I am not, by a screeching far cry, someone who could hypothetically reach a life with no regret. Contentment to me is an overrated product of philosophy, not of nature, and therefore more often than not, I find myself restlessly curating for a much-er life. I benched more tablewares in the cabinet than the actual number of guests I could ever gather to my hypothetically dinner party. My closet is for someone who apparently comes across great occurrences that call for more than one (ok, five) sequinned Flapper dress. I limited myself to only four vintage-designed bicycles (so far) which I imagine cruising so hipster-ly through Williamsburg where our hypothetical loft resides, just above the hypothetical farmer’s market, where I buy hypothetical hydrangeas on weekends. Hey, I could go Paris on you but I want to keep it real.
The other day, I crashed into a display of desires that evoked a whole new picture of hypothetical possibilities, a dashing sales-event of the uber-retro and adorable Airstream Trailers with skins so shiny I was blinded by its allure, parked dangerously close within our complex as if just the outrageously bloated price-tag wasn’t enough to keep me afar. I quickly realized this was no menu-item I could argue my monthly budget into. This game would have to be played in the kitchen. It would be a beautiful autumn morning (I wake up hypothetically early) in British Columbia where we and the pups spend a gorgeous camping trip by the salmon-filled rivers near… somewhere awesome. Jason, the hypothetical skillful fisherman CAN’T STOP wild salmons from HOOKING THEMSELVES onto his willful calls. I assume even he’s a slight bit impressed… the luck of the hypothetical. The wild salmons are then salted liberally and cured in the fridge while we watch our dogs chasing butterflies… just because.
That afternoon, to prepare for the days ahead, I cook some cured salmon, crumble into pieces and mix with chopped smoked salmon, mayo, chili sauce and flakes. Some cold leftover rice embraces the salty mixture as a deep secret it’s never going to reveal, then go on to be toasted on the open grill we set by the camp (finger snaps, fire, just like that). The sky is darkening and there’s no sound but the cracking of toasting grains and the snoring of our butterfly-chasing dogs (let’s add a choco-lab to the bunch while we are at it)(bugs are not included in this hypothetically). Sheets of crispy nori open their arms and hug the rice balls because that’s what best friends do, and we devoured them with large smiles on our face reflected by the fire because life is good. Well, hypothetically at least.
Servings: 7 ~ 8 onigiri/rice balls
The ratio of rice : water when it comes to cooking Japanese sushi rice is 1 : 1.2 (by volume, NOT weight), give or take. I would STRONGLY recommend using a rice-cooker to excel at this task because I have never tried doing it 0n the stove. If you don’t have a rice-cooker, try cooking the rice just like how you would cook any other rice and see how it turns out (I would personally use a non-stick pot because most rice-cookers are). Here’s an instruction from Iron Chef M.M.
From the pictures you can see that I used salmon scraps for this particular instance. 500 grams of scraps yielded approx 160 grams of meats this time. It is EXTREMELY cheap and the meats are fatty and delicious. But if you want to use a salmon steak or fillet, knock yourselves out as long as you get 160 grams of meats. If you are feeling really lazy, I would even go as far as suggesting good-quality canned salmon. Just season it further with sea salt.
* Most onigiri/rice balls aren’t seasoned with sushi vinegar so I listed it as optional. The amount I added is much lower compared to actual sushi rice ratio, but it adds a slight acidity and sweetness to the rice.
- 3 cups of Japanese sushi rice
- 3 1/2 cups + 2 tbsp of water (3 cups of rice x 1.2 (by volume) = 3.6 cups of water)
- 3 tbsp of sushi vinegar (optional) *
- 3 ~ 4 sheets of nori/seaweed-sheets
- Spicy smoked salmon filling:
Cook the rice: Rinse the rice through a sieve until the water runs completely clear. Combine rice and water in a rice-cooker and cook according to instructions. Once done, add the sushi vinegar and gently fluff the rice (careful not to damage the grains) with wooden spatula until cooled down to almost room-temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
Make the filling: Rub the sea salt and mirin/Japanese sweet rice wine over the salmon, and let it marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours. The salmon should be fairly salty, almost cured. Rinse off the salt and pat dry with a clean towel. Preheat the broiler on high. Set the salmon on a baking-rack over a baking sheet, and bake on upper-level under the broiler until nicely browned on one side. Flip it over and brown the other side as well. The salmon should be cooked through, but if not, let it bake in the oven for a few more minutes until done. Let it cool down a little, then shred the meat off and discard the bones and skin.
Mix shredded salmon, diced smoked salmon, mayonnaise, siracha sauce, lime juice and chili flakes evenly together. Onigiri isn’t really about the filling more than it’s about the rice. A small quantity of filling should have enough seasoning to support a much larger ratio of rice. Taste the mixture, which should be TOO SALTY to eat as is. If it isn’t, season with more sea salt and set aside.
Assemble the onigiri: To work with rice, your hands and all the utensils used need to be wet with water to prevent sticking. Use a 2 1/2″ round cookie-mold, apply a layer of rice on the bottom and press it down slightly with a spoon. Add approx 1 tbsp of salmon-filling in the middle, then cover it completely with another layer of rice. Again, press the rice down so the whole thing is firmly held together. Slowly release the rice ball from the mold, and repeat with the rest.
A lot of onigiri/rice balls aren’t toasted either. If you are planning on eating them cold throughout the day, then don’t toast them. To serve it hot, the crunch and smokiness is worth it if you want to go the extra miles. Heat up a flat grilling-top on medium-high heat and brush with a little bit of oil. Toast the onigiri on both sides until crispy and browned. Each sides will take a few minutes.
Wrap the onigiri with a thick strip of nori sheets (to help the nori stick to the rice, dab a little bit of water on the rice then hold the nori in place for a few seconds). Take them on an adventure with you.