The West has been fascinated by Japan for centuries. As ‘the land of the rising sun’, it has been characterised by its exotic strangeness to us combining finely crafted beauty, an unrivalled artisan culture and (most of all) exceptional food.
Japanese food does not automatically spring to mind when dreaming up a simple home-cooked meal. Our ‘discovery’ of sushi in the 90s with unironically kitsch little Japanese restaurants each bordering of a charicature of itself helped to make Japanese food the latest thing; Yo Sushi thrives to this day on that reputation and our nation’s first populist brush with meals largely consisting of raw fish. Wagamama came later, offering us smoldering bowls of ramen and satisfyingly girthy udon noodles. We lapped them both up, but still we didn’t try this at home.
So why don’t we? The supply of South-East Asian staples has improved dramatically over the last twenty years partly because of the popularity of these restaurants; are there any excuses left? Are we just being lazy? Scaredy cats, even?
With this in mind, we have tried to create some easy and highly ‘Western friendly’ interpretations of Japanese cuisine. If you’ve felt fear at the thought of which vermicelli to use in your artisan spring rolls quake no longer; howellandharte are here and we’re going to sort you out.
Sushi: Lettuce Hand Rolls
Sushi horror stories are penny-a-dozen. Seaweed, rice and some fish: how hard could it be? Considering sushi chefs typically spend around 5 years training (and only then are they allowed to make the rice by themselves) possibly quite tricky as anyone who has felt like dabbling at a little sushi making will already know.
This is recipe is a cheat: there is no seaweed and to make up for the loss of flavour we have included tobacco onions to give things a little more character.
One piece of advice: make sure you have some serious weapon-grade tuna. Freshness is key to sushi if you don’t want to be chewing on some mushy, slimy thing in an unflattering overcoat of savoury rice-pudding. Go to your fish counter or even better a local fish monger: we went to Moxon’s by Clapham South tube station who had some excellent sushi-grade yellow-fin tuna in stock. Same goes for salmon or any other fish you may wish to use.
Remember, the recipe below is a suggestion of what to put in your handroll – this should be a ‘fajita-style’ meal so get stuck in and improvise.
Cooked Sushi Rice (recipe here)
1 Onion, halved and sliced into half-moon strips
20g Plain Flour
100ml Sunflower Oil
160g Yellow Fin Tuna
260g Fresh Salmon
Soy sauce, wasabi paste and pickled ginger to serve.
To make the tobacco onions, first out the oil onto a high heat so that it gets very hot. Take the half-moon strips of onion, dip them in milk and then coat thoroughly in flour. Repeat this process until you have all of the strips finely coated in a powdery batter. Place in the hot oil and cook until golden brown. You may have to cook the onion in batches but once each batch is done place it on some kitchen paper so any excess fat can drain off and sprinkle over a little table salt to season. Set aside and allow to cool.
Pick apart the separate leaves of the lettuce, ensuring that they stay in tact. Wash them to remove any dirt, shake and set aside in a large bowl.
To prepare your fillings, start with the avocados. Remove the stone and try to scoop out each of the halves with a spoon and cut into strips on a chopping board. When you think you are ready to serve start cutting the fish into similar manageable strips and serve on a platter.
Place all the components on the table ready to serve. Each diner should take a lettuce leaf and a spoonful of sushi rice pressing it down into the leaf with their thumb. Once flattened they can then add their choice of filling and fish as well as any of the condiments they wish. Repeat and enjoy!
Serves 4 (as a side dish)
3tsps sesame seeds
1/2 a medium sized cucumber
1 spring onion, finely matchsticked
In a small pan, lightly toast the sesame seeds over a medium heat until they start to turn golden.
Prepare the wasabi mayonnaise, mixing the two ingredients together in a small dish or pot. You can make the mayonnaise more or less potent according to taste but bare in mind that you don’t want to blow people’s heads off. To adjust simply add more or less of either ingredient.
Grate the carrots and place in a large bowl. Grate the cucumber but once this is done put into a sieve and press down lightly in order to remove excess liquid – you do not want this to become a wet mess. When the cucumber has been drained, place in the bowl with the carrots.
Add the spring onions and toasted sesame seeds to the cucumber and carrots. Mix in the wasabi mayonnaise. Serve straight away.
Refreshing Cucumber Salad
Serves 2 (as a side dish)
1/2 cucumber, matchsticked
1 fistfuls rocket
2tsps nigella seeds
1tbsp toasted sesame oil
1tbsp soy sauce
Place the cucumber and rocket in a medium sized salad bowl or serving dish. Pour over the oil and soy sauce and toss thoroughly. Scatter half of the nigella seed over the salad and toss again. Scatter the remaining nigella seed over the top of the salad and serve.