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Grandma's Kitchen:   Inarizushi

Grandma's Kitchen Photo by Gale Fox

How many times have you heard people say, "I don't like sushi. I don't want to eat raw fish!" Well, sashimi is the raw fish, and not everybody does want to try it. But sushi is the part everyone likes. Su means vinegar and shi means rice; so it's vinegared rice. In Japan, sushi comes with vegetables wrapped inside or with raw or cooked fish on top or none of the above. This column presents a none-of-the-above style of sushi that you can make yourself and serve to everyone, even those who do not eat raw fish.

Inarizushi is a form of sushi that stuffs the vinegared rice into teriyaki-seasoned pouches of deep fried tofu. It was invented by a Tokyo chef in 1848 who advertised his creation with the emblem of the Inari shrines. Inarizushi is great for hikes, as the vinegar, sugar, soy sauce and sake preserve it from the bottom of the mountain to the picnic at the top. It's a plain-looking dish, on the sweet side, but you can dress it up with colored cross-cultural condiments of the season. Every batch features ofukurononaji, the taste of home-cooking, because each chef seasons it just a bit differently.

If your name is like mine, you will have a special affinity for inarizushi. Deep-fried tofu is the favorite dish of the foxes who are the traditional messengers of Princess Ugatama, the Japanese rice goddess. As the story goes, a white male and a brown female fox made their den near the first Inari shrine and were considered the messengers of the rice goddess. The name "Inari" comes from the words for "rice growth" because it was said that rice grew in the stomach of Princess Ugatama.

Today, at Inari shrines all over Japan, statues of foxes await their orders from the rice goddess. Often, one fox carries a key in his mouth. This is the key to the rice storehouse. Another fox carries a ball that represents the spirit of the rice goddess. Or is it a piece of inarizushi? Visitors to the Inari shrines often leave presents of inarizushi for the fox statues.

Here is all you will need to treat yourself to one of the most popular foods of Japan. (Amounts may be changed to suit individual tastes.)

Ingredients for the Sushi Rice (makes six cups)
  • rice, white or brown (2 uncooked cups)
  • kombu dried kelp (2" square)
  • rice vinegar (1/4 cup)
  • sugar, white or turbinado (3 1/2 Tbs)
  • sake, cooking quality, or mirin (2 Tbs)
  • salt (2 1/2 tsp)

Make a sauce of the vinegar, sugar, sake, and salt.

Ingredients for the pouches
  • koage (30 - 40)
  • soy sauce (1/4 cup)
  • sugar (3 Tbs)
  • sake (2 Tbs - can be diluted)

Koage comes in cans already seasoned, but I prefer the fresh koage sold in packets in the refrigerator of Asian stores.


Time the cooking of the rice so that it is hot to work with. If you use brown rice, be sure to soak it the night before. Cut a 2-inch square of kombu and put it in the rice pot before you start to cook the rice. While the rice is cooking, prepare the koage.

The ko means "small"; the age means "fried." Larger sized age are used in other Japanese dishes. The koage should be cut in half, horizontally or on the diagonal, to create two pockets for stuffing. A packet of four koage will provide eight pockets for inarizushi. It is just as easy to make 32 or 40 as 8, though. Leftover koage, either seasoned or unseasoned, freezes nicely. Because koage usually is prepared with cottonseed or other hydrogenated oil, prepare the koage by dropping it into a pan of boiling water; then let it soften. Remove with chopsticks and pat dry with paper towels. This removes a good deal of the oil and presents easy-to-handle consistency.

In a shallow pan, simmer the soy sauce and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. When the balance of sweet and salt is to your taste, place the koage in the pan without overlapping any edges. Let each whole piece contact the sauce. Add sake to taste, cover the pan, and saute the koage for a few minutes. When the koage has soaked up about half the sauce, turn each piece over and let the other side take up the flavors and the tasty brown color.

With your chopsticks, place each piece of seasoned and browned koage on a flat platter. It needs to cool for easy handling and stuffing.

While the koage is resting, prepare the sushi rice. Start with freshly cooked, still steaming white or brown rice. Use a flat wooden spoon and transfer the rice from the rice pot to a shallow non-metallic mixing bowl. With a fan, cool the rice until your fingers can stand the heat. Pour the vinegar sauce over the hot rice and mix with your hands or with slashing rather than stirring motions of the wooden spoon. The seasonings blend nicely when the rice is still hot; so do not let it cool down too much – cool enough to handle is the rule.

Gently open up each pouch of prepared koage. Place a clump of sushi rice in your palm and shape it to fit the pocket. Be firm with the rice but gentle with the pocket when you are stuffing the inarizushi. Some cooks like less rice so that the tops of the pocket fold over and close up the pocket. I like to stuff the pockets to bursting and then to decorate the rice showing on the surface.

With this basic recipe of sushi rice and the deep-fried tofu wrapper, you can be as creative as you like. Add pickled plum umeboshi or black sesame kurogome to the inside. Smoked fish is good, too. Leftover Thanksgiving turkey – why not mix the cultures? Here are some ideas:

  • Hiziki seaweed and steamed carrot — Halloween
  • Steamed parsley and red bell pepper — Christmas
  • Green beefsteak plant shiso — St. Patrick's Day
  • Red ginger benishoga & borage flowers — Fourth of July

On top, at the opening of the pocket, add the colors of the season. For a birthday, place a lighted candle in the rice. the foxes may never have thought of it this way, but if you bring them some of your homemade inarizushi, they are sure to appreciate it!

– Gale Fox, Gale Fox Communications

Other recipes from Grandma's Kitchen:

Soybean Magic
Fiesta – Filipino Style
Chinese Kitchen Medicine
Filipino Party Foods
Healthy Summer Eating
Vietnam’s Chicken in Lemon Grass
Korean Homestyle Cooking
Prosperity for the New Year
The Fine Art of Korean Cooking
The Ever Pan-Tropic Bamboo and Indonesian Soup
Tofu Bubble and Chinese Cabbage
Shrimp Hui Tofu
Fighting the "Baby Fat" Blues with Asian Food
Connie's Cuisine
Eat Drink Man Woman - Starring .... Food
Asian New Year's Recipes
More Asian New Year's Recipes

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