Sushi: A love story.
The day before Mother's Day, my wife hinted that she wanted sushi. She said: "I want sushi." which is precisely the level of subtlety I'm capable of interpreting accurately.
My wife's favorite sushi is from Hayashi's (You Make the Roll) in Kailua Kona, and it's called the Ninja Star.
Crispy tempura shrimp. Spicy Ahi tuna. Buttery avocado. Frosted with bright orange Masago (capelin roe) that burst with the flavor of the ocean.
It is palate poetry, and it was my wife's favorite before she was afflicted with gluten sensitivity and we learned she ALSO had a severe egg allergy (there's eggy mayo in spicy tuna, and tempura has wheat flour and egg).
Eating eggs and gluten results in agony for her.
How amazing would it be if there were a gluten-free egg-free Ninja Star roll? A sensitive Ninja Star roll, if you will?
And so I resolved to create a gluten-free egg-free version of the Ninja Star roll for Mother's Day.
------------Optional Backstory ------------
I married the most beautiful woman in the world in 2001. We had a pre-wedding reception in Sitka, Alaska and one of the foodstuffs available were these little spiral rolls of seaweed-wrapped rice with various meats and veggies in the center.
I'd heard of sushi before, but it was a distant and exotic dish that was rumored to contain uncooked fish. I'd never had sushi before, but after my first taste I knew I would want to have it again. And again. And if possible, again.
The maker of these "California Rolls" was identified as Frank Loucks, and he generously offered to show me how to make them. Frank has passed on now, but I will never forget him.
He showed me how to rinse the rice (to remove excess starch), flavor it with seasoned rice vinegar, and spread it on the Nori (seaweed) before filling and rolling on a small bamboo mat. We had green onion, avocado, cucumber, shrimp, smoked salmon and Surimi (which is Pollock doing it's best impression of crab meat).
We made more rolls than reasonable consenting adults could consume, yet somehow they disappeared.
I was hooked.
Over the years I've experimented with ingredients that would make actual sushi chefs blush (BLT roll, anyone?) and had the chance to eat at many fine establishments that have delighted my eyes and palate. Sushi might be the most beautiful food I've ever seen, and one can experiment with infinite colors, textures, flavors and techniques.
The Ninja Star is still my favorite.
------------ End of Optional Backstory ------------
The Sensitive Ninja Star Roll Recipe
- 2 cups short grain (calrose) rice
- 4 cups water
- 0.5 cup seasoned rice vinegar
- 1 pack Nori (8 sheets)
- 2 large avocados, sliced
- 12-14 raw deveined shrimp, shells removed (about 1 lb)
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1.5 cups brown rice flour
- Oil for deep frying ( I used corn oil)
- 0.5 lb Ahi tuna (sushi grade)
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 0.25 cup egg free mayonnaise (or regular if you can)
- 2 Tbsp Sriracha
- 2 Tbsp finely diced onion
- 3 oz Masago 9 (or Tobiko if you can get it)
- Soy sauce
- pickled ginger
Cut tuna into small (about 3/8) inch cubes. Add 1/4 tsp salt, sriracha, egg free mayonnaise (or regular for the un-afflicted) and finely diced onion. Mix thoroughly and refrigerate at least 1 hour. May be refrigerated up to 24 hours in advance.
Rinse uncooked rice at LEAST 5 times (until water runs clear). This reduces the surface starch so that you get individual grains instead of gluey clumps. Bring 2 cups of rice to a boil in 4 cups of water. Cover, reduce heat to lowest setting and cook for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and leave covered for 7 more minutes. No peeking! Transfer rice to large mixing bowl and sprinkle rice vinegar over it. Fold gently with wooden or plastic spoon until all rice is coated with vinegar. Use within 30 minutes.
Prep all your vegetables and spicy tuna BEFORE you begin cooking the shrimp. The shrimp are best consumed while crispy, so you want all your other ingredients ready and your work area ready to roll.
Gluten free egg-free tempura shrimp:
Stretch your shrimp by making multiple perpendicular cuts half way through the underside of each shrimp. This is to prevent them from curling into a ball when they cook. Toss (shelled, raw, deveined, stretched) shrimp in 1/2 tsp sea salt until evenly coated. Refrigerate for 10 minutes, then pat dry with paper towels. dredge each shrimp in dry rice flour and set aside. When all are dredged, add nutritional yeast (replaces the rich flavor lost by omitting eggs) to the remaining rice flour, then add cold water and mix thoroughly until the consistency is like pancake batter.
Heat frying oil (at least 2 inches deep) to 350F.
Holding by the tail, dip each shrimp in the rice flour batter, let excess batter drip off for 3 shakes, then gently lower into hot oil. Cook for 1 minute each, then drain on paper towels.
Everything is ready now, right? Your spicy tuna has been marinating for at least an hour, your seasoned rice is still warm, your veggies are sliced, your shrimp are piping hot, and your bamboo mat is clean and wrapped in plastic wra-where the hell is my bamboo mat?! I guess I'll be using a 1 gallon Ziploc bag. Clumsily. So stupid.
Ready to Roll:
Place one sheet of Nori on the plastic wrapped bamboo mat you didn't forget because you aren't simple.
Quick note on sushi size: Hayashi's makes giant rolls. While most sushi with "rice outside" as opposed to "seaweed outside" use a half sheet of Nori, I found that a full sheet was necessary to approximate the size and allow for over-generous filling.
Wet your hands in a bowl of water, and add two hand-fulls of rice to your Nori. Spread evenly, about 1/4 thick. You could use half sheets and spread rice 1/2 inch thick if you prefer that ratio, but it will be a bit harder to close. It's OK (even preferable) if your rice hangs over the top and bottom edges of your nori.
Flip your Nori rice over so seaweed side is UP.
Note: If you prefer rolls with seaweed on the outside, leave the top 1 inch of your nori without rice, and don't flip it over. You'll fill the rice side instead of the seaweed side, then wet the 1 inch of un-riced nori when rolling it closed to seal it. Bonus tip: no need to wrap your mat in plastic wrap if you make rolls with Nori on the outside.
Arrange 1/5 of the spicy tuna in a line (left to right) across center of Nori. Place avocado slices on the near side of the spicy tuna, and shrimp on the far side. Fold the side nearest you over the filling and pinch closed, then roll away from you until the roll is complete. Pinch firmly with bamboo mat to remove air gaps. Garnish with Masago eggs.
You'll obviously need an MK9 to properly slice your sushi. If you don't have one, order one right now. If you can't wait the three days it takes to arrive, use whatever sharp long knife you have, but promise to make these again when your new favorite kitchen knife arrives. Wipe then wet the blade between slices to get cleaner cuts.
Serve with wasabi, soy and pickled ginger.
Congratulations, you've made one roll! If it's ugly, close your eyes. I promise it will taste amazing. You'll notice that you have a lot of everything left. That's because you're just getting started.
OOF! (Other Optional Filings):
- 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced lengthwise
- 1 bunch green onions
- 1 carrot (use a peeler to slice thin!)
- 1 tomato, peeled and seeded
- Pickled daikon
- Smoked salmon (or Lox)
- Cream Cheese
- Sesame seeds
Mix and match ingredients, try it nori-side-out (MUCH easier) and congratulate yourself on being amazing, because you are.