Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Gunkan-maki with Avocado and Charred Jalapeno

I did attempt to make sushi once several years ago. I was no Jiro, and after making a mess of it, I never tried again. I was perfectly happy to just go out for sushi or to bring it home already made by people who know what they’re doing. But now, I’ve changed my mind about sushi-making. Thanks to A Visual Guide to Sushi-Making at Home, I have all the instructions I need to get it right. This is a new book from Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani, and I received a review copy. The book takes you by the hand and walks you through every step for making Nigiri-zushi, Maki-zushi, Sushi Bowls, and even the process of breaking down and slicing fish. There are helpful photos all along the way too. I followed the steps for making sushi rice, adding the sushi vinegar, and fanning the rice to cool it to room temperature and remove some moisture. Next came making Sushi Rice Balls after using water to slightly moisten my hands to prevent the rice from sticking. The photos show exactly how to hold the rice, cup it in your fingers, and press and shape it into an oblong piece. The finished sushi that’s shown in the book is beautiful. Delicate-looking, shimmering halibut Nigiri, a slice of olive-oil marinated sardine draped over a rice ball, and vegetarian options like Nigiri with Grilled Shitake Mushrooms or Dashi-marinated Roasted Bell Pepper are all works of art. I took a stab at making California Rolls, and I was happily surprised at how easy it was to follow the recipe. Flipping the sheet of nori with rice and sesame seeds on it did not result in disaster as I feared. The cucumber- and crab-filled roll came together just as it was described in the book. Up next, I set out to create Gunkan-maki or Warship Rolls. You start with formed rice balls as they’re used for nigiri. Then, you slice nori into strips just taller than the rice balls, and wrap a piece of nori around each. By placing the wrapped pieces of rice right together and touching, the nori is held in place. Then, each can be topped as you choose. Some options include Uni, Poached Oysters, and Salmon Roe, and I went with the charred jalapeno and avocado topping. 

I charred the jalapenos under the broiler, but they could have been grilled. After they cooled, the char was removed, and the chiles were stemmed and seeded. They were cut into long pieces, and one piece was set on each waiting Gunkan-maki. I think the most difficult part of making the Gunkan-maki might have been slicing the nori into strips to wrap around the rice balls. The brittle edges of toasted nori wanted to break and crumble a bit. So, getting a good, clean line at the edge was a challenge. Once the jalapeno slices were in place, avocado was cut into thin slices to fit on the rolls and arranged on top. The jalapeno pieces ended up tucked in and hidden beneath the avocado. For garnish, small lime wedges were placed on top of the avocado. These rolls were served with just soy sauce and no wasabi since the jalapeno added enough zing. 

The roasted flavor of the charred jalapeno was delicious in contrast to the mild, cool avocado. I’m glad to have tried again at sushi-making. The recipes I tried from this book were so easy to follow, and any lacking in the presentation or beauty of the finished pieces is entirely my own fault. But, the good news is that since this is sushi-making at home, it definitely doesn’t have to be perfect. 

Gunkan-maki with Avocado and Charred Jalapeno 
Recipes reprinted with publisher's permission from A Visual Guide to Sushi-Making at Home.

If you think of the flavors of guacamole, you will get a feeling for this sushi. It is surprising how the texture of the rice combined with the creamy richness of the avocado makes the avocado seem even richer. The addition of the charred jalapeno wakes you up the moment you smell it. Because the chile is under the avocado, it is a surprise burst of flavor and heat, so be prepared! 

Makes 4 Gunkan-Maki 

1 small jalapeno chile, about 2 in/5 cm long 
1⁄2 Hass avocado, peeled 
4 pieces gunkan-maki 
1⁄2 slice lime, 1⁄16 in/2 mm thick 
Soy sauce for serving 

Heat a charcoal or gas grill or a stove-top grill pan to medium-high; you should be able to hold your palm 4 in/10 cm above the heat for no more than 5 seconds. Place the chile on the grill rack or pan and grill, turning as needed, until charred and blistered on all sides. Remove from the grill, and when cool enough to handle, remove the charred skin with a small knife. Any areas where the skin is not charred, the skin will not come off easily, and it is fine to leave it on. Cut the stem off of the chile, quarter the chile lengthwise, and remove and discard the seeds. If you prefer less heat, cut away the white membrane that held the seeds, as well. Cut the avocado half in half lengthwise, then cut crosswise into slices 1⁄4 in/6 mm thick. Place a jalapeno quarter on the top of the rice in each gunkan-maki. Divide the avocado slices evenly among the gunkan-maki, arranging them attractively on the jalapeno. Cut the lime slice into quarters, and place a lime wedge on the center of the avocado slices on each sushi. Serve with soy sauce. 

How to Make Gunkan-maki (Warship Rolls)
Gunkan-maki, which were invented in Tokyo in the early 1940s, are a relative newcomer to the sushi menu. Gunkan means “warship,” and the oval-shaped rice balls wrapped with strips of nori and served on a geta, the classic wooden sushi serving tray, are thought to look like a fleet of warships. This is a great way to make individual sushi you want to top with a diced ingredient, like chopped tuna, or a slippery ingredient, like salmon roe, that won’t stay on top of a traditional nigiri. 

