Chirashi-zushi: The go-to dish for any holiday bash

March 1, 2022 by No Comments


When it comes time to celebrate a happy event such as a birthday or graduation, home cooks often rely on chirashi-zushi, or scattered-style sushi, to feed the crowd. It’s a particularly popular choice for the Hina Matsuri (Doll Festival), which occurs on March 3, Girls’ Day.

The reason chirashi-zushi is such a good dish for parties is because the amount you make can easily be expanded to accommodate last-minute guests, and three of the major components — soy-simmered shiitake mushrooms, thin omelets and pickled lotus root — can be cooked days in advance. The other components can either be purchased (red and pink pickled ginger, toasted sesame seeds) or made in a matter of minutes (blanched and slivered snow peas).

Once the rice and toppings are made, final assembly takes about 30 minutes. Scatter the toppings at random for a quick and attractive presentation, or arrange them in wedges for a more dramatic look. No matter how you design your platter, organizing your menu according to the washoku guidelines of five colors (red, yellow, green, black, white), five flavors (sweet, sour, salty, spicy, bitter) and five ways (simmer, sear, fry, steam, raw) ensures nutritional balance.

Once assembled, chirashi-zushi keeps well at cool room temperature for hours.


Recipe: Scattered-style sushi for six

What follows are the recipes for all the individual components that will make up the chirashi-zushi. Preparations can be stretched out over several days, or everything can be made at once several days in advance. Simply decide what works best for you and your schedule.

Pickled lotus root

Makes about 40 slices

Prep and cook: 10 mins.

(Can be stored for up to one month)

Ingredients:

  • 1 segment (around 100-120 grams) fresh lotus root (renkon)

To soak the lotus root:

  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 2 cups cold water

To blanch the lotus root:

  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 2 cups cold water

To make the amazu (sweet vinegar) that will be used to pickle the lotus root:

  • 1½ cups rice vinegar
  • ½ tablespoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2.5-centimeter piece kelp (konbu)

Directions:

  1. Peel the lotus root and cut it into very thin slices. Use a stainless-steel blade to prevent discoloration. Immediately soak the slices in the vinegar and water mixture to prevent further discoloration.
  2. Mix a fresh batch of vinegar and water in a nonreactive pot and bring to a boil. Drain the soaking lotus root slices and blanch them in the second vinegar and water mixture for one minute, or until barely tender and slightly translucent. Drain and immediately transfer to a glass jar (do not refresh blanched lotus root under cold water).
  3. Place the amazu ingredients in a nonreactive pot over low heat and cook, stirring until the sugar and salt have completely dissolved. Discard the konbu. Pour the mixture over the lotus root slices in the glass jar. When cool, cover and refrigerate. Ready to eat within a few hours, pickled lotus root can be made up to one month in advance. The pickling liquid can be reused to season rice for sushi, or as a salad dressing.
Use chopsticks as a guide to mark off where the five colored toppings go: (white) lotus root, (yellow) omelet ribbons, (black) mushrooms, (green) snow peas and (red) pickled ginger. | ELIZABETH ANDOH
Use chopsticks as a guide to mark off where the five colored toppings go: (white) lotus root, (yellow) omelet ribbons, (black) mushrooms, (green) snow peas and (red) pickled ginger. | ELIZABETH ANDOH

Soy-simmered shiitake

Makes about 40 slices

Prep: 40 mins.

Cook: 20 mins.

(Can be stored for five days)

Ingredients:

  • 4 dried shiitake mushrooms, preferably thick-capped donko variety
  • 2½ cups water
  • 5-cm piece of kelp (konbu)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sake
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce

Directions:

