23 June 2014

Food Lab 29: Sushi

The inspiration for this Lab was the terrific reports I'd heard about a new Japanese market here in DC: Hana Market. I knew we had to make a field trip, and I figured we'd figure out what to do once we did. As we were all standing in the tiny, crowded dragon's cave of riches that constitutes Hana Market, oogling all the goodies and trying to not buy it all (which was made significantly easier by the fact that Chef Spouse and The Executive Committee had confiscated mine and Mad Kitchen Scientist's wallets, and no, I am not joking), it quickly became apparent: sushi!

After a brief detour to the Maine Avenue fish market, we returned home with this:

It's an absurdity of Japanese goodness!
We cracked into the Japanese snacks - sriracha peas, something we dubbed "Japanese Chex Mix" (only WAY more delicious), my very favorite salty seaweed snacks, seasoned baby octopus, and various delicately-flavored jellies - and started planning.

I should mention that we've made sushi before, the year our New Year's Eve theme was rolled items. The Executive Committee and Mad Kitchen Scientist traditionally throw a big New Year's Eve party, and Chef Spouse and I go over early in the day to help them prep. We usually have some sort of obscure theme, and that year, Chef Spouse and I cranked out a shitload of passable but far from transcendent veg maki. We clearly needed to make another run at this.

Step one: make sushi rice.

Step two: make dashi.

Step three: cut up all the gorgeous veg we bought: napa cabbage, daikon radish, green onions, cucumbers, avocado

Step four: cocktails! Chef Spouse came up with something we dubbed the Lychee Ricky-san

2 parts gin
1 part lychee juice  (drained from the canned lychees)
1 part simple syrup
1 part yuzu juice
1 lychee nut

Chef Spouse also played around with using a ponzu sauce we'd found (light in color and more citrus/vinegar than soy) in the drinks, but couldn't quite get the drink to balance.

I also prepped the lovely Japanese eggplants we'd purchased for this application to which I added some tofu and made with the dashi broth, not water and dashi bouillon (what do I look like, an amateur?), and, when I finished up the leftovers for lunch today, sriracha, because EVERYTHING is better with rooster sauce.

While we were waiting for the rice to cool so we could pour over the vinegar and sugar sauce, we decided we needed some miso soup. Mad Kitchen Scientist whipped up:

Our dashi broth
White miso
Steamed shrimp
Fresh tofu from the market
A little shredded napa, green onions, and daikon
A little soy sauce

Then, just before serving, each bowl got a quail egg cracked in. Yes, Hana had those too. Told you it was a dragon's cave of riches.

Thus fortified, we were ready to roll some sushi. We tried:
  • Yummy Teriyaki fish we found at the market (maybe sardines? unclear, but FULL of umami) and cucumber
  • Crab, avocado, and carrot
  • Salmon with shredded daikon we'd lightly pickled in the leftover octopus marinade
  • Shrimp, avocado, and matchstick daikon

We then took another brief break to enjoy the sushi and the lovely day. Lesson: it's hard to roll the sushi tightly enough for it to stay together without squashing it, although I definitely did better this time than that New Year's party.

We had also purchased two kinds of prepared wasabi, and a chunk of fresh wasabi root. Revelation #1: fresh wasabi is WORLDS better than the prepared stuff. No contest. It was amazing. It's pricey, but totally worth it if you can find it. The flavor is spicy rather than just hot, subtle and earthy. Wowza.

Then it was time to make nigiri. I formed the rice pillows, and Chef Spouse cut the fish (tuna, salmon, and halibut). Slicing it thinly enough proved to be a bit challenging. Mad Kitchen Scientist also opened some of the clams and slid them, raw, onto the rice pillows and dusted them with a little furikake.

One thing that Chef Spouse noted was that, while the fish we'd gotten was beautiful and fresh and looked and smelled great, somehow, the fish you get a good sushi joints seemed move flavorful. Damn restaurants. Bogarting all the best stuff.

 By this point, it was getting close to the start of the US/Portugal World Cup match, so we made a "festival" (Mad Kitchen Scientist's term) of sushi to eat while watching the match.

This lab was more about trying to improve technique than labbing per se, and I definitely feel more comfortable handling the sushi rice at this point, and Chef Spouse definitely got better at cutting the fish as he went. As Mad Kitchen Scientist observed, perhaps the most useful lesson to take away from this (other than the sheer awesomeness of Hana Market) is that the best way to learn a cuisine might be to find a market that's an authentic source, go buy a bunch of stuff, and commit yourself to working with those ingredients for at least a week, forcing you to think outside the (bento) box a bit.

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