Monday, March 29, 2010

Spelling with Sushi

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.



Tangled Noodle said...

This. Is. Incredible.

You and Kris are such a great team! 8-)

Daily Spud said...

Wow Phyllis, that is just stunning - well done! Think you've beaten my eggs there :D

Mardi Michels said...

I think I might not enter mine after seeing this and others this morning... Amazing!

Unknown said...

OMG, if you dont have this in the bag, I would be amazed. AWESOME This is so skilled and artful! You are totally going to win.
*kisses* HH

Jenn said...

Oh, genius idea!!! I don't think I'd have the patience to try something like that. hehehe...

Sue said...

THAT is awesome! You are an artist!

KennyT said...

This is amazing!!! You've done a great job! The sushi rice looks professionally made.

Bee Chan said...

Wow! I'm impressed!!

Caroline said...

They are just too cute to eat!

Phyllis said...

Tangled Noodle: Thanks, TN! I've been having so much fun with this contest this year. And I'm not quite done yet!

Daily Spud: Thanks :) Your inside-out eggs were fabulous!

Mardi: Thanks for dropping by :)And I hope you change your mind and still enter!

Heavenly Housewife: Thank you daaahling, you are too kind!

Jenn: Genius? LOL! And I think you would have the patience if this was the only way you could get decent sushi!

Sue: Thanks! See you soon :)

Kenny: should see me stirring the rice while folding in the vinegar and fanning it simultaneously - I look ridiculous!

BeeACooker: Thanks for dropping by!

Caroline: Oh, but I did eat them! Your scrabble cookies are AWESOME -great idea!

A Little Yumminess said...

How fun!!! We'll have to try this!

Kathleen said...

Wow! This is really unbelievable! Not only are you talented I bet your really patient! Beautiful job!!!

Phyllis said...

A Little Yumminess: Thanks! Your ramen entry was so adorable and creative :)

Kathleen: LOL...only patient when it comes to food. Thanks for visiting :)

Carolyn Jung said...

This is so wonderfully clever. Beats alphabet blocks, that's for sure. If I was a judge, I'd give you the gold. ;)

vicky said...

this is insane! wow you are awesome!

Phyllis said...

Carolyn: Thanks for dropping by :)Keeping my fingers crossed!

Vicky: Thanks! btw your blog name is hilarious (actually sums up my life as well LOL)

Nachiketa said...

WOW!!! What awesome use of sushi for the Challenge… Very impressive....

Very creative entry for “Eating your Words Challenge’
The Variable - Nachiketa
Crazy Over Desserts - The Variable, Nachiketa

Phyllis said...

Nachiketa: Thanks! Your birthday letters were adorable :)

Two fit and fun gals said...

love what you did here LOVE IT!

Phyllis said...

Betty: Thanks so much for visiting! Love the gorgeous photos and recipes on your food blog :)