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Sushi Week Part 3: How to Make Temaki (Hand Rolls)
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Ben Stiller complained in There's Something About Mary that there aren't enough meats-in-cones.
Granted, at that time, Pepperoni-pizza-in-a-cone were merely a vague whisper of a deranged thought in some Swiss Gemologist's brain, but it's a shame that Mr. Stiller overlooked negitoro temaki (fatty tuna and scallion hand rolls), a classic meat-in-a-cone if there ever was one.
Temaki, or hand rolls are the quickest, dirtiest way to get sushi from pantry to gullet. They don't require any special tools to make, or even any utensils to eat. They are formed by wrapping a crisp sheet of nori around a blob of rice and one or more toppings. Unlike makizushi, in which the chef expects diners to dip each roll in soy sauce, temaki generally come with fillings that are preseasoned, precluding the need for a soy dunk.
This is good news, because they are difficult enough to eat as it is. On the rare occasion that they are not preseasoned, you are forced by Japanese custom to perform the nearly impossible maneuver of dipping the roll in a dish of soy sauce without a) getting any soy sauce on the rice, b) dumping all the fillings out onto the table, or c) wanting to commit hari-kiri for screwing up a) and b). Best of luck!
When selecting fillings for your maki, try and pick a few ingredients with contrasting texture and colors. Cruncy pickles, creamy avocado, and peppery radish sprouts work well. Rich unagi (broiled freshwater eel) and crisp cool cucumber do too.
To make tartare-based handrolls like the classic negitoro, first get yourself some high quality fish from a supermarket or fish market that sells fish specifically for making sushi or sashimi. Using a metal spoon, carefully spoon away the flesh from the connective tissue and white membranes that separate the layers. If you are careful, you should end up with a pile of clean, connective-tissue-free flesh, which you can then chop finely with a chef's knife or a cleaver.
With fatty cuts like toro, a simple addition of sliced scallions or chives, and a little soy sauce are sufficient for seasoning. Maguro, salmon, or other leaner cuts benefit from a touch of mayo to help keep them moist. Spicy tuna rolls (which, by the way, are generally made with the fish that is too old to serve on its own—beware of what you order!) are made with a mix of chopped tuna, mayonnaise, and chile oil, Sriracha, or Korean chili paste.
If you are cutting a lot of fish for sashimi and sushi, you'll inevitably end up with scraps, which are prime candidates for tartares. Feel free to mix up your fish scraps like I did here.
Personally, I never understood the appeal of temaki. Does no one else find them difficult to eat and yearn for the simple, balanced proportions of well-made makizushi? I suppose they make it easier to host a sushi party.
What say you temaki proponents out there?
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.