GOHAN: RICE - Mastering the Art of Japanese Home Cooking - Masaharu Morimoto

Mastering the Art of Japanese Home Cooking - Masaharu Morimoto (2016)

GOHAN: RICE

imag

imag

When I started working in restaurants, I was up to my elbows in rice—literally. At Ichiban in Hiroshima, I spent four years learning how to properly cook rice before my boss, Chef Ikuo Oyama, let me pick up a knife.

Each morning at Ichiban, I’d plunge my hands into a bowl of raw short-grain rice so deep that, yes, the grains nearly reached my elbows! With the bowl under running water, I’d swish the rice around, then drain the water, then swish and drain again and again until the water was no longer cloudy from the rice’s starch. Once it was properly washed, I’d combine the rice with fresh water in a huge pot. The amount of water always varied, depending on the batch of dry rice, the weather, and other factors. Over time, Oyama-san taught me how to tell, simply by feeling the grains, how much to adjust the amount of water. Since this was rice for sushi, I transferred the cooked rice to a shallow wooden tub called hangiri and poured on a mixture of vinegar, sugar, and salt, stirring and folding with a wooden paddle. I folded very, very gently, for if I had smashed any of those fussed-over grains, Oyama-san would not have been happy.

imag

At first, I didn’t understand why I had to make rice, why I wasn’t allowed to cut fish right away. As a boy, I idolized the sushi chefs working quietly and surely behind the counter at the restaurant my family visited on special occasions. So by the time I got to Ichiban, I was eager to put on a crisp white uniform and get down to the real business of sushi making. Yet the key to sushi, as Oyama-san explained, is not the fish or the forming, but the rice. “How can this be?” you might wonder. “It’s just rice.” Well, my friends, in Japan rice is so much more than just rice.

That the word gohan means both “rice” and “meal” should give you an idea of just how important the grains are in Japan. For many Japanese people, even in modern Japan where noodles and bread abound, a meal without rice is almost unthinkable. A typical family might sit down for breakfast or dinner in front of a few dishes to share—maybe simmered fish, soup, and pickles. Everyone, however, has his own bowl of rice, the heart of the meal. As a boy in a poor family, I sometimes had entire meals of rice. I remember one night, my mother brought home a special treat—octopus. There was enough for each of us to have just one slice. Still, I feasted that night—my octopus slice, soy sauce, and bowl after bowl after bowl of rice.

Much of Japanese food is designed to be eaten alongside rice. The intensely salty-sweet flavor of fish marinated in miso, for instance, and pickles are balanced by the beautifully bland grains. Everything is essentially a condiment for the rice. This is especially true with sushi. Oyama-san taught me that while the seafood, with its striking array of colors, seems like the main event, it was really just an accessory for the rice, similar to soy sauce and wasabi. I didn’t quite believe him until I ate the result of his careful cooking. The grains of his sushi rice were so perfectly cooked—tender and springy, slick and sticky—that it seemed as if he had prepared each one separately.

imag

This was how he showed his respect for rice. He elevated it from humble grain to something special, from simple sustenance to what tasted like a luxury. Today, at my restaurants, I try to continue this tradition. I even have a mill so I can polish brown rice into perfect pearly white grains to my exact, fussy specifications. (I figure if my customers pay more than $100 for sushi, then it had better be perfect.)

imag

Home-cooked rice is a different animal. Unlike Oyama-san, your dinner guests will not point out the slightest imperfection. So you don’t need your own mill, or years of practice—just a mother, grandmother, or Morimoto to teach you. In this chapter I take your hand and guide you through making perfect white rice—which takes barely more effort than cooking Uncle Ben’s and will serve as the backbone for nearly every dish in this book. I’ll show you how to make sticky-amazing sushi rice and then turn it into temaki rolls. And I’ll introduce you to carefully mounded rice balls stuffed with salmon or plum; fried rice with eggs and vegetables and anything else in the fridge; and the transcendently delicious, deceptively simple chicken-and-egg dish called oyako don. Once you cook through the recipes in this chapter and see how satisfying the unassuming grain can be, you might never eat a meal without rice again.

imag

BUY A RICE COOKER

You can absolutely make rice in a pot. But there’s a reason that virtually everyone in Japan over the age of two owns an electric rice cooker, the single greatest gift Japan has given to the world, Nintendo aside. Cooking rice in a pot requires a little vigilance—you must make sure the water is always simmering very gently—while a rice cooker lets you press a button and go watch baseball on TV. Not only that, the cooker will keep your rice warm until you’re ready to eat it, without the grains turning to mush. And unless you’re a true expert, using a pot won’t give you as predictably perfect grains as a cooker.

