20th April 2013
Sweet Sushi-Teen
Real wasabi root.

Sophie is sixteen - only two years away from being an adult!
In celebration she asked me to organise a sushi (and tempura) evening for her and 9, no 6, no 5 teeny friends. So I mostly did an extended re-run of the last sushi meal the Eldorado girlies helped to organise - except without Larry The (sadly eaten) Lobster.

Plus it gave me the opportunity of making something I've been wanting to try for quite a while now - wasabi prawn crackers! Like those prawn crackers you get from a Chinese takeaway, but with wasabi. Sounds good right? Right?
Turns out that there's approximately one recipe in the whole world for prawn crackers, and none for wasabi crackers. Is that an opportunity or an omen?

So I started out with buying myself a dehydrator and a nice bag of prawns to blend, then got on with prickly job of kneading the shellfish dough, Prickly for those of us with seafood allergies at any rate!, rolling it into logs, steaming it, slicing it into crisps and drying them (see here).
The things I do for food :)

Since I was in a buying mood, I decided to avail myself of some real wasabi from the wasabi company purely in the interests of science of course; you know that wasabi you've been cautiously smearing onto your sushi in restaurants or buying in little tubes in supermarkets?
Well, that's not wasabi at all!
It's actually mostly just various kinds of mustard or horseradish. If you're lucky it will have trace amounts of wasabi just so they can write that on the packaging.
Chances are you've never had any actual wasabi - I know I hadn't, so I was keen to find out exactly how different the real stuff tastes. Surprisingly similar is the disappointing answer, and neither does it keep particularly well. But I didn't want to waste it on the experimental crackers, particularly as I get the impression that it doesn't survive cooking very well, and it seemed more likely that ersatz mustard wasabi would.
So I saved it all for smearing on the fish.

While I was ordering stuff online anyway, I also looked up some proper matcha powdered green tea, and used it to make a more authentic round of green tea ice cream. Out of consideration for the teenies' sensibilities though, I left out the wasabi this time!
Sophie had a special dessert request for something like pizza, so as well as the oriental ice cream, I thought I'd have a go at a giant pizza cookie. I'm not much of a dessert chef, but it didn't seem like I could go too far wrong - I took a generic cookie dough recipe and just baked it in one great big lump rather than lots of little ones.
I made a dessert pizza topping by reducing a bunch of strawberries with a generous amount of sugar and a squeeze of lemon before straining it to make basically a thin strawberry jelly. A few slices of kiwi and strawberries as a decoration and Bob's your teenies' Uncle. I had planned to drizzle over some cheese-coloured icing but ran out of time.
My nemesis.

So then it was just a matter of stocking up on seaweed sheets, sushi flavoured vinegar, extra soy sauce, dashi granules, dried mushrooms, extra rice, and all the vegetables in the world. Oh and a fine collection of fish.
Ah yes, the fish.
It's been pretty windy recently. As anyone who's tried (and failed) to take a small yacht out into the Forth to practice their spinnaker work will attest. That means a bad time to buy fresh fish, but fortunately after a reassuringly calm Friday I was able to buy an exquisite £10 hunk of tuna and some really nice fillets of Orkney farmed salmon. I also stocked up on prawns, scallops, squid (strictly against Sophie's orders) and oysters. For tempura. Unless someone fancied a raw oyster of course (a step too far apparently).

As usual I spend a lot of time drawing up a Saturday meal plan and come Thursday evening I kick things off with the prawn crackers - I wanted to make them early just in case it all went horribly wrong! Much of Friday is spent sneaking out of work shopping for fish and vegetables, and Friday evening I pass the time making ice cream, giant cookies (well, ONE giant cookie) and a sweet chilli dip.
Up on Saturday at the break of cuckoo fart, I stock up with boat-loads of ice and last-minute seafood, make up the various dips, soak the dried shiitake mushrooms, matchstick all the sushi veg, cut up the tempura vegetables, trim the fish, fry the salmon skins and make up a vat of sushi rice large enough to drown a small child in. I thought it might be more effective to rub in the sushi vinegar by hand and I conveniently borrowed a fan from work to help out with the job.
It was certainly more fun.
The rice turned out really well too - so I think it must have worked.

I put together the impressive array of equipment I figure I'm going to need - apparently the Eldoradoes don't even own a chip pan (!! My how they've let things slide since I was organising their kitchen), so I had to take mine. But they did agree to ensure an ample supply of oil. And proper sunflower oil too - not just the oil pressed from leftover vegetables Crisp And Dry found lying in the back of a truck..

Finally it's time to fill the car with the food all nicely arranged on tubs of ice, my vast collection of bottles, pots, pans, dishes, knives, gadgets and chopsticks, and drive over to Casa Eldorado like some kind of demented mobile sushi van. The birthday party was conveniently out at the movies so I had time to get everything nicely set up unmolested and turn out a batch of prawn crackers ready for the returning teenies to snack on.
The plain prawn crackers worked out pretty well (after a bit of practice and an un-promising start) but the wasabi variety - not so much :(
Must try harder!

I think the teenies had fun (the feedback was good!) - they didn't make much of a dent on the rice (I may have gone a bit mad on the rice(!), but after running out last time I wasn't taking any chances), but they had a reasonable bash at making sushi, ate their way though a decent sampling of the fish and munched up plenty of tempura. Even the chillies!

Unsurprisingly the squid remained untouched (I had been warned!), even the tempura'd squid rings got a body-swerve. So I had a lot of leftover squid to take back home. I'd planned on blanching up some lacy squid to use as a fishy decoration, but didn't have time in the end. That's OK - it's good to have sacrificial dishes that you can miss out if you run out of time. Or forget. As I usually do.
Incidentally - a funny thing happened on the way to my fridge the other night...
While my fridge is endlessly waiting to be replaced with one whose internal light works, it sits there dark and neglected, so that as I sleepily grope my way into it for my habitual nighttime gulp of milk I do so in pitch darkness.
Imagine my surprise, then, the other night to find my milk unexpectedly illuminated by a ghastly green light emanating from my enormous stash of oddly glowing leftover squid!
Worry ye not fish fans, for it turns out to be unusual but not entirely unheard of for dead squid to glow from an infestation of bio-luminescent bacteria. Most of which (like v. phosphoreum) are perfectly natural and perfectly harmless. I can attest to this one's harmlessness anyway, since undaunted I tempura'd them up and ate them. In the interests of science you know.
Of course, I might have been a bit more scrupulous than usual about cooking them thoroughly after dreamily admiring their gentle pulsing in my fridge like eery night-lights.

The fish were lovely, but the oysters were giants; consequently incredibly difficult to lever open and frankly a bit too strongly flavoured for eating raw. I tempura'ed one of them and it tasted palatable enough, but I completely failed to wash it clean of grit - probably due to all the cranking I had to do to get the tenacious little beast open. The remainders I took home where I made a better job of flushing them clean before filling them with a dynamite sauce and grilling them. They were OK (especially filled with a little leftover sushi rice), but definitely not a patch on using scallops.

After stuffing their fridge with enough rice and fish (no squid!) to keep an Eldorado family in sushi for days, I packed up the remaining (and substantial) leftovers, filled up their dishwasher, cleaned their kitchen, then loaded the food and my vast collection of bottles, pots, pans, dishes, knives, gadgets and chopsticks, back into my car for the tediously familiar drive home.

The girls kindly helped me to ferry everything out - I was not invited to spend the night.

Crispy Salmon Skins
fish ingredient
Crispy salmon skins are surprisingly tasty - and not too fishy either. You can use them in sushi rolls, or serve them cut into strips as a tasty snack.
Waste not, want not...

Thoroughly de-scale the salmon fillets - for some reason, despite having the best tools for the job and complete fish to work with, fishmongers never seem to manage this basic job.
Carefully slice off the skin from your salmon fillets; lay the salmon skin-side down on a board and cut through horizontally using a see-saw motion with a very sharp, thin knife like a santoku. You can leave up to a ¼" of flesh on the skin.
Cut into ½" strips (if you like), season (you can be more adventurous than just using salt & pepper if you like Chinese five-spice, paprika, etc), and coat in flour.
Moderately heat about ½" vegetable oil in a frying pan, and fry the skins, starting skin-side down, until they puff and start to look crispy; 3-6 minutes.
Drain them on kitchen roll.
Serve with a soy sauce dip.
If you're making inside-out salmon skin sushi, then leave the skins whole to fry them and cut them down if necessary to fit the roll.

Be warned - although the skins are surprisingly odour-free they will make your kitchen (and the oil) stink of fish. Open the windows!

