Thai Coconut Sticky Rice with Mango (Khao Neeo Mamuang, from Thailand)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Thai Coconut Sticky Rice with Mango is a Southeast Asian dessert which combines rice, coconut milk, palm sugar or white sugar, and mango. It is really easy to make and you can store everything you need for this dish in your pantry except for the mangos, ready to make whenever you buy a mango.

I usually make this dessert when I prepare Thai sticky rice to go with dinner (see for example: this dinner or this dinner), since it takes very little additional work and William really loves it. I often ask William to cut the mango while I finish cooking dinner, so all I have to do is melt some palm sugar and a pinch of salt in coconut milk and mix it into the rice.

Recently, I made a really pretty version of this dish (shown in the picture above) because my food photography class had a potluck. I decided to bring this dessert since 1) it would be good at room temperature (something that isn't true for the majority of things that I make) 2) it is different than what is usually brought to a potluck (at least in the United States) 3) I wanted to bring something with an Asian influence since that's what I have been interested in cooking lately and 4) it is an easy dish to make so it had a high probability of turning out well.

Below are two recipe variations for Thai coconut sticky rice with mango: a quick easy basic recipe for an everyday meal and detailed instructions for the fancier version. They are essentially the same recipe and they both taste nearly the same, but the fancy version of the recipe has directions to reproduce the dish I made in the picture at the top of this post. This post is quite long for such a simple recipe--don't let that scare you. Most of the comments are about the type of ingredients to buy, the rice steaming technique, and presentation. The instructions are actually quite simple. If this is your first time making Thai sticky rice or Southeast Asian dishes, I recommend making the simple recipe first. Steaming Thai sticky rice is easy, but the first time you do it, you'll need to learn the technique and possibly some of the other ingredients, such as palm sugar, will be unfamiliar. Once you know how to make this dish, then the fancy version of this dish is also very easy to make.

Everyday Recipe
Modified from "Coconut Milk Sticky Rice with Mangos (Khao Neeo Mamuang)" from "Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia" by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

The type of mangos and the type of rice you use to make this dish are very important to its success.

Use very ripe, sweet mangos, which are smooth-fleshed and not very fibrous; if you can, ask someone at the store for advice or for a sample. Try not to use Tommy Atkins mangos (the large greenish-red ones) because they are very fibrous. The variety of mango that I used wasn't listed at the store, but I suspect it was ataulfo (also called manilla) mango since they were small, yellow, had a slight S-curve to them, and were grown in Mexico (see here and here). Ataulfo are ripe when they are slightly soft (like an avocado) and slightly wrinkled, and they are great to use in this dish because they are smooth-fleshed and very sweet. See here for more information about some varieties of mangos. says that the variety available in the US which is closes to what is used in Thailand are the Manila or Ataulfo mangoes (Ok-Rong and Nam-Dokmai are the names of the type that is used in Thailand).

It is important to use Thai sticky rice, which is a special type of sticky or glutenous rice which is soaked in water overnight before being steamed over (not in) water. Chinese glutenous / sweet rice is something different and cannot be used as a replacement. In order to make sure you are buying the correct type of rice, make sure your sticky rice was grown in Thailand or Laos (it may be marked as "sweet rice"). You will also need to plan ahead and soak the rice 6 to 24 hours. See here for detailed directions on what type of rice to buy and how to make sticky rice. See Bay area sources for ingredients for a list of some markets that you can buy Southeast Asian ingredients from.

Regular Thai sticky rice is white colored, but you can also make purple colored sticky rice. The purple rice is actually a mix of white rice and a special type of unhulled black-colored Thai sticky rice (see purple Thai sticky rice for more information), which dyes the white rice purple; the white rice is included for its soft consistency. Purple rice has nearly no difference in flavor, aside from the slight crunchiness due to the unhulled purple grains (i.e. "brown rice"). Taste-wise, William and I prefer white rice because we find the crunchy purple grains distracting, but visually, the purple rice looks very dramatic. I prefer a mix of 1/3 purple rice and 2/3 white rice so that most of the rice is soft-textured. If you are just getting started making Southeast Asian food, I recommend only getting the Thai white sticky rice because the purple rice is a specialty item that you might rarely use. But if you know that you will be making this dish or other Southeast Asian desserts often, then purple rice is fun to have because it creates a beautiful color.

This dish is best an hour within making it. The coconut milk keeps the rice moist so you can eat it for the next 24 hours or so, but you should revitalize it by heating it (either by steaming it or using a microwave), though it will taste like leftovers and never be as good as when it is freshly made.

A serving size is equivalent to 1/2 cup raw rice, so if you are only making this dessert, you should soak 1 cup raw rice for 2 people if you don't want any leftovers. If I am serving Thai sticky rice with dinner and also making this dessert, I usually soak 1 1/2 cups to 2 cups of raw rice for the two of us, and use half of the rice with dinner and half in this dessert.

