Food blogging has its perks. Aside from being a member of a surprisingly tightly knit community of really great people, every now and then, you might even chance upon some pretty awesome freebies. In this case, I really hit it lucky, and won a free fish (yay!). This is not just any fish–this is a Kona Kampachi from Kona Blue. I was pretty excited because this is very fresh and sushi-grade to boot, so the first thing that came to mind for me: sushi! (I’m so original! Good thing they don’t call it “ice cream grade”–you’d still stick with me, right, reader?) I’m not sure why, but making sushi is one of those things that always scared the hell out of me, so this was a biggie for me.
First, a bit more about the fish. I’d entirely understand if you’re scratching your head and wondering what Kona Kampachi is as, if you’re like me, you’ve never seen this before when you go fish shopping. Its a particular kind of Hawaiian yellowtail/hamachi (remember yellowtail? Other names for this fish that might ring a bell: Kahala, Almaco jack, Songoro amberjack, and Medregal) that has been raised in very controlled conditions. Normally, I tend to walk right past farmed fish, as prior experience usually shows that wild caught fish simply looks and tastes better. But this has proven me wrong–it would be hard to imagine a fish tasting better than this.
The quality of this fish was truly awesome. It didn’t smell fishy or have a dull, lifeless color–this looked and smelled really fresh…like the ocean, if that makes sense. Plus, this fish is just like butter and has a mouth watering 30% fat (and we all know fat is flavor). And for what its worth, the folks at Kona Blue did not ask me to review this or even write anything at all–they just asked for an address and that I be home to receive it when it got here. I’m pretty sure they know the product speaks for itself, and combined with chatty folks like food bloggers, well, I guess everybody wins, right?
Unfortunately, given the distance most of us live from Hawaii (if you live in Hawaii, or even California where you might see this at local fish markets, I’m jealous), the necessity of pricey 1 or 2 day shipping can make this a bit of a luxury, but you only live once, so really consider it some time if you’d like some truly high quality fish. I’m not one for product endorsements, but this was a real gem. How can you say no to that smiling face? (just squint–no, harder than that. See? Its smiling)
So once the fish made it to my doorstep, I got to work cleaning, gutting, and filleting. This can be an intimidating process if you’ve never done it before, so read up on it. Its not too bad, but you might need extra time if its your first try. I could stand to improve at this, so you don’t get step-by-step photos this time.
With the fish filleted, its time to get to work, so portion out the fish and put what you won’t be using back in the fridge right away. Oh right, I mentioned big news in the post title, didn’t I? Well, you’ll see a handful of Kona Kampachi posts in the coming days, but that’s not the big news. It was a pretty nicely sized fish (maybe ~5 lbs whole), but my wife just hasn’t had a taste for fish at all lately, so I was left to myself to get through this. Why no taste for fish? We’re pregnant! So stay tuned for pickle ice cream (lol, ugh, no!).
Anyways, I guess I should actually get to the sushi part of this post already. I’d always heard sushi was hard, but I don’t think I ever truly appreciated that statement. The apparent simplicity of sushi results in a demand for absolute perfection in making it. The rice should be light as air, yet somehow just barely keep the roll together. The toppings/fillings should be cut with precision, the flavors in delicate balance–there’s a lot of little things to be aware of. This was my first try and it wasn’t perfect, but I definitely learned a lot from the experience. The end product was delicious though even if my presentation isn’t quite up to par–the rice was delicious (sushi rice isn’t just plain old white rice!), the kona kampachi amazing (of course!), and I tried to make a variety of rolls to keep things interesting. The sloppier looking roll in my photo was an attempt at a volcano roll (that’s a spicy mayo/crab topping you see on top) next to a simpler maki roll meant to really let the kona kampachi shine. Each had different fillings and techniques to them, but the star of the show in all three rolls was the kona kampachi (yes, I know I only showed you two…let’s just say number three was camera shy…or not photogenic…or a disaster in assembly, lol).
These measurements are a bit approximate as I used the leftovers to make California rolls for my wife…
- 1 sheet of nori (seaweed) per roll
- Japanese Vinegared Rice, a.k.a. Sumeshi
- 2 cups sushi rice (shortgrain–this is important!)
