Sesame Salmon in Memory of My Father

Sesame Salmon in Memory of My Father

I’ve been away from Los Angeles. I’ve been in Florida to be by my father’s side as he lay dying. I kept this vigil with my brother and my sister. It was two weeks of heartache mixed with the joy that can only come in moments of family intimacy. There were also five days in Mexico squeezed in the middle. Five days of denial on my part. I went to Mexico never believing what happened to my father could actually happen to my father. Fathers are mythic figures to sons. It doesn’t matter what sort of relationship they either enjoyed or suffered through – there’s stuff between fathers and sons that cannot be expressed. They can only be felt.

And I felt it all these past two weeks.

Because if there is one thing that’s universally true, it’s this: Sons are always trying to be half the man their old man was.

Sometimes that formula gets tragically warped and a son spends his life trying to be twice the man his father was. But this is really two sides of the same coin.

In my case, I’ll have to settle for half the man.

My father was a doctor and not just a doctor, but a children’s heart doctor. If that’s not enough he also volunteered his time at his local Free Clinic caring for the many of us who have fallen between life’s ever-widening cracks. He traveled to 3rd world countries to diagnose kids with heart defects. Heart defects that would have otherwise gone on undetected and untreated.

I’m not going to lie. There was tension in my relationship with my dad. He was a difficult man to know, but an easy man to love. He was quiet but opinionated, which means you were stuck always wanting more from him. He was a man who was smarter than me, more athletic than me, and better looking than me. He was a man who carried these qualities better than anyone I’ve ever known.

People like my father with outsized talents (and undersized egos) are a rare breed. Sometimes being the son of a man like this is a little like climbing a ladder with uneven rungs. It’s hard to know how much progress you’re making, or if it’s even worth the effort.

As a boy, I was not good at the things fathers often want their sons to be good at. This was apparent at a young age. This felt like a tragedy to me. This shortcoming defined a lot of my youth.

Luckily for me, my parents allowed me the space I needed to be good at the things I did enjoy. Which wasn’t always easy for them or for me. But it was the right thing to do because that space allowed me to grow into a man who is happy with his place in the world.

For that, of course, I’m grateful. The kind of grateful you can never pay back.

But there’s always that little boy voice in the back of my head asking: “Am I the son my father always wanted?” I know he would have answered, yes, and I know he would have meant it. But that does not save me from the struggle all men have when they look into their father’s eyes.

I bring up this blatant bit of sentimentality because I saw a glimmer of something in my father’s eyes once and I want to share it here. It was really more of a slip of the tongue. But it showed me that maybe, yes, perhaps my father did understand me. It was a powerful moment for me. But like too many sons and their fathers, we let the moment pass without mentioning it.

Because what was to mention anyway? It was such a silly thing. In fact, it was a recipe.

I was visiting my dad, which I didn’t do nearly enough because an entire continent separated us. But on this visit, my dad mentioned a meal I had cooked more than a decade earlier for him, a sister, and one of his brothers at my home in California. I never thought my father noticed my interest in food. I mean why should he? We rarely discussed it.

The funny thing is, 10-plus years ago I was just beginning to see how happy cooking made me. Any cooking I did at that time had to have been baby steps because the recipe my father remembered was a very simple salmon recipe. I think I got the idea from Martha Stewart Living magazine. I gave it an Asian vibe and added sesame seeds, shichimi-togarashi, and wasabi. But the technique for rolling this salmon was all Martha’s.

I haven’t made this recipe in years. I can’t tell you happy it made me to make it again. GREG

James Gifford Henry Tennis My Father James Gifford Henry MD My Father James Gifford Henry and Family Sesame Salmon Roll in Memory of My Father

Sesame Salmon Rolls with Wasabi Mayo 

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4Source Inspired by a recipe in Martha Stewart LivingPublished

serves 4

Sesame Salmon Rolls with Wasabi Mayo


  • 2 teaspoon dried wasabi powder (or to taste)
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • ¼ cup rice vinegar
  • 4 (6 oz) skinless salmon fillets (about 2 inches by 4½ inches)
  • salt and white pepper (as needed)
  • ¼ cup sesame seeds (preferably black)
  • 1 teaspoon shichimi-togarashi (Japanese 7 spice blend, optional)
  • 2 teaspoon vegetable oil (as needed for pan)


Prepare the wasabi mayo: Mix the wasabi and mayonnaise together in a small bowl. Set aside.

Prepare the soy-vinegar sauce: In a small bowl mix the soy sauce and rice vinegar together. Set aside.

Prep the salmon rolls: Using a very sharp knife, slice each fillet open to create one long thin piece approximately 2‑inches by 8‑inches, and about 3/4 to ½‑inch thick. 

To accomplish this start at the thinnest end of the fillet and slice horizontally through the flesh taking care to leave one end intact. Spread fillet open, and turn it over. Season it with salt and white pepper. Then spread about ½ teaspoon wasabi mayo all along its length. Tightly roll the fillet starting at the thickest end. Secure the roll closed with 1 or 2 wooden toothpicks. Repeat with remaining fillets.

Cook the salmon Rolls: Pour sesame seeds onto a small plate. Stir in the shichimi-togarashi (if using). Spread the mixture into a smooth even layer.

Heat oil in a non-stick or cast iron pan over medium heat until hot. Swirl the pan to coat the bottom with just the barest slick of oil. 

Place a salmon roll onto the pile of seeds, pressing lightly to thoroughly coat bottom of one side. Repeat the process on the other side. Continue with the other rolls moving each roll to the hot pan as it gets coated.

Cook the salmon rolls until opaque almost, a third to halfway through depending on how cooked you like it, 4 to 6 minutes. Turn them over and cook another 2 or 3 minutes. Remove them from the pan and let them rest a few moments to finish cooking.

To serve: Place one salmon roll in the center on a dinner plate. Drizzle with soy-vinegar sauce to taste and serve warm.