From Scraps to Specials: How I Was Inspired to Make Onigiri
One of my favorite elements of Uchi is our specials chalkboard. As we conceptualize dishes, we block out a section listing the main three or four components. Located at the hub of the restaurant, it is where all of the teams intersect: sushi, hot line, cold line, prep and front-of-house (FOH). We pass by it a hundred times a day; it helps facilitate the constant progression, collaboration, and creativity that make Uchi an amazing place to work.
My natural curiosity as a passionate cook is what keeps me asking questions about new dishes and concepts. This chalkboard and the open dialogue about food is an element that provides such a great catalyst for culinary expression, and what ultimately led me to discover onigiri.
My biggest desire in creating a dish was utilizing the scrap we might discard or throw into the freezer. Based on our attention to detail and high level of creativity, we run the risk of wasting great product in our quest for the perfect bite. I noticed as we go from chalk board to cutting board, we usually have a surplus as we manifest flavors and create beautiful, delicious food.
When I started at Uchi nine months ago, we had over a hundred pounds of foie scrap in the freezer. There was also a large container of pork belly. I remember during my stage, family meal was roast pork belly with rice. One of the line cooks joked, “I’m just going to say it; I’m sick of pork belly!” Everyone laughed.
Regardless of how luxurious it is, they knew the struggle of eating the same thing frequently. I started to see the scraps over and over, when I was pulling proteins or freezing granita. It began to drive me crazy. It became my mission to marry the excess with a purpose and give it the love and attention to detail spent creating every single other plate. I believe that using every ingredient to its full potential is respecting the time, energy, and resources spent getting it to our restaurant in the first place.
Some of my favorite dishes are made from scraps. Like chips and guac-rejuvenated tortillas and borderline bad avocados, jazzed up with lime juice-are delicious. Arancini-stuffed rice balls with mozzarella, fried, and served with tomato sauce-the way the Italians use up leftover risotto is amazing. I started to think it would be a great idea to have an Uchi version with sushi rice and foie gras scrap. I asked a lot of questions, learned even more, and as it turns out, the Japanese already have a name for stuffed rice balls…Onigiri.
I experimented with flavors using soy sauce, katsuobushi, mushroom powder, goma (sesame seeds), and togarashi working to find the right umami balance (thanks to Olivia for your suggestions & taste test skills). Furikake added great texture and enhanced umami. The foie mousse (simply made loose paté with white wine aerated in an ISI canister) combined with the melted foie acts as the glue that binds it all together and locks in the umami. We added ginger gastrique at the last minute which gave the dish the bright, acidity it was lacking.
Chef Mike Castillo (Uchi Austin CDC) suggested I garnish with lemon zest and a house made mushroom powder (made from the butts of mushrooms, more scrap!). These really brought the dish together. Everyone that tasted the dish, made it better. All the suggestions about how to facilitate and use the forgotten bits in the kitchen were inspiring for future endeavors. I certainly could not have done this alone.
I am excited to see how this ideal evolves in the future. We just have to keep tasting, keep talking and keep looking for ways to use our amazing components to their fullest potential.