Kosher sushi

Kosher sushi

In the process of preparing for this class, I got a message from Goldie Tiechtel of the Chabad Jewish Center in Urbana, asking if I could teach how to make kosher sushi. I said I didn’t know anything about kosher rules but I’d be willing to try, so I did a bunch of quick research and came up with recommendations for a kosher sushi menu, including kosher replacements for commonly-eaten non-kosher sushi types. Goldie found kosher-friendly ingredients and cooking utensils and pointed me at the kitchen, and away we went!

Utensils and serving plates

Kosher cooking requires keeping different storage, different dishes, and different utensils for meat foods vs dairy foods. I think the vegetables can be stored with the dairy foods unless they’re being cooked with meat – I’m not entirely sure. However, since sushi doesn’t involve either milk or meat, a lot of serving dilemmas can be avoided by simply picking up a sealed package of chopsticks and disposable plastic plates and cups. My understanding is that if they haven’t been used for anything else, they can’t be un-kosher yet.

Also, the easiest way to have a kosher rice cooker is to make sure you don’t use your rice cooker (or one of your rice cookers if you have more than one) for anything but rice. (That way there’s no question of whether it’s bringing meat-contamination to a dairy meal or dairy-contamination to a meat meal.)

If you want to have permanent Japanese-style sushi plates, you’ll need to know more than I do about kosher kitchen rules and how to store them and wash them… sorry about that!

Kosher ingredients

Traditional Japanese cooking doesn’t use milk or cheese at all, though some modern recipes have imported them from other countries’ recipes. Traditional sushi doesn’t use milk OR meat. So the two biggest questions left are whether the eggs have blood spots (poor Goldie had to recheck all the eggs when I started making the tamagoyaki) and whether you’ve got kosher fish and seaweed.

Here’s what we used for the kosher sushi at Chabad (Goldie checked them for kosher-ness so these brands should be OK):

  • Kikkoman soy sauce
  • Nakano rice vinegar (seasoned and unseasoned)
  • Sugar (I forgot to look at the brand, but I’m not sure if there’s such a thing as un-kosher sugar – if there is, get the kosher kind)
  • Fresh salmon for making salmon teriyaki (I think from a kosher fish market? I forgot to look at the label to see which market it came from. But that was the biggest piece of salmon I’ve ever seen in my life! And the enthusiastic-and-hungry collection of sushi-makers ate about 3/4 of it…)
  • Smoked salmon (lox)
  • Eggs (checked for blood spots as they were cracked – Goldie mentioned that organic eggs tend to have more blood spots than typical supermarket eggs do, and that some of her friends have had to avoid organic eggs because of it.)
  • Vegetables: Cucumbers, avocados, carrots, bean sprouts
  • Mirin is useful for making teriyaki sauce if you’re planning on substituting teriyaki salmon for non-kosher unagi.
  • Wasabi powder and pink pickled ginger – again, Goldie had a specific brand she bought. I believe the ginger was also organic, though I could be misremembering. Mitoku makes certified kosher wasabi and pickled ginger too.

Other things that we didn’t serve that night but that can be found in kosher-friendly varieties include:

  • Tuna – Kosher tuna is doable; we just didn’t make it that night, though I had a recipe for what I call Tijuana rolls (aka not-quite-California rolls) ready to go in case we had.
  • Tofu – Mori-nu makes kosher tofu that’s hermetically sealed and shelf-stable. Mitoku also makes kosher tofu but I think it’s in the traditional needs-refrigerating packs.
  • Abura-age / inari-sushi pouches: I wish Mori-nu or Mitoku also made abura-age (fried tofu pouches that are pre-seasoned for inari sushi). They don’t appear to make that kind of tofu though. Tofu itself is pretty kosher-friendly, but the question about abura-age is whether it was fried in any type of animal fat or whether it was fried in vegetable oil. If you do it yourself, you can be kosher-safe, but it takes a LONG time to press the water out of the tofu and cut it into the right shape to fry and fry it and cool it and simmer it in the seasoning mixture and cool it again… so for the class we figured it’d take more time than it was worth. But it freezes well, so if you feel like making up a batch, go for it.
  • Sesame seeds
  • Green onions, mayonnaise, hot pepper and vinegar sauce, and/or salsa for making spicy tuna rolls with — each chef has their own variation, of course, but often Japanese spicy tuna is either “green onions and hot sauce and raw tuna” or “mayonnaise and hot sauce and raw tuna”; when doing home-style as opposed to restaurant-style sushi, I often save time and chopping by using salsa and a can of tuna instead. (This IS central Illinois, and sushi-grade fish is just not that easy to come by on a regular basis…)

Non-kosher ingredients to avoid

Although kosher foods can be made un-kosher by exposure to the wrong type of handling, there’s no way to make un-kosher foods kosher. Basically, any fish that doesn’t have both scales and fins is un-kosher.