  1. Remove the dried shiitake stems and set them aside to make stock another day. When cooking the caps, they alone will provide ample flavor.
  2. Soak the dried shiitake caps with the konbu in water for at least 30 minutes (several hours or overnight will yield deeper flavor). Once the caps are soft, remove them from their soaking liquid and slice into narrow strips. Re-soak these strips for 10 more minutes (they will swell slightly) to be sure the slices are fully reconstituted before cooking them. Strain the soaking liquid into a small saucepan to remove any gritty bits. Discard the konbu. The strained liquid is your stock for cooking the mushroom slices.
  3. Place the softened mushroom slices in a saucepan, add the mushroom stock and sake and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook for five minutes skimming away any froth. Place a drop lid (otoshi-buta) on the mushrooms for the best results, or improvise by cutting a piece of parchment paper into a circle and placing it directly on the simmering mushrooms (this keeps them moist while cooking). Add the sugar, re-lid and cook for another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a bit more water (if needed) to keep the mushrooms covered with liquid as they simmer.
  4. Add the soy sauce, re-lid and cook for five minutes until the shiitake become slightly glazed. Allow the shiitake strips to cool in the cooking pot. When completely cool, transfer to a clean glass jar or other nonreactive container with whatever liquid remains in the pot. Seal tightly. Unused portions may be stored in the refrigerator for up to five days.
When making the thin omelet, work a single chopstick under the omelet, lift and invert (far left). Then, slice the egg sheets into ribbons (left).  | ELIZABETH ANDOH
When making the thin omelet, work a single chopstick under the omelet, lift and invert (far left). Then, slice the egg sheets into ribbons (left).  | ELIZABETH ANDOH

Thin omelets

Makes 4-6 sheets

Cook: 10-15 minutes

(Can be stored for two to three days)

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 large eggs
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons sake
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil (to season pan)

Directions:

  1. Break eggs into a bowl. Add sugar and salt and mix to combine. Try not to incorporate air; unlike Western-style omelets that encourage frothy eggs, Japanese thin omelets that will be sliced into ribbons should be free of bubbles.
  2. Heat your pan over medium-low heat. Use a swab of paper towel, dipped in oil to lightly “paint” the surface of the pan. Test your pan: When a droplet of water sizzles and then immediately evaporates, your pan is ready. If you are using a small round pan (16-cm diameter), use a quarter cup of the egg mixture for each sheet. If using a standard rectangular tamagoyaki pan (14×18 cm), pour in a third cup of the egg mixture for each omelet. Use smooth, swirling motions to tilt and rotate the pan, allowing the egg mixture to flow and cover the surface evenly.
  3. Cook over medium-low heat just until the edges of the omelet shrink a bit from the sides of the pan. Remove the pan from the stove and let the egg sheet continue to cook by residual heat for another 20 seconds before flipping it over. The Japanese method for flipping is to trace around the edge of the omelet with the tip of a single chopstick. Then, using a combination of twirling and twisting strokes, work the chopstick under the thin omelet sheet across its width. Lift up (the omelet is now draped over the chopstick) and invert.
  4. Allow the other side of the omelet to dry off (10 seconds), then flip out of the skillet onto a plate. Continue to make the omelets, in the same manner, swabbing between sheets and stacking them on a plate as you go. If need be, when the omelets have cooled enough to handle them comfortably, shake out any “wrinkles” in the sheets. If not using right away, store them covered in the refrigerator for two to three days.
A tablespoon of heirloom black rice ('kuromai') is added to white sushi rice (left). The result is a pink sushi rice (right) that is perfect for Girls' Day. | ELIZABETH ANDOH
A tablespoon of heirloom black rice (‘kuromai’) is added to white sushi rice (left). The result is a pink sushi rice (right) that is perfect for Girls’ Day. | ELIZABETH ANDOH

Pink sushi rice

Makes 6 one-cup servings

Prep: 20 mins.

