For my first Foodbuzz Project Food Blog challenge (please head over here—voting starts September 20!), I decided to take on a favorite of mine, inari zushi. We make it every year when we visit my husband’s family for Oshogatsu (Japanese New Year) in San Juan Bautista. I’m there with the aunties, cousins, and neighbors, year after year, stuffing hundreds of aburaage (fried tofu) with rice, but I’ve never made it on my own from start to finish.
This is a typical Japanese dish and one that exhibits qualities that define me as a cook. At first glance, it seems rather simple—a small fist full of rice tucked into a pocket of sweet fried tofu. But what you don’t know are the many little things that make a dish really sing: the time it takes to let the bonito flakes sink in a batch of dashi, the small amount of sake added to cook the rice, the timing of adding the shoyu to the aburaage so as not to overcook, the slow simmer of the shiitake and kanpyo. It’s the details (i.e. love) that matter. I enjoy eating a nice fancy meal once in a while, but that’s not who I am as a cook. I’m a home cook that likes to feed my family with dishes that are humble, but soothe the soul. I like to cook food that’s approachable, even if that means it lacks the wow-factor or it isn’t pushing any boundaries. In particular, my goal for this blog is to show the joy and pleasure I get from Japanese food—the stuff I grew up on.
So here we have inari zushi—a seemingly easy, but in fact labor-intensive recipe. I admit I was a little intimidated at first, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me because I had an eye on my friend Hama’s Inari Army. She topped her inari with nori, egg, and shiso and it looked so appetizing—more so than presenting it the traditional way with the seam side down—that I had to make some of my own.
The vinegared rice is housed in that sweet, moist fried tofu that’s been simmering in sugar, sake, and shoyu. The egg rounds the flavors out and the pickled ginger gives it a nice kick. It’s the kind of dish that can be made in advance and kept at room temperature, so it’s perfect for parties and potlucks. If you have any left over, don’t stick it in the refrigerator. The rice will turn hard and unappetizing. I just keep it out if it’s not a particularly hot day and eat it as a snack, or even for breakfast.
You can double the recipe for the filling and freeze half the batch. Use this the next time you make inari zushi, or if you want to make a simple chirashi, mix the filling with cooled vinegared rice, top with egg, blanched and julienned sugar peas, and nori.
Adapted from ぜひ覚えたいおかず
Makes 4 servings
1 1/2 cups rice
1/2 Tbsp. sake
3 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
6 pieces aburaage (for inari zushi use)
1/2 cup water
4 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. sake
3 Tbsp. shoyu
4 dried shiitake
1 small carrot
0.5 oz. kanpyo (dried gourd)
1/2 cup dashi
4 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. mirin
3 Tbsp. shoyu
Wash the rice until the water is clean and let drain in a colander for 30 minutes. In a rice cooker add 1 3/4 cup water and sake. Cook and steam for an additional 10 minutes after rice is done.
Cut the aburaage rectangle in half so you have 2 squares and rinse with hot water to rid of excess oil. This will improve the taste and let the seasoning soak better. In a medium pot over medium heat, add the aburaage, water, sugar, and sake. Cook with an drop lid for 4 to 5 minutes. Add shoyu and cook for a minutes or so and set aside. Let cool in the juices.
Rehydrate the shiitake and cut in half, then julienne. Cut carrot into 3/4 inch pieces, then julienne. Wet the kanpyo and massage a bit of salt into it. Rinse, then boil for 10 minutes. Chop into small pieces.
In a medium saucepan, add the dashi, sugar, mirin, kanpyo, and shiitake. Cook with a drop lid for 4 to 5 minutes. Add the shoyu and cook over low heat until most, but not all, of the liquid is cooked off. Add the carrots and cook for another minute.
In a small bowl, combine the ingredients for the vinegar mixture and pour evenly over the hot rice. Mix well in a cutting/folding motion, being careful not smash the rice grains. Set aside and let cool.
Add the filling with liquid to the cooled rice until evenly incorporated. With wet hands, divide the rice into 12 parts and lightly squeeze each portion. Gently ease open the aburaage, then carefully insert rice into the aburaage pocket, making sure not to break the pouch. Top with seaweed, egg, and ginger.