Friday, March 20, 2015

Bringing Chirashi To The Home Cook

Hey everyone, welcome to Justin's Sushi Kitchen today! With the increasing popularity of sushi and sashimi, the thought of bringing home this wonderful Japanese cuisine has surely crossed your mind. Finding a quality sushi restaurant is quite challenging already since they're scattered so thinly amongst many over priced, mediocre sushi stops, but preparing sushi at home is a completely different story and can be incredibly daunting. There are so many different types of fish, condiments, styles, techniques and flavors!

One of the most impressive, but simplest, meals you can order at sushi restaurants is the Chirashi Bowl. Each chirashi bowl is made different, depending on what fish is available and what the chef feels like putting in. By definition it means "scattered fish", which is the perfect dish for us to prep! Let's take a look at an example:

Shown above is a chirashi bowl from Akasaka, one of my favorite sushi places that is both affordable and insanely delicious. The bowl costs about $45 and includes, but is not limited to: Salmon, Hamachi (Yellowtail), Spicy Tuna, Monk Fish Liver, Uni, Red Snapper, Tobiko (Flying Fish Roe), Ikura (Salmon Roe), Ebi (Sweet Shrimp), Calamari, Octopus, Scallops, and Mixed Vegetables.

Quite an impressive feast! The sheer variety you get when you order a chirashi bowl is simply amazing. Filled to the brim with fresh, sweet seafood all arranged in a myriad of bright and beautiful colors. To recreate this amazing bowl exactly as shown is most likely not worth the time and effort needed, let alone being able to purchase quality fish in small quantities. So we're going to create something much more simple, but just as amazing!

Here is an example of one of the many homemade versions of chirashi that I have made at home. Ahi Tuna, Salmon, Yellowtail and Masago served with a special topping sushi rice. The portion shown above was obviously downsized for picture purposes, but a full bowl of this wonderful assortment will cost you about $8 a person. It was incredibly delicious and easy to assemble!

Where To Buy Fish:
As long as you're able to get your hands on fresh, quality fish, a homemade bowl of chirashi is closer to you than you think. Find your local Japanese market and take a look at their selection of fish. Marukai offers an amazing fresh sashimi selection with a $1 dollar charge per transaction if you're not a member (it's relatively affordable to sign up for also). I've had mixed feelings about Mitsuwa, but location is key! The Mitsuwa in Torrance, CA is amazing, whereas the Mitsuwa closer to my home is not the first place I would go for fresh fish. H Mart carries some quality fish too! For me, there is a little gem around my neighborhood. The owner visits the fish market once a week to stock up on freshly caught fish! Unfortunately, I'm not going to disclose any more information because there are way too many people lining up for his services and I need to keep my sources a secret.

I arrived at the Los Angeles Fishing Company just as they finished cutting an ahi tuna into large filets.

You can also visit a fish market as I mentioned earlier. Last week, I drove down to a fishing warehouse near Little Tokyo in Los Angeles to prepare for a sushi party. Arriving bright and early at 6:00 AM, I was able to buy 8 pounds of freshly cut fish (he just walked over and cut off a large tuna steak and gave it to me) for about $115.

Quality Of Fish:
One of the best methods of determining if the cut of sashimi is fresh is by smell. Fresh fish smells almost like...nothing! Bad fish on the other hand, smells like some rotting socks sitting in a high school gym locker. The difference is incredibly shocking. But we can't always pick up a filet of fish and sniff away freely. Most sashimi is packaged and wrapped in plastic for display. By using only our eyesight, we're taking a gamble, but there are some tips to improve our odds.

From left to right: yellowtail, ahi tuna, salmon, yellow tail belly cut. This plate was an assorted mix from my local sushi shop. He cuts and prepares everything for you! No work involved at all.

Fresh fish should have a beautiful shine when presented in light. There should not be excess liquid or blood pooling on the plate. Freshly cut fish may still bleed in small amounts, but will eventually stop. Fish that has past its prime will then begin to deteriorate as flesh and water separate. The color of the fish should be very flush, with no pale edges. Color is also a great indicator of the temperature of the fish as well as when it was cut.

If you compare this tuna steak with the sliced tuna above, there is a large contrast in color. Freshly cut, cold fish will have a deeper color, but will lighten with time.

If you happened to buy your sashimi in a full filet, you can very easily cut and prepare it yourself! Using your sharpest knife, slice the filet into bite-size pieces, running your knife in only one direction (do not saw back and forth, for it will separate and flake apart your fish). The size doesn't matter either! If you look back at the chirashi bowl from Akasaka, each piece of fish is cut extremely thick (the way that I prefer)!

You can usually find portioned filets of fish as shown above. Aim for at least two different types of fish for a variety and about 6-8 oz of fish per person (don't let that stop you though).

The process of buying fish can be quite simple or incredibly adventurous! I visit my local market quite frequently and can have a fully prepared chirashi bowl within the time it takes to steam rice. So please don't be intimidated! Buying fresh fish is no different than buying quality steak!

The Rice:
To all of those who don't have a rice cooker at home, I highly suggest you invest in one. WIth it, making perfect sushi rice at home is much easier to do than you think. Use short grain white rice, wash, rinse, and let soak in water at a 1 : 1.25 ratio of rice to water for half an hour. No extra water is needed! I've found that this process softens the rice when cooked. If you have it, cut a small square of konbu seaweed and toss it into pot while soaking and cooking. It will add extra depth to your rice!

Adding konbu seaweed to many Asian soup stocks is a great way to introduce umami.

The Sushi Vinegar:
There are plenty of recipes for sushi vinegar available, with specific proportions of rice vinegar, salt, and sugar, but we're trying to make this as simple as possible. Prepared sushi vinegar is readily available at most ethnic markets, so just use that!

Be sure to follow the instructions on the back! Add the sushi vinegar to your hot steaming rice, and "cut" the vinegar into the rice with a spatula (slice the spatula through the rice, more on this in the next post). Avoid over mixing and the rice is prepared!

Extra Toppings:
Believe it or not, but this is the only time we're actually going to be cooking in the kitchen. And by that, I mean chopping up vegetables. You can definitely enjoy sashimi with plain sushi rice, but the extra toppings add so much flavor and contrast that I can never resist adding it!  Thinly slice your toppings of choice, such as Japanese cucumber, pickled daikon, and seaweed, and prepare soy sauce, wasabi and ginger on the side. All that's left to do is to garnish, plate, and serve!

*Coming soon, a quick and easy sushi rice topping that will take your make your chirashi bowl worthy to brag about!*

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