Ah, but which rice cooker is best? The answer depends on you. There are rice cookers that cost hundreds of dollars and seem to have hundreds of buttons and settings. Not even I have one of these! Then there are inexpensive cookers with just one button: you add rice and water, press cook, and that’s it. I prefer the middle ground. Look for a cooker with features that you think you’ll actually use—for example, the brown rice setting is magic for me and my wife, Keiko, because it makes the best brown rice you’ve ever tasted. And don’t pay for features you won’t use—a congee setting is only a blessing for big fans of rice porridge. Finally, make sure the cooking capacity meets your needs as well. If you love to cook for friends, don’t buy a rice cooker that can make only four cups of cooked rice.

imag

HAKUMAI

PERFECT WHITE RICE

imag

imag

imag

imag

imag

imag

imag

imag

Today, everyone wants quicker, faster, sooner. Yet just because you can buy instant rice and microwavable rice doesn’t mean you should. One bite of my perfect white rice will show you why. Sure, you must take the extra step of rinsing the uncooked grains under water to wash away excess starch, but this leads to cooked rice with perfectly plump, springy grains that are blessedly free of mush and clumps. Please don’t cheat and buy cheaper long-grain rice: short-grain rice—often labeled “sushi rice”—is essential, even though you’re not necessarily making sushi. (If you are, flip to Su Meshi .) The recipe below yields 6 cups of cooked rice, perfect for dinner for four people or one Morimoto. Adjusting the amount, though, is simple: just remember, always cook the rinsed rice with the same volume of water (for instance, 3 cups of rice requires 3 cups of water) .

MAKES 6 CUPS

2¼ cups short-grain white rice (“sushi rice”)

Put the rice in a large-mesh strainer set inside a large mixing bowl and add enough water to cover the rice. Use your hands to stir and agitate the rice to release the starch from the exterior of the grains. Empty the water, fill the bowl again, and repeat the process until the fresh water no longer becomes cloudy when you stir the rice.

Drain the rice in the strainer and shake well to help drain excess water. Let the rice sit in the strainer, stirring once or twice, until it’s more or less dry to the touch, 15 to 30 minutes.

Transfer the rice to the rice cooker, add 2¼ cups of fresh water, and cook according to the manufacturer’s directions. Gently fluff the rice with a plastic or wooden rice paddle and serve immediately or keep warm in the rice cooker.

imag

FURIKAKE WITH SHRIMP SHELLS AND POTATO CHIPS

Every Japanese home has a shaker of furikake in the pantry. Typically a mixture of dried sea vegetables, dried fish, sesame seeds, and other seasonings, it adds salty-sweet flavor and a jolt of umami to whatever it touches. We keep it on hand mainly for those moments when all the food is gone but we’re craving more rice—the wonderfully bland staple that needs just a little flavor boost.

My version builds on the classic combination with crunchy potato chips and incredibly tasty but often discarded shrimp shells (whenever you remove them from the crustaceans, save them in a freezer bag for this purpose!). A tablespoon or two turns plain white rice into a stimulating snack and adds extra excitement to rice balls (see Onigiri ). But the fun doesn’t stop there: furikake also makes a surprising and amazing topping for buttered popcorn.

Since potato chip brands vary in saltiness, remember to season the mixture to taste, keeping in mind that it should be salty enough for just a tablespoon or so to flavor a bowl of plain rice.

imag

imag

imag

MAKES ABOUT 1 CUP

2 cups fresh or frozen shrimp shells (from about 1¼ pounds shrimp)

¾ cup loosely packed bonito flakes (katsuobushi )

½ cup coarsely crumbled salted potato chips

1 sheet nori, broken into several pieces

1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

Preheat the oven to 250˚F. Spread the shrimp shells in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake, tossing occasionally, until completely dry and crumbly, about 45 minutes. Cool completely.

One ingredient by one, grind the shrimp shells, bonito flakes, potato chips, and nori in a small food processor or large spice grinder until you have a mixture of pieces that are about the size of coarse sea salt (a little bigger or smaller is fine). Nori is harder to process, so don’t worry if the pieces are a bit bigger than the rest. Combine them all in a small container with the sesame seeds and salt. Stir well and season with salt to taste.

You can keep the furikake in an airtight container in a cool dark place (not the refrigerator) for up to 10 days.

ONIGIRI

RICE BALLS

imag

Go into any convenience store in Japan (or peek inside the lunch box of any kid or businessperson) and you’ll see rows of the classic, portable, and shockingly tasty Japanese snack called onigiri, triangular rice balls wrapped in nori seaweed and filled with delicious things like pickled plum or broiled salmon. Not only that, you’ll also see some very clever packaging. At first, the triangle looks like seaweed pressed against rice—a recipe for soggy seaweed. But follow the instructions on the package—pull this tab, tug at that corner—and suddenly you realize there was a plastic barrier the whole time. Now your onigiri is wrapped in crisp seaweed! You don’t apply such genius to a snack unless it is a national sensation. And onigiri is just that.

At home, it makes a beautiful blank canvas. The filling can be anything you desire, from my favorite, Tuna Mayo , or enticing leftovers from last night’s dinner. You can even roll the outsides in toasted sesame seeds, shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven-spice powder), or furikake . The balls are easy to mold with your hands, but you can also use cookie cutters or even plastic onigiri molds, which are inexpensive and come in shapes such as stars, teddy bears, and octopuses.

MAKES ABOUT 8

4 cups freshly made short-grain white rice

Kosher salt

¾ cup leftover Sake Shioyaki (salt-grilled salmon), Hijiki (sweet simmered hijiki seaweed), or Tori No Teriyaki (chicken teriyaki), chopped if necessary, at room temperature

4 nori seaweed sheets (about 8½ by 7½ inches), halved lengthwise

Let the rice cool slightly, so you can handle it without burning your fingers.

Pour some salt in a small bowl. To make each ball, wet your hands slightly with water, dip two fingertips in the salt, and briefly rub your hands together to distribute the salt. Grab a ½-cup clump of rice and spread it slightly in your palm to form a ¾-inch layer.

Make a slight indentation in the center and add about a generous tablespoon of the filling, pressing lightly to flatten it if necessary. Fold the rice around the filling to enclose it completely, using a little more rice if necessary. Use both hands to shape the rice into a rough ball, then firmly pack it to form a rough triangle that has about 3-inch sides and is about 1 inch thick.

Repeat with the remaining rice and filling.

Just before you eat the rice triangles, wrap them in the nori. Serve right away, while the nori is still slightly crisp.

Tuna Mayo

Of all the fillings that wind up inside onigiri, my favorite is tuna mayo, probably the one Japanese phrase every English speaker understands. It is almost exactly what its name suggests: canned tuna mixed with mayo. In particular, I recommend the Japanese variety called Kewpie, which has even more flavor than Hellmann’s.

MAKES ABOUT ½ CUP

One 5-ounce can solid light tuna (preferably oil-packed), drained

2 tablespoons mayonnaise, preferably Kewpie mayonnaise

Kosher salt

Combine the tuna and mayonnaise in a bowl and stir well, breaking up any chunks. Season with salt to taste.

YAKI ONIGIRI

GRILLED RICE BALLS

Onigiri, the rice balls sold from convenience stores and packed for school lunches, become a different kind of treat at the yakitori shop. As cooks rotate skewers of meat and vegetables over hot charcoal, they also throw unwrapped, unfilled onigiri on the grill, basting them with a dead simple sauce until they’re smoky and crispy on the outside. They’re especially tasty after a little too much sake.

MAKES ABOUT 8

Special Equipment

A gas or charcoal grill (grates lightly rubbed with vegetable oil), or a flameproof rack

A food-safe brush

4 cups freshly made short-grain white rice

Kosher salt

¼ cup Japanese soy sauce

¼ cup mirin (sweet rice wine)

Let the rice cool slightly, so you can handle it without burning your fingers. Form the onigiri as instructed on making sure to pack the triangles especially firmly. Do not wrap with nori. Let them cool completely. You can wrap them in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for up to a day.

When you’re ready to eat, prepare the grill to cook over medium-high heat. (If you’re using the flameproof rack, set it on a burner and turn the heat to medium.)

Stir together the soy sauce and mirin in a small bowl. Put the rice triangles on their sides directly on the grill or rack. Cook until the undersides are dry and slightly crispy with spots of brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Carefully flip them, brush the tops and sides with the soy sauce mixture, and cook, flipping and brushing every few minutes, until both sides have formed a crunchy crust and are golden brown with dark brown spots, about 8 minutes more. Serve right away.

OMURAISU

OMELET WITH KETCHUP-FRIED RICE

imag

This dish—an omelet filled with ketchup-spiked fried rice—is one of several beloved Japanese classics that seem a bit odd to many Americans. Yet I’ve seen friends go from skeptic to convert with just one bite. Ketchup has become almost as common a sight in the Japanese pantry as soy sauce and, like soy sauce, it provides a blast of flavor and umami, in this case to leftover rice. Skilled home cooks can use a flick of their wrist to wrap the omelet around the rice in the skillet, but don’t worry—my recipe offers an easier way.

SERVES 4

For the Ketchup-Fried Rice

½ pound boneless skinless chicken breast or thigh, cut into ½-inch pieces

¾ cup sliced (¼ inch) green beans

½ cup diced (¼ inch) carrot

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into several pieces

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 cup very thinly sliced fresh shiitake mushroom caps

½ cup fresh or frozen corn kernels

½ cup finely chopped yellow onion

6 cups cooked short-grain white rice

¾ cup ketchup

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Black pepper to taste

For the Omuraisu

8 large eggs

Kosher salt and black pepper

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 equal pieces

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

MAKE THE KETCHUP-FRIED RICE

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the chicken, cook for 1 minute, then add the green beans and carrot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is just cooked through and the vegetables are still crunchy, about 1 minute more. Drain well.

Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the chicken, green beans, carrot, mushrooms, corn, and onion. Cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring often and breaking up the clumps but making sure not to smash the grains, until the rice is heated through, about 5 minutes.

Add the ketchup, salt, and pepper and cook, folding and stirring, until the rice is an even color, about 2 minutes. Transfer the rice to a bowl, cover, and keep warm.

MAKE THE OMURAISU

Make one omelet at a time. Crack 2 eggs into a bowl, add a generous pinch of salt and pepper, and lightly beat the eggs.

Combine ½ tablespoon of the butter with ½ tablespoon of the oil in a 10- to 12-inch nonstick skillet, set it over medium-high heat, and let the butter melt and froth, swirling the skillet. Add the beaten eggs and cook, gently pushing the edges in an inch or two as they set and swirling the pan to allow the still-raw egg to hit the pan, until the entire omelet is set but still glossy, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add a quarter of the rice to a plate, slide the omelet on top, and use a kitchen towel to tuck the edges of the eggs under the rice to make an omelet shape. Repeat with the remaining eggs and rice.

TAKIKOMI GOHAN

DASHI-SIMMERED RICE WITH VEGETABLES

imag

This is one of the most elegant rice dishes I know: the flavors are mild but perfectly balanced, so nothing super sweet or salty or bold comes through, but the overall effect is incredibly rich and satisfying. The secret is to first simmer the vegetables in a blend of delicious liquids (dashi, mirin, sake) and then cook the rice in that magic broth.

