Sunday, April 03, 2005

Paper Chef: Sushi a la Alice

I LOVE food blogging! Food blogging is SO much fun, I can't even begin to explain how much I love it. The combination of food blogging and food photography gives me the perfect balance of challenge and reward. And these food blogging events? Wonderful. Absolutely WONDERFUL! They are so easy to participate and SOO much fun!

This weekend, I am participating in the Paper Chef event, where on Friday, April 1st, Owen from Tomatilla! posted four ingredients for all us bloggers to create a dish and write about it by Monday, 12 noon, PST. When I participated in Is My Blog Burning: Cupcakes, I decided to go with a Japanese-theme - something unique that only _I_ could dream of making. It worked out well, and I was happy with my cupcake entry, so I decided I'd try the same strategy this time. When I saw that the four ingredients were goat cheese, sherry vinegar, prosciutto, and green garlic, I had to pause for a moment to think how I could make a unique Japanese-influenced dish with that...

You will never guess what I made with these ingredients... My purist sister might disown me for what I made...

I made SUSHI! I've made sushi at home fairly frequently, and I always had a feeling that my favorite ikura would go well with the fresh flavors of goat cheese. I could literally see the beauty of those red gems in stark contrast with the white of the goat cheese - the two colors of happiness and celebration in Japan... With Anne and the Papa Bear as my honest counselors, I spent Saturday collecting the ingredients and Sunday taste-testing my entry.

I'd never used sherry vinegar before, but I had a good feeling that sherry vinegar would make a good sushi vinegar. And since I wasn't going to be using any delicately flavored fish in my sushi, I decided to infuse the vinegar with chopped green garlic to give it an aromatic depth (detailed recipe below). This was one of the best ideas I've ever had in a long time. Sherry vinegar, being stronger than rice vinegar, was able to withstand the garlic-infusion with ease, and the resulting rice was aromatic and flavorful with a backbone to really support all the interesting toppings I prepared.

sushi rice
I also used the green garlic to make an absolutely amazing garlic-wasabi. I chopped the white part of the green garlic into small pieces and mashed up it up with my wasabi-in-a-tube. This process livened up the wasabi SO much! I will be making this again for sure to go with steamed vegetables.

Once the rice and the wasabi were ready, it was time for assembly. Optional sushi goodies I chose for the occasion were blanched asparagus (to add texture and a sense of season), ikura (to add color and that wonderful sea-scent), and boiled octopus (to mellow out the strong flavors of the ripened goat cheese). I bought some expensive prosciutto and some cheap prosciutto at the local gourmet grocery store, but only used the expensive one - it was vastly better with the strength it needed to carry its weight along the fabulous Redwood Hill Farm goat cheese I got at the Berkeley Farmer's Market.

I slathered on the chevre (apx 1/4 tsp) onto a 2 in by 3 inch piece of prosciutto and wrapped an asparagus spear with the chevre-side inside. I then made a small oblong 0.5 in x 0.5 in x 1 in ball of rice and rolled it with roasted nori seaweed to make the gunkan-style receptacle. I placed my prosciutto-chevre-asparagus topping in it and then dotted the sushi with some garlic-wasabi. Let me tell you. This was GOOD! The saltiness of the prosciutto was well-balanced with the freshness of the chevre; the asparagus provided a crispness and that green scent to prevent the sushi from being overly rich. The green garlic-wasabi and the sherry vinegar-garlic combo pulled together all the flavors by gently being present at both the apex and the base. I'm surprised that there aren't more restaurants making sushi with adventurous sushi vinegars like mine. It was really quite successful.

I then went on to adventure some with different combinations. I _HAD_ to try the ikura-bucheret combo. Redwood Hill Farm's Bucheret has that fermented smell that I love so much. I just knew that the strong flavors of the rind-ripened cheese with its almost oozing texture would be a perfect partner for the intense sea-scent that ikura releases upon popping. The most difficult part was balancing the ikura to cheese ratio, and I found out (with help from Anne and the Papa Bear) that it took about a 1:5 cheese to ikura ratio. With a dab of green garlic wasabi, this was heavenly. I was so glad that I had Anne and the Papa Bear to share this with, because it was really quite something. East met West and produced sheer delight. I really liked this combination, probably more so than the prosciutto/chevre/asparagus sushi.

I also made an octopus-bucheret combo. This was good too, but a bit less exciting than the first two. Or maybe after trying various versions of the first two, we just weren't as hungry anymore...

...which is likely to be the case, since our rate of production to consumption had slowed down enough for there to be more than one piece at a time on the 'staging area'. On the far left is an ikura-chevre combo with an asparagus base. This was another winner, with the freshness of the chevre complimenting the aromas of the ikura with the asparagus balancing both dairy and oceanic flavors perfectly. The center piece is Anne's gorgeous creation with an octopus-chevre combo.