Ingredients for 2 servings:
  • 1 cup raw white Thai sticky rice (or 1/3 purple Thai sticky rice mixed with 2/3 cup white Thai sticky rice to make purple colored rice)
  • 1 ripe mango, preferably smooth fleshed and not very fibrous (e.g. ataulfo)
  • (optional) 1 or 2 pandan leaves *
Palm Sugar Sweetened Coconut Milk:
(Reduce this recipe by half, if you are making "White Sugar Sweetened Coconut Cream" recipe located below for drizzling on top of the rice instead of using the extra sweetened coconut milk from this recipe)
  • 2/3 cup coconut milk **
  • 4 Tbsp palm sugar ***
  • 1/3 tsp salt (estimate this; the quantity is 1/3 because I resized the recipe for two people)
Special equipment:
  • 1 steamer
Make the Thai sticky rice:
  • Place the Thai sticky rice in a large bowl that can hold twice the volume of the rice. Rinse the rice and then cover by 2 to 3 inches with room temperature or cold water. Let sit overnight (6 to 24 hours).
  • When you are ready to cook the rice, heat water in a steamer until it is boiling. Make sure there is enough water so that the steamer won't dry out when you cook the rice.
  • (Optional) Line steamer with pandan leaves (you can cut them to fit your steamer). *
  • Drain and then steam the sticky rice at a rolling boil until tender, 25 minutes for white Thai sticky rice and 45 minutes for purple sticky rice. See this post on sticky rice for more information about cooking Thai sticky rice.
While the rice is cooking:
  • Peel the mango with a peeler. The mango pit is flat and runs parallel to the broadest part of the mango. Cut of two lobes from each side of the pit.  Try to slice off as much meat as possible without cutting into the pit. If you hit the pit, shift over a bit more and recut. Slice the lobe lengthwise into attractive thin pieces or into cubes. Also pare off the additional meat from the sides, top and bottom of the seed; you can save this fruit for another usage (such as snacking on it, since these pieces aren't very pretty) or serve them with this dessert since this is an informal presentation. Store the mangos in the refrigerator while you make the rice, since the cool sweet mangos contrast nicely with the slightly warm or room temperature rice.
  • Place the coconut milk, sugar, and salt in a heavy pot over medium to medium-low heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Do not boil, because you will change the texture and taste and may split the oil from the milk. Palm sugar needs to be heated in liquid to dissolve; it may take a while--be patient. If you need to do another task (such as cutting up the mango), you can turn off the heat for about 5 minutes, so that there is no chance of it boiling when you are not paying attention. Since the coconut milk stays hot, the palm sugar dissolves even when the heat is off.
When the rice is tender (try a small bite to make sure), put it in a bowl. Remove and discard pandan leaves or cheesecloth, if using. Mix half of the warm or room temperature coconut milk into the rice (about 1/3 cup). Break up any clumps in the rice and mix until it is evenly mixed and the rice starts to absorb the coconut milk. If you think that the rice isn't sweet or moist enough, you can add some of the extra sweetened coconut milk. Reserve the extra sweetened coconut milk for drizzling. Let stand for 20 minutes to an hour to allow the rice to fully absorb the coconut milk and for the flavors to blend.

To serve, place an oval mound of rice on a large serving plate or on individual serving plates. Top with mango slices arranged in an attractive fashion (1/2 of the mango slices is probably enough, save the rest of the mango for snacking or for leftovers).

Bring the remaining sweetened coconut milk to the table, so that diners can drizzle additional coconut milk on their portion; it is especially nice drizzled over the mango. You can also use this extra coconut milk to remoisten leftovers. The rice tastes best within an hour of when it is made.

* The pandan leaves are completely optional--I find that they don't add any noticeable flavor to the rice, but I like to use them if I have them around just because I have them around; they will also help prevent sticking. I don't use cheesecloth in my steamer to prevent sticking anymore since I don't like how little threads get stuck in my rice (see here for more information). If I don't have any pandan leaves, then I put the rice directly in my metal steamer and I haven't had a problem with sticking--but if sticking is a problem for you, you can use pandan leaves or cheesecloth.
  Pandan leaves can be found either fresh or frozen. They can be stored long term in your freezer. If you can find them, it is best to buy fresh pandan leaves and freeze them yourself. Fresh leaves are better than pre-frozen ones, since the pre-frozen leaves were of a lower quality since they weren't as long and had many breakages. However, if you are just using the pandan leaves to line your steamer (rather than using them to tie food, as in this pandan chicken dish), the length and number of breakages in the leaves doesn't really matter, so frozen pandan leaves are okay to use.

** Suggested coconut milk brands: Kasma Loha-unchit's suggestions and's suggestions.

*** I prefer using palm sugar to sweeten the rice since it adds a burnt caramel taste (and so does David Thompson's recipe for "Caramelized Coconut Rice" in "Thai Food" and Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid's recipe in "Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia"). I prefer palm sugar which has been molded into Tbsp sized pieces because it makes measuring easy, though it will take slightly longer to melt it. I don't like the big blocks of palm sugar because I find it difficult and time consuming to chip off pieces or grate it with a microplane grater, so I recommend the type of palm sugar which comes in Tbsp sized pieces.
  Palm sugar will cause the white rice to turn slightly beige in color. You can use white sugar instead if you want to keep the white rice a pristine white color (or if you don't happen to have any palm sugar). Many traditional recipes use white sugar (see for example Kasma Loha-unchit's recipe, and's recipe) so your dessert will still be authentic--in fact says that white sugar, not palm sugar, is normally used in Thailand, though she admits that she also likes the taste of the palm sugar version.
  While it is true that white sugar is much sweeter than palm sugar, many recipes use a lot more sweetener than my recipe so you don't necessarily have to reduce the quantity of sugar when you substitute white sugar unless you want to (caveat: I haven't tried the white sugar variation though). For example Kasma Loha-unchit's recipe uses 1/4 cup (4 Tbsp) white sugar for every 1 cup raw rice, which is the same amount of palm sugar that I use, though she mixes slightly more coconut milk (1/2 cup) into the rice. If you want to try to keep the same amount of sweetness, try replacing every 12 Tbsp of palm sugar with 8 Tbsp white sugar--I haven't tried this ratio yet, so taste and adjust accordingly.

