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Inari Sushi – What You Need To Make Fishless Sushi!

Written by Luisa Davis on . Posted in food

If you are yet to try an Inari roll, you are missing out on a spicy and sweet delicacy that continues to wow people across the globe.

Sushi is one of the foods which the Japanese love and owing to this; they have come about with lots of types, with Inari being one of them. What comes to your mind when you hear of sushi? For me, I always thought of fish when someone talked about sushi. So imagine my surprise on learning that there was no fish in Inari sushi! Thus, begs the question, what is Inari sushi?

What is Inari Sushi?

Inari sushi comprises thin deep-fried tofu that also goes by the name aburaage, cooked in a sweet sauce.

The filling is of vinegar-flavored rice which gives the sushi its distinctive citrusy taste. You can use the rice filling as it is; which is something that I did while first trying out this meal.

Or you can make your sushi stand out even more by adding more components to the filling such as carrots and sesame. The choice of ingredients will depend on what flavors you like best in your food.

The unusual thing about this sushi is that you will probably not find it in a high-class restaurant, which is why many people are yet to eat it. Restaurants focus on sushi that contains fish and given that this has tofu, it is easy to forget about it. But that’s not to mean that its taste will not blow your mind.

You can find it in small local stores.

I came across this meal when hanging out with a friend who had spent a lot of time in Japan. One day she said to me, ‘Let’s make some sushi’ and here I was nodding and thinking of the fish that we could use, only for her to suggest that we use tofu.

It was quite strange at first, and I kept wondering if I would like it at all, but it turns out that I would not only love the results but would soon pass on the recipe to anyone who came through my doors. Another great thing about this sushi is that you can enjoy it with one hand.

Let me give you a brief history lesson as to how this meal came to be and how it wowed people over the ages with its simplicity and delicious results.

Where did Inari sushi begin?

My friend Anna had spent a lot of time in Japan. At first, she went there as a student, and she liked it so much that she extended her period. She ended up meeting and falling in love with Adam, and when they moved to the US, they did not forget all the great things they had learned in the country. And she was quick to share the knowledge as she helped me prep fried tofu sushi.

Inari refers to the deity that protects the crops, and there are tons of shrines in Japan which people visit to give thanks. Here, people bring Inari sushi or deep-fried tofu as offerings which they place in front of the statues on the holy grounds.

The sculptures resemble foxes, and the belief is that they act as messengers to Inari and it is thus essential that people bring offerings that are pleasing to them.

The foxes enjoy deep-fried mice.

However, killing mice is a taboo and people resort to using deep-fried tofu as it comes from beans. In this way, they avoid annoying the deity, and at the same time, they do not perform any acts considered as taboo.

In the past, people would show up with deep-fried tofu, and that was enough at the time. As time went by, they came up with a method where they would add rice fillings to the tofu to make them more pleasing to the palate.

Also, the use of newly harvested rice from the fields also served as a way to thank Inari for the crops. It thus became a custom, and the meal thus got the name Inari Sushi. It also goes by the names Oinari-San or Kitsune-Sushi. The latter name Kitsune refers to the fox.

Variations in Inari Sushi

You may have Inari sushi in one place and love it, and when you ask for the same delicacy in another area, the result would still be as good, but it would be different. Why is that? Well, it turns out that people make their sushi differently. The Kansai and Kanto regions in Japan are a show of these variations, owing to the difference in shape as well as the use of ingredients.

In the Kanto area, people shape their sushi in the form of a straw bag. They then wrap the deep-fried tofu around rice flavored with vinegar.

In Kansai, people make their sushi in the mold of triangles, and you will find that the vinegar-flavored rice sits at the bottom of the Inari sushi. The triangular shape reminds them of the fox’s ear and the Mount Inari. The exciting thing is that the Fushimi Inari Shrine lies in Mount Inari and thus this shape is critical to them as it serves as a symbol of the meal’s relation to the deity.

Other than in the shape and location of the flavored rice, the two regions also differ in what they use in the filling. In Kanto, the rice has vinegar flavoring without anything else in play. In Kansai, people will add other ingredients to the rice filling, based on what they prefer.

These differences are not only visible in Inari sushi made in Japan as you can also see them in the sushi you find in other places. You can play about with the filling as well as the wrapping to create shapes that you find appealing.

Making the Best Inari Sushi

Inari sushi, which also goes by the name Japanese rice pockets, has become quite popular over time. As a result, though you cannot find it in a high-class sushi restaurant in most cases, you can quickly come across this meal in a supermarket deli. It works as a great food when you are looking to have something light.

It is also great when you are having a picnic, and you do not wish to carry lots of cutlery as you can eat it from your hands. There are lots of variations to this sushi, but one thing that Inari-sushi lovers can agree on is that homemade sushi tastes better than what you would get at a store.

When you are in a hurry, you can always drop by the deli and grab a few bites, but if you have some time on your hands, this is what you need to do:

Do you remember where I mentioned aburaage as part of the ingredients you will need? Well, aburaage is a type of deep-fried tofu that people use in many Japanese meals, including Inari Sushi. The reason why people like it is that it is slightly spongy and this makes it easy to work into various shapes, and it also makes meal prep a breeze.

