Rice Ovals Topped with Salmon

Nigiri-zushi

Throughout Japan, and increasingly in the West, sushi restaurants are filled with patrons devoted to ovals of vinegared rice topped with fresh raw fish—a delicacy known as nigiri-zushi. The necessity of using impeccably fresh fish and seafood, plus the deftness required in handling the seasoned rice, makes restaurant-style nigiri-zushi a difficult dish to produce at home. But here is a tasty variation that will work very well for the non-professional. A damp cloth can help to shape the rice, and I’ve made use of less perishable, though equally delectable, pale pink smoked salmon. These bite-size sushi make very nice hors d’oeuvres, and I suggest you decorate your platter with red pickled ginger and cucumber mountains for extra color, flavor and texture appeal.

Ingredients

  • cups raw rice, freshly cooked according to the master recipe
  • 2–2½ tablespoons sushi su (seasoned vinegar)
  • ½–¾ pound smoked Nova Scotia salmon, sliced thin
  • ¼ teaspoon wasabi (fiery green horseradish) paste or reconstituted powder
  • Soy sauce for dipping, optional

Method

While the rice is still warm, sprinkle it with seasoned vinegar, tossing lightly for even distribution. Wet your hands in cold water (some people add a few drops of vinegar to the water) to prevent the rice from sticking to your fingers, then divide the seasoned rice into 25 balls. Dampen a white handkerchief or table napkin and wring it out thoroughly. Place one ball of rice at a time in the center of the cloth and gather up the edges (1). Twist the bag to compress the rice (2). Remove the ball and, with dampened hands, press down slightly to form an oval shape (3, 4). Place on a plate or tray and cover with a damp cloth to prevent the surface from hardening as you prepare the other rice ovals in the same manner.

Measure the length of your rice ovals (probably 1½ inches long) and cut enough salmon to cover each (you can always piece together a torn or shredded slice). Spread a very small amount of horseradish on the underside of each slice of salmon and drape it over the rice ovals (5). Provide soy sauce for dipping, if you like.

Note: Nigiri-zushi are really best when prepared just before eating—the reason for some of the splendid performances at restaurant sushi bars. But the version given here can be made an hour or so in advance of your guests’ arrival. Loosely cover with a damp cloth and clear wrap and place in a cool but not refrigerated spot.

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