It is always funny to me how some of the dishes I make come together. Eight or nine years ago I had an idea to make a sushi roll using wild rice and northern pike. The idea was to make a Minnesota-themed version of the standard maki roll. I cut strips of pike and fried them in a tempura batter and tried to make sushi rice with long-grain wild rice. It was an epic failure on my behalf: That first attempt at a Minnesota maki roll held together for about 30 seconds. When I tried to cut the whole roll into pieces, it proceeded to crumble and fall apart. The fried pike wasn’t the right fish to use, and the long grains of wild rice didn’t have enough of the starch necessary to hold the roll together.
I have had a couple of near successes using sushi rice and crayfish tails, but still, nothing that was good enough or “Minnesotan” enough to call a Minnesota Maki roll. I really was hopeful that I would be able to make a maki roll using wild rice, but it seemed just out of reach. Then I discovered soup rice—the little broken bits of wild rice that are added to soups and stews. Soup rice is just wild rice that has been broken into small grains. It’s usually cheaper that whole grain wild rice, and is equally delicious. I have been using soup rice almost exclusively for the last couple of years, after finding a roadside stand just outside Bemidji, Minn., that sells it for 99 cents a pound when you buy more than 10 pounds.
Back in April, I was trying out different recipes for a wild rice salad and was impressed at how well the soup rice held together after being tossed with light vinaigrette. That’s what got me thinking about using soup rice in the maki roll. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I figured out what kind of fish I was going to use. My wife and I were out for dinner, and on the menu was a pickled-smelt salad. I knew immediately that I was going to use pickled smelt in my Minnesota maki roll. I got home that night and went right to the freezer to set out a bag of smelt for thawing.
I now had all the main ingredients in one place to put together my Minnesota maki roll—I just had to wait a week for my smelt to pickle. When the week was through, I set everything up to make the roll. I even went to YouTube to refresh my sushi-rolling skills (there are a number of great videos on there that will show you the right technique). After assembling the rolls, I sliced them and was impressed at how well they held together. I was a little nervous that the soup rice wouldn’t hold, but it did, and not only was the texture great, but the flavor was also exactly what I wanted. I finally got my Minnesota sushi roll, and I couldn’t have been happier.
Minnesota Maki Roll:
3 cups cooked wild rice (the soup rice)
2 tablespoons rice wine
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon salt
8 pickled smelt
4 sheets of nori paper
1 carrot cut into matchsticks
1 cucumber cut into matchsticks
Combine the rice wine, vinegar, honey and salt, and stir until the salt is dissolved then add it to the wild rice. Stir together and let sit for 30 minutes in the fridge before using. Lay a sheet of nori out on a bamboo mat and add about ¾ cup of the wild rice onto the nori. Spread the rice evenly onto the nori paper, leaving a 1 ½ inch strip along the long side of the nori uncovered.
Using a squeeze bottle of mayo, squeeze one strip of mayo across the rice and add some cucumbers and carrots. Place two of the pickled smelt on the roll, and then start to form your roll. Once you have a complete roll let it rest in the fridge for 15-20 minutes before slicing. Serve with fresh grated horseradish and soy sauce.