A couple of weeks after it officially became Spring, it’s finally starting to get warm! Cherry blossoms will start blooming soon at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. So I’ll do a how-to on great picnic food for Hanami (Cherry blossom viewing).
Character inari-zushi #1: Totoro inari-zushi
Inari is fried bean curd cooked in soy sauce, sugar, mirin and water. The skin is juicy and sweet and the inside can be sushi rice, sweet rice, or even plain rice. If you can find fried bean curd, you should definitely try making inari from scratch. It’s juicier than the ones from a can. (I’ll try to get fried bean curd and do a how-to on this soon!) But for those who can’t get fried bean curd or want to always have it handy, like myself, there’s always canned inari skin.
You can find these quite easily at an Asian supermarket or online stores. Its price varies where you buy them. For example, the orange one on the right is $2.99 at a Japanese supermarket and the one on the left is about $4.50 at a deli by my house. The expensive one comes with an “easy-to-open” top, but that’s the only difference. They both contains the same amount of inari skins and taste pretty much the same.
[How to make Totoro inari-zushi] (using canned inari skin)
Food you need:
- Freshly cooked rice: As much as you want. You’ll use about three TBS of rice for each inari.
- Inari skins: As many as you want. One can of inari-zushi contains about 15 ~ 17 skins. If you don’t use all the skins, keep the skin in a can with the fluid inside. Do not drain the liquid. (The skins will last a couple of days in the fridge. I wouldn’t recommend keeping it longer. It’ll start to get moldy.)
- Cheese singles
- String beans (only for 4-b. See the instruction below.)
- Uncooked pasta (only for 6-b. See the instruction below.)
- hole punch, tweezers, toothpick, a straw, scissors
While you cook rice, you can go ahead and cut the seaweed. It’s so much easier and goes faster when you have the seaweed ready. You need to cut seaweed for the eyes, nose, whiskers (for 4-a version), and the pattern on the stomach. I used a hole punch for the eyes, and the nose is an eye cut in half. Make sure the seaweed is kept dry until you use it.
Sushi rice: You can check out how to make sushi rice with only vinegar, sugar and salt. Or you can get sushi rice powder.
Sweet rice: This is my favorite rice for inari-zushi. You just drizzle the mixture you cook Inari-skin in or the mixture that’s in a can into freshly cooked rice. Make sure you don’t dump in all the mixture at once! Add the mixture little by little and mix before you add more, and don’t let the rice get too soggy.
Plain rice: I’d lightly seasoned the rice with salt, because it’ll make the skin taste sweeter. You can also add a bit of sesame seeds just for flavor but it’s totally up to you.
1. The skin may look like one piece out of a can, but it’s actually a pouch. Peel open the cut-side VERY CAREFULLY.
2. Cut the skin like in the below photo. (Save the small piece.)
3. Make a pocket with your hand, and hold the skin inside your palm, and put rice inside the inari skin. As you stuff the rice in, make sure you don’t over-stuff the inari skin and rip it.
4-a. Cut the small piece as pictured, this will be the ear. Fold the cut piece, cut a slit on the skin, and insert the cut piece in using a toothpick.
4-b. (good for beginners) Slice a cooked string bean, cut a slit on the skin, and insert the string bean.
5. Cut out a small circle of cheese, and put seaweed on to make an eye. Cut out cheese with a straw, cut it in half, and put seaweed on it to make a nose.
6-a. Put seaweed for the whiskers.
6-b. (good for beginners) Cook uncooked pasta in oil until it’s brown. After it’s cooled down, stick it into the body to make the whiskers.
7. Put the seaweed on the stomach and you’re done!
If you’re making this for the first time, I’m pretty sure you’ll rip skin while you’re stuffing the rice into the Inari skin. But don’t panic, there’s a way to fix it.
Just cut a piece of cheese, put some seaweed on it, and make him smile!
You may feel like it’s hard to keep the shape on its own, but once you put them in a bento box tightly, the rice will be set into the place, and they’ll stay in the shape until you eat them.
If you have any questions about any of my how-to’s, please feel free to leave a comment or email me!