat of the microwave dissolves the sugar & salt, creating a smooth pickling liquid without having to turn on the stove!
Chill. Pour the warm pickling liquid over the veggies, mix gently to combine, then cover & chill before serving.
Meal Prep Tip!
Save some time during the week by prepping your namasu ahead of time. Once the veggies are pickled & chilled, you can store them in your fridge for up to 5 days. Simply pull them out at dinnertime for soy-glazed salmon rice bowl assembly! Outside of this salmon rice bowl recipe, you can add these pickled veggies to other rice dishes, steamed bao buns, or enjoy as a simple snack!
Quick & Flavorful Soy-Glazed Seared Salmon
This beautiful sticky-sweet soy-glazed salmon comes together so easily. The salmon needs about 20 minutes of marinating & the quickest sear (just a few minutes total!) until it’s perfectly cooked & ready for salmon rice bowls.
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
Prepare the salmon marinade. Combine soy sauce, brown sugar, & mirin in a bowl. I also love to add some freshly sliced green onion for some extra aromatic flavor. Meal Prep Tip! ⇢ Prepping the marinade in advance is an easy way to cut down on active prep at dinnertime. Simply keep the mixture in an airtight container in your refrigerator until it’s time to use.
Marinate the salmon. Pour half of the marinade into a bowl over cubed salmon & set aside to marinate for 20-30 minutes. Marinating Tip! ⇢ Fish is especially delicate, so do not marinate the salmon in the liquid for more than 30 minutes. Any longer & the soy sauce will start to break down the proteins in the fish, resulting in mushy, mealy salmon – no good!
Sear the salmon. A quick sear is the perfect way to get a glorious golden brown crust without drying the salmon out. Heat some high smoke point oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Shake off any excess marinade, then add the cubed salmon to the pan & cook for just a couple minutes per side. Tips for the Perfect Sear. ⇢ If your pan is not big enough, be sure to work in batches. It’s better to give the salmon room to cook than to overcrowd the skillet. Try not to touch the salmon too much while it’s in the pan – leaving it be as it cooks helps ensure that you get a beautiful golden sear!
Salmon Rice Bowl Assembly & Tips
Once the soy-glazed salmon is seared, the namasu prepped, & the rice cooked, it’s assembly time!
My ideal salmon rice bowl. ⇢ Scoop a healthy amount of white or brown short-grain rice into a large, shallow bowl. Don’t skimp on the rice here – it soaks up all of the tangy-sweet-savory flavors of the soy-glazed salmon & namasu! From there, add the namasu (given its acidity, a little goes a long way!) & seared salmon. Finish with a generous drizzle of reserved soy marinade & some thinly sliced green onions. For a special Japanese-inspired finishing touch, sprinkle furikake (Japanese nori seasoning – my FAVORITE!) over top.
Easy add-ons. ⇢ These salmon rice bowls are hearty & flavorful as-is but you can bulk them up with extra veggies as desired. Sautéed bok choy (pictured) or thinly sliced cabbage are my veggies of choice for a rice bowl with salmon, but roasted broccoli or asparagus, diced avocado, or even a handful of greens work well too!
If you have any leftover soy-glazed salmon, namasu, or rice, store it in individual airtight containers in the refrigerator. I prefer eating leftover soy-glazed seared salmon cold, but you can also reheat it in the microwave if you prefer. Be aware that the salmon will only keep for a few days, while the namasu & rice can hold for longer in your fridge. Check the Recipe Notes, below, for more guidance.
I can’t wait for you to try these Sticky-Sweet Soy-Glazed Salmon Rice Bowls! They’re so simple, yet so flavorful, & I think you’re going to love them as much as we do. If you do give them a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations!
Love Feel-Good Bowls?: They’re our absolute favorite too! Be sure to try our Easy Shawarma Hummus Bowls, Hearty Buffalo Chicken Bowls, Grilled Veggie Burrito Bowls, or Smoky Chipotle Turkey Burger Bowls next. ♡ Happy cooking!Print
These Soy-Glazed Seared Salmon Rice Bowls with Namasu are the perfect quick & easy Japanese-inspired dinner! Complete with sticky-sweet-savory seared salmon, tangy pickled veggies, & a comforting pile of rice, these bowls use just a few simple staple ingredients & they turn out perfectly every single time.
The star of these bowls, of course, is the salmon. Look for the highest quality wild-caught salmon you can find. Cube it up & soak it in a quick-yet-flavorful marinade made of soy sauce, brown sugar, & mirin. Salmon sears to perfection after cooking just a couple of minutes per side, which is just the right amount of time for the marinade to transform into a perfectly sticky-sweet glaze that clings to the fish.
We like to enjoy this soy-glazed salmon with freshly cooked rice & namasu (Japanese-style quick pickled veggies). As is the case with any bowl-style meal, a little bit of prep is involved to pull together all of the components. Feel free to take or leave any component depending on how much time you have (e.g. skip the namasu pickled veggies, opt for just rice or just greens, etc.). This is a flexible recipe – have fun with it!