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Fancy recipe

This recipe explains how to style this dessert like the first picture in this post. It makes enough for 8 servings with 1/4 cup cooked white rice and 1/4 cup cooked purple rice per person; this is a slightly smaller serving size than I make for my every day version of the rice. In addition, this recipe is sized to use up exactly 1 can coconut milk (13.5 oz, about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups coconut milk).

Essentially this is the same recipe as the one above, but the quantity of rice and palm sugar sweetened coconut milk is larger. Also, instead of making extra palm sugar sweetened coconut cream to drizzle on the rice, I made a separate white sugar coconut cream that is thickened with rice flour, since white sugar keeps the topping white and the thickened cream looks prettier drizzled over the dessert.

Since the potluck was only for 6 people, I decided to make individual portions since this would be easiest for everyone to try some. I also decided to use my large Chinese steamer to carry the dessert in because it is compact, has two layers, and it has a lid which would make transport easier for the individual portions. After browsing Google images, I decided to use a banana leaf underneath the rice because the green color would look beautiful with the yellow-orange mango, is something that is native to the cuisine, and I just so happened to have some in my freezer. (Did I mention I have a really well stocked pantry?) Since large flat squares wouldn't fit easily in the Chinese steamer, I decided to make cups from the banana leaves--the same type of banana leaf cups that I made for Thai steamed fish curry. The cups make serving easy, and are disposable and compostable (we remove the staples before putting them into our backyard compost pile). Since I own both white and purple Thai sticky rice, I decided to make both colors; the purple rice tastes nearly the same so using both colors of rice was purely for looks. I thought that the yellow-orange, white, purple, and green colors in this dish would be appealing to the visually oriented people in my class. I'm really happy with how it came out, and everyone in class seemed to like the dish.

Other ideas for plating are garnishing with toasted black or white sesame seeds, using an orchid to decorate the dish, or even fruit carving (not that I know how to carve fruit). You can also cut and fold the banana leaves into more elaborate shapes (e.g. you could cut a pattern on the edge of the cups). There is a lot of room for creativity; search google images for pictures of this dish for inspiration.

Please read the everyday recipe (above) for a detailed description of the basic coconut milk sticky rice recipe and information what sort of ingredients you should buy.

  • 2 1/2 cup raw white Thai sticky rice
  • 1/2 cup raw purple Thai sticky rice
  • 3 ripe mangos, preferably smooth fleshed and not very fibrous (e.g. ataulfo)
  • (optional) 3 pandan leaves
  • 1 recipe for "White Sugar Sweetened Coconut Cream" (see below)
Palm sugar sweetened coconut milk:
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 6 Tbsp palm sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
Special equipment:
  • 2 steamers, one for each type of rice
  • parchment paper
  • ring mold for plating, or make one out of cardboard (ramekins don't work very well)
  • 1 package frozen banana leaves*
  • stapler **
  • (optional) large Chinese bamboo steamer
Put 1 1/2 cups white rice in one bowl and a mixture of 1/2 cup purple rice and 1 cup white rice in another bowl. Wash the rice in each bowl and cover with 2 to 3 inches of water. Let soak for 6 to 24 hours. The color from the purple rice will slowly dissolve into the water and color the white rice in that bowl.

You should make the banana leaf cups before you begin steaming the rice since they will take a while to make; they will stay green for hours (perhaps even overnight) if you store them in the refrigerator (the banana leaf cups will dry out and become less bright green if they are left at room temperature for hours) so you can make them ahead of time (perhaps even up to one day ahead of time). Defrost the banana leaves (they unfreeze in quickly--in less than 30 minutes); rinse and dry the banana leaves. See for more information about how to make the banana leaf cups--the technique is to cut out circles, and to fold four corners upward and staple them in place. To get the cups sized correctly, I traced a few bowls of a different sizes onto sheets of paper, folded and stapled them, and testing their size in my steamer. I decided to use a bowl with a 7 inch diameter, and used the ramekin (bottom down on the bamboo leaf since the bottom is narrower on min) to control where the edges of the cups were folded so that the cups were a consistent size. Once you know what size to make the circles, cut out the circles in the banana leaf cuts using a knife to cut around the circumference of a bowl (you can do at least two layers at a time). Try to cut the circles out of areas in the banana leaves that don't have tears. Since my banana leaves had a lot of rips in them, I made the cups from two circles placed on top of each other, with both shiny sides out, and the ribs of the two sheets placed orthogonally towards one another. To create the cups, place a small ramekin in the center of the leaf (the ramekin is used to keep the sizes consistent). Fold the two banana leaves up and pinch the excess and fold it to the side. Temporarily remove the ramekin so it isn't in the way and staple the corner to hold it in place. Repeat folding and stapling on the opposite side, and then on the two points, on the left and right edges, between the folded top and bottom. The four stapled corners will create a bowl.

