Well, the following recipe might seem a bit more exotic than what one might expect in a hobbit cookbook, but I was taking Gollum pretty literally. Post-Ring, Gollum is mad about raw fish, so how does one make raw fish palatable? Sushi, of course.
I obsessed over sushi creation for awhile. Some of my reading about the subject sounded strangely, and perhaps unnecessarily, ritualistic—especially regarding rice preparation—that’s part of why my instructions sound a bit strange. Yet, I wanted to make this a simpler process that did not require me to go to sushi-school for 10 or 20 years.
If you have never attempted making sushi, here is a good recipe to start with if you are curious. You can expect that your first attempt will certainly not be as perfect as a restaurant’s sushi is. My second attempt was a big improvement, so you will need to resign yourself to a few practice sessions. This is the longest recipe in my cookbook and is full of options and anecdotal information, so you’ll have to find some courage to face it—it’s definitely a good idea to read through the entire recipe before you tackle it. A bamboo rolling mat and wooden paddle set is helpful here and I would highly recommend purchasing one. You could probably use parchment paper to assist the rolling and a wooden spoon, if you don’t have a sushi-making kit.
Now, if you’re really up for some fun, take some photos of your sushi-rolling process and tag me on your favorite social media platforms. I’d love to see your work.
Be sure to make the pickled ginger, or gari, the night before, so the flavors can intensify! I figure Gollum would just devour all of these sushi bits in about 5 minutes, but generally this serves 2-4, as an entrée.
Pickled Ginger (Gari)
¼ pound fresh ginger *
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 cup water
5 drops red food coloring **
Using a vegetable peeler, peel the ginger and slice as thinly as possible. You will need a total of ½ cup sliced ginger. Lay on a small plate and sprinkle with the salt. Let stand for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine the vinegars, sugar, 1 tablespoon water, and food coloring in a 1-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook for 30 seconds. Pour into a 1-cup glass container and let stand (don’t bother washing the saucepan).
In the saucepan, bring the 1 cup water to a boil. Add the ginger and cook over a medium heat for 15 minutes. Drain, then add to the brine. Cover and store overnight in the refrigerator. Lasts for a few days; store in the refrigerator. Makes ½ cup.
* Try to get a hunk of ginger that has as few small branches as possible. This can be tough; you might have to buy a larger piece just to get a relatively straight piece that is easy to peel and slice.
** This ingredient is completely optional—if you have an objection to the rather small amount of red food coloring listed here, feel free to omit it; the taste of the gari will not be affected.
1 cup short grain or sushi rice (no substitute)
1¼ cups water
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
Rinse the rice with cold water in a fine-mesh strainer. Place in a 1½-quart saucepan with the water. Bring to a boil and stir once. Reduce heat to the lowest setting, cover and cook undisturbed for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let stand undisturbed, covered, for 15 minutes. Using a wooden spoon or paddle, place rice in a 9½” glass pie dish; add the salt and vinegar. Mix in gently. Do not use any metal utensils from now on (except for your cutting knife). Cool until rice is at room temperature (about 1 hour). Do not chill. Do not use burned rice, if there is any (I’ve never had any). Do use rice on the same day. Cover with a towel if you are not using immediately.
Why not use metal (except for your cutting knife)? Apparently, metallic utensils and bowls will perhaps impart a subtle, and undesirable, taste to the rice and the sushi. I’ve never risked using metal stuff because I certainly don’t want my sushi to taste like metal.
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
Combine both in a non-metallic bowl. You will use this for glue, dipping your fingers, and moistening a towel or cloth napkin to wipe off your knife between cuts. Set aside right next to your workstation. Makes ⅓ cup.
