To look at the menus of sushi joints around town, it would appear that purists are an endangered species. Never mind that the California roll is a recent phenomenon in the world of impeccably sliced raw fish — or that it is said to have come about in the Golden State a generation ago as a response to unreliable sources of fresh seafood.
But the fact that one can find fresh fish in Fargo these days hasn’t slowed the advance of the bastardized form — to the point that sushi chefs are obliged to invent new variants to stay ahead of the game. Speaking of which, they’re frequently named for local sports heroes. A Duncan Roll, anyone? Or take on the whole team with a Spurs Roll.
We should now admit, before you get the wrong idea, that we actually like many of these crazy creations — stopping short of admitting cream cheese. But we also feel that most of them have little to do with the person, place, or group being honored. So the Current decided to build a better bastard roll and to make it at least nominally reflective of the Alamo City in the process. We took as our model the conical hand roll, since it required no lengthy apprenticeship in sushi-culture to produce; we assembled a battery of ingredients as diverse as chicharron and peanut butter; and we broke out the tequila. (Herradura, if you must know.)
The tequila was useful in what might have been our most successful creation, a Soused Salmon San Antonio Roll. But first some advance prep: sushi rice. The folks at Tokyo Mart assured me that Nishiki was the brand “all Japanese restaurants use.” Follow the directions on the package, but make your own sweetened vinegar mix by combining a tablespoon of freshly squeezed lime juice (our first nod to San Antonio) with four tablespoons of unseasoned rice-wine vinegar, 2 teaspoons sugar, and ½ teaspoon salt, all stirred to dissolve. (Do the rice about two hours ahead, as it needs to cool.) While at your favorite Asian grocer, also buy a package or two of roasted nori, or seaweed sheets; they’re the wrapper common to all cones.
Back to the salmon roll. We bought the least expensive (farmed) salmon in steak form and sliced it into pieces just slightly smaller and thinner than you would find in a classic nigiri sushi. Fanning the slices out on a plate, we poured over enough tequila to cover, then squeezed on a half lime, scattered a few finely sliced pieces of serrano chile and some Maldon sea salt. Finely chopped cilantro was the final touch. It took no more than 30 minutes to cure nicely and was great on its own.
We then cut a sheet of nori in half on the diagonal and began our creation by putting a couple tablespoons of the cooled and seasoned rice off-center on the sheet. Several salmon slices followed. We were looking for both texture and color, so we sliced avocado into small spears and slivered some red bell pepper for crunch. A mayonnaise modified with wasabi paste and a little of the salmon marinade was then drizzled over the assembled ingredients, and the package was rolled into the desired cone shape. (Under-filling is better than over-filling, it should be noted.) Pretty good, if we do say so ourselves.
But lots of variations are possible. Another cone was crafted from shrimp briefly steamed in beer and accessorized with a chipotle paste loosened with lime juice, and avocado that had been doused with mescal. Crumbled chicharron was added, too, but it softened too much to supply the wanted slightly meaty crunch. Sprinkling the chicharron on top — and adding more before each bite — proved to be successful, however.
We also used matchstick jicama and toasted pumpkin seeds as crunch-creating add-ins in other variations on the theme. Slivered mango worked with an herbal ceviche model that was good but time-consuming, and both jalapeño Tabasco and ponzu sauce came into play, proving, or at least suggesting, that you can let your fancy run free in begetting your own bastard.
As for the peanut butter, we did use it in a spiked sauce for a kind of surf ’n’ turf with fried, shredded skirt steak, seared tuna, cooked onion, garlic powder, a “schmeer” of refried beans, and no rice. It was way better than it might sound but didn’t work with the nori. In fact, it really wanted to be a taco, so that’s where we’ll go with it next time. Now, whom to name it for…. •