Friday, June 28, 2013

Spicy Ahi Tuna & Avocado Tower: "Reconstructed" Sushi for Food 'n Flix: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

"Once you decide on your occupation... you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That's the secret of success... and is the key to being regarded honorably."  ...Jiro Ono, Jiro Dreams of Sushi

One of the great pearls of wisdom from Jiro Ono, restaurateur, sushi master, and the subject of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, our Food 'N Flix pick for June. I first watched this 2011 foodie documentary last year but I was happy to rent it again when our host Camilla at Culinary Adventure with Camilla selected it. It's hard not to be in awe of Jiro, who has devoted his life to perfecting his craft, establishing a Michelin Guide 3-Star restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo. More amazing still at 86 now, he is still there working (according to the Internet), along with his elder son, Yoshikazu, in his early 50's, who will take over the restaurant and have to fill his father's footsteps someday.

The film, subtitled in English,  is beautifully shot. Each morsel of sushi is a little work of art and Jiro's quotes about passion, work ethic, food and sushi are thought-provoking. When you think of the many years he has worked to perfect his craft, and the fact that he keeps on striving every day to do better, it is amazing. 

"I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit. There is always a yearning to achieve more. I'll continue to climb, trying to reach the top, but no one knows where the top is." ...Jiro Ono, Jiro Dreams of Sushi

I dream of sushi frequently and eat it frequently too. It's hard not to living in Hawaii. In some form or another, it ends up at most events, parties and potlucks. It's perfect for a quick lunch or dinner, and even a box of take-out brown rice ahi rolls from Whole Foods makes me happy. (Although not as happy as Max, nothing delights his little kitty heart more than seeing the box he recognizes come out of the shopping bag occasionally. I am "forced" to share the ahi out of the center of the roll and usually end up with the leftover rice and cucumber. I have a feeling Max would like Jiro a lot.) ;-)

What I don't dream of is making sushi. I have done it at a class and at a party and while it was fun (especially while drinking) at the time, it was also too much effort for me to ever want to do at home. Obviously sushi is the focus of this film--although we see some different foods like tempura and soba noodles at a staff meal. Wanting to stick with a sushi-ish dish but not wanting to fuss individual sushi pieces, I decided to recreate one of my favorite potluck dishes from my old office. It was always a hit when my friend and co-worker Corinne would bring in a big pan of her husband Shawn's Spicy Ahi Tower. It's like a spicy tuna roll without the fuss of rolling, especially when served with little sheets of seasoned seaweed to wrap around it. Since you are breaking down the components of a sushi roll, and then building them back up again, I think of it as "reconstructed" sushi rather than deconstructed. Whatever you want to call it, the tuna in it's creamy spicy sauce with the cooling avocado and slightly sweet and vinegary sushi rice is delicious.

Spicy Ahi Tuna & Avocado Tower 
Recipe Adapted from Shawn Shiroma (& Corinne)
(Number of servings is dependent on the size you make)

(Since this isn't my recipe and Shawn adapted it from (an unnamed) restaurant he worked for, and Corinne gave me just the basic ideas and tips over the phone, I am not including an actual recipe here for the spicy ahi layer--just the ingredients. If you want to make it and need more coaching or direction, shoot me an email and we'll *talk!*)

In a springform pan or mold of your choice, layer the following:
  • Layer 2: Mashed Ripe Avocado with Lemon Juice
  • Layer 3: Spicy Ahi Tuna Mix: Cubed Ahi Tuna, Mayo, Sesame Oil, Shoyu, "Ichimi" Togarashi (Japanese red pepper spice), Toasted Sesame Seeds (Note: Shawn adds tobiko {small fish roe} but I was too cheap. $11.99 for a small container! I mixed in some roasted sesame seeds to give the sauce a bit more texture.) 
  • Topping: Furikake Seasoning (a mix of nori, sesame seeds, salt and sugar) + extra Roasted Sesame Seeds
  • To Serve: Unmold tower on serving plate and enjoy with sheets of nori or seasoned seaweed to scoop up the layers. 

Notes/Results: Although not exactly the same as the champion dish my friend Shawn makes, I was pretty happy with how this one turned out. I used my mini springform pan to make a small tower that would be a great appetizer for two or three. (It was a little too much for dinner for one, but I managed!) ;-) Two of the best tips from Corinne and Shawn were to make sure the ahi cubes were patted dry with paper towels, and to make up the sauce the night before--to allow the red pepper spice to meld, before stirring in the ahi cubes and making the tower the next day. This is an easy dish to make if you have access to a good Asian market for supplies. I'm lucky here to be able to get everything at the grocery store, including the pre-cut cubes of ahi that the seafood department uses for their poke. The cost of the ingredients does add up--fitting for the movie since lunch at Sukiyabashi Jiro was something like $300, so the cost (and the mayo in the sauce) make this good as an occasional indulgence that I will happily make again.

"In order to make delicious food, you must eat delicious food." ...Jiro Ono, Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Thanks to Camilla for the great movie pick. She'll be rounding up the entries shortly on her blog. Since the dealine is today (gah!), join us for July when we will be watching one of my all-time movie favorites, Moonsoon Wedding, hosted by Heather at girlichef.


  1. I might just be "calling" on you to walk me through this one. So photogenic and, I'm certain, delicious. Thanks for joining me at Food'N'Flix this month.

  2. Max is a cat of refined tastes! Urchin doesn't like fresh fish.

  3. That's very pretty, great presentation. One time we got on a sushi kick and I think I overdid it so, now I can't get in the mood for it. But when I was eating it, the tuna rolls were magnificent. Well done!

  4. Love your idea for this tower and it looks awesome. Yep I was not into the making sushi mood either.

  5. Wow Deb - this is stunning! I love the idea of taking all of the same ingredients in sushi and presenting them this way - perfect for us non-experts ;). Mmmmm.....

  6. This is beautiful, Deb. Just stunning. I would try this!

  7. Thanks Debra! It's so much easier to make than sushi and it would be good for your first tasting experience. ;-)

  8. Thanks Heather! Yes, much faster to make and equally as good as most spicy tuna rolls (with the exception of any Jiro might make of course!) ;-)

  9. Thank you! Sometimes you just have to press the easy button!

  10. Thanks Tina! In the past I have OD'd on the sushi too but now I don't eat it as much and try to get only good quality and what I like so I don't get that way anymore. ;-)

  11. Panko, maybe toasted, would be another fun layer to add! ;-)

  12. He's a funny (and expensive) boy--not all fresh fish makes him happy but he will beg for ahi! ;-)

  13. Please do Camilla, I would have posted the sauce recipe but promised I wouldn't. However, I would be happy to share the proportions I used with you. ;-)


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