スパイシーな鮭の巻. Or, Spicy Salmon Maki!

First off, I would like to state for the record how much I love Google Translate. I have no idea if the title to this post translated correctly, but I am putting my trust in its capable hands. Second, let me preface the following by explaining that I am in no way skilled in the art of sushi making, a fact that will become more and more evident the further you read.

There’s a restaurant across the street from my work called Kathy’s Sushi and Bento, which is adored by many a colleague of mine. Confusion abounds, however, because the boss at my workplace has the same first name. A typical lunch room conversation may go as follows:

“Oooh, where’d you get that?”, gesturing at the bountiful take-out box brimming with tempura and sashimi.

“Oh, this is from Kathy’s

A shadow of doubt will inevitably cross the asker’s face as they try to rationalize the image of our fearless leader behind a sushi counter, brandishing razor-sharp knives and gingerly laying out sheets of nori. Then, it dawns on them. Not THAT “Kathy’s”. The place across the street. Phew.

I for one am a loyal and weekly consumer of the Spicy Salmon Sashimi Lunch Special, consisting of miso soup, green salad, slices of salmon sashimi and a spicy salmon maki roll. I have gone to other sushi places across the city and have yet to find a place that rivals Kathy’s Spicy Salmon Maki. There’s something about the freshness of the salmon, the spiciness of the mayo-based sauce that goes on top and the perfection of the rice that comes together for a perfect and utterly orgasmic maki.

Naturally, I thought I would challenge it personally.

Having never made sushi before, I needed the essentials: sushi rice (short-grained and starchy), nori (sheets of dried seaweed), masago (tiny orange roe) and thick, creamy and flavourful japanese mayonnaise. A natural inclination led me, therefore, to the T&T Supermarket, our local asian grocery store. I am an asian grocery convert, after a recent visit with my Aunt Sandy in London. You just can’t beat the fresh produce, giant selection and low low prices.

I found everything I needed at T&T, so hastened home to begin my task. First: the rice.

Sushi rice is a little complicated to make, for the uninitiated. I pored over the internet and watched endless youtube videos before settling with the following method, which worked beautifully:

First, rinse the rice by placing it in a ceramic bowl and filling the bowl halfway with cold water. Swish the rice around in the water, then pour the water off. Scrunch the rice with your hands for a few minutes, then add more cold water and swish again, then pour the water off. Repeat as many times as necessary until the water is clear. This scrunching method causes the rice grains to rub against each other, which cleans and polishes them right up.

Place the rinsed rice in a saucepan with clean cold water and let it sit for about 30 minutes with no heat. You will notice that the rice becomes whiter after this time. Now place a tight-fitting lid on the saucepan and turn the heat to high. Once it reaches its boiling point, turn the heat to low and cook for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove the pan from heat and let it sit for an additional 15 minutes. DO NOT under any circumstance remove the lid from the pot during this time – not even to peek! You must let the steam do its work, grasshopper.

Meanwhile, prepare a vinegar mixture by heating rice vinegar on low to medium heat and adding sugar and salt. Only heat it enough to dissolve the seasonings, then remove it from heat and set aside.

When the rice has finished its 15 minutes steambath, you have my permission to remove the lid and place the rice into a non-metallic bowl. The general preference is a wooden bowl, but I used ceramic and it worked fine. Apparently if you use metal, the rice will grow horns and become poisonous and a curse will be placed upon your family for generations to come. Pour the vinegar over the rice, and ever so slowly and gently fold it in using a rubber spatula. And get this – while you’re folding, have a Geisha fan the rice with one of those adorable little japanese fans. If you lack a Geisha – and a fan, for that matter – have your boyfriend stand over the bowl and fan the rice with a magazine, all the while complaining about what a tedious process this is. The fanning action cools the rice evenly and gives it that super glossy look that is tantamount to creating marvellous sushi. Continue the fanning and the folding until the rice is room temperature. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth when complete and set aside. You must use this rice the same day, you can’t refrigerate and try to reconstitute it the next day. Apparently if you do so, a pox will be placed on both your houses. Here’s the link to the video I got this method from, along with the recipe.

Next: prepare your spicy sauce. I followed a recipe I found on the interwebs called “Dynamite Sauce”, which is 3 parts japanese mayonnaise to 1 part sriracha sauce to 1/2 part masago. Mix all of these together and set aside.

Next, prepare the salmon. I had mistakenly purchased a filet of salmon with the skin still on. Oh joy, this meant I got to learn how to skin a salmon filet AND make sushi, on the very same day. Back to youtube!  After creating a monster from my salmon filet, I did manage to salvage some pieces that could be sliced in a somewhat nice-looking appearance.

Now, finally, it is time to assemble the maki. Prepare your bamboo rolling mat by wrapping it with plastic cling wrap – this way the rice won’t stick and it’s more sanitary. Wet your work surface with a clean damp cloth and keep a small bowl of vinagred water nearby to dip your fingers in as you work. Place a half sheet of nori onto your work surface, then grab a hunk of the sushi rice with your damp hands and kind of…clamp it together into an oblong-shaped ball. Gently smack this down onto the middle of the nori sheet and push the rice outwards, filling the entire sheet to the edges. Try to make the edges look as smooth as possible. Next, sprinkle some sesame seeds over top of the rice. I only had regular white ones, but to add a nice touch you could use black sesame seeds. Now, get your bamboo mat in place and flip the sheet over so that it’s rice-side down on the mat, and carefully arrange slices of salmon along the centre line. Sprinkle some masago on top of the salmon, add a neat dollop of the spicy mayo, then place a single scallion along the salmon. With your bamboo mat, curl of one side of the sheet and roll it over the fillings while keeping them in with your fingers.

This is where I went wrong the first time. I forgot the flip the sheet – I just started adding my salmon slices willy nilly. When I went to roll it, the sheet wasn’t quite large enough. Failed on the first attempt!

When I did it properly, it turned out much better. Remember to keep your hands moist and the rice won’t stick to them. If you achieved sushi rice perfection, like I did, it will be sticky yet firm enough to hold together the roll.

Once you have rolled the nori sheet over the filling and sealed it together into a cylinder, gently squeeze the outside of the bamboo mat to pull it all together. Now you have a maki roll. To slice it, use the sharpest knife (non-serrated!) you have in your possession to cut the slices. Start at the hilt of the knife and gently pull down and out – try not to use a sawing motion, otherwise you will end up with deconstructed spicy salmon maki.

If you have succeeded in slicing your maki, you may now dollop dime-sized plops of the spicy mayo on top. If you’re feeling extra-fancy, you could slice up little matchsticks of cucumber and place those on top as well.

Eat immediately and enjoy immensely. Sushi is definitely something that requires practice to pull off with finesse. I envy those sushi chefs who can make the above roll in about 15 seconds, flat. But hey, they do it every day! I felt that my creation was a good start and wasn’t half bad – and its flavour made up for its ugliness. I will still begrudgingly hand over the award to Kathy’s who remain the champion of Spicy Salmon in Toronto.

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