Something very suspicious is happening with sushi in the suburbs. The sushi bars & restaurants are getting bigger and their food is getting blander. I love sushi and am always excited to see a new Japanese-style restaurant pop up in our area but how far are we willing to bend the traditional cuisine to suit the working class suburbanite’s palette? I enjoy the authentic goods far too much to accept mild wasabi. The time has come to learn some sushi-inspired tricks at home, starting with an extremely simple chicken and rice appetizer: Hoisin Chicken Bok Choy Rice Cakes.
A couple of weeks back, Brett and I visited the newest of big-box sushi restaurants in Durham Region (Ontario, Canada), Tatemono. The decor is gorgeous; wood grain, glass tables, bamboo dividers, earthy tones complimented with organic green hues, all of which dimly lit by 100+ pot lights, giving the illusion of affordable fine dining. We were sat in a corner booth and excitedly asked for the all-you-can-eat menu, I can only imagine this order from my 6’4″ brick wall of a husband frightened the managers just a little ;). I ordered their “Signature Tatemono Cocktail” from the drink menu. Minutes later, a white, frothy milkshake, cherry topped thing arrived to the table and the whole dinner experience began to suffer from there. Not really sure who recommended a milk-rum based frozen cocktail as a signature for dining on raw fish but I’d like to let them know that it is a giant fail. Actually their entire bar menu needs some serious assistance.
We began our food feast with miso soups, wontons, scallops, tempura and a large selection of sushi rolls ( salmon, dynamite and California). Sadly, they didn’t have my personal favourite, the spicy tuna roll. Actually there seemed to be a great lack of tuna on the menu and a real push with salmon. It was all good but there was no real kick to any of the dishes, even after we asked them to make a dish “extra spicy”. The dipping sauce was clearly a ketchup base and the wasabi was painfully dull. Seriously, I should not be able to place a coin-sized chunk of the green stuff in my mouth at once. Somehow through our continued ordering, we fell into the lure of deep-friend and our table was suddenly covered in a pork snitzel thing, a “sushi pizza” (deep fried rice topped with salmon and green onion) and a few other plates of battered and fried this and that. I love the freshness of Japanese food, that almost medicinal quality to raw fish and fresh rice and greens, it became clear I wasn’t going to get that here. Somehow my craving for sushi had landed me in a “Japanese-inspired”, Applebees-principled big-box restaurant washing down fried foods with my milky rum cocktail thing.
I am giving Tatemono 3 out 5 stars because the service was good, the decor is nice, the food wasn’t terrible, the price for the amount of food we ordered was fantastic and they are a brand new restaurant, working out the quarks. Perhaps the suburban masses are enjoying this dulled-down, deep-fried version of Japanese cuisine. Perhaps. I think I’ll just focus on perfecting the basics at home and will order from the one sushi restaurant in Whitby, Ontario that knows how to rock my world, Sushi Mountain, when I need my spicy tuna fix.
With homemade sushi fresh on the mind, yet no real skills in fileting a fish, I made these perfect little party platter appetizer: Hoisin Chicken on Bok Choy Rice Cakes. The sticky rice creates a solid base for the salty-sweet hoisin chicken bites and the combination becomes an ideal finger food for your next get-together. Serve it up at a dinner party or make them for a family dinner. I had the girls help me cut the rice patties and they loved making their own “sushi cakes” for dinner. I loved watching my picky 3-year-old unknowingly enjoy bok choy 😉
Hoisin Chicken on Bok Choy Rice Cakes
Courtesy of LCBO’s Food & Drink Holiday 2011
Makes about 24
Rice Cake Ingredients:
- 2 cups Japanese short grain / sticky rice
- 1 cup bok choy stalks and greens, finely diced
- 2 green onion, finely chopped
- 2 Tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 2 Tbsp toasted black sesame seeds
- 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 2 Tbsp hoisin sauce
- 1 Tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tsp sherry
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp chili sauce
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- Finely shredded green onion to top with
- Cook your rice according to the package directions. Once cooked and still hot, stir in chopped bok choy, onions, rice vinegar, sugar, salt and oil. Scrape mixture into a greased 9 x 13-inch pan. Use the back of a large spoon to flatten the rice mixture to an even layer. If you’re having any difficulties created an even surface, rinse your hand with cold water and just pat the rice down. Sprinkle evenly with the black sesame seeds and allow to cool to room temperature before covering with plastic wrap and refrigerating for at least 2 hours.
- Using a round cutter (cookie/pastry, about 2-inches round), cut out your rice cakes. Place cakes on a flat serving plate and discard the leftover rice (or eat). Return the cakes to the fridge until ready to serve, these can be made up to 2 days in advance.
- To prepare the chicken, slice raw breasts across the width into 1/4-inch thick slices and cut each slice to be about 2-inch squares. In a small bowl, combine hoisin, brown sugar, sherry, soy, chili sauce and garlic. Heat the 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a nonstick pan, add chicken and fry until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Remove to a small plate. Pour sauce mixture into the pan, bring to a boil and reduce by half, or until the sauce is thick and glossy. Return chicken and juices to the pan, simmer for an additional 30 seconds or until the chicken is cooked through. Remove from heat and stir in sesame oil.
- To assemble, place a piece of warm chicken on top of each individual rice cakes and top each with a small amount of shredded green onion. Enjoy! xo
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