We’re big fans of chef Justin Warner and his former Brooklyn restaurant Do or Dine, which once served up things like dumpling nachos and foie gras doughnuts. So we’re especially excited about his new book, The Laws of Cooking, which includes even more inventive recipes, like this simple but significant hybrid of a New York–style bagel with lox and classic salmon nigiri sushi.
When I was learning about sushi, I wanted everything to be correct and proper. I wouldn’t be caught dead with a California roll between my chopsticks — not only because it’s proper to eat sushi with your hands, but also because I thought the California roll was some sort of Americanized bastard product created for wusses and rookies. I also turned my nose up at its cream cheese–laden cousin, the Philadelphia roll. Frat boys would do sake bombs and cheer at how delicious these zany rolls were while I quietly pondered the subtlety of a chewy piece of highly prized flounder fin.
While my desire to eat with the utmost of authenticity was a great way to learn, it wasn’t always very fun. Somewhere along the way, I realized that “fun” is just as important as “fine” when it comes to eating and even more so in cooking. With this in mind, I present the highly sacrilegious snack below, a tricked-out sushi-bar version of a bagel and lox.
You’ll see I’ve made some concessions to accommodate a non-Japanese kitchen. A hangiri is the traditional raw cypress bowl used to cool sushi rice. The raw wood of the bowl absorbs the excess moisture. Plus, it is never washed, so the seasoning of it affects the seasoning of the rice. If you want to be authentic, I’d highly recommend buying one of these from any number of online sources. Also, electric fans are used these days to cool the rice. You can instead go the old-fashioned route and convince a friend to fan the rice by hand, ideally with the November 2012 edition of Food Network Magazine.
- 2 cups sushi rice
- 1/4 cup caper brine
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons unseasoned rice wine vinegar
Wasabi cream cheese
- 2 tablespoons wasabi powder
- 2 tablespoons water
- 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
Everything bagel mix
- 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
- 1 tablespoon pretzel salt
- 1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
- 2 teaspoons dried minced onion
- 1 teaspoon dried garlic flakes
- 1 pound assorted smoked fish, cut into 1/2-ounce slices
- Very thinly sliced red onion
- Very thinly sliced cherry tomatoes
- Very thinly sliced caperberries
- Very thin bâtons of cucumber
For the rice
Put the rice in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse it under cold running water, rubbing it together with your fingers, until the water runs clear. (It’s helpful to do this over a colored mixing bowl so you can see the water.) Allow the washed rice to drain in the strainer.
Cook the washed rice in a rice cooker with the amount of water specified by your rice cooker. (I used 3 cups of water for this amount.) I’ve never, ever screwed up rice in a rice cooker so long as I cover the rice with water by about an inch. If you don’t have a rice cooker, follow the directions on your rice package.
In a small pot over low heat, combine the caper brine, sugar, and vinegar and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved, about 3 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Set a large mixing bowl next to an electric fan or a friend—turn the fan to low or have your friend wave a magazine over the rice. When the rice is done, use a bamboo paddle or spatula to gently remove portions of it from the cooker and spread them out around the inside of the large bowl. Removing it in portions exposes more surface area and allows for more rapid cooling. Once all of the rice is in the bowl, dribble the vinegar mixture onto the paddle while moving it back and forth a few inches above the rice, so as to thinly and evenly distribute all of the seasoned vinegar over all of the rice. Use the paddle to gently break up any chunks of rice in “slicing” motions. When the clumps are broken and cease to re-form, you can be sure that all of the rice has been seasoned. When ready, the rice should glisten and feel warm, but not hot, to the touch. Turn off the fan or dismiss your friend.
Wet your hands with water (the rice is very sticky) and, using your hands, gently transfer the rice to a cooler (which keeps it from getting too cold) or to a wooden bowl. Run a clean, lint-free hand towel under warm water until entirely moistened and cover the rice until ready to use, or for up to 2 hours. If you use a cooler, close the lid. If using a wooden bowl, cover with plastic wrap.
For the wasabi cream cheese
Mix the wasabi powder and 2 tablespoons water in a small bowl until dissolved. Add the cream cheese to the bowl and use a rubber spatula to fully incorporate the wasabi.
For the everything bagel mix
Combine all the ingredients for the everything bagel mix in a small pan. Toast until fragrant. Transfer to a small plate to cool.
For the nigiri
Place the warm rice, wasabi cream cheese, seasoning mix, and sliced fish in close proximity. Wet your hands with water. With your dominant hand, grab less than a Ping Pong ball’s but a little more than a shooter marble’s worth of rice. Gently squeeze it so it’s about the length and diameter of a fat wine-bottle cork. Too much squeezing makes the rice like clay, too little and it falls apart. (Luckily the recipe above makes enough rice for you and your guests to practice.) Once the rice ball is formed, slide it a bit lower in your palm and hold onto it. Pick up a slice of fish with your nondominant hand. With your dominant pointer finger (rice ball still clutched) swipe a little wasabi cream cheese onto the fish. Gently press the rice ball onto the cream cheese–smeared fish in your nondominant hand. Flip the nigiri fish-side up in your nondominant hand, and gently apply pressure with two fingers of your dominant hand and a cupping motion from your nondominant hand. Rotate the fish and rice ball 180 degrees and repeat, so as to round off the corners and strongly adhere the fish to the rice ball. See the diagram below.
Gently press the top of the fish into the everything bagel mix; it should stick to the surface of the fish.
Place the nigiri on a plate, top with as few or as many garnishes as you like, and serve. Have your guests eat these quickly, as the rice will dry out if left unconsumed.
Continue forming nigiri, rewetting your hands as needed to keep the rice from sticking to your hands.
Mince some fresh dill and cook it with your sushi rice. It will perfume it with its sweet, almost minty flavor. This will freshen up the oily fish nicely.