In my job, and in my continuous pursuit of culinary education and inspiration, I travel intensely during certain times of the year (breakup and freeze-up, basically). I like to bring home small packable foodstuffs from my travels and it seems that it is in the depths of winter, when our lives are a little quieter, I finally get around to hauling my treasures out from the pantry.
Besides the Argan oil from Morocco and the maple syrup from Quebec, one souvenir that holds particular allure for me is the sushi rice I brought back this year from Japan.
It's illegal to export homegrown rice outside of the country of Japan. This fact alone makes it particularly enticing for me to bring home a bag or two in my suitcase. I like the idea that individual farmers on small family-owned plots of land grow most of Japan's rice crop. The Japanese-style short-grain rice we know so well here in the States predominantly comes from Northern California.
Short-grain rice is one of several types of rice I always stock in my kitchen. Japanese-style short-grain rice is perfect for making slightly sticky rice that can be molded or shaped and held together.
Basmati rice from India, long-grain rice that remains separated when cooked, is perfect in our electric rice cooker. If I am cooking for a crowd over several hours, I always opt for basmati. This is the rice I use for Iditarod mushers coming through my kitchen during the race. I feed them rice, black beans and either fried eggs or chicken, depending on the time of day. Our "musher meal" is always accompanied with a fresh herby salsa and griddled tortillas. We always have a similar long-grain rice, Thai jasmine, on hand for all those seafood curries we like to make.
For medium-grain rice, which can absorb lots of liquid and is good for dishes such as risottos, we always have Italian carnaroli or bomba rices on hand – or, good-quality California medium-grain rice which works just as well.
This winter, we'll use our authentic Japanese rice souvenir to prepare rice cake appetizers for our winter guests, at least for as long as our supply holds out. I love this little appetizer for many reasons as it can be dressed up or down, but in the winter we always make it with smoked salmon.
Our recipe calls for flaked and grated hot-smoked salmon. To accomplish this, we just take a little bit of smoked salmon from a fillet and flake it with our fingers. We freeze the remainder of the smoked salmon fillet and grate it on a box grater. We take the grated bits and toast them so they are almost like bacon crumbles. We also use a bit of the skin of the smoked salmon in the same way – toasted and crumbled. This is all optional, of course.
Our recipe calls for mirin, which is a type of Japanese rice wine sold in specialty stores. If you don't cook with alcohol, you can substitute this ingredient with a little sugar and water mixed together since mirin adds a sweet element.
And, we fry often with grapeseed oil in our kitchen, but you can certainly substitute canola, peanut or any other high-heat oil for this recipe.
We've made a small video showing Mandy Dixon preparing our Alaska rice cake recipe. Watch to see how she does it. The recipe follows below.
Alaska-style rice cakes
For the rice mixture:
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Combine the rice, water, rice wine vinegar, mirin, citrus zest, and flaked smoked salmon into a medium stockpot with a good fitting lid. Stir to combine all the ingredients. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for about 15 until the rice has absorbed all the liquid and the grains are tender. Let the rice cool for about 15 minutes.
Line an 8-by-8-inch baking dish with plastic wrap. Firmly press the cooled rice into the pan, using water-moistened hands to prevent sticking. Press plastic wrap over the top of the rice and refrigerate for about 2 hours to overnight.
Place the grated frozen smoked salmon and the salmon skin onto a nonstick baking sheet. Place the baking sheet into the oven and bake for about 15 minutes, or until crispy and browned but not burned.
Make the honey soy drizzle: Combine the honey, 1/4 cup soy sauce, sherry vinegar and rice wine vinegar. Mix together and set aside.
Cut the chilled and firmed rice into 3-inch by 2-inch rectangles, keeping your knife moistened with water to prevent sticking. Dredge the rice cakes in the rice flour.
Heat the oil in a pan, deep enough to just about cover the rectangles. Bring the temperature to 360 degrees. Fry the rice cakes for about 5 minutes until they are golden brown. Drain on paper toweling.
Combine the mayonnaise, chili oil and 2 tablespoons of soy sauce.
Paint each rice cake with a little bit of the honey-soy drizzle. Top each cake with a dollop of the spicy mayonnaise, a bit of scallion and cilantro.
Makes 24 rice cakes.
Kirsten Dixon is an award-winning chef who has cooked and lived the past 30 years in the backcountry of Alaska. To learn more about her, visit www.kirstendixon.com.