Wednesday, April 6, 2011

So I've Been Eating Fish.....

Recipes: Onigiri and Cumber Salad

I'm (slowly) cutting meat out of my diet partly because of the sustainability issues that are clouding the modern meat industry. Seafood too has major sustainability problems. Overfishing is a major concern; while efficiency in industrial fishing improved, the ability of the ocean to replenish itself has declined significantly.  According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch, our ocean's are in a state of "silent collapse." The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program is a great resource for those who would like to research sustainable seafood options.

I have not always been a huge seafood fan. I've tried Salmon in Alaska at a traditional salmon bake and at no more than a bite. I've had sushi at 6 in the morning in Tokyo freshly caught (and I mean just off the boat) and was unimpressed. I've eaten at fine dining seafood restaurants and tolerated the meal if it was drenched in enough butter. But, I am not opposed to eating seafood the way I am about farm animals. (And I'm not even entirely opposed to eating farm animals.) It boils down to sustainability. If the fish was caught in a "green" way then I'll be more comfortable eating it.

According to my favorite resource, the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch lists Wild-Caught Alaskan Salmon as a Best Choice for seafood. To research other Best Choices click here or download the iphone app (SO HANDY.) As I mentioned before, I am not a huge fan of salmon. There is, however, one way that I love to eat it: with sushi rice and nori.

Onigiri (aka rice balls) are considered the Japanese soul food and are a nostalgic meal for me. When I visited Japan as a high school student, my last meal was homemade salmon onigiri made by my host mother that I ate on the train out of Kyoto.  When I studied in Tokyo almost 6 years later as a Japanese major in college, I would make late night runs to the 7/11 to grab a snack while I studied the night away. Now I make them at home and bring them to work with me for a light lunch. Onigiri is simply made by stuffing a ball of sushi rice with your favorite filling and wrapping the ball in nori (dried seaweed). It's similar to a giant sushi roll, but it's usually filled with cooked seafood, umeboshi (pickled plums), or a variety of other fillings. I prefer to fill the onigiri with canned salmon, which is weird I know, but I find the canned stuff has the flavor that is most true to my memory.

Whole Foods carries canned Wild Caught Alaskan Salmon so if you're feeling like seafood, give this dish a try. If you're on a strict vegetarian diet, you can also fill the onigiri with pickled vegetables, soy glazed bamboo shoots, kimchi, adzuki beans, or whatever else you can imagine. The trick to onigiri is to keep it really simple. My recipe has just six ingredients: Rice, water, nori, salmon, salt, and rice wine vinegar. Can't beat that simplicity.

Salmon Onigiri with Cucumber Salad

For the Onigiri
2 cups sushi rice
4 cups water
2 TBS rice wine vinegar
1 8 oz can of Wild Caught Alaskan Salmon
1 tsp salt
1 sheet of sushi nori

1. Rinse rice in cold water until water runs clear. Place rice in a rice cooker or pot and cover with 4 cups of water. If cooking in pot, cover and cook over medium low heat until rice is soft. Cool on a sheet tray in refrigerator about one hour. Once cool season rice with rice wine vinegar.
2. Drain salmon throughly and season with salt. Fill a small bowl with cold water and use that to wet your hands. Take the rice and form it into a small ball about 2 inches in diameter. Poke a small hole in the middle of the ball and fill with an ounce of salmon. Cover the hole and continue to shape the rice. If rice starts to stick to your hands rewet your hands with water.
3. Cut the nori into thin strips. Some nori come with perforated lines, so use that if applicable. Roll nori strips around the middle of the rice ball. Eat and enjoy.

For the Cucumber Salad:
2 cucmbers, washed and striped
2 carrots, peeled
3 TBS mirin
2 TBS rice wine vinegar
1 TBS sugar
1tsp sesame seeds, white, toasted
1 tsp chili flakes

1. Cut cucumbers and carrots into 2 inch long pieces. Using a mandolin or a slicer slice cucumbers and carrots lengthwise and julienne slices with a knife. Place in a mixing bowl.
2. Mix rice wine vinegar, mirin, sugar, sesame seeds, and chili flakes together and pour over carrot and cucumber mixture. Let sit in the refrigerator for one hour to overnight before serving.

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