Sushi for a weeknight: Sushi doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming. There are many types of sushi that are so quick, easy, and affordable that they can be made for a weeknight meal. One example is chirashi, which literally means “scattered sushi”; it is usually presented either as sushi rice topped with a decorative arrangement of ingredients or as sushi rice and other ingredients mixed together. This style of sushi is quick to make since there is no need to roll sushi or shape the rice for nigiri. If you set out nori with this dish, then handrolls can also be made at the table, which is something that William and I enjoy greatly; it is fun because everyone gets to make their own sushi. The handrolls look especially pretty with some daikon radish sprouts in them.
My recipe for salmon chirashi has three components: sushi rice, salmon sashimi, and a salad of daikon radish sprouts dressed with ponzu sauce. Sushi rice is quick to make, especially if you have a rice cooker, since you just need to wash the rice, start the rice cooker, mix a vinegar dressing (made from rice vinegar, sugar, and salt), and then quickly toss the rice with the vinegar dressing. Making ponzu sauce is fairly quick; you could also use bottled ponzu sauce as a replacement (though I haven’t tried that yet).
Salmon is actually not a traditional sushi ingredient since it does not live in the waters near Tokyo, where sushi was invented. It was first used by sushi chefs in the United States and then became popular in Japan because of its association with America and modernity. I love raw salmon so that’s fine with me. You can substitute your favorite fish.
Another advantage of making your own sushi is that buying fish for sushi is more economical than going out for sushi. Two types of sushi fish (about 0.25 pounds each) with sushi rice is enough for dinner for William and I; this amount of fish usually costs about $20. I know stopping at speciality markets on the way home is difficult or even impossible for many, but if you are lucky enough to have access to a Japanese grocery store with high quality sushi fish, then this is sushi that you can make easily and for much cheaper than going to a restaurant.
Since this chirashi bowl is a light meal, you may also want to serve another type of sashimi, soup (such as miso, miso with clams, or spicy kale miso), or an appetizer (my favorite is asparagus goma-ae) with it.
Always make sure that you buy sushi fish that has been properly handled for sushi (e.g. fish that has been instantly killed with little stress, hygienically gutted, bled, and immediately cooled or frozen) if you want to eat it raw. Fresh does not mean that it is safe for sushi because it could have been hours after it was taken from the water before it was cooled. Sushi as we know it–that is with raw fish–didn’t start in Japan until after WWII, when there were refrigerators and freezers which were able to safely preserve and transport raw fish. Many Japanese markets have sushi fish cut into the perfect shapes for sashimi (Super Mira Market in San Francisco is my favorite); they are usually packaged in little Styrofoam trays with a liner underneath to absorb moisture and are kept in a separate refrigerator case from the fish meant to be cooked. Most American seafood markets don’t carry sushi fish / sashimi quality fish and even if they do the texture is often tougher and difficult to chew; ask the fishmonger if the fish you are buying is safe to eat raw and go to a seafood market that you trust because if it hasn’t been handled correctly (i.e. not kept cold or frozen) than it isn’t sushi quality anymore. It is especially important that salmon has been correctly handled for sushi since salmon (especially wild salmon) is often infested with fresh water parasites that will sicken humans (farmed salmon has a lower chance of parasites). Sushi salmon always under goes a special deep freezing stage in order to kill parasites (your home freezer is not cold enough). Do not eat raw salmon that hasn’t been deep frozen for use as sushi, so do ask your salmon is safe to eat raw. (For more information see this wikipedia article on raw fish).
Source: This recipe is based off of “Sushi Salmon Cured in Kelp (Sake no kobu-jime)” with ponzu radish sprout salad from “The Sushi Experience” by Hiroko Shimbo”, but I used plain salmon sashimi since I like raw salmon best.
Salmon Chirashi with Ponzu Daikon Radish Sprout Salad
sushi rice (see accompanying recipe here), made from 1.5 to 2 rice cooker cups of raw rice (3 to 4 cups cooked sushi rice)
salmon sashimi, about 1/4 pound
1 package daikon radish sprouts (kaiware) *
1 Tbsp ponzu sauce (see accompanying recipe here)
soy sauce (shoyu) or extra ponzu sauce
4 to 6 sheets of nori **
(optional) pickled ginger
little dishes for dipping sashimi in soy sauce
Rinse the salmon in cold water and then pat dry with a paper towel (rinsing helps to remove any bacteria sticking to the outside of the fish). Use a knife to square off the piece of salmon so that it is a long straight rectangle about 2 1/2 inches x 5 inches x 1 inch. Save the trimmings and some sushi rice to make hand rolls or sushi rolls. Cut slices that are 1/4 inch thick or slightly thinner by cutting straight down vertically.
Cut the sprouts from their roots. If they are dirty, then wash and dry them thoroughly (I didn’t need to). One pretty way to plate this dish is to keep the bottom ends of the sprouts facing the same way.
Mix the sprouts with ponzu sauce in a small bowl; the bowl is so that extra ponzu sauce doesn’t dribble unattractively over the sushi rice since homemade ponzu sauce has a very thin consistency. If this doesn’t bother you, feel free to place the sprouts directly on the sushi rice and drizzle ponzu sauce over or have your diners drizzle ponzu sauce (ponzu sauce tastes really nice on rice). If you happen to be serving this dish without any sushi rice, then you can put the raw sprouts in the serving dish and drizzle the ponzu sauce over without tossing.
Spoon the sushi rice into two bowls. Top each bowl with half the salad and half of the salmon sashimi. Serve with soy sauce or extra ponzu sauce, wasabi, nori, and optionally pickled ginger.
To eat, use chopsticks to add a dab of wasabi on a slice of salmon and dip it in the soy sauce or ponzu. Return the salmon to the bowl of rice so that a small amount of rice gets flavored with the sauce. Eat the salmon slice, either alone or with a bite of rice and optionally a few sprouts. You can (and should!) also use half sheets of nori to make (see directions on how to make handrolls here) using the salmon, rice, and sprouts as you are eating this dish at the table.
* Daikon radish sprouts are a very spicy tasting green, similar to arugula’s pepperiness. I like to eat just a few sprouts at a time, by themselves, with a bite of rice, or added into a handroll. William thinks they are a bit too spicy for him; if you think they will be too spicy for you, then you can mix them with other types of mild sprouts or substitute a mild sprout or lettuce.
** Nori comes in several levels of crispiness, which is often indicated on the package (especially if it is from Japan). Handrolls are best when they are made from the most crispy and tender nori. If there is no text which indicates crispiness, choose a package which has a picture closest to what you want to make, since the packages usually depict what it is best suited for. I choose nori from Ariake Bay in Japan, which is one of the places Hiroko Shimbo recommends.
The salmon and the sashimi platter in the picture below was bought from Super Mira Market in San Francisco (my favorite place to buy sushi quality fish).