Elis Halenko is a Registered Dietitian and owner of Halenko Creative Agency.
She first developed her interest in nutrition while visiting her mother’s favorite wellness stores as a child, feeling a bit like a Hogwarts student looking up at shelves upon towering shelves of herbs, dried foods and concoctions.
After graduation from Ryerson University’s Nutrition & Food program, food photography began working its way into her life—and as her experience grew, so did her passion for food art.
When I think of sushi, I very often think of raw fish or vegetarian rolls. And I’m not too far off: according to Wikipedia, sushi “is a food preparation originating in Japan, consisting of cooked vinegared rice combined with other ingredients such as raw seafood, vegetables and sometimes tropical fruits.”
Veggie, California, spicy tuna, green, red, black, polka dot dragon—is that a type?—I enjoy it all. Not too long ago sushi was considered to be one of those foods you had to go out to eat in order to enjoy. Now, it’s not only served in restaurants, but you can learn some basic techniques to prepare it and enjoy it from home. And I have to say… it’s also FUN to make!
I grew up loving pork belly in Korean cuisine. I was inspired to take this belly, fry it crispy and combine it with fresh summery elements like pineapple, green onion, cilantro, cucumber and Japanese daikon radish to make my own sushi at home. What’s wonderful about using pork belly instead of sushi grade fish is that often this type of fish is hard to find or expensive.
Start by preparing the pork belly in a way that you prefer. Choose a method in the below appendix to prepare your pork belly. You really can’t go wrong—if you like it really juicy and tender, try a slow roasting method on the grill or in the oven. If you like it crispy like me—or you need to save time—try the quick cooking method by frying it up on the stove top.
Pork belly & pineapple sushi
Serves: 4-6 (8-10 sushi pieces per serving)
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes to 3 hours (depending on pork belly method)
- 500 grams Ontario pork belly
- 1 package seaweed paper
- 2 cups sticky/glutinous short grain rice
- 1/2 cup rice vinegar
- 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 tsp sesame seeds
- 2 tsp rice seasoning (or 1 tsp salt)
- 1 cup fresh pineapple, cut into thin strips (1/2- to 1-inch thick)
- 8 stalks green onion, sliced in half along the vertical
- 2/3 cup cilantro, lightly chopped
- 1/2 cucumber, sliced in thin strips along the vertical
- 1 medium Japanese daikon radish, sliced in thin strips along the vertical
How to cook pork belly, the triple threat: Stove top, grilled, oven roasted
I’m using around 500 grams of pork belly, basically enough to cover the bottom of your pan in one layer.
- Remove the skin, and wash the pork belly in salted water. Pat the pork belly dry, then cut it into 1-inch pieces (1/4-inch in thickness).
- If you want to season your pork belly, do it right before cooking. I like this mix: 2 tablespoons of fish sauce, 3 tablespoons of sugar, and one tablespoon of water, 2 cloves of garlic.
- Turn your stove to medium-high heat, and let it cook uninterrupted for three minutes. A little smoke coming off the pan is natural.
- After three minutes, you should be hearing some nice crackling. Once you hear it, flip the pork belly pieces over and make sure the sides get even. Once even, you may decide to move the pork around in the pan for another three minutes. Top with cracked pepper once done and serve with your recipe.
When I grill pork belly, I like to marinate it overnight with the same recipe as in the stove top method, above.
- Remove the pork belly from the fridge about 30 minutes before grilling.
- Score the skin with a sharp knife with a cross-hatch appearance. This allows the fats to run off while the pork belly is cooking and crisping up.
- Preheat grill to medium heat. For gas BBQ, turn off burners on the one side; for charcoal, push the coals to one side. Place a drip pan under the grates on the cooler side of the grill to catch the fat.
- Brush grill grates with vegetable oil and place pork belly on cooler side of the grill and cook, turning occasionally until meat is fork tender but not falling apart (2.5 to 3 hours).
- During the last 5 minutes of cooking, place the pork over the hotter side of the grill to get some greater color and grill marks. Transfer the cooked pork belly to a cutting board and let it rest for 20 minutes before cutting it. Slice pork belly and add it to your meal!
- Preheat the oven to 180 °C. Score the pork belly skin with a sharp knife to create a cross-hatch appearance.
- Season the pork belly with the recipe above. Then fry pork belly, skin side down, in a pan over medium, or medium high heat and cook for at least 5 minutes until golden brown.
- Turn the pork over, add broth (I used vegetable broth). Place some veggies (carrots, zucchini, onion) in an oven pan, and then transfer the pork to the pan once the broth boils.
- Cook for 2.5 hours in the preheated oven. Once cooked, transfer the meat to a cutting board and let it rest for 20 minutes before cutting it. Slice pork belly and add it to your meal!
How to make the perfect sticky rice:
Gather your sticky rice ingredients: glutinous rice, rice vinegar, vegetable oil, brown sugar, sesame seeds, rice seasoning (or salt).
How do you know you are buying the right rice at the grocery store when there are so many options? Buy rice that says “short grain rice” on the package. Traditional sushi rice is white but I have also gotten away with using brown rice for a more nutritious option.
The rice seasoning is optional but it seems easy to find as I did not have to go to an Asian specialty shop to find it. The brand I used contains sesame seeds, sugar, seaweed, and potato and egg powder pieces in it. If you prefer to keep things simple, you can simply season the rice with salt instead.
- To start cooking the rice, rinse the grains in a strainer or colander until the water runs clear. Combine with a measured amount of water in a medium saucepan, following the back of the rice package for the ratio of rice to water (typically it takes double the amount of water to rice).
- Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 20 minutes. Rice should be tender and water should be absorbed. Let sit until rice is cool enough to handle with your hands.
- In a small saucepan, combine the rice vinegar, oil, sugar and salt or rice seasoning. Cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Cool, then stir into the cooked rice. When you pour this in to the rice it will seem very wet but keep stirring and the rice will dry as it cools.
How to prepare your sushi:
- Prepare all of the remaining ingredients by chopping them into long, thin pieces: the juicy pork belly, pineapple, green onion, cucumber, and daikon. I like to keep the cilantro in larger leaf-like pieces as opposed to chopping it finely.
- Place all of your ingredients in front of you for easy access. No bamboo mat? No problem! Lay your sushi seaweed on one of the following: a clean thick towel, a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap. These items act just like a bamboo mat and also help to contain your mess: a win-win situation. And because they’re so flexible, they allow you to shape and roll the rice effortlessly into a beautiful roll. Oh, how I love cutting corners.
- Start by covering the seaweed with the sticky rice using clean hands. Have a bowl of cold water next to you to dip your hands into if you find the rice is sticking and preventing you from spreading out the prepared sushi rice. Keep in mind you don’t have to use a lot of rice to cover your seaweed—about 1/2 cup will do.
- Next, add your ingredients closer to the edge of one side of the seaweed. There’s no science behind what goes first; however, whatever you place in the middle layers will be in the middle of your final sushi roll, so I tend to place the main events in the middle: like the pork belly and pineapple. Easy there—don’t pile your ingredients too high or you won’t be able to roll your sushi!
- Once you are happy with it, you will now begin to roll the sushi. I gather the side closest to all the ingredients and start folding from this end, using the clean towel, wax paper or plastic wrap to move the seaweed into a roll shape. Don’t squeeze too hard, but apply some pressure to create the sushi roll so it stays together when you cut it.
- Cut the sushi roll right away using a super sharp knife. Otherwise the seaweed softens and this makes it harder to get a nice clean cut. I cut my sushi roll so each piece of sushi is about 1.5 inches in height, or bite size.
So what’s stopping you from making sushi at home?