Peel the mangos. Slice the lobes off from either side of the seed. Cut off and save the additional edible bits around the seed for another purpose. Slice the lobes lengthwise into 1/4 inch thin attractively shaped pieces, at a slight angle, rather than straight down. Keep the slices in their original order, preferably lined up the way they were before you cut them. Move the slices to the refrigerator to keep them cold.

Heat up two steamers, one for each type of rice. Drain the rice. Optionally line the steamers with pandan leaves (you can cut them to fit your steamer). Start steaming the purple rice 15 minutes before the white rice. Steam the purple rice for a total of 45 minutes and the white rice for a total of 25 minutes at a rolling boil.

While the rice is being steamed, make the palm sugar sweetened coconut milk by placing the coconut milk, sugar, and salt in a heavy pot over medium to medium-low heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Do not boil. Also make the white sugar sweetened coconut milk (see recipe below); placing the white sugar sweetened coconut milk in a ketchup bottle will make serving easier.

When the rice is cooked through and tender, put each type of rice into a separate bowl. Remove and discard pandan leaves or cheesecloth, if using. Mix half the palm sugar sweetened coconut cream into each type of rice.

To fill the cups, I used parchment paper to divide a ramekin in half and filled one half with 1/4 cup white coconut sticky rice and the other half with 1/4 cup purple rice. Next I removed the parchment paper and lightly pressed the rice down to even out the top and to make the two halves stick together. Finally, I overturned the ramekins into the banana leaf cups. However, I recommend using a ring mold instead, because the rice slightly stuck to the ramekin and lost its circular shape when I turned it over. Fix any stray grains of rice using some sort of utensil, such as chopsticks.

Fan out the slices from 1/2 of a mango lobe or arrange them in some other attractive fashion. You may want to remove the small end piece if it is very small and oddly shaped and save it for another usage. Arrange the mango slices on top of the rice in a banana cup (e.g. on the side covering the white rice by about 2/3 and the purple rice by about 1/3 or in the center between the white and purple rice). Repeat for all banana cups.

Optionally arrange the banana leaf bowls in the Chinese steamer to serve. If you want to put the lid on, be sure that none of the mango slices are overhanging the lip of the steamer, otherwise you will smoosh their edges.

Serve within an hour with some white sugar thickened coconut cream drizzled on top of the mango. If you have extra coconut milk topping, offer it to diners for them to add to their dishes.

* You can find banana leaves in the frozen section of many Southeastern Asian markets. The frozen ones have many rips in them, so you will probably use most of the package.

** Traditionally toothpicks are used to hold bamboo leaves together but staplers are more convenient and easy to use.

White Sugar Sweetened Coconut Cream
Modified from the recipe for "Sweet Coconut Cream" from "Thai Food" by David Thompson

This white sugar sweetened coconut cream is used as a topping for desserts. White sugar is used so that the topping will be a pure white color. Rice flour is used to thicken it; if you don't have this, you can probably substitute corn starch (let me know how this works out if you try it).

In the recipes that I've seen there are two major variations in what is drizzled on top of the coconut rice. The first is the simple way of using the same sweetened coconut milk that was mixed into the rice; since you only make one type of sweetened coconut cream this is a quick and easy everyday version of the dessert. The second way is to drizzle a slightly thickened and slightly saltier sweetened coconut milk on to the rice; I saw some comments around the web that this is the way its done in Thailand at shops and stands that sell this dish.

For my fancier version of this, I decided to make a thickened cream. I also saw references to corn starch being used as the thickener (probably in the United States where this item is commonly in pantries). Since rice flour seems to be the most traditional thickener and I owned some, I decided to use the rice flour. Using a thickener is not necessarily something that a recipe is needed for, but since I haven't used rice flour as a thickener before, I searched for an example recipe in my recipe collection (I don't trust the authenticity of random Southeast Asian recipes on the web), just to make sure that I got the details right.  I choose this recipe also because it uses white sugar, since I wanted the topping to be white, and I didn't think it needed the burnt caramel taste the palm sugar adds since palm sugar was already in the rice.

For my everyday version, I tend to use the same sweetened coconut milk for drizzling as I mix into the rice, since this is quickest. Next time, after I mix in the proper amount of sweetened coconut milk into the rice, I may try thickening the excess with rice flour (and ignoring the warning in the recipe below that adding the sweetener before the rice flour has thickened the liquid will turn it grey--since the everyday version is informal, I think the grey color is okay).

Both and Kasma Loha-unchit mention that the sweetened coconut milk (used as the topping or even mixed into the rice) should also have a salty component, in order to bring out the sweetness of the rice and mango. Specifically Kasma Loha-unchit says that "the coconut sauce should have a pronounced saltiness behind the sweetness. The saltiness will help bring forth the rich flavors of coconut milk and the delicate taste of sticky rice. Also, the salty-sweetness of the flavored rice enhances rather than distracts from the fruity sweetness of mangoes." I was too shy to aggressively salt my topping, but next time I plan to add salt until the saltiness is noticeable.

