Chirashi sushi: a home-style fish and rice dish readily adaptable for any occasion

It takes an optimistic outlook to combine salmon and broccoli florets on a tray baked at 200C and hope for more than misery. But a large brick of overcooked salmon is the foundation for thousands of recipes, often dressed with a glow of healthfulness, or, failing that, a generous glug of Kewpie mayonnaise.

Anthony Bourdain made a career from the pithy observation “never eat fish on a Monday”. It resonated with a legion of people whose only retail experience of fresh fish was at the supermarket, or the high street retailer you can smell a block away.

On TikTok, the hashtags #salmonrice and #salmonricebowl have in combination garnered close to 1bn views. Pinterest and Google also offer an infinite scroll of salmon bowls and tray bakes. Variations of the dish are everywhere. Recently, the most popular of these, though by no means the first or the last, is from lifestyle influencer Emily Mariko, who finishes off a leftover slab of salmon with a two-fisted squirt of soy, Kewpie and Sriracha.

These paeans to the food industrial complex are undoubtedly popular because they promise speed and ease (with a fashionable Japanese inflection) untroubled by anything resembling actual fish. They’re fish recipes for people who are afraid of anything “fishy”.

They may be efficient and inoffensive, but with a little more time and effort, you can take the same basic concept and transform it into something quite beautiful. The approach should be to create a garden, rather than assembling it brick by brick like a pre-fab house.

Chirashi is a home-style fish and rice dish that is readily adaptable for any occasion, from eating alone, to a more festive (subjective of course) family affair. The literal translation of chirashi is “scattered” which aptly describes the method of manufacture and presentation.

The essential here is the rice. It is the foundation for the successful meeting of any ingredients you have that, in your considered opinion, will go together. Fish or vegetable. Cooked or raw. Fresh or canned. The choice is to your preference, but my firm caveat is that every choice should be in service to beauty.

If you live near a fish market, as I do, this is the perfect framework for the less noble fish, (like small mackerel, that are cheap but truly spectacular when chosen bent with rigour).

After some negotiating on permissible minimum volumes, to make this dish I purchased a small amount of several ingredients, which gives variety to the eye, and texture.

I also chose with a view to parsimony as well as quality, so, in addition to the mackerel, I asked for offcuts of yellow fin tuna tail and salmon trim, then added flying fish roe for colour, and a serviceable fishy pop in the mouth. In addition to being both cheaper and better, using small amounts of lots of different kinds of fish, and selecting cuts that might otherwise be discarded, is also easier on the planet.

For vegetables, I used a selection of things that are currently in season, and therefore good and cheap: snow peas and thin asparagus spears. What you choose should similarly depend on when you are cooking it.

Chirashi sushi

Serves 4
Prep 20 minutes
Cook 25 minutes

A good fishmonger is a very good friend, and you should lean on them a little in search of the freshest catch, and advice on what to do with it. A fillet of fish is easily dispatched with a sharp knife and a measuring eye – for guidance, imagine Jiro is standing behind you. But when it comes to whole fish, it is probably best to ask your fishmonger to fillet it for you: the lateral pin bones will have to be removed with the purchase of fish tweezers, a knife blade scraped from head to tail along the fillet will expose the ends.

Once you have your ingredients, some rehydrated packet wakame effectively evokes the ocean on the plate. Slice the fish according to its type and merit, and treat the veg similarly. Finish with small blobs of Kewpie for comfort and shichimi togarashi (seven spice blend) for heat.

To make the rice

3 cups Japanese short-grain rice
50 ml sake
3 1/2 cups water
100 ml Japanese rice vinegar
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp caster sugar

Add the rice to the saucepan it will be cooked in, and cover with clear, cool water. Swirl the rice gently around with your hand in the pan to remove the loose starch. Drain and repeat four or five times, until the water is no longer milky and trending towards limpid.

Drain completely then add the sake and water. Leave the rice to soak for 20 minutes (to achieve a better texture). Place the saucepan over high heat and bring to the boil stirring from time to time to avoid clumping. Reduce the heat to a very low simmer and cook for 15 minutes with the lid on. Turn off the heat and leave the rice to steam in its own vapour for another 10 minutes to gently cook through.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, mix together the rice vinegar, salt and sugar. Bring to a simmer and stir to dissolve the sugar and salt then remove the pan from the heat.

Place the rice in a large mixing bowl and add the vinegar mixture gradually, by folding it through the rice with a large wooden spoon. This process is important. Not just to achieve the distinctive sushi flavour but to add the stickiness and sheen that the dish requires.

Once the rice is ready, serve as the name suggests and scatter the other ingredients on top.