Vinegared rice scattered with tender sashimi, fresh vegetables and golden egg, chirashizushi is a beautiful, bright and colourful dish typically enjoyed during special occasions such as "hina matsuri" (Girl's day)! It's easy to make and sure to impress your friends and family!
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What is chirashizushi?
Chirashizushi is a traditional type of sushi made by topping sushi rice with a variety of seafood, vegetables and egg. The word "chirashi" means "scattered" and refers to the ingredients that are scattered over the top of the rice.
It's usually served in a bowl or on a plate, either as one large impressive display or as cute, decorative individual portions. It's very colourful and different from nigiri sushi or makizushi.
Brief history of chirashizushi: Barazushi
The sushi named "chirashizushi" was originally just rice mixed with vinegar. Chirashizushi as we know it today used to be more commonly known as "barazushi". In Japanese, "barabara" is the onomatopoeia for scattering.
These days chirashizushi is known for its beautifully cut, high quality ingredients and is popular to eat during special occasions. On the other hand, "barazushi" is a more humble dish made with cooked vegetables and less attractive, end pieces of the sashimi. Barazushi is common in home cooking and fish markets.
Scattered sushi dishes were born in the Edo period (1603-1868). Back then, sushi chefs were so busy with their work that they did not have time to enjoy proper sushi. They would scatter offcuts and end pieces of sashimi over the leftover rice, inventing a quick and easy meal for chefs.
Chirashizushi and hinamatsuri (girl's festival)
In Japan, March 3rd is a special day called "hinamatsuri" (ひな祭り) which can be translated as "girl's festival". It is traditionally celebrated to pray for the healthy growth and happiness of girls. FYI, boy's festival is held on 5th of May and known as "Kodomo no Hi" or "Children's day".
Chirashizushi is usually eaten on girl's day because of its colourful and festive appearance, not to mention the fact that is made with many auspicious ingredients from the mountains and sea.
Other iconic girl's day foods include:
Hina Arare (rice snacks)
They are used to pray for the growth of children, and reflect the spirit of frugality. The shape differs between Eastern and Western Japan.
White Sake, Sweet Sake, Peach Blossom Wine
Originally, people drank peach blossom wine for longevity, but in the Edo period (1603-1868), white wine became the norm.
The non-alcoholic sweet sake called "amazake" is popular with children nowadays.
You can buy amazake on Amazon here.
To wish for healthy growth, green rice cakes filled with mugwort (to ward off bad luck), white rice cakes filled with water chestnuts (to promote prosperity), and red/pink rice cakes filled with kuchinashi (to ward off evil) are piled on top of each other.
Common ingredients for chirashizushi and their meanings
Chirashizushi is an ideal food for girl's day, not only because of its gorgeous appearance.
The colourful ingredients that make chirashizushi also have different meanings and are supposed to bring good luck.
Because of its curved back, it often means longevity and good health. The reddish colour is also supposed to ward off evil.
Moreover, because shrimps repeatedly shed their skin and grow larger, it refers to growth and success.
Lotus roots (Renkon)
The lotus root has many holes and because of this feature, it is said to have a 'good outlook' and to be able to see the future.
Lotus root is also included in many new year's dishes, it's definitely considered as a lucky ingredient in Japanese culture.
Tip: If you cut small triangles between each hole on a slice of lotus root, you can make a flower shape!
In Japanese, beans are called "mame" (豆). But actually, the word "mame" has another meaning! It also means "considerate" or "attentive" in personality.
So it is said that including beans in the dish will help girls to grow up with a caring personality.
Other ingredients that you can use for chirashizushi
The ingredients I use in my recipe are:
- Boiled prawns/shrimps
- Salmon roe (Ikura)
- Thin omelette cut into strips (Kinshi tamago)
- Lotus root
- Carrot (I used these cherry blossom shaped vegetable cutters)
- Snow peas
- Dried shiitake
- Aburaage (Double fried tofu)
- Sakura denbu (Pink sweet fish powder, available on Amazon)
I do realise that some of the ingredients above are a bit hard to get. In that case, you can imply omit or replace with some of these more accessible alternatives.