In the old days, this dish was made in an okama, a pot with a wooden lid that was set over hot charcoal, and it browned at the bottom as the sugar in the mirin gently caramelized. For you and me, any pot will do. You can even use a rice cooker! In fact, high-end rice cookers even have a “ takikomi gohan” button. My recipe calls for classic ingredients, but feel free to use parsnips instead of burdock root, sliced fresh or rehydrated dried shiitake mushrooms instead of the konnyaku, and extra chicken instead of fried tofu skins.

SERVES 4

1½ teaspoons vegetable oil

1½ teaspoons toasted sesame oil

¼ pound boneless chicken thigh, trimmed and cut into ¾-inch pieces

½ cup sliced (1½ by ½ by ⅛ inch) peeled carrot

½ cup sliced (1½ by ½ by ⅛ inch) store-bought abura-age (fried tofu skins)

¼ cup peeled sliced (1½ by ½ by ⅛ inch) burdock root (gobo ) or parsnip

⅓ cup sliced (1 by ½ by ⅛ inch) gray konnyaku (Japanese “yam cake”)

2¼ cups Dashi (dried fish and kelp stock) or Kombu Dashi (kelp stock)

2 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce

1 tablespoon sake (Japanese rice wine)

1 tablespoon mirin (sweet rice wine)

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups short-grain white rice (“sushi rice”), washed well and drained

Pour the oils in a small pot, add the chicken, set the pot over medium heat, and wait for the chicken to sizzle. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is no longer pink on the outside, about 2 minutes.

Add the carrot, abura-age, burdock, and konnyaku and stir well, then add the dashi, soy sauce, sake, mirin, and salt. Raise the heat to medium-high, bring the liquid to a strong simmer, and cook until the carrots are tender with a slight bite, 5 to 8 minutes. Use a spoon to skim off any white scum from the surface. Strain the liquid through a sieve into a large heatproof measuring cup, reserving the solids. If necessary, pour off any excess liquid or add enough water or extra dashi to give you 2 cups of liquid.

Combine the liquid and rice in a rice cooker or a medium pot and stir briefly. If you’re using a rice cooker, use the white rice setting if there is one and press the “cook” button. If you’re using a pot, cover it, set it over medium-high heat, and bring the liquid to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to very low to maintain a bare simmer and cook, doing your best not to peek under the lid, until the rice has absorbed the liquid and is tender, about 15 minutes. If you are using a rice cooker, wait until the rice has finished cooking completely and the timer goes off.

Add the reserved chicken mixture (but don’t stir just yet) and cover with the lid again. Remove from the heat and let the pot or rice cooker sit until the chicken mixture is hot and the rice is completely tender, at least 10 or up to 20 minutes. Stir gently but well, then serve right away.

TAKIKOMI ONIGIRI

Takikomi gohan makes amazing onigiri (rice balls). Before you refrigerate leftovers, form them into balls as instructed in onigiri . Wrap in plastic and chill for up to two days. Microwave until just warm through, then remove the plastic wrap and eat right away.

imag

CHAHAN

JAPANESE-STYLE FRIED RICE

imag

There is no better use for leftover rice than chahan. A brief trip in a pan resurrects the grains and a few pantry ingredients—little more than eggs, oil, and salt—transform tired rice into a super-satisfying meal. To give the humble dish a little flair, I whip up a saucy broth filled with vegetables and shrimp and pour it on at the last minute. Of course, you can add any ingredients you like—peas or asparagus, kimchi or Japanese pickles, pork, or even, as I do at Morimoto Napa, duck confit.

SERVES 4

¼ cup diced (¼-inch cubes) carrot

12 medium shrimp (about 6 ounces), peeled and deveined, cut crosswise into thirds

¼ cup fresh or frozen corn kernels

¼ cup fresh or frozen shelled edamame

¼ cup diced (¼-inch pieces) fresh shiitake mushrooms or rehydrated dried shiitakes

2¼ cups low-sodium chicken stock

3 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce

3 tablespoons sake (Japanese rice wine)

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1½ teaspoons kosher salt

3 tablespoons cornstarch

2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

White or black pepper to taste

¼ cup vegetable oil

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

6 packed cups cooked short-grain white rice , preferably 1 or 2 days old

1 generous tablespoon thinly sliced scallion greens

Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add the carrot and cook 2 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook until they’re just cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes more. Drain and then return them to the pot. Add the corn, edamame, shiitakes, chicken stock, soy sauce, sake, sugar, and ½ teaspoon of salt. Set the pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. In a small container, stir together the cornstarch and 3 tablespoons of water until smooth. Gradually add the cornstarch mixture to the pot, stirring constantly. Let the stock mixture come to a boil again and cook just until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Take the pot off the heat and stir in the sesame oil and pepper to taste; keep warm, covered.

imag

Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the eggs and cook, stirring constantly, until they’re barely cooked, about 30 seconds. Add the rice and cook, stirring often and breaking up the clumps but making sure not to smash the grains, until the rice is heated through and the egg has browned slightly, about 4 minutes. Season with about 1 teaspoon of the salt and pepper to taste.