Be sure to check the Recipe Notes, below, for easy variations & meal prep tips!
- 2 cups cooked short grain white or brown rice
- cucumber & carrot namasu (Japanese pickled vegetables), below
- 1 pound fresh wild-caught salmon, skin removed & diced into 1-inch cubes
- 2 green onions, ends trimmed & thinly sliced
- ¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar
- ¼ cup soy sauce (can sub tamari if gluten-free)
- 1 tablespoon mirin (see Recipe Notes)
- 1 teaspoon grapeseed oil or high smoke point vegetable oil of choice
- kosher salt & white pepper, to season
- for serving, as desired: furikake (Japanese nori seasoning), toasted sesame seeds, thinly sliced green onions, etc.
for the cucumber & carrot namasu (Japanese pickled vegetables):
- ½ English cucumber, sliced in half lengthwise & cut into very thin half-moons
- 1 small carrot, peeled & grated
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
- kosher salt, to season
- Prepare the pickled veggies: Place the sliced cucumber & grated carrot in a medium bowl. Season with 2 teaspoons kosher salt & stir to combine well. Let stand for 15-20 minutes, during which time the salt will draw excess moisture out of the vegetables. Rinse the vegetables well, draining any excess water, & use paper towel to pat the vegetables as dry as possible. Meanwhile, prepare the pickling liquid. Combine the sugar & rice vinegar in a small bowl or jar, seasoning with ¼ teaspoon kosher salt. Microwave for 30 seconds to dissolve the sugar. Pour the warm pickling liquid over the seasoned cucumber & carrot. Mix gently to combine. Cover & chill before serving, or transfer to an airtight container & store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- Marinate the salmon: Meanwhile, as the pickled veggies soak, prepare the salmon. Add the brown sugar, soy sauce & mirin to a medium bowl. Stir to combine well. Transfer half of the marinade to a small bowl & reserve for serving. Add the cubed salmon & sliced green onion to the medium bowl with the marinade. Stir to coat. Set aside to marinate for 20-30 minutes.
- Sear the salmon: Once the salmon is marinated, it’s ready for its quick sear. Add the oil to a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot & shimmering, add the salmon to the skillet, shaking off & discarding any excess marinade. Cook 2 minutes, then flip & cook 90 seconds – 2 minutes longer, or until your desired doneness is reached. Work in batches as necessary & resist the temptation to mess with the salmon as it cooks to ensure you achieve a beautiful golden sear. Transfer the seared salmon to a plate & set aside for serving.
- Build bowls & serve. Add the rice to a large, shallow bowl, then top it off with the namasu pickled vegetables & seared salmon. Drizzle some of the reserved soy marinade over top. Finish as desired with a generous sprinkling of furikake (Japanese nori seasoning), toasted sesame seeds, &/or thinly sliced green onions. These bowls are great as-is, though you can definitely add in extra veggies as desired. We like quick sautéed bok choy (pictured) or thinly sliced cabbage, though roasted broccoli, asparagus, or even just a handful of your favorite greens would be great too. Enjoy!
- Ingredient Notes:
- Protein: We like making these salmon rice bowls using wild-caught salmon, though the marinade is very flexible & works well with a number of different proteins – shrimp, thinly sliced chicken or steak, you name it! Feel free to use whatever you love most or already happen to have on hand.
- Mirin is a sweet Japanese rice wine, a staple ingredient in Japanese cooking. Mirin is similar to more well-known sake, though it tends to have a higher naturally-occurring sugar content (from fermentation) & lower alcohol content. You can find mirin in the “international” aisle of most conventional grocery stores these days, though it’s also readily available at Asian grocery stores. Imperfect-yet-quick substitutes for the mirin in this recipe include dry sherry or dry vermouth.
- Storage & Reheating: Store leftover soy-glazed salmon, namasu, & rice in individual airtight containers in the refrigerator. The namasu & rice are best within 4-5 days, while the salmon is best within 2 days of cooking. I like leftovers best cold, though you can reheat the salmon & rice in the microwave until warmed through & assemble a bowl with namasu veggies for serving.
- 10-20-Minute Meal Prep: Nearly all of the active prep work for these salmon rice bowls comes from prepping the namasu & salmon marinade. Prep either or both in advance to cut down on active prep at dinnertime – it’ll take 20 minutes, tops:
- Prepare the namasu pickled veggies according to Step 1 of Recipe Directions above. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. (~10 minutes active prep)
- Prepare the salmon marinade according to Step 2 of Recipe Directions above. Rather than marinating the salmon as described, transfer the marinade to an airtight container & store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. At dinnertime, simply pour half of the marinade over the cubed salmon, let it soak for 20 minutes, then sear as directed above. (~10 minutes active prep)
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