You need to note though that it tends to be quite oily owing to the frying process that it undergoes and this can pose a bit of a problem. To avoid this, you can boil it in water before making it. I once tried to skip this step and mine was a very greasy meal prep which I would not wish on anyone.

When making Inari Sushi, you will cook the aburaage in a sweet seasoning as this will help in complementing the taste of the sushi rice in play.

I found that the trick to a good wrap lies in leaving the aburaage in the sweet sauce to allow it time to soak in a lot of flavors. As you work with it afterward, you need to take caution such that you do not end up squeezing out most of the sauce as you will lose flavor in this way.

There is a lot of emphasis on the use of vinegar-flavored rice in making the filling, but you do not have to do this if you are not a fan of citrusy tastes. In its stead, you can use ordinary white rice, and it will taste just as good. However, you can make some changes to ensure that there are more flavors in your food.

One way you can achieve this is through the use of cooked veggies which you will place on top of the rice. Not only will they make the meal more delicious but they will also make the sushi more appealing to the eyes. Ingredients that you can use in this regard include seaweed, carrots and bamboo shoots. Again, this will all depend on what you like best in your food.

What do you need?

Inari ingredients are pretty diverse as it depends on what flavors you would like to enjoy in your meal. Some people use veggies to bring out the zest while others use what is standard to the meal.

However, the essential components in this meal are Japanese rice, shiitake mushrooms, sesame seeds, aburaage, and carrots. With these ingredients in tow, you can quickly whip up some great Inari sushi.

Tips

Here’s another ingredient that will come in handy during the preparation: wet hands. It’s an unusual component, but you will be grateful for it when mixing the rice plus the stuffing into the rice pockets. Japanese rice tends to be quite sticky, and you could end up frustrated and make a mess of things when using dry hands.

For people who do not like raw fish, Inari sushi is a great alternative. Also, if you love regular sushi and are looking for a different experience, this is one way to please your taste buds.

I also advise people who are hesitant to try raw sushi to try this, and it might just be the nudge they need to try some nigiri sushi. Though Inari Sushi is mainly prevalent in Japan, I feel that other countries are also catching up on this meal at a fast pace and soon, it will be a worldwide delicacy.

I prefer making my Inari sushi from scratch, and that includes everything from the aburaage to the sushi rice all the way to the sushi. I know that sometimes it is easier to get some of these things from the store but trust me on this, the results will be much better when you do everything yourself.

A Detailed Inari Sushi Recipe

We will start by making the aburaage which is the main component in this Inari pocket dish. Most people opt to get some sheets from the store, and though this will save you time, you will end up missing out on one of the best parts about making this meal.

Aburaage

Making aburaage is quite easy, and the great thing about it is that you can use it for a variety of options. For one, you can enjoy it as it is or you could cut it open to form a pouch which you can use as a base for Inari sushi.

Ingredients

  • One large block of firm Momen Tofu
  • A thick towel
  • Cellophane paper
  • A water drainer
  • Oil
  • An oil thermometer
  • Long disposable chopsticks (wooden)
  • A piano string

For the piano string, you can always go with an equivalent. As for the thermometer, ensure that you get one that measures up to 200 degrees Celsius. With these components, you can now prepare for the fun that lies ahead:

Directions

You will start by making marks on the chopsticks for every half a centimeter up to the length of the tofu. Next, tie the piano string or its equivalent around the chopsticks at the one-centimeter level or higher as you wish. Place the sticks on each side of the tofu such that the chain lies on the tofu and proceed to slice the tofu by sliding the chopsticks along the surface.

As you do so, ensure that you cut the tofu into even spaces as given by the marks on the sticks. You will notice that tofu is quite soft and is thus hard to work with at first.

For this reason, the best thing to do as you separate the slices is to let them slide away from each other. The tofu slices will have a lot of water at this point, and it is essential to allow it to drain out. To do this, place a weight of half a kilo on the slices and let it sit there for about two hours as it squeezes out the water.

Take the slices and let them rest on a thick towel which can absorb the remaining water and allow them to sit there for at least one hour.

You can now prepare the oil, and as you do so, you will need to have the thermometer at hand to ensure that the heating takes place evenly. You will start by placing a slice in the hot oil once it reaches 130 degrees Celsius. Ensure that the temperature remains constant for the next six minutes. From here, heat the oil to 160 degrees Celsius and let the slice cook at this temperature.

The essence to the double-heating steps is to ensure that the tofu achieves the right shape which is not obtainable in one step. Also, if the tofu has too much water owing to the lack of the steps outlined above, it will be hard for you to achieve the desired shape.

You will find that the aburaage will be a bit hard once you fry it and this can make it hard to use immediately. To fix this, you should wrap it in cellophane paper and place it in the oven where you can then heat it. Once you notice vapor inside the paper, take out the cellophane paper and unwrap the aburaage which should now be soft.