Divide the fried rice among 4 small bowls and firmly press down on the rice to pack it into the bowls. Overturn the bowls onto 4 large shallow bowls. Remove the bowls to reveal the mounds of rice and pour the sauce over each one. Top with the scallions and serve.

SU MESHI

SUSHI RICE

imag

imag

imag

imag

No matter how closely associated the two have become, the word sushi doesn’t mean raw fish. Sushi is the result of two words— su, meaning “vinegar,” and meshi, meaning “rice”—getting smushed together. And as all real sushi chefs know, good vinegared rice is more important to top-quality sushi than even the most expensive tuna belly. That’s why chefs spend years learning to cook rice to the perfect texture and to add just the right balance of sweet and tart flavors.

Perfect sushi rice topped with pristine seafood is why customers spend hundreds of dollars to eat in near silence at the sushi temples of Tokyo. Yet sushi doesn’t always have to be such a serious experience. Perfection, after all, is the enemy of fun. So here I do what home cooks all over Japan do. I let go of the methods of masters—sourcing the finest raw rice, polishing it myself, fanning the cooked grains in a giant wooden tub to eliminate moisture—to make effortless sushi rice that tastes like a master made it.

The ambitious among you will surely have fun meticulously slicing tuna and yellowtail to make nigiri sushi, the fish-topped fingers of rice sold at sushi bars, but I recommend a less elaborate route. Make sushi rice into the rolls called temaki , or use it as the base for Tekka Don No Poke (Hawaiian poke-style tuna rice bowl).

MAKES ABOUT 8 CUPS

For the Sushi Vinegar

One 2-inch square piece of kombu (dried kelp)

1 cup unseasoned rice vinegar

½ cup granulated sugar

¼ cup kosher salt

For the Rice

3 cups short-grain white rice (“sushi rice”)

imag

MORIMOTO MAGIC TRICK TO DISTRIBUTE THE VINEGAR EVENLY, I LIKE TO HOLD A WOODEN SPATULA PARALLEL TO THE RICE AND POUR THE SUSHI VINEGAR ONTO IT AS I WAVE THE SPATULA BACK AND FORTH.

imag

MAKE THE SUSHI VINEGAR

Briefly and gently wipe the kombu with a damp towel to remove any dirt or grit, but do not scrub off the white stuff, which is full of umami.

Combine the vinegar, sugar, salt, and kombu in a small pot and set it over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring often, just until the sugar has dissolved, about 1 minute. Do not let it boil. Let the mixture cool to room temperature.

Measure ½ cup of the vinegar mixture and set it aside. Store the rest, including the kombu, in an airtight container in the fridge for up to several months.

COOK THE RICE

Put the rice in a large mixing bowl and add enough water to cover the rice by 1 inch. Use your hands to stir and agitate the rice to release the starch from the exterior of the grains. Empty the water, fill the bowl again, and repeat the process until the fresh water no longer becomes cloudy when you stir the rice. Drain the rice in a mesh strainer, shaking well to help drain excess water. Let the rice sit in the strainer, stirring once or twice, until it’s more or less dry to the touch, 15 to 30 minutes.

Combine the rice and 3 cups of fresh water in a rice cooker and cook according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

While the rice is hot, gently scoop it into a bowl. Sprinkle the reserved ½ cup of sushi vinegar over the rice. Gently fold the rice to make sure the vinegar is well distributed without smashing the grains. Cover with a clean kitchen towel pressed to the surface of the rice and let the rice cool to just slightly above room temperature before using for temaki (hand rolls).

CHIRASHI ZUSHI

SCATTERED SUSHI

Every good sushi restaurant offers a rendition of this wide bowl of vinegared rice “scattered” (chirashi ) with colorful toppings. At the best sushi-ya, this is an assortment of the finest seafood, often raw and meticulously sliced. At home, the toppings can be virtually anything. Tamagoyaki (Japanese omelet), poached shrimp, creamy slices of avocado, crunchy julienned cucumber, salmon roe—it’s up to you!

TEMAKI: HAND ROLLS

imag

To this day, my favorite kind of sushi to serve is temaki, nori rolled by hand into a cylinder or cone shape around vinegared rice and a filling. It’s the only type of sushi—perhaps the only dish of any kind, in fact—that the chef hands directly to the diner. When else does a chef get to ignore the plate entirely? There’s a reason, of course: passing it directly to the customer is meant to encourage her to eat it immediately, so the nori is super-crispy and crackles under her teeth as she bites.

This serve-it-right-away commandment makes temaki perfect for a DIY sushi party. Set out a stack of nori, a big bowl of rice, and various fillings—traditional combos like ume-shiso (a tart pickled plum and Japanese mint-like herb) or modern ones like spicy tuna and tuna mayo . You can play sushi chef for the first few rolls, showing them how it’s done and reminding them to bite into the roll right away, then let your guests construct their own. Oh, did I mention there’s no bamboo mat required?

Remember, the recipes I include here are just ideas—the fun is playing around with combinations yourself.

imag

Spicy Tuna Temaki

imag

imag

imag

imag

imag

imag

MAKES 8 HAND ROLLS

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 teaspoon tobanjan (chile bean sauce), preferably a Japanese brand ½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil

½ teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

½ teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice

4 nori seaweed sheets (about 8½ by 7½ inches), halved lengthwise

About 2 cups cooked, vinegared short-grain white rice , at room temperature

½ pound sushi-grade tuna, cut into approximately 3 by ½ by ½-inch pieces

Heaping ¼ cup thinly sliced scallion greens

Combine the mayonnaise, tobanjan, sesame oil, lemon juice, and lime juice in a small bowl and stir well. It keeps covered in the fridge for up to 2 days.