We made nigiri versions too. And we sprinkled roasted black sesame on some of them.

But really, the top spots were clearly occupied by the ikura-bucheret and the prosciutto-chevre combos, in my mind. I have never had anything like this, as most sushi connoisseurs will likely frown upon such blatant blasphemy. I'd like to make this case, though. If you could taste my creation, you would forgive my trespasses. It really was good. The spirit of sushi was pure and clear - assemble the best ingredients, prepared by simple methods to bring out the best flavors from each component, and build a harmony of flavors using some strong flavors as accents. So, here we have it: my first Paper Chef entry is Sushi a la Alice...

Sushi rice

3 cups cooked short-grain rice

1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1/4 sake (preferably junmai)
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp mirin (sweet rice wine) or 1/4 tsp honey if you don't have mirin
6 inches green garlic (the green part) chopped

Heat vinegar, sake, salt, mirin, and green garlic in a small pan. Bring to a boil and then simmer until you can smell the garlic in the vinegar (apx 5-10 min). Set aside while rice cooks.

When rice is done, place rice in a big container and spread. Pour vinegar over rice and mix with a 'cutting' motion, using a wet spatula. This 'cutting' motion is the same motion you would use to mix beaten egg whites into wet ingredients when baking. Fan rice like crazy while mixing vinegar. It is critical that you fan really hard here or your rice will be wet, sticky, smelly, and bad. Fan, fan, and fan. You need a designated fanner, as it is impossible for one person to fan sufficiently and mix. Your rice will be shiny, flavorful, and fragrant after about 5 min of mixing/fanning.

Green garlic wasabi
Chop about 1 inch of the white part of the green garlic and mix with 1 tbs of wasabi in a tube. Mash together in a mortar with a pestle until you can't really see chunks. Garlic fibers will always remain, and that's OK. Your eyes will hurt from the wasabi & garlic sting, but that's a yummy, yummy sign.

Both kinds of goat cheese were from Redwood Hill Farms, obtained at the Berkeley Farmer's Market. The nice gentleman who helped me choose which cheese to use was so intrigued by the concept of his cheese turning into sushi, he asked me for the recipe. I hope he isn't horrified by the end product when he reads this post! I treated his cheese well, I promise!

Ikura and octopus were from Tokyo Fish Market in Berkeley.

If I missed anything else, drop me a comment & I will include it right away. I don't want to sound arrogant about my recipe, but this was really good. I highly recommend trying it or coming over to my house for it!!!


The Papa Bear said...

I can attest to the good effect of fanning to get good sushi rice. One has to fan like "crazy", though; otherwise, the rice would get too soggy and dull.

The Baby Bear is adamant about having a human fanner to get good results, though. Some of my screws must have worked themselves loose everytime I got suckered into doing the job. Just what is wrong with using an _electric_ fan? We are in the 21st century after all, aren't we?

So, I figured that I'd get my answer from an authoritative source - Yuzu. And how did Arima-san, the Chef, respond to me? He did magic tricks, instead, completely avoiding the issue altogether!!! I swear! There must be a Japanese conspiracy to keep me in the dark. Sheesh!!

Owen said...

Alice - I am a HUGE sushi fan (no - I am not a human windmill, I like sushi)

I thought your entry was one of the most interesting because of the really great idea to use the vinegar for sushi rice. I will absolutely have to try this sometime. I make pretty plain cucumber, egg and smoked salmon sushi very regularly for my kids - I'm not quite ready to trust my raw fish skills on them - and several of yours would probably work really well for them - and of course for me and my wife! Beautiful pictures, too.

Alice said...

Hi, Owen,

You must also be a windmill too if you're making sushi at home! That was funny! I'm glad there's more of us making sushi at home. It's such a fun dish to make too.

Thanks for the very nice words, and thank you so much for hosting Paper Chef. I had so much fun!!! If it weren't for Paper Chef, I would never have thought to make the garlic-wasabi, which is something I will definitely be making again.

Anonymous said...

Alice, I am AMAZED at your selection of ingredients to make sushi! I always complain that here in England, I can't get ingredients to make interesting sushi, resulting in avocado-cucumber-red pepper-imitation crab rolls.

Coming to think of it, asparagus, cream cheese, antipasto meats, mushrooms of all sorts... I DO have access to fantastic ingredients!

You've just put me back into a sushi/cooking mood now :D Thanks for the inspiration!

Alice said...


I'm glad you liked my ingredient choices! Some purists would call it unacceptable, but I LOVE being creative in the kitchen and there's always more room for creativity, even in dishes like sushi!

Good luck with your sushi adventures too!