Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Spicy Tuna Maki

"I see -- it's just like rolling a joint," said Lauren. "Right, only legal," I replied slicing through a spicy tuna maki. I knew those Harvard Business School students were fast learners. Since food is the new golf of the business world, the leaders of tomorrow are in the kitchen today, specifically in Helen's Kitchen learning to make sushi.

It does not take years of apprenticeship in a sushi restaurant to produce a yummy spicy tuna at home, but it does require a great deal of precision, patience, and a smidgen of creativity. Don't mess with the rice! Make sure you measure all ingredients for it correctly and follow the recipe to a tee. Be prepared for a few shopping excursions to find the correct type of rice, an excellent piece of tuna, and the right type of bread.

Bread? Yes, bread -- that's my secret ingredient. A good spicy tuna roll has a crunch to juxtapose the creaminess of tuna and mayo. In restaurants, the crunch comes from deep-fried tempura batter, but I found that to be impractical at home. To avoid deep-frying, I found a surprising (or some people might call it blasphemous) crunchy alternative that works incredibly well: tiny croutons. These aren't just any croutons. They have to be made with good French bread cut into very even tiny pieces and toasted with a lot of canola oil. When you think about it, there is no surprise that this crazy substitution works. It's the same ingredients as in tempura crunchies (flour, water, and oil), just reconstructed to make a home cook's life easier and the results more consistent. If you are outraged by lack of authenticity, please keep in mind that spider maki, caterpillar maki, and spicy tuna are all American inventions.

If I didn't scare you yet with the amount of work, and your mind is set on reproducing that most addictive of rolls at home, keep on reading.

For 8 rolls

1/2 - 3/4 cup crunchies (see the recipe below)
1 recipe sushi rice
1 Lb tuna, chopped into 1/4 inch dice (tips on how to serve fish raw)
1/4 cup mayo (Japanese or Hellmann's)
1 Tbsp hot sauce or to taste (I use Sriracha)
2 tsp Japanese soy sauce or to taste
4 sheets of seaweed (nori)
Toasted sesame seeds
Scallions, sliced very finely

sushi mat wrapped in plastic wrap
a small bowl of water

Step 1: Make the crunchies at least 3 hours before making the rolls to allow them to cool completely.

Step 2: Make the sushi rice. While it's resting, chop the tuna, and mix it with mayo, hot sauce, and soy sauce to taste. The mixture should be creamy and flavorful.

Step 3: Place the sushi mat wrapped in plastic wrap on your work surface. If the mat has a flat side and rounded side, place the mat flat side up.

Step 4: Take a piece of seaweed and locate the perforation lines. Fold it in half parallel to the perforation lines and break in 2 pieces. Note that the crease and the break will be between 2 perforation lines. Inspect each piece to figure out which side is more smooth and shiny and which one is more bumpy. Place the seaweed on your mat the smooth side down.

Step 5: Wet your hands in water, pick up a handful of rice, and spread it on the seaweed. Your goal is to make a layer as thin as possible (almost 1 grain of rice thick), and to cover the entire surface of the seaweed evenly all the way to the edges. Don't squash the rice grains too hard with your hands. Each grain should still hold its shape when you are done. This step is crucial to achieving a well-shaped roll, so don't rush it. Take as much time as you need to do this properly. If rice sticks to your hands, re-wet them.

Step 6: Sprinkle sesame seeds on rice

Step 7: Flip the seaweed over so that the rice is facing down.

Step 8: Spread some tuna on the edge of rice that's closest to you. The first roll is a trial one. It will help you determine how much filling you actually need. At first, err on the side of under-filling rather than over-filling your roll. It will taste best with the maximum amount of tuna it can hold, but it's easiest to shape with a small amount of filling. If you over-fill it, it might not seal. I suggest you start small, and increase the amount of tuna with each roll.

Step 9: Sprinkle on some crunchies and press them gently into tuna so that they don't go flying when you try to roll it all up.

Step 10: Lift the edge of the mat closest to you and flip it away from you. Don't press down, or you'll squash out the filling.

Lift the mat back, revealing the partially rolled up maki. Cover it back up with the mat and roll it gently away from you so that it ends up seam side down. Run your hands gently on top of the mat to give it an even cylindrical shape.

Step 11: Transfer the roll to a cutting board. Wet a long, sharp knife (at least 8 inches) with a little bit of water.

Step 12: Cut the roll in half using long sawing strokes. Don't press down with the knife or you'll squash your roll!

Put the two halves of the roll next to each other. Re-wet your knife, and cut through both of them 2 more times to make 6 pieces.

Step 13: Stand the pieces up by tilting them to the side with your knife.

Step 14: Sprinkle with scallions.


For crunchies (can be done a few days in advance)

1 Lb French pullman loaf (in the Boston area, use Clear Flour or Iggy's)
1/4 cup canola oil

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Cut the crust off the bread and use a good serrated bread knife to cut it into very thin slices (1/5 inch thick). Cut the slices into strips, and then into cubes measuring 1/5 inch on each side. I find it helpful to switch to a chef's knife for the last step of cutting strips into cubes. Measure out 4 cups of bread cubes, toss them with oil and spread in a single layer in 17 by 11 inch baking sheet.

Place in the middle of the oven and toast just until you start to see some color, 5-7 minutes. Stir and continue to toast until the cubes are nicely browned, 7-10 minutes, stirring every 2-3 minutes to ensure even cooking. Check them every 2 minutes towards the end of cooking time to make sure they don't burn.

Remove from the oven and cool completely before using. You'll have leftovers, but they taste good on soups, salads, etc.


Peter M said...

Lookin' good Helen!

Anonymous said...

Can the effect of the bread be achieved by using store-bought panko bread crumbs? (Seems like a lot of chopping!)

Also, I always thought that the perforations were supposed to be a guide for cutting the sushi, but it looks like you have them parallel to the bottom of the mat when you start, so they'll be length-wise along the susi rolls. Is that the correct way?

Thanks for the recipe!

Helen said...

I've tried toasting the panko crumbs with oil for the crunchies. While they taste good on their own, they don't hold the crunch once combined with tuna.

I have no idea if the way I break the nori is technically correct. That's what I remember reading in one of the books or websites when I taught myself how to shape maki and I it works well for me, but if you have a way that works for you, use that.

Helen said...

Ok, so I've just figured out why I tell you to break the nori parallel to the perforation lines. It's because most other websites that I found say that.

We might be all wrong :)

How thick to cut the roll depends on what kind of roll you are making, so I doubt the lines are there for that.

Anonymous said...

I'm not being a wiseguy, here.

Why do you recommend Helman's mayo specifically?

Helen said...

I recommend Hellmann's because it tastes good (as long as you get the full-fat version :)

If you don't like Hellmann's, use your favorite mayo.

Anonymous said...

Ok, thank you, Helen.

I thought maybe there was some quality to Hellman's that made it a superior choice in sushi making.

La Cuisine d'Helene said...

I love making sushi. It's so good.

liberal foodie said...

as much as I loev sushi, I am too intimidated by the thought of making it at home. Thanks for this step by step process. I must admit I am still a littel nervous of messing up!

Helen said...

Hi Liberal Foodie,

Well, there is the first time for everything. It's all a matter of practice. Just make sure you have a good source of fish. That's the hardest part. The rice is cheap, and the rolling is just a matter of practice. Get some cucumber and practice with that before you use the $28/Lb tuna :)