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But there’s another way to prepare sushi at home — no fancy knife skills required. Tonight, we’re having chirashi sushi. Literally translated as “scattered sushi,” it’s a homestyle preparation that’s far more casual than what you’ll find at most sushi restaurants.
“When I teach a sushi class, I never teach nigiri sushi or anything you would have at a sushi bar, because that’s reserved for sushi chefs,” says Sonoko Sakai, a cooking instructor, author and grain activist who makes chirashi almost weekly. “For chirashi sushi, you can use whatever you have. Really, the possibilities of a chirashi are infinite, because it doesn’t have to be about the seafood. It can be all vegan or vegetarian if you want.”
To make it, sushi rice is prepared, seasoned and then topped with a smattering of fresh, cooked, pickled, preserved, smoked, dried, seared or otherwise cooked vegetables, fruits and/or proteins. Raw fish and shellfish are popular options. Eggs, gently fried into thin sheets and sliced into ribbons, are a traditional addition. Nori, furikaki, sesame seeds, fresh ginger and tender shiso leaves are common seasonings. But there are many ways to play.
It’s not absolutely essential, but the one overarching concept to keep in mind when preparing chirashi sushi is gogyosetsu, or the Japanese system of grouping things into fives. It’s a way to think about using all of your senses (while cooking and eating), all of the flavors (sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami) and the five basic colors — white, yellow, red, green (or blue), and black (or brown or purple) — as you compose a dish. A variety of flavors and all five color groups appear in this spring-into-summer chirashi sushi recipe — but think of it as a template. Once you understand the elements, you can swap in ingredients based on what you have and what you’re in the mood for.
As with sushi — and all Japanese dishes — seasonality is a factor. In her cookbook, “Japanese Home Cooking,” Sakai includes a recipe for chirashi sushi for autumn that features pomegranate seeds. “They are not a traditional ingredient in sushi, but they work!” she writes. The rouge fruit, alongside carrots, provides a touch of red, and is a nod to her longtime home in Los Angeles, where pomegranate trees thrive.
In the spring, Sakai says she might top her sushi rice with shelled and blanched green peas, sliced snap peas, or even steamed or blanched asparagus. Neither pomegranate seeds nor asparagus are traditional ingredients, but Sakai says “we’ve always adapted our cuisine to where we live, using local ingredients in a Japanese way.”
In this recipe, especially if you opt for smoked salmon instead of fresh, all of the toppings can be prepared in advance. The only thing you must make the day you plan to serve the chirashi is the rice.
To make proper sushi rice, you’ll need to buy Japanese sushi rice. Measure out the amount you want to make, then rinse it and let it soak in cool water for 15 to 30 minutes — or up to overnight. “This starts the cooking process, the rice begins to soak in some of the water in this step,” Sakai explains. “Soaking ensures your rice will cook evenly and be firm but tender.”
She likes to add a small piece of kombu to her rice while it cooks, and sometimes seasons the cooked rice with fresh ginger, a splash of sake, toasted sesame seeds or minced herbs. “You can treat it like a pilaf for chirashi,” she says. “But whatever you do, let it soak and cook it slowly so you don’t end up with mushy rice!”
- Traditional sushi rice has a touch of sugar >> but even Sakai says she skips it sometimes.
- The egg ribbons add protein and a spot of yellow. >> If you don’t eat eggs, skip them. (Need another idea for yellow? Try yellow cherry tomatoes or yellow bell pepper.)
- Salmon, smoked or not, and its roe provide the red in this chirashi. >> Feel free to use another fish, such as tuna. You can also use any other protein instead.
- In place of cucumbers >> consider sliced snap peas, steamed asparagus, pickled green beans or fresh herbs.
NOTE: If you have hard water, Sakai recommends using filtered water to cook the rice for best results.
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For the rice
- 1 cup (7 1/2 ounces) sushi or other short-grain rice
- 1 1/4 cups cool water, plus more for rinsing (see NOTE)
- 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon fine salt, plus more if desired
For the egg ribbons
- 1 large egg
- 1/8 teaspoon fine salt
- Small pinch granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
For the toppings
- 4 ounces smoked or sushi-grade salmon, cut into bite-size pieces
- 1 Persian cucumber, sliced or 1/2 avocado, sliced
- 1 small carrot (1 ounce), cut into thin matchsticks
- 4 ounces salmon roe (optional)
- 2 (2-inch) sheets nori, cut or sliced into thin strips (optional)
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger or sliced sushi (pickled) ginger (optional)
- 1 teaspoon prepared wasabi, or more to taste (optional)
- Soy sauce, for serving
Place the rice in a small, 1- or 2-quart saucepan. Add cool water to cover, gently swirl the rice around for 20 seconds with your fingers, then tip all of the starchy water out, taking care not to let the rice grains fall down the drain. Repeat this process. After draining the cloudy water the second time, add 1 1/4 cups of cool water to the rice and let it soak for 15 minutes or up to overnight.
Set the pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and maintain a rapid simmer for 4 minutes, watching to ensure it does not boil over, then cover, reduce the heat to low and cook for 15 minutes. At this point, the rice will be cooked, but firm and still quite damp. Remove from heat and keep tightly covered for 10 minutes. Uncover, and use a rice paddle or wide spoon to gently fluff the grains. Keep the rice tightly covered while you prepare the toppings.
Make the egg ribbons: In a small bowl, whisk the egg with the salt and sugar until homogeneous.
Heat an 8-inch, nonstick skillet over medium heat for 1 minute. Lightly grease the bottom of the pan with the oil. Pour in the egg and tilt the skillet so the egg spreads into an even layer across the bottom of the pan. Decrease the heat to medium-low and cook the egg gently until the surface is mostly dry with a few wet spots, 3 to 4 minutes. (The egg should not brown.) Turn off the heat and let the egg cool slightly. Transfer to a cutting board, roll the egg up into a log, then cut it crosswise to form 1/2-inch-wide ribbons.
Fluff the rice with a rice paddle or rubber spatula again, and stir in the rice vinegar, sugar, if using, and salt. Taste the rice, and adjust the seasoning if desired.
To serve, divide the rice between two bowls. Top each neatly with the egg ribbons, salmon, cucumber or avocado slices, carrots and, if using, salmon roe, nori strips, ginger and a dab of wasabi. Serve with soy sauce at the table.
Per serving (with raw salmon and cucumber), based on 4
Calories: 256; Total Fat: 4 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 62 mg; Sodium: 299 mg; Carbohydrates: 45 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugar: 2 g; Protein: 10 g.
This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.
From staff writer G. Daniela Galarza. Sushi rice recipe adapted from “Japanese Home Cooking” by Sonoko Sakai (Roost Books, 2019).
Tested by G. Daniela Galarza and Kara Elder; email questions to email@example.com.
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Catch up on this week’s Eat Voraciously recipes:
Monday: Spinach and Feta Bowties
Wednesday: Mango-Lime Chicken Thighs