  • 1/2 cup (or a little more) coconut cream or milk*
  • 1/2 tsp rice flour, plus maybe a pinch more
  • pinch of salt (1/2 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt, if you want it to be salty)
  • 3 to 4 Tbsp white sugar
Mix 1/2 tsp rice flour with a cold little water or coconut milk (this prevents it from forming lumps in your coconut milk). Make sure there are no lumps.

Heat coconut cream and salt, but do not let boil. Stir in the flour paste, and continue heating and stirring until the mixture thickens. You can let it come nearly to a boil, but don't let it boil (remove it from heat when it gets close). If it isn't very thick, you can make a little bit more flour paste and cook it in the mixture.

Do not add the sugar until the flour has thickened the mixture, otherwise it will lose its sheen and become an unappetizing grey. Once the mixture is thick, add the sugar and stir until it is dissolved.

Remove from heat and let slightly cool. Move the mixture to a small container or serving pitcher (a ketchup bottle works well). Refrigerating helps the mixture thicken a bit.

* Once I divided my coconut milk into separate measuring cups and containers for these two recipes, I only had 1/2 left over for this recipe. If you have slightly more than that, then use all of it in this recipe.

Salmon Chirashi with Ponzu Daikon Radish Sprout Salad

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Recipe: This recipe is based off of "Sushi Salmon Cured in Kelp (Sake no kobu-jime)" with ponzu radish sprout salad from "The Sushi Experience" by Hiroko Shimbo", but I used plain salmon sashimi since I like raw salmon best.
Rating: Good
Status: Made once.
Yield: Serves 2

Sushi for a weeknight: Sushi doesn't have to be complicated or time consuming. There are many types of sushi that are so quick, easy, and affordable that they can be made for a weeknight meal. One example is chirashi, which literally means "scattered sushi"; it is usually presented either as sushi rice topped with a decorative arrangement of ingredients or as sushi rice and other ingredients mixed together. This style of sushi is quick to make since there is no need to roll sushi or shape the rice for nigiri. If you set out nori with this dish, then handrolls can also be made at the table, which is something that William and I enjoy greatly; it is fun because everyone gets to make their own sushi. The handrolls look especially pretty with some daikon radish sprouts in them.

My recipe for salmon chirashi has three components: sushi rice, salmon sashimi, and a salad of daikon radish sprouts dressed with ponzu sauce. Sushi rice is quick to make, especially if you have a rice cooker, since you just need to wash the rice, start the rice cooker, mix a vinegar dressing (made from rice vinegar, sugar, and salt), and then quickly toss the rice with the vinegar dressing. Making ponzu sauce is fairly quick; you could also use bottled ponzu sauce as a replacement (though I haven't tried that yet).

Salmon is actually not a traditional sushi ingredient since it does not live in the waters near Tokyo, where sushi was invented. It was first used by sushi chefs in the United States and then became popular in Japan because of its association with America and modernity. I love raw salmon so that's fine with me. You can substitute your favorite fish.

Another advantage of making your own sushi is that buying fish for sushi is more economical than going out for sushi. Two types of sushi fish (about 0.25 pounds each) with sushi rice is enough for dinner for William and I; this amount of fish usually costs about $20. I know stopping at speciality markets on the way home is difficult or even impossible for many, but if you are lucky enough to have access to a Japanese grocery store with high quality sushi fish, then this is sushi that you can make easily and for much cheaper than going to a restaurant.

Since this chirashi bowl is a light meal, you may also want to serve another type of sashimi, soup (such as misomiso with clams, or spicy kale miso), or an appetizer (my favorite is asparagus goma-ae) with it.

Food Safety:

Always make sure that you buy sushi fish that has been properly handled for sushi (e.g. fish that has been instantly killed with little stress, hygienically gutted, bled, and immediately cooled or frozen) if you want to eat it raw. Fresh does not mean that it is safe for sushi because it could have been hours after it was taken from the water before it was cooled. Sushi as we know it--that is with raw fish--didn't start in Japan until after WWII, when there were refrigerators and freezers which were able to safely preserve and transport raw fish. Many Japanese markets have sushi fish cut into the perfect shapes for sashimi (Super Mira Market in San Francisco is my favorite); they are usually packaged in little Styrofoam trays with a liner underneath to absorb moisture and are kept in a separate refrigerator case from the fish meant to be cooked. Most American seafood markets don't carry sushi fish / sashimi quality fish and even if they do the texture is often tougher and difficult to chew; ask the fishmonger if the fish you are buying is safe to eat raw and go to a seafood market that you trust because if it hasn't been handled correctly (i.e. not kept cold or frozen) than it isn't sushi quality anymore. It is especially important that salmon has been correctly handled for sushi since salmon (especially wild salmon) is often infested with fresh water parasites that will sicken humans (farmed salmon has a lower chance of parasites). Sushi salmon always under goes a special deep freezing stage in order to kill parasites (your home freezer is not cold enough). Do not eat raw salmon that hasn't been deep frozen for use as sushi, so do ask your salmon is safe to eat raw. (For more information see this wikipedia article on raw fish).

