Thursday, June 3, 2010

I, um, don't actually have a Darling Only Child.

It's like the setup to an old joke:

What did you eat for breakfast? Chirashi-zushi.
What did you eat for lunch? Chirashi-zushi.
What did you eat for dinner? Two helpings of chirashi-zushi.
What did you do all night? Slept an hour and a half later than usual and woke up with unprecedented Foggy Brain, why do you ask?

Clearly, my version loses momentum on the punchline, but yeah. This stuff was tasty.

It really started a few weeks ago, when a Minimalist column focused on raw fish-less sushi. Now, look, I've been around the block, sushi-wise - I've had it prepared a la carte with sea urchin, salmon roe, and squid; I've played chicken with conveyor belt sushi, grabbing what appears to be onions on a blanket of pink foam resting on it's white rice bed; my crab and miso-loving heart has been seduced into ordering a place of "kani-miso" sushi, only to recall too late that A: The Japanese eat EVERY part of anything from the ocean, and B: "miso" can also mean "brains." And it cost me a buck fifty for two tiny pieces and I was surrounded by Japanese friends who had been too polite to ask if I knew what I was ordering, so yes, I have eaten crab brains.

That said, even in Japan, where they sell clearly marked sashimi-quality fish at every grocery store, I never tried to prepare my own raw-fish sushi; it just feels wrong. This is something you leave up to the professionals. I did, however, try my hand at inari-zushi, little packets of vinegared rice stuffed into sweetened fried tofu packets. The recipe I followed had me mix the rice with seasoned hijiki seaweed, which didn't do much for flavor or even texture, but created a peppered effect and probably provided a few vitamins or a gram of fiber or something.

So yeah, this was old news to me, yet it struck a cord: removing the raw fish seemed a tidy way to eliminate the skeevy factor that keeps many from attempting to branch out into a new - by which I mean, long since integrated and increasingly popular in the US - cuisine. And thus, lately I've been promising everyone and anyone that should they ever be fortunate enough to find themselves at my dinner table, I would "make them sushi rice." Everyone! Anyone! Piles of sour, sweet, and starchy buried under fresh, crisp cucumber, creamy, rich avocado, and not to worry, because even the nori seaweed shall, for one night only, remain verbatim.

And then mom defrosted some fake crab meat and I figured, what they hey, tonight's the night.

With memories of the colorful vinegared rice topped with slices of seafood that always seemed to take on an air of celebration at my dorm back in Tokyo (and that I, myself, always eyed with a wary disappointment - adventurous eating is still pretty new to me, too!), I immediately combed the ever reliable Cookpad for chirashi-zushi recipes (and, later, kinshi tamago - strips of thin omelet). The name literally means "sprinkled sushi," and the result looks not unlike a confetti cake. Look - it takes work. I seriously simplified my version, yet I probably spent a good hour and a half thinly slicing and parboiling carrots and snap peas; straining cornstarch-stabilized eggs to make thin omelets to be rolled up and cut into julienne; boiling konbu seaweed (YES, the Japanese use a lot of seaweed) and dried shiitake mushrooms in their own soaking liquid with soy sauce and sugar, then slicing those up, too. I steamed some rice - 2 cups of water to 1.5 of dry grain, people, if you don't want to eat mush - then cut in a quarter cup of vinegar, a couple tablespoons of sugar, and a couple teaspoons of salt, before mixing in the strips of egg and vegetable and letting it all sit a few minutes more. I served it with the crab on the side. If I had wanted to be really fancy, I'd have topped it with pearls of salmon roe and briefly boiled shrimp and served it as part of a huge bento lunch to celebrate my Darling Only Child's latest school club gathering under a cherry blossom tree in full bloom. However, for a late spring dinner with my mom when the weather is convinced that it's mid-summer already, I think I went comfortably beyond "well enough" last night.

Notice that I gave all the measurements for the rice, itself, and nothing else. If you don't have an hour and a half  in your spare pocket, consider going for 20 minutes. Mix in a few tablespoons of sesame seeds, then top it with thinly sliced cucumber and cherry tomatoes, then tell everyone about it. The stuff is tasty.

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