Saturday, November 14, 2009
The November 2009 Daring Cooks challenge was brought to you by Audax of Audax Artifex and Rose of The Bite Me Kitchen. They chose sushi as the challenge.
And a challenge it was! I am not very talented in the "make things look cute" skills. I think I did all right on this one, but it looked a lot easier on the YouTube demonstration videos!
We were challenged to make three kinds of sushi: nigiri, spiral rolls, and dragon rolls. Sushi, as many of you may know, refers to the vinegared rice, not to raw fish. In fact, raw fish was not a component of any of my efforts and is not a requirement for sushi. The rice, as the central component, took the most time. The process includes rinsing the rice repeatedly, draining it for 30 minutes, soaking it in water and dashi konbu for 30 minutes, cooking it with sake for 15 minutes, steaming it for 15 minutes, carefully transferring it to a non-reactive container, sprinkling it with rice vinegar/sugar/salt mixture, gently breaking it up and turning it with a fan going to cool it, distribute the vinegar, and make it shiny. This all took a lot of time, so when I was done, I covered it with a damp cloth and took a break.
The first version I made was the spiral roll and I think it was the most successful from an aesthetic point of view. The nori (seaweed sheet) is covered in rice (gently, always gently), six indentations are made and filled with colorful and complementary ingredients. I used green bean, zucchini, roasted red pepper, pickled carrot, chanterelle mushroom and bay shrimp. The roll is then rolled (duh) and cut into slices. The end product is a spiral dotted with the various ingredients.
Cute, right? A little tough to distinguish what the "dots" are, but they are colorful.
I then made the dragon roll, which was a bit more challenging. This roll is also nori covered with rice, but it is flipped over so the rice is on the outside. Inside, I made a row of smoked salmon and right next to it, a row of avocado. This was tightly rolled using the sushi mat. The top was garnished with black roe and covered with thinly sliced avocado. Theoretically, when imaginatively garnished, this looks like a dragon (or caterpillar) with "fire" (or "legs"). Mine looked like a lot of avocado with blobs of sriracha and pickled ginger, but at least I managed to include all the components.
Finally, the nigiri are shaped by hand into a chubby cylinder and then topped with whatever. I used smoked salmon on a couple and seaweed salad on a couple. According to the challengers, this is the most common type of sushi served in sushi bars, but I will have to take their word for it. I thought it was the least interesting of the three, but that could be because I was pretty well sushi-ed-out by this point. The rice is shaped by hand, a little wasabi or other paste is put on the top in a thin line, and then the toppings placed on top of that. That's all I did, although there are additional garnishes and versions, like using the nori to tie the ingredients on or putting a band of nori around the rice to hold less solid ingredients on. I probably should have used both these techniques, but I was ready to be DONE!
This was Bob's dinner. It worked out pretty well because I knew he was going to be late and his arrival was unpredictable, so the sushi was all ready and waiting for him. He didn't manage to finish everything, but he made a pretty good dent.
Now, of course, I have the sushi mat, a large supply of roe, lots of nori and other equipment and ingredients so theoretically, I could do this on a regular basis. This seems a bit unlikely to me, but who knows?