Thursday, March 05, 2009

Inari-zushi: 유부 초밥

Ever since I was a child, I liked inari-zushi, called 유부 초밥 in Korean. (Pronounced yoo-boo cho-bap, sometimes spelled yubu chobab or yubu chobap.)

유부 (yoo-boo) is what the fried tofu used as the wrapping of inari-zushi are called in Korean. It's more commonly known by its Japanese name, abura-age.

(cho) is from 식초 (shik-cho), which is vinegar. Vinegar is also sometimes just called 초, and is used to season the rice in inari-zushi, along with other yummy morsels.

(bap) is the word for both 'food' and 'rice' (cooked rice) in Korean, proving just how important rice is in the Korean diet (by "diet" I really mean "carb overload").

A lot of the reason that I liked it was because I don't eat raw fish, so inari was one of my few options at sushi restaurants, but I also discovered that I really like the sweet-sour-salty taste. There's a lot of flavors going on in the simple little package that could clash horribly, yet somehow everything works. My mom really like inari, even though she also loves raw fish, and makes it at home every now and again. This is from the last time we made inari, on December 29 of last year (yes, I'm behind on posting).

Korean supermarkets sell little kits for at-home inari-zushi, which is much cheaper than buying them pre-made (and tastier, since fresh rice from home is always better than a restaurant's giant vat of gummy white rice).

The packaging for the kit- see the lovely picture of what the finished product should resemble?

Contents of the package. The beige triangles are the actual abura-age (유부, yubu), which are deep fried slices of tofu. Deep-fried twice. That's a lot of frying. The frying changes the texture of tofu from silky and smooth to dry, uneven, and a bit chewy.

The small pouches of liquid are a slightly sweet vinegar, for mixing into the rice. We added extra vinegar because I like sour and bitter more than I like sweet.

The little pouches of multi-colored dots are pretty much furikake, a mix of seasonings that Japanese people use to sprinkle over plain white rice. I believe that in general, Japanese tend towards sweet, while Koreans tend towards salty, which means I like to add extra salty things to my furikake, like crumbles of dried, seasoned seaweed (the Korean variety, which is seasoned with sesame oil and salt). I also like to add more sesame seeds. Most furikake packets are really stingy with sesame seeds.

White rice with the vinegar mix and the furikake. It needs to be stirred pretty well, otherwise there are pockets of really vinegary rice.

The abura-age needs to be taken out of its vacuum-sealed packages and drained a bit, since they're sitting in sort of a marinade of very sweet, slightly acidic liquid. Just squeeze them a little over the sink, and you're set- as long as they're not seeping, it's fine.

Opening the actual abura-age will be tough if it's been squeezed to death, another reason to be gentle.

I'm using a hard plastic spoon because I find that metal spoons are more likely to tear the abura-age. I like to pack the rice in a little at a time, so that the rice is at an even denseness throughout (yes, I'm persnickety).

Finished plate of inari-zushi, a.k.a. 유부 초밥. Aren't they cute??

If you can't find the do-it-yourself kit of inari, I wouldn't even try to make these at home. The idea of having to deep fry little slivers of tofu twice, each time in a very specific temperature range? Ugh, no.

But if you can find the nifty just-add-rice package, give it a shot! It's yummy, though very likely to put you in a carb coma.

I have seen the abura-age used for other applications, like in miso soup at Japanese restaurants (I like raw tofu in my soup, thanks), stuffed with salad, stuffed and then tied with chives and plopped into soups a la 만두 (dumplings, gyoza), etc.

I'm a bit intrigued by the idea of putting salad into the abura-age, and might try it. I'm thinking that it would be a very Korean salad, with things like cucumber, carrots, 게 맛살 (imitation crab), and 도토리묵 (acorn jelly), all julienned and dressed in a spicy soy sauce and vinegar combination (dried chili pepper powder, soy sauce, vinegar, ground sesame seeds).

Might be good (and healthier than the usual rice-filled inari) but I love rice. I may never be able to sacrifice a perfect rice-filled wrapper in order to fill it with non-rice!