- 2.5 cups water
- 4 Tbsp cups rice vinegar (not rice wine)
- 4 Tbsp sugar
- ~1/2 lb Kona Kampachi
- 1 cucumber
- 1 avocado
- 3 scallions
- wasabi paste
- sriracha sauce
- 2 crab legs/claws
Begin by cooking the sushi rice. The first and most important step is to wash the rice. This particular grain of rice is very starchy and you want to get as much of that starch off as you can. Rinse the rice under running water, soak it water for 30 minutes in cool water, and then rinse/stir it again a couple times, changing the water and doing this until the water runs clear.
With the rice cleaned, onto cooking. I use a rice cooker, but if you don’t have one, its still nice and easy: mix the rice and water in a saucepan, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer this on very low heat, undisturbed for 15 minutes. Then, remove from heat, but let this stand for 15 minutes more before you proceed.
While the rice cooks, prepare the vinegar syrup. It sounds gross, but just wait until it all comes together. In a saucepan, simply mix the vinegar and sugar, heating and mixing until the sugar is totally dissolved. Add a dash of salt, get this off of the heat and set it aside.
Once the rice is done, fold the vinegar syrup into the rice. Try not to overmix the rice or you’ll mush it all up (which is not the goal–you just want to coat the rice evenly with the syrup). Let this cool down a bit more to room temperature before you try to make sushi using it.
And now, prepare the rest. In a small bowl , mix the mayo and sriracha. I didn’t measure this at all–simply squirt in some mayo, a smaller amount of sriracha, stir, taste, and adjust. Set this aside.
Then, dice the vegetables. Peel the cucumber and avocado (discard the pit) and dice long thin slivers (squeeze some lemon on the avocado to prevent browning). Dice long slivers of the scallions as well. Try to make everything roughly equal in size.
Also, cook the crab. I would have went with scallops, but didn’t find any that looked so great, so if you have scallops, prepare those to your liking. I simply boiled the crab legs for a bit shy of 10 minutes, cracked them open, harvested the meat, and tossed it in a bit of the spicy mayo from earlier. Set this aside.
Also, don’t forget to prepare the fish. Cut long thin strips, similar in size/thickness to the vegetables from earlier. With sushi-grade, high quality fish, live a little and even voluntarily cross contaminate other things on your cutting board just because you can (ok, or don’t).
Now, in theory, you’d have a bamboo mat for rolling the sushi. Everyone in the world seems to find these with ease. I was in a rush to find it before the fish showed up, but it just wasn’t happening, so I instead wrapped a placemat in plastic wrap and used that.
Whatever the case, lay a sheet of nori on your rolling mat shiny side down. Then, gently spread on a thin layer of rice. Don’t mash it in place–you don’t want it to be super dense. Try to cover all but a thin strip of the nori with rice. Then, for my first maki roll, I spread a thin dab of wasabi paste in a line over the rice on the side closest to me (adjust to taste, but don’t go overboard–you don’t want to mask the fish flavor!).
Then, very simply, lay the strip of fish and a few toppings over the line of wasabi. It won’t look like you put very much on, and that’s fine. One strip of fish, one or two strips of scallion, one cucumber, avocado, etc. If you overdo it, it will be difficult to roll things successfully, so resist the urge to pile it on.
Using your rolling mat, roll this up, rolling away from you. As you proceed rolling, stop halfway through to squeeze and adjust things a bit (using your rolling mat) so that it is even in shape and thickness.
Set this first roll aside.
And now, bang out the other rolls. For variety, I did an uramaki roll in addition to maki (my understanding of the difference being that the rice is on the outside rather than the inside). In this case, you cover the entire sheet of nori with rice, flip it upside down, and add the fillings/roll it up just like you did the previous roll.
As for how you distribute the toppings amongst your rolls, do whatever works for you. For me, my topping mixes/fillings went as follows:
- Maki roll: wasabi paste, scallion, avocado, fish
- Uramaki: wasabi paste, scallion, cucumber, avocado
- Maki roll: spicy mayo, scallion, cucumber, avocado, fried fish skin (briefly deep fry a few strips of skin), fish
I also topped roll #2 with the spicy mayo crab mixture.
Finally, with all of the rolls made, you need to cut them into bite-sized pieces of sushi. It is important that you moisten your knife after each cut or I promise that you’ll destroy your roll–the rice will stick to your knife and things will come down like a house of cards (which I fondly call “roll #3). Anyways, with that in mind, simply cut each roll into about 8 pieces in one clean motion with a sharp, long knife.
Grab your chopsticks, a small bowl of high quality soy sauce, and enjoy!