Ingredients for 2 people:
sushi rice (see accompanying recipe here), made from 1.5 to 2 rice cooker cups of raw rice (3 to 4 cups cooked sushi rice)
salmon sashimi, about 1/4 pound
1 package daikon radish sprouts (kaiware) *
1 Tbsp ponzu sauce (see accompanying recipe here)

For serving:
soy sauce (shoyu) or extra ponzu sauce
4 to 6 sheets of nori **
(optional) pickled ginger

Specialized equipment:
little dishes for dipping sashimi in soy sauce

Rinse the salmon in cold water and then pat dry with a paper towel (rinsing helps to remove any bacteria sticking to the outside of the fish). Use a knife to square off the piece of salmon so that it is a long straight rectangle about 2 1/2 inches x 5 inches x 1 inch. Save the trimmings and some sushi rice to make hand rolls or sushi rolls. Cut slices that are 1/4 inch thick or slightly thinner by cutting straight down vertically.

Cut the sprouts from their roots. If they are dirty, then wash and dry them thoroughly (I didn't need to). One pretty way to plate this dish is to keep the bottom ends of the sprouts facing the same way.

Mix the sprouts with ponzu sauce in a small bowl; the bowl is so that extra ponzu sauce doesn't dribble unattractively over the sushi rice since homemade ponzu sauce has a very thin consistency. If this doesn't bother you, feel free to place the sprouts directly on the sushi rice and drizzle ponzu sauce over or have your diners drizzle ponzu sauce (ponzu sauce tastes really nice on rice). If you happen to be serving this dish without any sushi rice, then you can put the raw sprouts in the serving dish and drizzle the ponzu sauce over without tossing.

Spoon the sushi rice into two bowls. Top each bowl with half the salad and half of the salmon sashimi. Serve with soy sauce or extra ponzu sauce, wasabi, nori, and optionally pickled ginger.

To eat, use chopsticks to add a dab of wasabi on a slice of salmon and dip it in the soy sauce or ponzu. Return the salmon to the bowl of rice so that a small amount of rice gets flavored with the sauce. Eat the salmon slice, either alone or with a bite of rice and optionally a few sprouts. You can (and should!) also use half sheets of nori to make (see directions on how to make handrolls here) using the salmon, rice, and sprouts as you are eating this dish at the table.

* Daikon radish sprouts are a very spicy tasting green, similar to arugula's pepperiness. I like to eat just a few sprouts at a time, by themselves, with a bite of rice, or added into a handroll. William thinks they are a bit too spicy for him; if you think they will be too spicy for you, then you can mix them with other types of mild sprouts or substitute a mild sprout or lettuce.

** Nori comes in several levels of crispiness, which is often indicated on the package (especially if it is from Japan). Handrolls are best when they are made from the most crispy and tender nori. If there is no text which indicates crispiness, choose a package which has a picture closest to what you want to make, since the packages usually depict what it is best suited for. I choose nori from Ariake Bay in Japan, which is one of the places Hiroko Shimbo recommends.

The salmon and the sashimi platter in the picture below was bought from Super Mira Market in San Francisco (my favorite place to buy sushi quality fish).

Sushi Rice

Sushi rice is very easy and quick to make since it requires only three steps: washing the rice, cooking it, and tossing with a vinegar marinade.

The most important thing is to use a short grain Japanese style rice and to make sure you cook it well (it shouldn't be mushy). Preferably buy a rice grown in Japan or California. Japanese rice is generally one of two varieties: sasanishiki or koshihikari. Koshihikari has many subtypes, including hitomebore, akitakomachi, hae-nuki, hi-no-hikari, kirara, tama-nishiki, kagayaki, and tamaki-mai; often koshihikari will be identified by only its subtype. These types of rice give the best texture for sushi.

Preferably use rice that was harvested more than 6 months ago. Some rice may be labeled as "new crop rice", which is rice that is sold just after harvest from October through February. When it is freshly harvested, the grains are moister since the grains have had less time to dry out; it is too moist and tender for sushi (though it is wonderful as table rice--use less water than normal and use the same cooking method that you use for regular rice). Once new crop rice has aged in the package for a few months (check the package date to estimate) it will be dry enough to use for sushi. For sushi, use regular rice (which is not labeled as new crop) or use new crop rice sold after New Year's.

Immediately after the rice cooked, it is tossed with a vinegar marinade made of rice vinegar, sugar, and salt; this marinade is what makes the rice into sushi rice. Hiroko Shimbo recommends that you buy a rice vinegar labeled "jun-komezu" (pure rice vinegar) for making sushi rice. It should have a golden color and should be made only from rice and possibly water. Ordinary komezu, which is made from a combination of rice and other grains (i.e. it is a mixture of rice vinegar and grain vinegar) shouldn't be used for sushi rice; jun-komezu has a richer flavor and aroma. There is no need to buy sushizu, which is a ready made sushi dressing since you can easily mix your own. If you can't find jun-komezu then preferably use a rice vinegar whose only ingredients are vinegar and water (no sugar or salt because that indicates it is sushizu).

Traditionally, a wooden sushi tub called sushi-oke, is used for tossing the rice with the vinegar marinade and for keeping the sushi rice warm and moist when covered with a lid or towel. They can be expensive to buy (around $90 for a high quality one imported from Japan), so if you are just starting learn to make sushi or only plan to make it occasionally, I recommend making do with something that you already own. Use something that is large enough for you to toss the rice and has raised sides a few inches deep. Hiroko Shimbo says that the best substitute is a wooden salad bowl since this will help the rice to absorb the dressing and not become mushy.

