Table for One

A Surprisingly Simple Dish I’m Resolving to Cook More

This week, Table for One columnist Eric Kim is celebrating the new year—and his independence—with hot sake and a sushi rice bowl packed with flavor.

January 10, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food Stylist: Drew Aichele. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

Table for One is a column by Senior Editor Eric Kim, who loves cooking for himself—and only himself—and seeks to celebrate the beauty of solitude in its many forms.

This year, for the first time in a while, I find myself properly, undeniably, and very happily single. I’ve started to call this new state of existence free solo, not least because the phrase was just added to the dictionary a few months ago. It followed Alex Honnold’s record-breaking ascent of Yosemite’s El Capitan summit in 2017, and National Geographic’s Academy Award–winning film documenting the climb.

"Free-soloing" in the kitchen means using what you already have, plus one special ingredient from the market. Photo by Rocky Luten. Food Stylist: Drew Aichele. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

Free solo is a noun (and verb) referring to rock climbing “without the use of artificial aids or safety equipment.” Aside from one of my New Year’s resolutions to start rock climbing (and to exercise more in general), I found myself thinking about what else I’d like to add to my life this year, without encumbrances. Too often when we talk about January, we talk about what we’re giving up (bread, sugar, alcohol). But becoming newly liberated in the relationship department made me want to stick to resolutions that are additive, not restrictive.

Like cooking more. But without books, without recipes—just letting the bounty of the market and my pantry lead my day-to-day tinkering in the kitchen. Culinary free-soloing, if you will.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“A symbolically free, solo meal of seasoned salmon and sushi rice is the perfect way to start embracing these new beginnings, too. Sake offers a warm, comforting embrace all on its own. Thanks for this 💙”
— Sarah G.

We’re only a week into the new year and I’ve already found that one easy way to ensure that I keep turning to my kitchen for meals (and not to Seamless, or restaurants, or a bag of Ruffles) is to have a shelf-stable base carbohydrate on hand at all times. For many that’s pasta, quinoa, and legumes like chickpeas and lentils. For me, it’s short-grain glutinous rice. As long as I’ve got some of that lying around, I can build a meal around it, or on top of it.

A bowl of warm sushi rice topped with soy sauce–marinated salmon sashimi feels at once simple and bountiful. Photo by Rocky Luten. Food Stylist: Drew Aichele. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

I’ve found that I can even zhush it up with a little salt, sugar, and rice vinegar and make something that resembles sushi rice (that is, the seasoned rice you’d find in sushi). If you’ve never made sushi rice at home, I’m warning you now: You may never stop.

Some days all I want to eat is this seasoned rice with sliced avocado and roasted seaweed snack. Other days I’ll add fried Spam, eggs, and kimchi. More days than that, I’ll just throw in whatever protein or vegetable is in my fridge. Today, I’m sharing with you a sushi-inspired rice bowl; it’s the kind of meal that feels luxurious, but is surprisingly simple to make when you’re cooking for yourself.

This recipe was inspired by my favorite menu item at sushi restaurants: sweet, fatty salmon nigiri. I can never bring myself to order too many of them, though, because they can be expensive (upwards of $3 a pop). But I’ve learned that when I prepare this bowl for myself at home, then I can eat as much salmon sashimi and sushi rice as I want, all at once.

If you can, you should always start with high-quality, sushi-grade salmon (or a lightly seared center cut of salmon), sliced thinly and dressed with a combo of sharp, contrasting flavors and textures: Soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil add salty, savory depth, and capers, scallions, and cilantro stems provide invigorating freshness. This seasoned salmon is then strewn over a bed of warm, just-made sushi rice.

I like to heat up a small bottle of hot sake to go with. And when I sit down to a home-cooked meal like this, I’m glad that I am, tonight and every night, liberated.

What dishes are you trying to cook more this year? Let us know in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Sara
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  • Joanie922
Eric Kim was the Table for One columnist at Food52. He is currently working on his first cookbook, KOREAN AMERICAN, to be published by Clarkson Potter in 2022. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can find his bylines at The New York Times, where he works now as a writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @ericjoonho.


Sara February 14, 2020
This looks SO good. Where do you find sushi-grade fish?
Nancy February 14, 2020
This recipe speaks to me and I am chomping at the bit to try it. Yum!

I have never made comments online before, but your stories have touched me and I appreciate so much of what you bring to the table; your commentary in your articles... your asian heritage and being gay... and now single. Your article on how you came out to your parents made me laugh and cry at the same time. Know that what you write is very appreciated. Thank you!
Arthur J. January 19, 2020
Looks like salmon poke to me. How bout salmon chirashi? Whatever you call it, fish and rice is mighty nice. Salt and fish. What more could one wish? Yum X 2
Soybanessa January 13, 2020
Oh man, am I all in on this, a new way of eating for me that sounds delicious! Thank you so much.
Eric K. January 13, 2020
I'm so glad!
Joanie922 January 12, 2020
I love reading your articles. Your voice speaks to me even though I'm probably 2 decades older and female.

