Misoyaki Maki

We’d been invited to a champagne-tasting party, to which we were instructed to bring an appie or somesuch. Easy, right? Except that I totally procrastinated, and it started snowing. Hard. I didn’t want to press my luck and brave a drive to the store for flour (I really wanted to make little empanadas, but couldn’t make dough – who the fuck runs out of flour? Pioneers?), so I had to really wrack my brain. What in the hell could I scrape together? I didn’t even have something fake to cook and sauce up. Like that one time when all I had was some quince jelly in the freezer and a thawed-out boneless leg of lamb, and hastily threw together “ooh, how ’bout some Moroccan-spiced lamb kebab with cardamom-quince glaze” that were doled out onto a platter with toothpicks and greedily devoured. Turns out a lot of people did their part, thought ahead and brought hummus to that party. A lot of different hummus, and my one platter of spicy, last-minute meat.

I am, if nothing else, the Queen of Pulling One Out of Her Ass. I looked through the cupboards. Nothing. Some fucking cans of fish and tomatoes, a can of lychee and coconut milk, and a can of mock abalone. Gross. Look again, see the jars of starch lined up all soldierlike: cous cous, bulgur wheat, barley, lentils, some aged jau mein (that’s ay-jed, not to be confused with the savory patina of proper storage), arborio rice and calrose rice. Sigh. Look again. Grab cans of smoked black cod and sturgeon (from local waters), jar of calrose, then shuffle across the kitchen to the “Asienne” cabinet and grab the teriyaki-flavored nori sheets, the black sesame seeds, tamari and sesame oil, some sake and mirin and gochujang. To the fridge for shiro miso, some scallion and young ginger.

I was going to make mini onigiri, it turned out. With misoyaki filling. I forgot about the jar of umeboshi in the fridge, evidently. I cooked the rice on the stovetop, and then pulled it off to cool in the snow. I chopped together the drained fish, and blobs or glugs of everything else until it was perfectly seasoned and gingery. I sprinkled in some togarashi to give that proper umami, and then we mashed up little fish-filled rice balls until the rice was all gone, wrapping a little fingertip sheet of nori over each. Half the fish was still left. The party loved it, and the hostess even proclaimed it better than the onigiri in Tokyo. It worked well with the champagne, which cut through the rich, salty smoke of the misoyaki, the effervescence pushing past the huge starch molecules on its way into the tickly cilia of the olfactory system.

The next day, while Scott nursed a wicked champagne hangover (I never knew those even existed), I twisted up a fatty nori maki from the last remaining regular sheet of nori in our cupboard, with freshly cooked sushi rice (stirred and fanned with a pinch of sugar and salt, and a splash of rice vinegar). It was a tasty and quiet lunch, and a great way to pat myself on the back for thinking on my feet. It’s good to be Queen.