At this point, you can decide to fry the aburaage to your preferred doneness, or you can use it as it is. If you wish to have small slices, then you should cook it at 130 degrees Celsius. If you prefer a large piece, then 160 degrees Celsius will do.

When it comes to using the aburaage, you can cut it into halves then create a pouch as you wish. When using it for Inari sushi, here is what you need to do:

First off, you will need to drain the oil from the aburaage, unless this is not a problem for you. From here, you will need the following ingredients:

  • Eight sheets of aburaage
  • Eight milliliters of water
  • Two and a half tablespoons of sugar
  • A teaspoon of Mirin
  • A tablespoon of soy sauce

This recipe will work for eight sheets of aburaage. Where you need more or less of the same, you can alter the ingredients accordingly.

Directions

Choose a pot that is large enough to hold the number of sheets that you wish to choose. Place it on medium heat and add the seasonings. Allow for the ingredients to come to a boil such that the sugar dissolves. From here, lower the heat and add the aburaage slices. Cover the pot and allow the ingredients to simmer as the slices take in the flavor.

Keep checking the sauce and once you see that it has begun reducing, use a spatula to flip the slices. This method is better than using chopsticks which are likely to damage the aburaage.

Once the aburaage turns brown, you can now turn off the heat. If you do not wish to use the slices at the moment, you can spread them onto a plastic wrap and freeze them without squeezing out the sauce. Or you could use them immediately to make this fantastic meal.

Making the Sushi Rice

I have come across many people who do not like the idea of making sushi rice as they feel that it is difficult. Well, here is the thing. Making sushi rice is probably the easiest of all steps in making Inari sushi as it is pretty straightforward.

The rule of thumb is that if you can comfortably cook ordinary rice, then sushi rice should also be a walk in the park for you. Here is what you need to do:

I will give this recipe based on Inari sushi for two people. Be sure to make adjustments where necessary. The first thing that you would need to do is to measure a cup of rice which you would then wash before soaking for half an hour. You would then drain the rice of the water. See?

The first step is quite similar to making ordinary rice.

You would then measure a cup of water that you would pour into a pot together with the rice and proceed with cooking. You can also use a rice cooker for this as it allows you time to work on other things as the rice cooks.

The next step would be to mix two tablespoons of sugar, four tablespoons of rice vinegar and half a teaspoon of salt until the sugar dissolved. You can also opt to use a microwave for this to make the step easy. Note though that the amounts given are as per two cups of sushi rice and that adjustments would be necessary if dealing with more or less rice.

Once the rice is ready, you can then bring it down to room temperature by fanning it or covering it with a damp cloth. You need to ensure that it does not dry out. After that, all that would remain was the mixing of the flavoring into the rice.

Making the Inari Sushi

We are finally down to the last step.

Ingredients

  • Six aburaage slices
  • A cup of dashi soup stock
  • Two and a half tablespoons of sugar
  • Two tablespoons of Mirin
  • Two tablespoons of soy sauce
  • Steamed vegetables
  • Paper towels
  • Two cups of cooked sushi rice
  • A medium size pot

Directions

Now, this part will only apply to you if you did not make the aburaage yourself. If you followed the steps that I outlined in making the aburaage for Inagi Sushi, then you can skip the first two directions and move on to the third one.

  • Step One

The first thing that we need to is to blanch the aburaage as this will ultimately determine how great the sushi tastes in the end. For you to do this right, you will need to exercise caution. You will start by halving the aburaage such that each piece has one open end. Next, you will measure two cups of water which you will then bring to a boil. Ensure that you boil each piece for about a minute.

If you are sure that you can keep an eye on more than one piece at a time, then you can boil more than one aburaage at a go. I prefer doing this piece by piece as it will take less than fifteen minutes to get them all right. Or maybe I have a thing for boiling things. Who knows?

  • Step Two

This step involves seasoning the aburaage, and for this, you will use the mirin, dashi stock, the soy sauce, and the sugar. Bring them to a boil and wait until the sugar dissolves before adding the aburaage and flipping it once the sauce starts to diminish. If you need clarification on this process, kindly refer to the aburaage for Inari section.

  • Step Three

Using the spatula, take out each piece of aburaage and place it on a paper towel where it can drain off the extra sauce while it cools. This process should take about fifteen minutes. As this takes place, you can prepare some steamed vegetables or other ingredients which you wish to have in the pouches.

Creativity is an ingredient which I should have listed when making this recipe as it sure does come in handy. Take the veggies and mix them with the sushi rice such that you end up with twelve balls.

  • Step Four

Once the pouches are cool such that you can handle them without getting burnt, you can now open them and stuff them with the balls. Place the Inari pouches on a plate, and you are all done. You can now enjoy some fried tofu sushi as you marvel at how great it tastes.

Fun fact

A study in 1980 showed that people would make vegan Inari sushi in the tunes of four hundred thousand pouches in a day. Almost forty years later and with an increase in the number of people consuming this meal, can you guess how many pouches people make per day? Quite interesting, don’t you think?

I hope that this Inari sushi recipe helps you open up to more ways in which you can enjoy sushi. Thank you for reading this!

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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