Some of the fish that come up in traditional sushi that will need to be avoided include:

  • Unagi (barbecued eel)
  • Ebi and ama-ebi (shrimp)
  • Tako (octopus)
  • Ika (squid)
  • Akagai (red clam – no clams or oysters are kosher; anything with -gai in the name probably means related-to-a-clam and therefore not kosher.)
  • Hotate (scallops – sometimes called hotategai, which makes their connections to clams and oysters more obvious)
  • Kani (crab – on a related note, lobster’s not kosher either)
  • Uni (sea urchin roe – sea urchins have lots of spikes but no fins or scales!)

Kosher sushi recipes

In practice, most of the night’s sushi making turned into “here’s how to make nigiri, maki, and temaki shapes; top or stuff ‘em with whatever looks tasty from the bowls on the table.” But if you want specific types of sushi to make, here are some. (These all assume you have some sushi rice prepared.)

Tamagoyaki

Ingredients:

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 tsp soy sauce (use light if you have it to keep the eggs a brighter yellow; otherwise, dark will do)
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • (If you have kosher sources for hon-dashi granules and mirin, mix 1/2 cup lukewarm-not-hot water with 1/4 tsp dashi granules, then mix that and 1 tsp mirin with the rest of the mixture. I didn’t have these ingredients, and the eggs turned out fine anyway.)

Procedure:

First, check the eggs for blood spots. Then whisk them until they’re well mixed, and add the other ingredients and whisk until smooth but not frothy.

Heat a rectangular tamago pan (if you have one) or a regular nonstick pan (if not) over low to medium heat, to the point where a couple drips of egg cook within a few seconds but don’t scorch. Put a thin layer of egg in the bottom of the pan (you may want to dump out the extra if it hasn’t set up within a minute).

If you’re making fukusa-style wrappings to use as an egg-type replacement for nori on the outside of sushi, just flip the thin layer of egg and cook for a couple seconds on the other side, then move the flat crepe-like egg to a plate to wait for the sushi rice.

If you want to use egg strips in nori, also cook them like that, and then slice them into approximately 1/4 to 1/2 inch ribbons so they’ll fit conveniently into the center of a roll.

If you’re making full tamagoyaki — a thick egg roll that’s sliced with fingers of omelet set on top of a finger of nigiri rice and wrapped with a thin obi cut from nori — then you wait until the egg is mostly set (a little damp on top but nothing pours around when you tilt the pan) and then roll the egg to one side of the pan.

Tilt up the bottom edge of the egg roll and add more egg to the pan so it seals the two pieces together when the new part cooks. Repeat the cook-til-mostly-done-and-roll procedure until you have a fairly fat egg roll that you can slice and lay atop a sushi finger.

Lox nigiri

Ingredients:

  • Lox
  • Wasabi paste

    (mix some wasabi powder with a few drops of water and stir until smooth)

Procedure:

Separate out the slices of lox.

Make nigiri fingers by cupping a little rice in the palm of one hand and pressing down with two fingers, then turning and pressing again until you have an approximately large-thumb-shaped tube of rice.

Dip a fingertip in the wasabi powder and stroke it along the center of a piece of lox, then place the wasabi side of the lox against a nigiri and hold in place.

If you want to be particularly decorative, you can cut little strips of nori and/or egg to wrap around the middle, but traditionally it’d just be the piece of fish on the piece of rice.

Kappa maki

Ingredients:

  • Cucumber strips
  • 1/2 sheet nori

Procedure:

Kappa maki are traditionally single-ingredient rolls made in the hosomaki (thin roll) style. There’s a legend about a water monster with a bowl on its head called a kappa; apparently the kappa loves cucumber, which is why they’re called kappa maki rather than kyuri (cucumber) maki.

Put 1/2 sheet of nori on your plastic-covered bamboo mat. Cover about 3/4 of the nori with a thin layer of sushi rice. Lay a couple of cucumber strips down the middle of the rice and roll and squeeze into shape (possibly rolling like a rolling pin to make round). Let rest seam-side down for a few minutes, then slice into 6 pieces.