Recipe: Primarily from "Master Recipe for Sushi Rice" and "Sushi Vinegar Dressing" from "The Sushi Experience" by Hiroko Shimbo (her sushi rice recipe is available on and also on which has a really useful video of Hiroko Shimbo showing how to toss the rice with the rice vinegar). Also used "Sushi Rice" from "Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art" by Shizuo Tsuji as reference.
Rating: Great. Sushi rice is much easier and quicker to make than you think.
Status: Made lots of times.
Yield: 2 rice cooker cups of raw rice (4 cups lightly packed cooked rice) serves two as a main meal.  1.5 ricer cooker cups of raw rice serves two with light appetites or if there are several side dishes. Normally I make 1.5 rice cooker cups of rice for William and I since this is exactly the amount of rice we like to eat and there is almost never any leftovers.

The rice cup measures which are sold with rice cookers aren't the same size an American measuring cup, since the rice cup measure is 1 gō, which is part of the traditional Japanese measurement system. Each rice cup measure is 3/4 the size of an American measuring cup (a standard US cup is 240 ml, whereas a rice cooker measurement cup is 180 ml). 1 rice cooker cup yields about 2 cups lightly packed cooked rice, which is usually enough for a single meal for one person. (wiki)

When I prepare dinner for William and I, I usually make slightly less rice per person (1-1/2 rice cooker cups or raw rice, which makes 3 cups cooked rice) since we tend to eat a smaller portion of rice, especially if the dishes are substantial or there are lots of dishes. When I am serving sashimi/sushi or am making dishes that aren't very filling, I sometimes prepare 2 rice cooker cups of raw rice (4 cups cooked rice) for William and I to eat together. Therefore I've included the measurements for both portion sizes below. Follow the ingredients for one of the two sets of ingredients listed below, depending on how much rice you want to make. For a larger yield, scale the vinegar marinade ingredients so that they are proportional to the amount of rice that you make.

See my ingredient buying guide for more information about what products to buy for making sushi rice.

Yield: 4 cups lightly packed cooked rice. Serves 2 people.
  • 1.5 cups (2 rice cooker cups) raw Japanese short grain rice
  • 3 Tbsp pure rice vinegar ("jun-komezu")
  • 1 tsp (3.3 g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt, or substitute salt of an equivalent weight
  • 1.5 Tbsp sugar
  • (optional) 1 small piece of konbu (about 1" x 1")

Yield: 3 cups lightly packed cooked rice. Serves 2 people with light appetites or when paired with a substantial meal.
  • 1-1/8 cups (1.5 rice cooker cups) raw Japanese short grain rice
  • 2.5 Tbsp pure rice vinegar ("jun-komezu")
  • 3/4 tsp (2.5 g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt, or substitute salt of an equivalent weight
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • (optional) 1 small piece of konbu (about 1" x 1")

Specialized equipment:
  • wooden sushi tub (sushi-oke), or substitute a large bowl, preferably wooden
  • wooden lid for sushi tub or damp kitchen towel
  • rice paddle or a broad flat spatula

If you are using a sushi tub, fill it with cold water and allow it to soak for about 30 minutes while the rice is cooking, otherwise the rice will stick to the dry wood and the wood will absorb a lot of the vinegar dressing instead of the rice. (If you are using a wooden salad bowl, don't soak it because it could cause it to crack.) If using a wooden spatula to toss the rice, soak this also to help prevent sticking.

Wash the rice in several changes of water until the water is nearly clear. Drain.

I use a fuzzy logic rice cooker since that's what is easiest for me (See Hiroko Shimbo's sushi rice recipe for instructions on how to cook sushi rice in a pot if that's what you'd like to do). Sushi rice is often soaked for 30 minutes if it is cooked on a stovetop, however in "Hiroko's American Kitchen" by Hiroko Shimbo that she suggests that if you have a modern rice cooker with "sensors, computer controlled functions or induction heat technology, omit the soaking step". I find that soaking the rice before using a rice cooker makes the rice become too soft and plump for sushi; I prefer a firmer bite, so I don't soak my rice before cooking it in my fuzzy logic rice cooker.

Place rice in the rice cooker bowl, add water, and (if using) add konbu. Cook the rice using the "sushi" setting if you have one.

While the rice is cooking, mix together the amount of vinegar, salt, and sugar listed below which corresponds to your amount of rice. Mix until the salt and sugar dissolves and set aside until the rice has finished cooking. The sushi vinegar dressing quantities are proportional to the amount of rice (though the amounts are slightly rounded so that they can be measured with standard kitchen measurement tools); you can scale these accordingly for arbitrary sizes of rice.
  • 1-1/8 cups raw rice = 1.5 rice cup measures of raw rice = 3 cups of lightly packed cooked rice: should be dressed with a mixture of 1 Tbsp sugar, 3/4 tsp salt, and 2.5 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1.5 cups raw rice = 2 rice cup measures of raw rice = 4 cups of lightly packed cooked rice: should be dressed with a mixture of 1.5 Tbsp sugar, 1 tsp salt, and 3 Tbsp rice vinegar
When the rice is nearly done, drain and wipe the sushi tub dry.

Immediately after the rice has finished cooking, use a plastic rice paddle or a flat wooden spoon to quickly toss the rice with the vinegar marinade until the rice has absorbed all of the marinade in the sushi tub (about 2 minutes). Use a horizontal motion to toss the rice so that the grains don't get mushed. Here is a video of Hiroko Shimbo showing how to toss the rice.

