Years ago, when I was helping my brother Kevin move from New York to Los Angeles, he took me to a restaurant in Santa Monica where we had sushi with warm seasoned rice. I thought it was the most brilliant thing: Take something familiar like sushi and make it even more comforting by keeping the rice warm and injecting the cool, sweet fish with acid and salt. I’ve replicated those flavors here in this rice bowl, but one could certainly mix and match the fish or, heck, even replace it completely with avocado slices and roasted seaweed snack (which I often do for a lighter vegetarian take). The one thing you shouldn’t skip, though, is the sushi rice—it’ll change your life.
This recipe makes exactly one portion of sushi rice, and if the amount of water seems low to you, just trust me. Because the thing is, it’s not just water that cooks rice; it’s the steam you build up in the pot as well. Which is why a properly cooked pot of rice needs less water than you might realize, especially if what you’re after is perfectly sticky (but still individual, separated, not-mushy) grains.
One note on raw salmon: You should try and find sushi-grade salmon, or fish that’s labeled specifically for sushi. Here’s why: Raw fish, like the kind you eat at Japanese restaurants, is always treated—in other words, frozen in an industrial freezer that can drop the temperature of the fish lower and faster than a home freezer can. The FDA has specific rules about what this means, which Sho Spaeth has gone into great detail about over at Serious Eats. If you can’t find a block of sushi-grade salmon from a market or fishmonger you trust (Whole Foods and Lobster Place are good options), then I’d take a regular center-cut salmon fillet and sear it in a hot pan with some oil. Carve this thinly as you would the sashimi and dress it with the soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil, and lay it over the sushi rice.
To dress the bowl, I like to use capers for spike and scallions for poke, and cilantro stems, which are significantly more fragrant than their bruised leaves. A bottle of hot sake and a good novel complete the meal, but they’re in no way required. —Eric Kim
Cook the rice: (Rice-Cooker Method) Place the rinsed rice and water into a rice cooker and let soak for 10 minutes. Turn the rice cooker on and cook the rice. (Stovetop Method) Place the rinsed rice and water into a small pot and let soak for 10 minutes. Cook over high heat, uncovered, until it comes to a simmer, then reduce heat immediately to the lowest possible setting on your stove and continue simmering gently, covered, for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove from heat and let sit, still covered, for 10 minutes to steam and get fluffy.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, dissolve the sugar and salt into the vinegar. As soon as the rice is done (and still hot), quickly but gently fold in the seasoned vinegar until thoroughly mixed. Set aside, covered, until ready to eat.
Season the salmon: Directly on the cutting board where you’ve thinly sliced the salmon, scallion, and cilantro stems, sprinkle the fish with the soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil and toss together with your fingers.
Assemble the bowl: Place the sushi rice into a bowl, then top with the seasoned salmon. Garnish with the scallion, cilantro, capers, and black pepper.
Eric Kim is a senior editor at Food52, where his solo dining column, Table for One, runs Friday mornings. Formerly the managing editor at Food Network and a PhD candidate in literature at Columbia University, he writes about food, travel, and culture and lives in a tiny shoebox in Manhattan with his dog, Quentin "Q" Compson. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can follow him on Twitter @ericjoonho.