Tijuana maki

This is my own invention (a more successful experiment than Dagobah Swamp Ramen, though not as infamous). I call it “Tijuana maki” because it’s not quite California maki — instead of the non-kosher crab, I’m using spicy tuna flavored with salsa. Yeah, I’m an experimental chef. Somewhere else I’ll tell the story of my transcontinental onigiri recipe involving Japanese, Korean, Mexican, and Midwest-farmhouse techniques…

Ingredients:

  • Full sheet of nori
  • Avocado strips
  • Cucumber strips
  • Egg strips
  • Kosher canned tuna, drained
  • Kosher salsa (Newman’s Own is certified kosher)
  • Sesame seeds, toasted until fragrant

Procedure:

Mix the drained tuna with the salsa and let rest in the refrigerator for the flavors to blend. Taste test on a cracker to see if you need more tuna or more salsa.

(If you’re doing the nori-outside futomaki (fat roll) variety:)

Lay your nori on the plastic-covered bamboo mat. Cover about 2/3 of the nori with a thin layer of sushi rice. Being careful not to overfill, place some cucumber strips, avocado strips, and egg strips down the center of the rice, then run a line of the tuna-salsa mix on top of it. Holding the ingredients in place with your fingertips as you start the roll, take the filled edge of the nori over to touch the place the rice ends, and roll and squeeze the mat to shape your maki. Unwrap and set aside to let rest for a few minutes, then slice into 6 pieces. Sprinkle the tops with toasted sesame seeds if you like.

(If you’re doing the rice-outside uramaki (reverse roll) variety:)

If you’re doing uramaki, you’re braver than I am; I can’t seem to get my rice to stick to the nori rather than my plastic-wrapped mat! But anyway…

Lay a thin but even layer of rice over the plastic-wrapped mat. Place a sheet of nori on top of the rice and arrange the fillings along one edge of the nori. Roll tightly around the fillings, so that the fillings end up in the center and the nori-and-rice combination creates a spiral running through the rice toward the outside of the roll. Unwrap carefully, sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds, slice, and serve. (In this one you don’t want to touch the rice to the rice the way you want to touch nori to nori in the other-way version. The nori running through the roll helps with structural integrity and gives the rice something standing-up to cling to.)

Obviously, in this version the salsa takes the place of the wasabi — wasabi and jalapeno just don’t go together very well; their types of heat are a little too different, I think.)

Salmon teriyaki maki

This recipe is intended for a kosher replacement for unagi, which is eel cooked in a sweetened soy sauce that’s quite similar to teriyaki sauce. At the center, people were enjoying the salmon with the crunch of the cucumber and bean sprouts, and I like it that way too; but if you’re looking for a one-for-one replacement for the way unagi maki are usually made, you can do the recipe below.

Ingredients:

  • Nori
  • Cooked salmon (Goldie did a gorgeous job with baking the salmon; you can also drain a can of it if you’re doing a quick version and/or are a college student without an oven)
  • Teriyaki sauce (scaled to match the quantity of fish available – I cooked with 1 part = about 1 1/2 cups at the center, but when cooking for just myself with a few ounces of salmon, I tend to use 1 part = 1/4 cup.)
    You can buy it, of course, but it’s really easy to make if you don’t have any on hand:

    • 1 part soy sauce
    • 1 part sugar

    (If you have access to kosher mirin, change the proportions to 1 part soy sauce, 1/2 part sugar, 1/2 part mirin.)

    If you like thicker teriyaki sauce and are in a hurry, you can also dissolve a spoonful of rice flour or cornstarch in a little water and add to the sauce to help it thicken up.

Procedure:

Teriyaki sauce: Simmer the soy sauce and sweetening mixture in a broad shallow pan until it thickens. (A good indicator is when the boiling area starts to get frothy-looking.) Sample with a bit of salmon or a cracker to taste for balance, then adjust the soy or the sugar to taste. Pour into a glass or ceramic bowl (plastic is likely to melt) and set aside to cool a bit.

Flake your salmon into a bowl and drizzle some of the teriyaki sauce over it, then stir. Taste-test to find the proportion you like.

Follow the usual maki drill (sheet of nori, thin layer of rice over not quite all of the sheet, fish in the middle, roll, rest, cut). After you’ve cut the six slices, arrange them on the plate and drizzle another spoonful of teriyaki sauce over the top to mimic the treatment of the unagi-grilling sauce.

Websites explaining kosher rules

For more information: