Itsy Bitsy Spider Roll

Written by Luisa Davis on . Posted in food

So, what’s spider maki? Let’s share my experience.

I was born and raised in Texas, USA. I am the stereotypical boot-wearing, farmer’s gum-chewing cowboy that loves meat! And let me tell you I was never interested in changing my ways. But, on February 10th, I was relocated to New York City to work at a private investment firm. Saying that ‘fitting in’ at Wall Street was hard for me, is an understatement. Spider Rolls, believe it or not, were the one thing that brought me closer to all the yuppies!

As expected, all my coworkers were die-hard sushi fans. Back home, I rarely ate seafood, aside from frozen fish sticks and the occasional crab cake. Up until the Big Apple, sushi was never on my radar. But I figured that if I wanted to be part of the ‘team’ I had to start having lunch with my colleagues.

And guess what? That is how I fell in love with the Spider Roll. A type of Maki sushi made with breaded or battered soft-shell crab rolled in specialty sushi rice and Nori (edible seaweed).

History of Sushi

To truly understand sushi and its recent craze, you must first get to know its vast history. So here it goes…

Although tracing the origin of a dish can be hard sometimes when it comes to sushi, the task seems simple. The earliest reference of this traditional Japanese dish appears no less than at the beginning of the 8th century, in the year 718.

How do I know this?

Well turns out that it is all written in a legal document that narrates the history of Japan known as the Nara, the Yoro code. A version of what we know today as ‘sushi’ dates back to those old years, called Narezushi. This latter type of sushi used both boiled rice and fermented fish. At that time, that preparation was considered one great alternative to preserve fish without using too much salt.

Over time, the combination of both ingredients gave birth to a plethora of possibilities and culinary elaboration. As centuries past, boiled rice turned into steamed rice mixed with vinegar. Thanks to that last addition (the vinegar), the fermentation was reduced, and the process became less time-consuming.

Fast-forward to the 14th century, to the Muromachi Era, to find the first Oshizushi preparations. A type of sushi that is prepared by pressing the rice and fish using a special box called Oshizushihako. But probably the most exciting evolution was that the rice is no longer fermented. Here, it is simply marinated with the newly invented rice vinegar — this is one of the turning points of Japanese gastronomy.

This would be the starting point for all other sushi creations. The Oshizushi preparation perfected in Edo, currently known as Tokyo. Here, the dish was prepared in numerous takeaway houses and restaurants known as ‘Edo-san-sushi.’ But it was not until the chef Hanaya Yohei invented the Nigirizushi that the sushi’s popularity skyrocketed. Fermentation was left aside to use only rice vinegar and different types of fish.

These were marinated with soy sauce, generously salted and sometimes even cooked, all to be able to extend their period for consumption. The ‘Kanto’ a variation Nigirizushi further extended its popularity by multiplying the restaurants that offered it. This was the beginning of sushi as we know it! One of Japan’s most common fast-food dishes and a culinary delicacy around the world.

So, What’s in A Spider Roll?

Okay so back to the Spider Roll that stole my heart. Do not let the name fool you; a Spider Maki is a spider-free, yet incredibly tasty roll. It gets its time from the way all the creepy-looking ‘legs’ stick out of the specialty sushi rice. But these legs are no spider legs, but soft-shelled crab’s legs.

Confusing, I know!

Like any other basic sushi roll, a Spider Roll contains specialty sushi rice rolled in seaweed, what makes this sushi roll so unique is its filling. Usually, a Spider Maki contains avocado, unagi sauce, spicy mayo and (of course) soft-shelled crab that has been deep-fried or tempurized.

Overall, the roll has a crunchy exterior with a flaky sweet interior. The sweetness is given by the crab meat and unagi (eel) sauce. Thus, if sweet food is not really your type, I suggest you dip it in soy sauce. You can also add a little wasabi (Japanese horseradish) for an extra kick!

Spider Sushi Recipe

If I piqued your curiosity, or if you simply love cooking, here is a basic Spider Roll recipe for you to venture into the sushi-making world.

Spider Roll Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups of sushi rice
  • 1 ½ cups of water
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 4 ½ – ounces of Soft-Shell Crabs
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 4 Nori (edible seaweed) sheets
  • 1 large avocado
  • ½ cup of sliced green onions
  • 4 teaspoons black sesame seeds
  • Black Pepper (to taste)
  • Salt (to taste)

Spider Roll Preparation:

  1. Place the rice and the water on a pressure cooker for 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat, and let it rest for 30 minutes.
  2. Once the rice is cold, place it in a large bowl and pour in the rice vinegar and gently mix it together. Let is ret for another 20 minutes.
  3. Clean and sprinkle your crab with salt and black pepper to taste.
  4. Pass the crabs through the all-purpose flour. Make sure you remove any excess.
  5. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Over a medium to high heat, add the crabs and cook by gently pressing their bodies against the skillet. You should leave crabs between 2-3 minutes on each side for better results.
  6. Once the crabs are evenly cooked, cut them into quarters. Do not remove the legs!
  7. On a cutting board, cut the nori sheets into quarters and place the shiny side faced down on your sushi mat. For better results, previously cover the mat with plastic foil to avoid the ingredients from sticking.
  8. Place 3/4 cup of rice over the Nori, 4 crab pieces, and the avocado slices horizontally on top of the rice. Remember to allow crab legs to come out of the seaweed.
  9. Sprinkle the finely chopped green onions and sesame seeds.
  10. Fold the closest Nori edge over the filling by pressing firmly. Continue rolling and seal the end.
  11. Slice each roll into small pieces (8-10) with a sharp knife and garnish with pickled ginger or wasabi.