To make each hand roll, hold a piece of nori shiny side down in an open palm. Lightly moisten your other hand with water and grab about a ¼-cup clump of rice, compress it slightly to form a rough oval, and add it to one of the short sides of the nori, about 1 inch from the edge. Firmly press the rice with your pointer finger to make a lengthwise divot in the center. To the divot, add about 1 teaspoon of the mayo, 2 pieces of the tuna, and about 2 teaspoons of the scallions.

Roll the nori around the filling to form a cone or cylinder. Eat right away.

Ume-Shiso Temaki

MAKES 8 HAND ROLLS

4 nori seaweed sheets (about 8½ by 7½ inches), halved lengthwise

About 2 cups cooked, vinegared short-grain white rice , at room temperature

5 umeboshi (Japanese pickled “plums”), pitted, roughly chopped, and smushed to a paste

8 fresh shiso leaves (also called Japanese mint and perilla)

¼ pound crunchy cucumber (preferably Japanese, English, or Persian), peeled, seeded, and cut into thin matchsticks

To make each hand roll, hold a piece of nori shiny side down in an open palm. Lightly moisten your other hand with water and grab about a ¼-cup clump of rice, compress it slightly to form a rough oval, and add it to one of the short sides of the nori, about 1 inch from the edge. Firmly press the rice with your pointer finger to make a lengthwise divot in the center. Spread about ¼ teaspoon of the umeboshi in the divot, top with a shiso leaf, and a generous pinch of the cucumber.

Roll the nori around the filling to form a cone or cylinder. Eat right away.

Vegetable Temaki

imag

imag

imag

imag

imag

MAKES 8 HAND ROLLS

4 nori seaweed sheets (about 8½ by 7½ inches), halved lengthwise

About 2 cups cooked, vinegared short-grain white rice , at room temperature

About 1½ teaspoons wasabi paste

About 1½ tablespoons furikake , store-bought or homemade

8 fresh shiso leaves (also called Japanese mint and perilla)

¼ pound crunchy cucumber (preferably Japanese, English, or Persian), seeded and cut into 4 by ¼-inch matchsticks

2 ounces carrot (about ½ of a medium carrot), peeled and cut into 4 by ¼-inch matchsticks

1 loosely packed cup kaiware daikon (radish sprouts) or another microgreen (optional)

To make each hand roll, hold a piece of nori shiny side down in an open palm. Lightly moisten your other hand with water and grab about a ¼-cup clump of rice, compress it slightly to form a rough oval, and add it to one of the short sides of the nori, about 1 inch from the edge. Firmly press the rice with your pointer finger to make a lengthwise divot in the center. Spread on a little wasabi and add a generous sprinkle of furikake, 1 shiso leaf, 1 piece of cucumber, 1 piece of carrot, and a generous pinch of kaiware daikon.

Roll the nori around the filling to form a cone or cylinder. Eat right away.

California Temaki

imag

MAKES 8 HAND ROLLS

½ firm-ripe Hass avocado

4 nori seaweed sheets (about 8½ by 7½ inches), halved lengthwise

About 2 cups cooked, vinegared short-grain white rice , at room temperature

¼ pound crunchy cucumber (preferably Japanese, English, or Persian), peeled, seeded, and cut into thin matchsticks

¼ pound surimi (mock crab) or fresh lump crabmeat

2 ounces tobiko (flying-fish roe; optional)

Remove the pit of the avocado, and peel off the skin as if you’re peeling an egg. Cut into long, approximately ¼-inch-thick slices.

To make each hand roll, hold a piece of nori shiny side down in an open palm. Lightly moisten your other hand with water and grab about a ¼-cup clump of rice, compress it slightly to form a rough oval, and add it to one of the short sides of the nori, about 1 inch from the edge. Firmly press the rice with your pointer finger to make a lengthwise divot in the center.

To each, add a slice of avocado, a generous pinch of the cucumber, a pointer-finger-size piece of surimi or generous tablespoon of crabmeat, and 1 generous teaspoon of tobiko.

Roll the nori around the filling to form a cone or cylinder. Eat right away.

JAPANESE GRANDMOTHER WISDOM

Salt is like fairy dust. It can make amazing things happen. Before you slice the cucumbers, lightly sprinkle kosher salt onto them and roughly rub the salt against the skin. This technique, known as itazuri, dislodges an invisible, slightly bitter substance from the skin. Briefly rinse it off, dry the cucumber, and proceed with the recipe.

BATTERA

PRESSED MACKEREL SUSHI

imag

Even though battera’s popularity in Japan surpasses that of the spicy tuna roll, few Americans have ever heard of this tasty type of sushi: mackerel cured to preserve its freshness and mellow its fishiness, leaving a fresh sea flavor accented by vinegar. Once a specialty of Kansai, an inland region that centuries ago lacked access to fresh fish, battera offers a window into a time long before tuna could travel from Tokyo to New York in a day.

