Friday, June 25, 2010

Simple Temaki [a.k.a. Japanese Tacos]

I've had some amazing Japanese food in my day.  I discovered sushi late in college and was fortunate to get an expense-paid visit to Tokyo when JG was working over there for a bit... though I think I was still too new to the cuisine at the time to make the most of my trip.  After moving to Austin, I fell in love with a modern Japanese place and even developed an unfortunate habit of of putting any raw thing in my mouth based on the things they [carefully and safely] served.  It was exquisite.

I learned the importance of toasting nori at this lovely place -- and that's the key to a tasty handroll.   The greatest thing about a hand roll is that it doesn't require skill as there is no rice shaping involved.  I also learned that the hand roll [temaki] is the Japanese equivalent of a sandwich with a similar origin story: a noble -- too obsessed with the gaming table to come away for a meal -- ordered his servant make him something he could eat with one hand.  It seems a little too close to the Earl of Sandwich story, but maybe it's a case of culinary convergence.

Temaki is the only sushi I'll make at home because doesn't require skill.  I don't want to spend the money for sashimi-grade fish for a weeknight meal, but there are times when I want that refreshing satisfaction of a sushi meal mid-week, and the hand roll hits that spot... plus they're fun to make:  All it takes are toasted seaweed sheets [nori], a bowl of vinegar rice and an array of sliced veggies, sauteed mushrooms for a meaty texture, and occasionally kani [fake crab sticks make from pollock that I find disturbingly delicious in a distinctly non-crab way].  You fill one corner, roll it up into a cone, and eat it quick before the nori goes soft. It's a casual week-night food at its best.

It takes a lot of practice to make true sushi rice look and taste right and involves lots of fanning and folding.  I've seen it done many times and I'm not even close to mastering it... but with a little tweaking I've created a brown rice version with the right flavor and a close enough texture for the at-home hand roll.

Recipe: Simple Temaki, Japanese Tacos

Sushi Rice:
for 12-16 hand rolls

12 oz brown rice (1 1/2 cups) [I prefer Nishiki brand]
2 cups water
1 tsp salt

4 tbs rice vinegar
1 tbs brown rice syrup or 2 tsp sugar

Combine rice, water and salt and cook until tender, ~50 minutes in a rice cooker or on the stove, ~18 minutes in a pressure cooker.  Whisk together vinegar and mirin.  Transfer cooked rice to a large bowl and drizzle the vinaigrette over the the top.  Use a wide spatula [or bamboo paddle] to fold and stir the the rice until liquid is absorbed and rice is uniformly sticky.  Cover and set aside until you're ready to build your rolls.


Nori can be found online, at any Asian grocery store, most well-stocked grocery stores, or most large Latin grocery stores with an international section [another reason why I love Fiesta].

Cut 8 sheets in half and -- using tongs -- hold each piece above a stove burner set to medium [gas or electric].  You just want them to crinkle a bit; if it catches fire you have it too close to the heat. Stack the toasted sheets on a serving plate.
Filling Options:

1 cucumber, sliced in half lengthwise, then each half into ~1/4" batons
1 avocado, sliced
3/4 lb mushrooms [preferably shitake] sauteed until just tender and sliced
2 sticks imitation crab meat [kani]
4 egg rolled omlette [tamago] made with 1 tbs mirin and 1 tsp soy

whatever else strikes your fancy: tofu, squash, radishes, cabbage, chicken...  it's just like a taco.
[There's prosciutto in the picture, it got a little lost, more texture is better.]


  1. You mean you didn't make 18Q of Sushi Zu for your rice? ;)