Types of Sushi

Aside from the Spider Maki, and the Makis in general, I learned there are many other worth mentioning sushi pieces. As we already know, the fundamental feature of any sushi preparation is its sushi rice. That is, the rice known as ‘Japanese short-grain‘ white and sweet-tasting rice that is prepared with vinegar, salt, sugar, and other ingredients. From there, the combinations are infinite!

A wide variety of fish, wraps, shapes, and presentations are involved in this massive world of sushi. The types most consumed sushi types around the world are usually five:

1. Maki

The Maki is also known as Makizushi. A Maki is sliced into small pieces (usually eight) and consists of Nori wrapped around sushi specialty rice and filled with various ingredients. The filling can include anything from salmon to vegetables. It is the specialty that most people know and what comes to mind whenever you hear the word ‘sushi.’ That trust me, in NYC, it is quite often.

2. Nigiri

Nigiri is another common representation of widely consumed sushi. Also known as Nigirizushi, they are most popular in Japan and Asian cities. It consists of elongated rice knead topped with protein (usually fish). However, you can add other kinds of seafood. It is generally only seasoned with wasabi and soy sauce. It could be presented with a skinny strip of seaweed to hold it together or, in some cases, a wide seaweed wrap crowned with fish roe.

3. Temaki

Another particularly and recognizable type is the Temaki, given its conical shape. It is made out of a large seaweed cone (usually about 10 cms.), designed to be eaten with your hands (not chopsticks). Here, the nori leaf is stuffed with rice and other proteins such as prawns, shrimps, jumbo shrimps, salmon, tuna. Most presentations also include a fair share of fresh vegetables like cucumber or green onions.

4. Uramaki

Believe it or not, this is the most widespread type of sushi. The Uramaki refers to the ‘inside-out sushi.’ Why? Simple. In this case, the Nori (which is usually used as a wrapper) is on the inside. To hold it together, they use carrots, broccoli, or fish with a compact layer of rice. Visually it is beautiful because of the predominance of white rice in the outside. Aesthetics play an essential part of Japanese culture.

5. Sashimi

One of the most popular sushi types. Even though most people do not actually consider it sushi. Sashimi is as simple and complex as it sounds. This traditional Japanese dish has no rice and mainly contains two different raw or very lightly cooked types of fish and seafood. It could be similar to the Italian Carpaccio or the Peruvian Tiradito. Sashimi is finely cut, accompanied by grated radish, ginger, and soy sauce with wasabi or ponzu on the side.

Health Benefits of Sushi

Sushi is considered as one of the most popular dishes in the world, both for its flavor and extensive health benefits. Obviously, one of the most known facts is that sushi is a low-calorie meal. It has reduced fat value and high protein content- making it a perfect alternative if you are looking for healthy choices.

Below, we analyze the beneficial properties of this Japanese dish based on its most common ingredients:

  • Rice –  Rice is a primary food in our diet. It has high mineral content. Especially of calcium and iron. Also, it is very rich in vitamins, and the amount of saturated fat is meager. However, note that sushi rice also contains a lot of sugar.
  • Rice Vinegar – Rice vinegar contains up to 20 types of amino acids that help strengthen our defenses considerably. Besides, it is rich in Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids with a high content of acetic acid that helps us digest food better.
  • Fish – Fish is one of the foods with the most benefits. It helps us not only physically but also mentally. Fish has low energy intake, it’s an excellent protein source, includes unsaturated fats, vitamins, and minerals. It also has very high levels of Omega 3 and fatty acids. These reinforce our cardiovascular system significantly, helping reduce the risk of heart-related diseases.
  • Wasabi – Wasabi is a green color paste made out of Japanese horseradish. It is super spicy! Wasabi is rich in antioxidants and nutrients, and like many other spices, it also has anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Nori  – This type of seaweed is one of the key ingredients for sushi. It is rich in calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, manganese and vitamins. As you can see, it is an excellent source of nutrients!
  • Pickled Ginger – Some people like eating ginger during or after eating sushi to clean the palate. But what they might not know, is that this ingredient has high levels of potassium, magnesium, manganese, and copper.

Now that we have listed the benefits that most sushi ingredients have, let’s see how all of these can have a positive impact on our health.