⅔ of a large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut vertically into thin strips
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut vertically into ribbons using a vegetable peeler
¼ pound sashimi-grade raw salmon, boneless, skinless, and cut into ¼” strips *
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds, lightly toasted
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Sriracha chili sauce
3 (8″ by 8″) toasted nori (seaweed) sheets
Prepared wasabi paste
Gari, recipe above
Be sure you have your room temperature rice and your vinegar water ready to go. Place the prepared vegetables and fish on a plate. Place the sesame seeds in a tiny bowl. Combine the mayonnaise and Sriracha in a small bowl. Have a clean plate ready for your rolls. Place a bamboo mat on a large cutting board. Place one sheet of nori, shinier side down, on your mat. As you work, frequently moisten your fingers with the vinegar water. Spread ⅓ of the rice all over the nori, leaving 1″ empty at the top, as shown below.
Place ⅓ of the strips of cucumber, carrot, then salmon along the top of the sesame seeds. Use your fingertips to spread vinegar water along the top 1″ of the nori (which will have a tendency to curl).
Using your fingers to hold the filling down, start rolling your bamboo mat as tightly as you can (remember not to be too discouraged if your first attempt seems a bit loose). Roll completely out of the mat and spread more vinegar water along the outer seam of the nori to glue it closed. Place seam-side down on a non-metallic plate, as shown in these photographs.
Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Remove bamboo mat from cutting board. By this time, you will be ready to cut the first roll you assembled. Place this roll on the cutting board, seam-side down. Use a very sharp, non-serrated knife to make your cuts. Moisten a towel or cloth napkin with vinegar water and use this between cuts to wipe your knife. Cut roll into 8-10 slices and lay these on a serving plate (non-metallic, of course). I usually cut more like 9 or 10 slices since I prefer sushi to be thinner and easier to eat in a single bite. Continue with the other rolls. Place the end pieces on the plate with the ragged edges up.
Serve immediately. Or, you may cover lightly with a cloth napkin or plastic wrap and refrigerate. Serve with soy sauce, wasabi paste, and gari. You can eat sushi with chopsticks or your fingers; just use your fingers if you want to be more Gollum-like. Sushi is best eaten the day it is prepared, though the next day is still okay. Makes 24-30 pieces, enough to serve anywhere from 2-4 people as an entrée. They are excellent to put out at a party, especially since you can have them ready in advance.
* Sashimi-grade, raw, and previously frozen salmon was most easily available to me, but remember I’m land-locked. However, raw fish can be problematic, and the wasabi accompaniment is to help you ward off bacteria. Be sure to use sashimi-grade fish (tuna is a good option). NEVER use raw, soft white fish for sushi (these types of fish are prone to excessive bacteria—for more extensive fish facts and suggestions, consult a sushi cookbook—or just play it safe with salmon).
Other Options—If you are not ready to try raw fish, here are some different avenues to pursue. The only thing to remember is you only need about ¼ pound or 1 cup to make all three rolls. A few strips of cooked crab, lobster, shrimp, or crab substitute work well. A few heated shrimp tempura also work.
A few strips of cooked chicken also work—you can use those packaged varieties in any flavor. You could use teriyaki chicken. You can even use breaded chicken tenderloins—heat a couple according to package instructions, cut into strips, and roll them up while the meat is still warm. Serve immediately to enjoy a warm/cold contrast or go ahead and chill before serving.
Vegetarian Option—Omit the fish. You can then exercise some creativity, perhaps depending on what sort of fresh or canned produce you have around. You won’t need much, however, just a few leaves or strips to replace the fish. Here are some good choices: a few spinach leaves, a couple of sliced fresh mushrooms, a few strips of avocado, some strips of bell pepper, a few sliced, canned water chestnuts or bamboo shoots (drained first). Just be sure not to overload your rolls and keep your fillings sort of in strips. Do not use foods that are bulky or liquidy such as tomatoes, and do not use foods such as peas or corn (though a few fresh snow pea pods would be okay).
Astrid Tuttle Winegar
Author, Cooking for Halflings & Monsters: 111 Comfy, Cozy Recipes for Fantasy-Loving Souls