They don't keep very well, quickly going soft again, so use within a few hours.

Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce
oriental thai sauce
So this is the sweet chilli sauce recipe I based mine on - as made famous by Glen Simpson on on Come Dine With Me - one of the few TV programmes my Mum and I can bear to watch together :)

I used the minimal suggested amount of dried crushed chilli (though I did add half a sliced fresh red chilli too!) and the result was bloody hot. I thought it was excellent, but you might want to go easy if you're making it for softies.

I didn't have any actual sherry, so I used Madeira instead which was just fine, but I can't help thinking rice wine would be the way to go.

Incidentally, it makes a really good salad dressing for warm new potatoes, or a dip for fried potato wedges.

Makes a (generous) half cup

De-seed and finely slice the fresh red chilli (if using). Place all ingredients - except the cornstarch-water mixture - in a sauce pan or pot. Bring to a rolling boil.
Reduce heat to medium and let boil for 10 minutes, or until reduced by half. (The vinegar will be quite pungent as it boils off!).
Reduce heat to low, stir the cornstarch-water mixture and add it. Stir to incorporate and continue stirring occasionally until the sauce thickens (about 2 minutes).
Remove from heat and taste-test. You should taste sweet first, followed by sour, then spicy and salty notes. If the sauce isn't sweet enough, add a little more sugar. If not spicy enough, add more chili. If it blows your head off, too bad! Pour sauce into a small bowl or jar and serve cold as a dip with chicken, fish or seafood, tempura or spring rolls. Also makes an excellent marinade for grilled chicken, fish, or seafood.
An excellent sauce - you might want to be a bit cautious with the amount of chilli and fish sauce (which can be slightly overwhelming) - taste as you go.
I think a dash of lime juice or some grated lime zest wouldn't go amiss either.

Giant Cookies
dessert veg
Sophie requested a dessert pizza to round of her sweet sushi-teen dinner, so I made a giant cookie for 10 people from a half recipe for this Basic Adaptable Cookie Dough (without halving the single egg yolk!), and dressed it up to look a bit like a (smallish) pizza.
Not sure if it entirely worked, but it all got eaten. I figure you can't go wrong with cookie dough :)

Makes 20 cookies, or two giant ones.

Cream the butter and sugar together until they're light and fluffy.

Add the egg yolk and mix well. Then add the flour and salt, and vanilla extract or lemon.

Add about 50g of whatever other ingredients you like! Good combinations to try are dark chocolate and orange, white chocolate and lemon, and date and pecan. Hundreds and thousands mixed into the dough are really colourful and great for kids! I used chocolate drops - 'cos I'm boring

Mix the flour and your added extras until it all comes together to form a sticky cookie dough.
Put the dough onto a floured work surface, and roll into a thick sausage shape. The size of the sausage depends how big you want your cookies: make it long and thin to get the most out, but they'll be smaller.

Wrap the sausage of cookie dough in clingfilm and leave in the freezer for at least 1 hour. While it's in there, preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F/Gas mark 6).
Take the sausage of cookie dough out of the freezer: it should be firmer and easier to cut. Use a sharp knife to slice it, as thick as you like, and put the cookie slices onto a baking sheet, spaced quite far apart. If you need to bake them in more than one batch, wrap the excess dough and put it back into the freezer so it doesn't go soft.
Actually - to make my giant cookie I just chilled the dough in a flattened ball shape for 15 minutes or so, then pressed it into a pizza shape. Not sure if the chilling is strictly necessary for the cooking process.
Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, then leave to cool. They're great plain, but you can spread each one with a teaspoon of coloured or flavoured icing.
So this worked pretty well for one giant cookie (though you might need to turn the oven temperature down a little and turn the giant cookie so it cooks evenly). I reduced some strawberries with sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice to make a rich jammy strawberry sauce to paint on the top of the cooled giant cookie pizza (to look like tomato paste, see?), and decorated with thinly sliced strawberries and kiwis.

As made by Japanese mothers everywhere. Probably.
Leftover Sushi Soup
soup fish
You don't need a picture - it's soup. Mostly brown soup.

Serves you right for making too much!

Yer takes all yer leftover sushi and tempura bits, including the dipping sauces, the rice, the cut up fishes, (but not the wasabi) and yer puts them in a pot and yer adds water and yer boils em up.
Nice with soy sauce, and a little dressing of mayonnaise!

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