  • Improves Cardiovascular Health: Sushi is highly rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. It also contains a lot of HDL cholesterol (the right type of cholesterols) and helps remove LDL cholesterol (the bad one) from our body. In this way, we can avoid arteries occlusion. Thus, reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases and strokes.
  • Accelerates Metabolism: Fish and seaweed can help accelerate our metabolism as they are easy to digest and are low-calorie. Consequently, we burn more fat and accelerate our metabolism.
  • Improves Blood Circulation: The fish and soy sauce found in sushi is very rich in iron — an essential nutrient. Iron plays a vital role in the production of red blood cells, improving our circulation.
  • Strengthens the Immune System: Rice vinegar and ginger, both contain antibacterial and antiseptic properties. These two also help strengthen our immune system. Therefore, sushi is an excellent choice for people with a weakened immune system.
  • Great for Skin Care: Gluten-free Rice adds protein to our body and helps regulate the digestive system. It also allows the body to repair muscle tissue and keeping our skin, hair, and nails in very healthy and good condition.

Imitation Crab Vs. Real Crab

Let’s be real (pun intended)! By now, we all love the Spider Roll and know it is mostly made out of soft-shell crab. Or at least that is what I thought. Turns out there is something called ‘imitation crab.’ And is pretty clear, given its name, that it is not made of actual crab. However, what seems unclear is what makes up the imitation crab’s meat.

While it may seem false and processed food, the origin of imitation crab goes back hundreds of years ago to a substance called Surimi. Surimi is a paste made from chopped fresh fish washed with additives to extend its ‘useful life.’ The main ingredient in imitation crab is usually Alaskan or walleye Pollock. Although it can be made out of other white and flaky fish.

More so, some Japanese chefs initially created Surimi to use leftover fish fillets. It has been considered a delicacy for years and is still used in many popular Asian dishes (especially in Maki sushi rolls.) The chefs stabilized the Surimi recipe and introduced into other countries in the 70s and 80s. Here, is when it became crazy popular in the U.S. as the fundamental ingredient for imitation crab.

But it isn’t only Surimi, so what really is the imitation crab if it is not real fish?

Well, some food manufacturers use additives that often include egg whites, starches, salt, sugar, sweeteners, and natural or artificial flavors. This substance is then molded and cut into chunks or strips that imitate the real crab. The main attraction of the imitation crab is the price difference; it is usually about one-third of the price of real crab meat. Hence, most chefs use it in popular dishes. But nutritionally, we get what we pay for!

Although imitation crab is low in fat and calories, the real crab has much more protein, fewer carbohydrates, less sodium, and sugar than its counterpart.

Furthermore, imitation crab also lacks many of the nutritional benefits that are found in real crab such as minerals (including zinc) and vitamins (B vitamins.) It is essential to take into account that ‘crab’ or ‘krab’ (as is sometimes imitation crab is labeled) is a much more highly processed food. Also, it’s not vegan nor gluten-free, unless specially marked as such.

Although the Surimi has been a popular option in Asia for years, it just became popular in Europe and the United States in the last decades. For instance, the French enjoy crab sticks made out of imitation crab. In across the U.S., the California Roll is also made with imitation crab.

You’ll find products clearly labeled as imitation or ‘processed seafood‘ or maybe as ‘fish protein,’ complying in this way with new FDA regulations. When you go out to dinner, be sure to ask the waiter if the restaurant uses real crab. Trust me, after a while, even I could tell the difference! Even though imitation crab is not made with fresh ingredients, many people might consider it to be a satisfying, versatile and low-cost alternative to the real thing.

Sushi Etiquette

Whether you’re eating Americanized rolls or sashimi at a traditional Tokyo sushi bar, there are some definite ‘dos’ and ‘donts’ to follow when eating sushi:

  •  Do not use too much wasabi, as it tends to overpower the delicacy of the fish.
  •  Never rub chopsticks together, it is rude, and you may end up with splinters on your food!
  •  Don’t add pickled ginger to your sushi, as it is supposed to be a palate cleanser and not a topping.
  •  Do not ask for a ‘doggy bag’ as sushi is better eaten fresh.
  •  Don’t get too excited with the soy sauce, much like wasabi it interferes with the food’s flavor.
  •  Always eat your sushi and sashimi with chopsticks, it is genuinely impolite to pick up the pieces with your hand.
  •  Eat the Nigiri with your hands, yes, in this case, it is allowed!
  •  Wipe your hands with the towel before starting your meal.

Conclusion

After reading this article, you will be able to say you know much more about the exotic and delicious flavors of the Spider Roll (and Japanese cuisine in general.) Although you can find it with a variety of names and versions, the original recipe of the Spider Maki is the one mentioned above! And in my experience, it is also the best version of the Maki.

You may also recall that the Maki is one of several types of sushi that we may find around the world and in different restaurants here in the city. Next time you are craving sushi, tried the inside out roll – a fun twist to traditional sushi.

As you may also now know, although the main ingredient for the Spider Roll is crab, most of the chefs and sushi restaurants actually use imitation crab (made from Surimi.) So, flaunt your knowledge and impress team members (and significant others alike) by asking the waiter: ‘What type of crab do you use? Or is it Surimi?’.

Last but not least, if all the information here, did not open your appetite, do it for the health benefits, try switching a burger for a sushi roll and see how your body responds.

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Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis is a frelance writer and foodie based in Portland, California. Though raised on her mother's homestyle Italian cooking, she has spent most of the last five years traveling and immersing herself in other countries' cuisines. Her work have been published in various publications, both online and offline.

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