There was always a weird stigma with being single, but I recently told someone that I didn't do marriage well (twice, but lost my voice) that I finally decided solo was what I wanted at this point in my life. I also decided I ate far too much take out and if my could put a meal on the table every night, I'd like to as well. I get lost in cooking and actually distresses me.

My problem is that I am always picking up something at the market that I thought I didn't have and have obscene amounts of butter, tuna fish and beans.

I want to become a better baker so I think the butter will come in handy.

Joanie922 January 12, 2020
Nice autocorrect. Forgot word 'mom's after my, and should have written cooking de-stresses me.
Eric K. January 13, 2020
Joanie, thank you so much for your note. For what it's worth, butter, tuna, and beans are all, in my book, very useful/delicious things to have a lot of. :)

On another note, have you seen the new Little Women?
Ghostinrags January 12, 2020
I'll have to second those thoughts as well; being alone is a beautiful freedom that - while I'd not trade my life for anything - is a memory that I hold very near and dear. I used to be broke as broke could be, but I found my own path that worked. A chunk of tuna, a salmon filet, some tilapia tossed over rice and some simple pickled vegetables with a shake of kombu and when my son would come visit it was pure heaven. Leftovers were my normal meals from work, or instant potatoes and something cheap from Aldi, and the ease and simplicity was refreshing. No internet or movies, got robbed of all stuff, so it was radio and books. As I've gotten "more" it becomes less and simply more stress. Dishes like this, and conversation as you've provided are what we need more of. And smoked trout is a great addition - not many people buy it so you can find it cheap at scratch and dent places or hiding behind other stuff. Eel, cockels, oysters, tilapia, whiting... All great. Spam, pork jowl bacon, squash, lovely. Doesn't need to be fancy to be great, quite the opposite, and one doesn't need constant entertainment and company to be happy.
Eric K. January 13, 2020
I love this running theme of tuna and smoked trout, and this notion: "Doesn't need to be fancy to be great, quite the opposite, and one doesn't need constant entertainment and company to be happy." Thanks, Ghostinrags (great username, by the way).
russeaime January 11, 2020
I love your columns and perspectives on solo eating! As someone who is also happily single (and happy for my coupled friends), it's nice to finally see more food writing that's geared to those of us who mostly eat alone. And also have to eat the remaining leftovers!

Eggs or pasta is more my go-to than rice (and just any vegetables I have lying around), but I've been wanting to make more grain dishes this year. One of my go-tos is soba in broth with sauteed greens, smoked sardines, an egg, and radishes.
Eric K. January 11, 2020
Glad to be of service. :)
Sarah G. January 10, 2020
I recently ended a codependent relationship of almost four years (now maneuvering through its emotional aftermath). Still living in Taiwan, his birthplace, and feeling liberated to again explore the beautiful complexities of cuisine, culture, and community on my own terms post-breakup, so this solid piece by Eric Kim feels incredibly timely. I was beyond excited to devour his wonderfully buoyant reminder of what’s in store when entering singlehood once again — the complete, utter freedom to reconstruct oneself from the ground up, building a solid foundation of love and care to be administered in the simplest, yet most tender of ways: gastronomically. A symbolically free, solo meal of seasoned salmon and sushi rice is the perfect way to start embracing these new beginnings, too. Sake offers a warm, comforting embrace all on its own. Thanks for this 💙
Eric K. January 10, 2020
Thank you, Sarah.
Annie January 10, 2020
I rarely make sushi rice at home. But I definitely have short grain and jasmine rice at home - ready for consumption. My top 3 favorite toppings are
1. eggs (sunny side up with crispy edges, poached or the soy marinated soft boiled eggs) and bacon seasoned with sesame oil and salt - optional kimchi or edamame
2. Mixed/topped with smoked trout in oil, fermented bean curb and Japanese pickled ginger (the thicker sliced ones and not the ones that come with maki). When its mixed I also will make a quick handroll as well - those are brilliant
3. stacked on top of the rice with it's own layer - sunny side up eggs, ham steak and oyster sauce.
4. I guess I should have just said Rice, Eggs and some yummy piece of pork b/c I also love the 554 - Chinese BBQ Pork (Char siu), sunny side up eggs with rice with a sesame oil and soy sauce drizzle.

Annie January 10, 2020
ha - I started with 3 faves and remembered the 4th. LOL
Eric K. January 10, 2020
JudiAU January 10, 2020
Smoke trout! I’ve never thought of that. I wonder if smoked mackerel would work in a hand roll. My kids love canned fish as well as hand rolls.
Eric K. January 13, 2020
Mackerel is the perfect smelly fish to eat alone.
LCMiles January 10, 2020
I love your writing, Eric - your columns are consistently my favorite on this site and I never miss them. This is one of my favorite meals to make at home, but I've never thought about using capers! Sometimes I like to roll it up in nori also to make rough hand rolls. Congratulations on your liberation.
Eric K. January 10, 2020
This was so nice to read today. Thanks so much.