Sushi and Beer

Cooking with Beer by | Jul 2008 | Issue #18

When dining out at most Japanese restaurants, the beer menu usually includes the standards, a Kirin, Asahi and Sapporo. These beers are clean, light, carbonated and versatile, but when did the Pilsner become the standby beer for most Asian cuisines? I would argue that sushi pairs nicely with a more aggressive brew. While certain varieties of fish are delicate, the makeup of certain fishes such as a fatty toro or oily mackerel will stand up to a more complex ale.

Sushi Rice (shari)
While many consider the fish the most important component of the sushi meal, the rice is often overlooked and simply seen as the medium for transporting the fish. Perfecting the sushi rice is a craft unto itself. Most sushi restaurants require up to four years of apprenticeship before even picking up a knife. Understanding the nuances of the grain is key in preparing the rice. Basic elements such as the humidity of the air on the day of cooking, the timing of the harvest, as well as the freshness of the rice, will affect the amount of water needed to properly cook the kernel, impacting the final result.

Serves: 4

4 cup sushi rice (short-grain white rice)
4 cup filtered water
2/3 cup sushi vinegar version 1 or 2

Start by adding the raw rice to a large bowl and rinse it under running cold water. Rinse the rice until the starch has been removed (to help prevent rice grains from sticking together), about 5-6 times. The water should be clear. The easiest way to make sushi rice is with a rice cooker. If you have one, follow the instructions for cooking sushi rice.

Alternatively, to make sushi rice on the stove, add the rinsed rice to a large heavy-duty pot with a lid. Add cold water and bring to a boil over high heat, cooking for one minute. Cover with a lid, turning the heat down to low for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, letting the rice sit for 15-20 minutes covered. Once cooked, transfer the rice to a large shallow bowl. Using a spatula, cut the rice with the edge of the utensil instead of stirring it. As the rice cools slightly, add the sushi vinegar and continue to cut the rice until all the lumps are broken down to individual kernels and the rice has cooled to almost room temperature.

Note: For the sushi vinegar, a ratio of six parts rice will require one part prepared vinegar.

Variation: To make black sushi rice, add one teaspoon of squid ink to the sushi vinegar and cut it into the rice.

Sushi Vinegar Version 1 (shari-zu)
Traditionally made with rice wine vinegar, this updated beer geek version uses the acetic acid found in the Flanders Red to bring the same sour component to the rice as vinegar would. This beer style adds a foundation of flavors, creating options for pairing outside of the classic light lager.

11.2 oz Flanders Red Ale (Vichtenaar, Rodenbach Grand Cru or Red Poppy)
2/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp sea salt
1 tbsp red wine vinegar

In a small saucepan over low heat add 2/3 of the Flanders Red with the sugar and salt. Heat to 180°F and stir to dissolve the sugar and salt. Turn off heat and cool to room temperature. Add the rest of the beer (leaving any yeast behind) and add the vinegar. This base can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

Sushi Vinegar Version 2 (shari-zu)
This version brings out the citrus, tart and cidery notes from the beer adding extra depth to the sushi.

11.2 oz Lambic or Gueuze (Cantillon, Boon or Drie Fonteinen)
2/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp sea salt
1 tbsp mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine; not saké)

In a small saucepan over low heat add 2/3 of the Sour Ale with the sugar and salt. Heat to 180°F and stir to dissolve. Turn off heat and cool to room temperature. Add the rest of the ale (leaving any yeast behind) and add the mirin. This base can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

Sushi Ideas
The ideas are endless. Here are a few of my favorite combinations:

Nigiri: Sushi rice with fish
Technique: Have a bowl of cold water near the workstation for dipping hands to prevent the rice from sticking. Start with 2 tablespoons of sushi rice and place into the palm of one hand. Cup the hand to form a “U” and with the opposite hand, using two fingers, press the rice in the cup of the other hand to form and compact the rice into a small cylindrical shape. Using a finger, lightly coat the top the molded rice with wasabi then add a piece of fish, shellfish or vegetable and press into the rice with the same two fingers to adhere the fish to the rice.

Salmon (sake): Slice salmon into 2 1/2-inch long pieces about 1/4 inch thick. Press into rice as directed above.

Live Spot Prawn (ema ebi): Grabbing the head of the prawn, twist the tail off, remove the shell and cut down the top of the tail to remove the vein. Press into rice. Save the head and coat in tempura batter and fry for 3 minutes. Serve alongside the nigiri.

Shrimp (ebi): If you prefer cooked shrimp, take large prawns in their shells, inserting a toothpick to prevent curling, and steam in Wit for 4 minutes. Cool completely, remove the shell and toothpick and cut in half from the underside of the shrimp. Press into rice.