SERVES 6 TO 8

Special Equipment

Bamboo sushi mat (makisu )

Two 6- to 7-ounce Atlantic mackerel (saba ) fillets

½ cup fine salt

About 2 cups unseasoned rice vinegar

4 thin lemon slices

6 fresh shiso leaves (also called Japanese mint and perilla)

2 tablespoons julienned pickled ginger (gari )

2 cups cooked, vinegared short-grain white rice

At least 2½ hours and up to 5½ hours before you plan to eat, put the fillets on a plate and generously sprinkle the salt onto both sides. Gently shake to remove any excess, transfer the fillets to a cake rack set over a large plate, and let them sit at room temperature for 1½ hours.

Rinse the fillets under running water, rubbing them gently, then pat dry and transfer to two resealable bags. Divide the vinegar and lemon slices between the bags, and refrigerate for 45 minutes. Drain the fillets and pat them dry again.

Put the fillets skin side up on a cutting board. Starting at an edge of the widest end of each fillet, pinch the transparent top layer of skin, gently pull it away from the shiny skin, and discard it.

imag

imag

imag

imag

imag

imag

imag

imag

imag

Put the fillet skin side down on a square of plastic wrap. Use tweezers or needle-nose pliers to remove the pin bones: identify the bones by running a finger along the center of the fillet. One by one, grab them at the tip with the tweezers or pliers and firmly pull at an angle to remove them. Feel for any additional bones or cartilage, especially near the belly, and remove.

Working one at a time, butterfly the fillets: Arrange the fillet perpendicular to your cutting board. Identify the center of the fillet, where the spine used to be; you are going to butterfly the fish on both sides of the spine. Hold your knife parallel to the cutting board with the blade aligned with the spine. Cut through the flesh of the fish, stopping about ½ inch before reaching the edge. Use your fingers to open the cut flesh like a book. Repeat on the other side of the spine. Then repeat with the other fillet.

Put the fillet skin side down on a square of plastic wrap. Arrange the shiso leaves in a single layer along the center of each fillet. Evenly spread the ginger onto the shiso leaves. Evenly spread the rice in a 2-inch-wide stripe along the center of the fillet. Wrap each in the plastic wrap to form a tight log. Put the sushi mat on the cutting board so the slats run right to left. One at a time, transfer the plastic-wrapped logs to the mat, fold one edge of the mat over the log, and use your hands to press firmly on the top and sides to compress the battera slightly.

Let the plastic-wrapped log rest at room temperature for at least 15 minutes or up to 3 hours. The longer it rests, the more flavor the sushi rice will absorb from the fish, shiso, and ginger. When you’re ready to eat, remove the plastic wrap, cut crosswise into ¾-inch-thick slices, and serve.

DONBURI

Rice bowls

imag

Donburi, or don for short, encompasses a wide range of dishes that take a similar form: a large bowl filled with rice, then topped with flavor-packed ingredients cooked in an irresistible sauce. Rice bowls like this might seem simple and old-fashioned, but they’re actually a fairly modern concept in Japan. While rice has a long history on the Japanese table, it was traditionally served plain and in its own bowl. It wasn’t until a few centuries ago, when the population became busy and needed faster meal options, that these one-bowl meals took hold. Today, they’re everywhere in Japan, at fast-food-style rice bowl restaurants and in homes around the country.

OYAKO DON

CHICKEN AND EGG RICE BOWL

imag

This rice bowl is elegantly simple—so simple that you might flip past this page without giving it a second thought. Do not make this mistake! Oyako means “parent and child” and refers poetically to the rice bowl’s star ingredients, chicken and egg. The pairing might not sound exciting, but I assure you that once they’re simmered in a magical mixture of dashi, soy sauce, and mirin, they transform into an incredibly satisfying dish that’s so much more than the sum of its parts.

People often cook this dish in a special oyako don pan, but you’ll have great success in a small skillet. Just don’t try to double or quadruple the amounts in a larger skillet—it won’t turn out right. Instead, treat this dish as a great lunch or dinner for yourself. You deserve it!

MAKES 1 HEARTY MEAL

⅓ cup Dashi (dried fish and kelp stock) or Kombu Dashi (kelp stock)

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Japanese soy sauce

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon mirin (sweet rice wine)

¼ teaspoon granulated sugar

5 ounces boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into about 1-inch pieces

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

2 large eggs, beaten

¼ cup very thinly sliced scallions (white and light green parts), preferably cut into long diagonal slices

1½ cups cooked short-grain white rice , hot

Large pinch kizame (shredded) nori or ¼ nori seaweed sheet, cut into thin strips with scissors

Combine the dashi, soy sauce, mirin, and sugar in a medium bowl and stir until the sugar has dissolved.

Combine the chicken and sesame oil in a small skillet, stir well, and set it over medium-high heat. Once the chicken begins to sizzle, cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is no longer pink on the outside, about 3 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium, add the dashi mixture, and let it come to a simmer. In a steady stream, pour the eggs evenly over the chicken and sprinkle the scallions on top. Cover the skillet with a lid, leaving the lid slightly ajar. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook, shaking the pan occasionally to make sure the eggs don’t stick to the skillet, until the eggs have just fully set, 6 to 8 minutes. There will be a little liquid left in the skillet.

Spoon the rice into a shallow serving bowl. Bring the skillet to the bowl, then tilt and wiggle the skillet to slide the contents, liquid and all, onto the rice. Top with the nori. Eat right away.

