Monday, March 29, 2010
A couple days after I made my chocolate swirl bark for Tangled Noodle & Savor the Thyme's Eating Your Words 2010 Challenge, I found out that Andrew Zimmern was judging (!!!!!) and decided to increase my chances of becoming a finalist by submitting another entry.
I also wanted to raise the level of difficulty because I had a feeling there was going to be some serious competition this year. Kris actually came up with the idea for "spelling with sushi", but of course he was leaving 100% of the execution up to his darling wife (which is the only reason he's willing to share the credit with me).
Over the years I've become quite proficient at making sushi at home (came out of necessity when I first moved to a small town and the only place to get sushi was Mr.China, a local Chinese take-out place), but spelling with sushi? The pressure was definitely on.
I decided the easiest way to do this was to stick with sushi that I was already comfortable making - california rolls, tamago, inari, and vegetable rolls (no raw fish because hubby gets squeamish around it and it's difficult to find sushi-grade fish where I live).
For the rice, I use this no fail recipe to make perfectly seasoned sushi rice (but I use my trusty rice cooker instead of a pot, and I don't always use the kelp). The recipe will make a large quantity of rice, enough to make around 8 maki rolls. I alternate between Nishiki and Kokuho Rose brands of sushi rice, depending what I can find in the supermarket, but for this challenge I used Nishiki. And any decent brand of nori will do (today I used Takaokaya yakinori). You will need a bamboo sushi mat, which I always wrap tightly with plastic wrap so nothing sticks to it (and for easy cleanup). You'll need to moisten your fingers while working with the rice (the rice gets sticky) so fill a small bowl with water and add in a splash of rice vinegar. And use a moistened sharp knife for making clean cuts. Here is a good video for making a basic maki roll. Give yourself lots of time to prepare the rice and ingredients and to practice your rolling technique, especially if you are serving the sushi to guests. Rolling sushi takes practice but don't give up - if I can do it, anyone can!
For the first 'letter' I made an oshinko maki roll with julienned takuan (neon yellow pickled daikon) as the primary filling. I supersized the filling to ensure I would have a large enough area to 'write' my letter. After cutting up the rolls and selecting the prettiest and roundest piece, I individually inserted pieces of julienned red bell pepper to form an "S" (using a wooden skewer to wiggle in 'entry points' for the bell pepper).
Next I stuffed an inari pouch with sushi rice (careful, the pouch is fragile and could break if overstuffed) and used slivers of shiitake mushrooms to spell a "U" on top. You can find canned inari pouches at Asian supermarkets or the ethnic aisle of a well-stocked supermarket.
The next roll is an 'inside-out California roll' (seaweed on the inside, rice on the outside). It looks fancy but is not difficult to do - check out this video for direction. The primary filling is shredded imitation crab stick and the 'S' is spelled with thin slivers of strategically placed seedless cucumber (utilizing my wooden skewer 'wiggle technique' again). I sprinkled the rice with black sesame seeds for added flavor and crunch and topped the roll with thin slices of buttery avocado.
I also wanted to include some nigiri sushi but since I wasn't using raw fish, I thought I'd make some crowd-pleasing tamago (sweet egg omelette). Normally when I make tamago at home I don't worry too much about the aesthetics because only hubby and I will see it. But this time I had to make it look as pretty as the restaurant versions. Here is the old standy recipe I use (time-saving tip: use instant dashi granules to make the dashi stock instead of making it from scratch). And you don't need a special tamago pan, only took me a couple tries to get an unblistered omelette using a regular non-stick frying pan. With a small knife I freehand cut an 'H' out of the tamago and placed it on top of some hand formed seasoned rice, securing it with a thin strip of nori.
Was super relieved to get to the last letter, which only required cutting an "I" out of some kani (imitation crab stick) and placing it on top of some rice secured with nori.
Lastly, I assembled the sushi letters on a pretty platter, added some pickled ginger and wasabi and voilà...SPELLING WITH SUSHI!
4/08/10 Update: Well, we didn't win, but our Spelling with Sushi got an honorable mention! Be sure to check out Part I and Part II of the challenge roundup, as well as the winning entry here.