Once the sushi rice is made, it should be kept at room temperature in a covered container (such as in a sushi tub covered with either a lid or a damp kitchen towel or another type of container covered by a kitchen towel) so that it doesn't dry out. It shouldn't be refrigerated, since this will dry out the rice. Preferably use the sushi rice within one hour, but since the vinegar is a preservative, the rice will last for about half a day at room temperature. If you have assembled the rice into raw fish sushi and need to store it, then you can refrigerate it to keep the fish cold for up to an hour before the rice gets undesirably dry.

Before you shape or mold sushi rice, dip your fingers in some water mixed with a few tsp of vinegar (about 2 tsp rice vinegar and 6 Tbsp water), rub your hands together, and shake off the excess water. You can use grain vinegar for this; it isn't necessary to use "jun-komezu" (pure rice vinegar). This hand-vinegar ("tezu") will prevent the rice from sticking to your hands.

Ponzu Sauce

Recipe: Modified from "Yuzu-Flavored Ponzu Sauce (Ponzu)" from "The Sushi Experience" by Hiroko Shimbo"
Rating: Good.
Status: Made once.

Mark Bittman says that "an all-purpose sauce from Japan, ponzu is the rough equivalent of vinaigrette."; ponzu is a citrus flavored soy sauce which can be used as a dip, marinade, or salad dressing when mixed with a little oil. The ingredients for ponzu sauce are, clockwise from top: soy sauce (shoyu), bonito flakes, bottled yuzu juice, kelp (konbu), ruby red grapefruit, mirin.

The first time I made this I was able to obtain a single fresh yuzu, which are in season in the winter. Since it is now spring, and yuzus are out of season, now I have some bottled yuzu juice to make ponzu sauce next time. Yuzu are yellow but unlike lemons they are round and unevenly dimpled (see picture below). They are in season usually around November and December. They will keep one to two weeks fresh (longer in the refrigerator), and can be frozen for long term storage, so if you find some for a good price, buy several and freeze them. Defrost in the refrigerator before juicing.

  • 2 Tbsp mirin
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce (shoyu)
  • 1/2 cup yuzu juice* or a mixture of half yuzu juice and half freshly squeezed grapefruit juice. If yuzu isn't available, then substitute another citrus juice such as lemon, lime, or grapefruit.
  • 1 inches konbu (kelp)
  • 1/2 cup shaved bonito fish flakes (katsuobushi)
Put mirin in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add the soy sauce and cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. When it has cooled, pour the sauce into a clean jar with a tight fitting lid, and add the yuzu juice, grapefruit juice, kelp, and bonito. Refrigerate, covered with a tight lid for preferably for one week (if you are rushed for time, at least let it marinate for 2 hours). Strain the ponzu sauce; discard the kelp and bonito flakes. Keep in the refrigerator; after about 2 months it loses flavor.

* Each yuzu makes about 1 to 2 tablespoons of juice, so if your yuzu are very juicy you might get nearly a half cup from 4 yuzu.

How to Make a Sushi Handroll

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Recipe: None
Rating: Good
Status: Made several times

Sushi hand rolls are extremely quick to make (much quicker than rolls or nigiri which take much more time to shape), and can be made at the table by individual diners if you lay out all the ingredients. The handroll shown above has sushi rice, salmon and daikon radish sprouts. Serve with soy sauce and wasabi.

To make a hand roll, fold 1 sheet of nori in half along the longest edge. Place the nori shiny side out (the shiny side is always outside for anything you make with nori), and put a few Tbsp of sushi rice on the diagonal from the top left corner to the bottom middle. (Optionally you can dab wasabi on the seaweed first or on top of the rice). Lay long strips of fish and other ingredients on top of the rice. Gently fold the bottom left corner up to the middle top, and continue rolling to make a cone. Eat with soy sauce and wasabi, preferably immediately after it is made since the nori will lose its crispness quickly.

Sushi rice tends to stick to one's fingers. If you are making them as you eat at the table, it possible to use chopsticks to push the rice into shape if you don't want to get your fingers sticky. If you are making a lot of handrolls or want to shape the rice with your hands, mix some water with a few tsp of vinegar (about 2 tsp rice vinegar and 6 Tbsp water); you can use grain vinegar for this; it isn't necessary to use "jun-komezu" (pure rice vinegar). Before you shape or mold sushi rice, dip your fingers the hand-vinegar ("tezu"), gently rub your hands together, and shake off the excess water.  This hand-vinegar ("tezu") will prevent the rice from sticking to your hands.

* Nori comes in several levels of crispiness, which is often indicated on the package (especially if it is from Japan). Handrolls are best when they are made from the most crispy and tender nori. If there is no text which indicates crispiness, choose a package which has a picture closest to what you want to make, since the packages usually depict what it is best suited for. Once the package is opened, nori loses crispness; small packages with 10 sheets of nori and a ziplock closure are better than big bulk packages for this reason. To keep the nori as crispy as possible, store it in its package (or a gallon sized ziplock bag) until the moment before you make a handroll.

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Point Lobos

Saturday, March 02, 2013

These photos are from a trip to Point Lobos (which is a California state park near Monterey) on a blustery foggy day in early March--one of the last wintery California days before spring came.

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