1⁄2 cup/80 g sushi rice at body temperature, covered with a damp kitchen towel 
1 sheet nori, toasted, cut into 4 strips each 6 by 1 in/15 by 2.5 cm 
Wasabi, as specified in individual recipes 
Topping(s), as specified in individual recipes 

Following the directions for How to Make Sushi Rice Balls, make 4 rice balls (1). With the rough side of the nori facing inward, wrap a nori strip around the perimeter of the rice ball, starting at the middle of a long side (2). Continue wrapping until it overlaps the other end of the nori (3,4). Wrap the next rice ball and place it right next to the first one, with the overlapped side against the overlapped side of the first roll. This will hold the end of the nori strip attached to the roll. Repeat the process for the remaining two rolls, always keeping the overlapped side against the side of the previous ball (5). Top as directed in individual recipes (6) before serving. Note: Do not make gunkan-maki too far in advance. The moisture in the rice will wilt the nori and make it tough. If you are assembling a selection of sushi, make the gunkan-maki last. 

How to Make Sushi Rice Balls 


Hand water 
1⁄2 cup/80 g sushi rice at body temperature, covered with a damp kitchen towel 

Moisten the palm side of one hand lightly with hand water, then rub your hands together to moisten them. (Remoisten your hands as necessary to keep the rice from sticking to your hands.) Be careful, however, as too much water will cause the rice to lose its stickiness. These directions are written for a right-handed person. If you are left-handed, reverse the references. Using your right hand, pick up one-fourth of the rice (about 3⁄4 oz/20 g) and make an egg-shaped ball within your palm (1) compressing gently but not crushing the rice, and using your fingers to turn the ball in your palm a couple of times. Cup your left hand and place the ball between the second and third joints of the fingers on your left hand. With your left thumb, gently press the center of the rice a bit to introduce some air into it (2). Still holding your thumb on the rice, turn your left hand over so your thumb is supporting the rice ball and the ball is now upside down (3). Now, with the thumb and index finger of your right hand, hold the ball along its length and remove the ball from your left hand (4). Turn your left hand palm-up and quickly place the rice ball back in your left hand along the second and third joints of your fingers, with the center that you pressed facedown (5). To finish forming the rice ball you need to perform three actions together (6): 1. Allow your left hand to relax naturally and your wrist to bend down, so that the rice ball rests in your cupped fingers. 2. Use the thumb of your left hand to hold and press the end of the rice ball. 3. With the index finger of your right hand, press down gently on the top of the rice ball. All three actions are done simultaneously in a quick, gentle pressing motion. Then, with your right hand, use your index and middle fingers on one side and your thumb on the other to pick up the rice ball by its sides and turn it in your left hand 180 degrees (7,8). Repeat the previous three actions with the rice ball in this position. You should have a well-shaped sushi rice ball. Repeat the steps to make three more rice balls. When you have finished the balls (9), go to the recipe in which you will be using the rice ball to complete the sushi. 

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  1. Beautiful! A fresh and wonderful maki.



  2. I bet you are right about jalapeño and avocado together. I would love to try this...

    ela h.
    Gray Apron

  3. I think your sushi has turned out really well. Like you, I've had a real fear of making sushi and actually have never attempted it. I think you've excelled and I love the spicy flavours xx

  4. Lisa, from the look of these photos, you've become an instant sushi master;)
    We love to make sushi at our house, but our technique is quite amateur and the resulting sushi is funky and lumpy to say the least. Looks like I may need to snap up this book for a little help!
    And I love the charred jalapeño idea... yum!

  5. Wow, this looks wonderful! Love the combo of jalapeño and avocado. I've never made sushi -- about time I tried, I'd say. ;-) Thanks for this.

  6. I am hugely impressed! I have never been brave enough to attempt sushi!

  7. Every time I've tried I've screwed it up too. And after reading this, I'd probably mess this up too! :)
    The book sounds great, you did a super job with them and I love your flavors!

  8. guess how many times i've eaten sushi...once. and it was okay, it's just not my cup of tea. i commend you for making it at home though!

  9. Seriously Lisa, don't you think it's about time you publish your own book of recipes:) Your style is brillant, your words are easy to follow and not to techi and your results, well, just look at these masterpieces!

    I have atempted making sushi once in my life and we don't even want to discuss how that turned out. And like Grace, it isn't often my cup of tea either:)

    Thank you so much for sharing, Lisa...

  10. Hiro and Lissa are two of my favorite chefs. They are such a hoot together, too. I think they'd be most proud of your nigiri. Even if you don't think it looks perfect, I think it looks pretty darn fabulous.

  11. Oh Lisa, this looks mouth watering.
    I love Japanese food , but have never tried to prepare it at home.
    Your instructions are easy to follow and I think now I will try it.
    Thanks for sharing.

  12. You rocked this sushi, Lisa! It's something I love to eat, but have never even attempted. You've definitely inspired me :)

  13. Lisa I give you 5 stars on just slicing the avocado! LOL
    That alone is so hard!
    I am buying avocado tonight; totally craving it.

  14. Your sushi looks better than the store bought ones - so awesome :D

    Choc Chip Uru

  15. Gosh, what great looking sushi! Sushi is one of those things I've never attempted, and I'm not sure if I ever will. Looks like a lot of fun to make, though!

  16. Beautiful w/ that bright avocado!

  17. I have never tired making sushi, too difficult :) yours look really nice and delicious!


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