Cook: 1 hour

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups white rice
  • 1 tablespoon heirloom black rice (kuromai)
  • 3 cups + 1 tablespoon water
  • 5-cm piece of kelp (konbu), soaked in water listed above
  • 1½ cups amazu

You can use the amazu that was used to pickle the lotus root or make it fresh using:

  • 1½ cups rice vinegar
  • ½ tablespoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2.5-cm piece konbu

Directions:

  1. Place the white rice in a bowl with cold water to cover. Stir vigorously to wash the rice clear of excess starch. Strain the rice and repeat the washing procedure with fresh cold water until the rinsing water runs clear. Drain the rice well after the final rinsing. Mix with the kuromai (no need to wash it first).
  2. Place the mixture of black and white rice in the bowl of an electric rice cooker. Add the konbu-enhanced water. Allow the rice to sit in the water for five to 10 minutes before pressing the switch to start cooking. Once the rice has finished cooking, allow it to sit for about 15 minutes undisturbed.
  3. Transfer the cooked rice to a large glass (or other nonreactive surface such as melamine) bowl with a shamoji wooden rice paddle. Use light cutting-and-folding motions to break up any clumps of rice. Fan away any steam.
  4. Season the rice. Use either the drained liquid from the pickled lotus root or make fresh amazu in a nonreactive pot over low heat. Stir until the sugar and salt have completely dissolved.
  5. Drizzle in the seasoned vinegar starting with just a tablespoonful. Using gentle cutting, folding, and tossing motions, gradually season the rice with more of the vinegar mixture. After using half the seasoned vinegar, taste the rice. If very bland, add one teaspoon more vinegar to the mixture. Continue to add the seasoned vinegar bit by bit until all has been used. The rice will turn a festive shade of pink (that’s a natural chemical reaction between the antioxidant anthocyanin found in black rice and the sweetened vinegar it is seasoned with).
  6. Cover the pink seasoned rice with a damp cloth to keep it moist until ready to use. Do not refrigerate the seasoned rice; it will turn hard and crusty. Sushi rice is a naturally preserved food and will keep well in a cool room for several hours.

Assembling the chirashi-zushi

Serves 6

Assembly: about 20 mins.

(Finished dish can be kept at cool room temperature for two to three hours)

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups pink sushi rice
  • 2 tablespoons dry roasted sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons amazu shōga (pink pickled ginger), drained and finely minced
  • 4-6 thin omelets, cut into thin ribbons
  • about 40 slices pickled lotus root, drained and blotted
  • about 40 slices soy-simmered shiitake mushrooms, drained and blotted
  • 10-12 snow peas, trimmed and blanched and cut into strips on the diagonal
  • 1 tablespoon shredded beni shōga (red pickled ginger strips), drained

Directions:

  1. Lightly mound the pink sushi rice on your platter.
  2. To make random-style chirashi-zushi, scatter the omelet shreds over the pink rice to lightly blanket it. Next, scatter the lotus root slices so that here-and-there the yellow omelet ribbons are visible beneath the lotus root. Now scatter mushrooms at random over the mound. Place a cluster of red ginger shreds in the center. Just before serving, scatter the snow peas (extended exposure to the vinegar flavored rice turns them an unattractive brown). Serve at room temperature.
  3. To make segmented-style chirashi-zushi, place two long cooking chopsticks over the mound of pink sushi rice to form a large “X.” Each of the four areas will be filled with a single ingredient. Place yellow egg ribbons and white lotus root slices opposite each other for the greatest color contrast. Then place black mushroom slices and green snow peas in the remaining segments. Place a cluster of shredded red ginger in the center. Serve at room temperature.

A girl sets up a traditional Doll Festival display in her home. | GETTY IMAGES
A girl sets up a traditional Doll Festival display in her home. | GETTY IMAGES

The origins of the Doll Festival

Originally, this spring festival was a ritual of purification in preparation for the season’s planting. It was performed on the third day of the third lunar month. Farmers and villagers eager for fertile fields and abundant harvests would make simple paper dolls to which they would “attach” their worries, then float the dolls (and the trouble attached to them) down streams swelling with melting snow.

By the 17th century, the dolls had become so elaborate it seemed a shame to let them float away. The thrifty-minded merchants of old Edo began saving their dolls, displaying them each year in lieu of sending them downstream. There are still a few places in Japan where the custom of nagashi-bina (literally, “float away dolls”) persists.

Rituals connecting fertility of the soil to new life and birth meant the festival was associated with women. Today, the Hina Matsuri (Doll Festival) combines a display of dolls with a gathering to celebrate the health of young girls on March 3.

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