KATSU DON

PORK CUTLET AND EGG RICE BOWL

Home cooks don’t fry a whole batch of tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlets) just to make katsu don. No, katsu don is what happens when you find yourself at home with an empty stomach and a cutlet left over from the night before. Since the cutlets will no longer be crispy anyway, you give up on crispness altogether and go straight for flavor, simmering the pork in seasoned dashi and adding egg for extra richness. Then you slide the omelet-like result onto a bowl of hot rice.

SERVES 1

⅓ cup Dashi (dried fish and kelp stock) or Kombu Dashi (kelp stock)

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Japanese soy sauce

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon mirin (sweet rice wine)

¼ teaspoon granulated sugar

¼ cup thinly sliced white onion

1 tonkatsu (Japanese-style fried pork cutlet, cut crosswise into ¾-inch-thick slices

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

¼ cup very thinly sliced scallions or roughly chopped mitsuba

1½ cups cooked short-grain white rice , hot

Combine the dashi, soy sauce, mirin, and sugar in a small bowl and stir. Spread the onion in a small nonstick skillet, top with the slices of cutlet, and pour the dashi mixture over the cutlet. Set the skillet over medium-high heat, let it come to a simmer, and cover the skillet.

Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook until the onion has wilted, about 3 minutes. Baste the cutlet with the liquid and scoop some of the onion on top of the cutlet. In a steady stream, pour the eggs evenly over the cutlet and sprinkle on the scallions or mitsuba. Cover the skillet again and cook just until the eggs have fully set, about 3 minutes. There will be a little liquid left in the skillet.

Put the rice in a large bowl. Bring the skillet to the bowl, then tilt and wiggle the skillet to slide the contents, liquid and all, onto the rice.

SUTEKI DON

STEAK RICE BOWLS WITH SPICY TERIYAKI SAUCE

When I’m eager for beef at one of the busy Japanese lunch shops that specialize in donburi (one-bowl meals of rice topped with a variety of simple foods), I usually order gyu don, thinly shaved beef and onion simmered in slightly sweet sauce. But I must say that after living in America for more than two decades, I just as often crave slices of suteki (that is, steak spelled phonetically, if you have a strong Japanese accent). I opt for the relatively inexpensive and super-flavorful skirt, sear it until it’s charred on the outside and pink in the center, then spoon on teriyaki sauce spiked with butter and chile-bean sauce. Over rice and alongside the simple vegetable stir-fry called yasai itame , steak becomes a balanced meal.

SERVES 4

1 pound skirt steak, outside fat trimmed, patted dry

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 cup teriyaki sauce

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon tobanjan (chile bean sauce), preferably a Japanese brand

1 teaspoon finely grated garlic

1 tablespoon cornstarch

6 cups cooked short-grain white rice , warm ¼ cup thinly sliced scallions (green parts only)

1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

Prepare a grill to cook over medium-high heat or preheat a large heavy skillet over high heat. Cut the steak crosswise into a few pieces if necessary to fit in the skillet. Season both sides with salt and pepper and drizzle with the oil.

Cook, flipping once, until both sides are deep brown and the steak is cooked how you like it, about 8 minutes for medium rare. Let the meat rest while you make the sauce.

Combine the teriyaki sauce, butter, tobanjan, and garlic in a small saucepan, set it over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, combine the cornstarch with 1 tablespoon water and stir until smooth. When the teriyaki mixture comes to a simmer, stir in the cornstarch mixture. Cook, stirring occasionally, just until the sauce turns shiny and thickens slightly, 3 minutes.

Divide the rice among shallow bowls and spoon about 3 tablespoons of sauce over each one. Thinly slice the steak against the grain. Top each bowl with the steak slices, spoon on the remaining sauce, and sprinkle on the scallions and sesame seeds. Serve right away.

TEKKA DON NO POKE

HAWAIIAN POKE-STYLE TUNA RICE BOWL

imag

Once you secure sushi-grade tuna, this meal in a bowl takes almost no effort to make. I upgrade the typical tekka don—sliced raw tuna, often briefly marinated in soy sauce—by merging it with the Hawaiian dish tuna poke (pronounced PO-kay), which I fell for while opening my restaurant in Waikiki. The cubes of luscious crimson fish dressed with a little salt, sugar, and spice taste great over wonderfully plain white rice or less traditional but no less delicious sushi rice.

SERVES 4

¼ cup Japanese soy sauce

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon mirin (sweet rice wine)

2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

1 to 2 teaspoons tobanjan (chile bean sauce), preferably a Japanese brand

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1 pound sushi-grade tuna, cut into ½-inch cubes

½ medium Hass avocado, peeled, pitted, cut into ½-inch pieces

6 cups cooked short-grain white rice or cooked, vinegared short-grain white rice , warm

1 nori seaweed sheet

¼ cup thinly sliced fresh shiso leaves (also called Japanese mint and perilla) or scallion greens

1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

Combine the soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil, tobanjan, and sugar in a medium mixing bowl and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the tuna and avocado to the bowl, toss well, and set aside to marinate for a few minutes but no more than 5 minutes.

Divide the rice among 4 wide bowls. Top each bowl with the tuna and avocado, leaving the sauce behind. Then drizzle the sauce over the tuna and avocado. Tear the nori into small pieces and scatter some over each bowl; top with the shiso and sesame seeds. Eat right away.