Peachwood Smoked Yellowtail (hamachi): Cut like salmon, and cold smoke small filets in peachwood smoke for 5 minutes. Press into rice.

Rolls: Seaweed (nori) layered with sushi rice, rolled with different ingredients

Technique: Have a bowl of cold water near the workstation for dipping hands to prevent the rice from sticking. Place a sheet of nori with the rough side up on a bamboo mat wrapped in plastic wrap, Take 1/3 to 1/2 cup of sushi rice and lightly distribute it evenly over 2/3 of the sheet, leaving a 1/2-inch strip along the top of the sheet free of rice. The rice should be one or two kernels thick. Take a small amount of wasabi and create a streak down the center of the rice. Layer other ingredients along that strip. Using the bamboo mat, tightly wrap the nori around the fillings, rolling away from you. Seal the roll by wetting the strip of un-riced nori. To serve, slice roll in half, then each half in half again, creating 8 equal pieces.

Soft-shell crab roll: Take cleaned soft-shell crabs and toss into barley flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Sautee over medium high heat for 1-1 1/2 minutes on each side or until lightly brown. Cool slightly, then cut in half widthwise. Lay in center of rice-covered nori, covering it with several slices of avocado and some chives and then roll.

Salmon and Ahi roll: Cut salmon and ahi into long french fry shapes. Lay in the center of the nori layered with black sushi rice. Cover with several overlapping leaves of shiso (Japanese basil) and roll.

Inside Out Spicy Tuna roll: Follow technique instructions, but completely cover the nori. Sprinkle with black sesame seeds or flying fish caviar over the rice. Flip the nori sheet over, with the rice side down. Take a small bowl and add 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise, 1/2 teaspoon of garlic chili sauce, a few drops of chili oil and a dash of white pepper. Mix to combine then add diced ahi tuna (about 1/4 cup) and mix into chili mayo. Lay spicy tuna down the center of the nori sheet, topping with some sliced green onion. Roll as directed. This roll is perfect with a hoppy IPA or Imperial Brown Ale.

The trick to making incredibly crisp and light tempura is to have the liquid for the batter as cold as possible without freezing. With this base recipe, you can fry almost anything including prawns (heads or tails), yams, green beans, carrots, onions, asparagus or some sushi rolls.

1 cup Saison, Wit or Tripel (ice cold)
1 each egg yolk
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch or potato starch
1 gal oil (safflower, canola or peanut)

In a medium size bowl, whisk together your beer of choice (think spicy or flavorful) with the egg yolk. Add flour and starch and combine, leaving some lumps. Do not over mix.

Heat oil to 375ºF in a large (twice the size of the amount of oil you have) pot. It is better to have more oil to reduce the temperature flux when the cold tempura is added. Use a fry thermometer and keep temp over 350ºF and under 400ºF for best results.

Beer pairing ideas:

  • For rich fatty fish like salmon (sake), mackerel (saba) or ahi tuna (maguro), try an IPA with a citrus hop profile or a Belgian Strong Golden.
  • For lighter tasting fish like Yellowtail (hamachi), Halibut (hirame) or Sea Bass (suzuki), pair with a Kölsch, Mai-Bock, Tripel or Blonde.
  • With seafood like Shrimp (ebi) or Scallop (hotate) choose a Hefeweizen, Wit, Dortmunder or California Common that will add some spice and ester notes.
  • When pairing with tempura, try a Faro, Gueuze or Flanders Red that will have enough acidity to balance out the grease.
  • Try an updated Sake Bomb by dropping a shot of unfiltered Junmai-style sake into a Tripel.

Sushi  Tips:
Fresh Fish: Make sure that the fish is sashimi, sushi or grade 1. Ask your fishmonger to make sure the fish can be eaten raw. If your market does not have sashimi grade fish, ask if they can order some. If you cannot get raw fish or don’t care to eat it, try grilling, smoking or sautéing the fish first, then using it in a roll or hand-roll.

Soy Sauce: As an alternative to traditional soy sauce, use a Samuel Adams Triple Bock or other over-oaked beers that have a soy note or quality in the finish. Remember, dip the fish in the soy sauce, not the rice.

Wasabi: Take a minute to research wasabi, as they are not all the same. If fresh wasabi root is available, get it! There is farm in Oregon called Pacific Farms that sells fresh rhizomes for grating. It’s worlds apart from the dried powder version. If you get the dried version, double check to see if it is true wasabi, not horseradish with green coloring. When mixing the dried wasabi powder, try different beers using an equal portion of powder to liquid and let sit for 5 minutes to re-hydrate before using.

Cleanliness: When dealing with raw fish, make sure all materials that come in contact with the fish are clean and cold including the knife, cutting board and hands.

Amounts: For the average person, plan on at least 6-8 pieces of sushi for an appetizer and 12-14 pieces for an entrée.