In case it's hard to get sashimi grade raw tuna, you can replace it with raw salmon (must also be sashimi grade) or smoked salmon.
However, most smoked salmon are already flavoured and salted so if you replace tuna with smoked salmon, omit the marinating process in my recipe.
I didn't include in my recipe, but cucumber is crunchy and refreshing, so it's also a popular ingredient to use in chirashizushi.
If you cut them in small cubes, it will be good for aesthetic.
This is a bit of modern twist, but everyone knows that sushi and avocado are a great match!
Same as cucumber, cut them into small cubes for a good look!
If it's easier to get crab than other seafood like tuna or salmon, this is a great alternative. This works not only with real crab but also imitation crab sticks for an easier and cheaper option.
Some Japanese households add crab stick for easy chirashizushi!
This is for more of a fancy chirashizushi. Adding scallops adds great flavour and another layer of different colour.
If scallops are easy to get in your local area, this is definitely something you should consider!
Don't be afraid to be creative!
I know Japanese cuisine can seem traditional with many rules, but it's really not the case in Japanese home cooking.
Many home cooks in Japan take advantage of their freedom and get creative with traditional recipes, so don't be afraid to be creative too and make your own favourite chirashizushi!
Making easy chirashizushi in Japan
If you happen to live in Japan, you can actually buy "chirashizushi set" to mix in rice. You can find it in most supermarkets around the end of February / beginning of March (close to girl's day).
If you use this type of set, you can omit the mixture for rice process.
Tips and tricks to make chirashizushi at home
I know there are a lot of steps to make chirashizushi at home from scratch. But if you know some tips and tricks, you can make it more efficient, beautiful and delicious!
So here are some tips and tricks you can easily use at home for great chirashizushi!
Think of it as an art
This might no be a helpful tip but more than any other sushi, I think of chirashizushi as an art. Everyone has different style of toppings, decoration, plate, there's certainly no rule about them.
So again, be creative, use accessible ingredients that you love and decorate in your own style!
Many people use flower shaped vegetable cutters to give the dish a spring feel. You can buy them here on Amazon.
Key colours: Red (pink), Yellow, Green
When choosing ingredients for chirashizushi, it is best to keep in mind the colour and seasonality of the dish. A good balance of red, yellow and green will make the dish look exceptional.
Here are some examples of each colour:
|Red||Prawns, tuna, salmon, ikura (salmon roe), carrot, sakura denbu|
|Yellow||Kinshi tamago, tamagoyaki, takuan pickles|
|Green||Snow peas, Cucumbers, Ooba leaves, Edamame|
Order of ingredients
It's not like there is a specific rule for the order, but I thought it would be useful to share how I layered my chirashizushi.
So, here is the order from the bottom:
- Kinshi tamago
- Prawns, lotus roots, tuna
- Sakura denbu and ikura
- Snow peas
Chirashizushi is made with sushi rice.
Firstly, you will need Japanese short grain white rice. It is stickier than many other kinds of rice and is perfect for sushi, onigiri, anything really! While I recommend using a rice cooker if you plan to cook Japanese rice often, it's no problem if you don't own one. Check out my post on how to cook Japanese style rice on the stove here.
The cooked rice is then mixed with vinegar, sugar and salt to make sushi rice! These were originally added to help preserve the rice, but it actually makes the rice taste better and nicely compliments the fish so it's a win-win!
Kinshi tamago is a thin egg crepe cut into thin slices.
3 main tips for making kinshi tamago are:
- Pour the whisked egg through a sieve
- Low heat - don't let it burn
- Roll then slice
The most important tip of all is pouring the whisked egg through a sieve. This makes it extra smooth and combines the yolks and whites evenly. Without this process, kinshi tamago will not have perfect yellow colour but mottled with bits of white.
Kinshi tamago is definitely one of the most important aspects for aesthetic so it's best to keep this in mind.
Alternatively you can use dashimaki tamago (Japanese rolled omelette) cut into shapes. Check out my recipe here.
In Japan you can buy pre-boiled, pre-sliced lotus roots in any supermarkets, so if you are in Japan, I definitely recommend to get these as a shortcut.
However, if you don't live in Japan and decide to prepare raw lotus roots from scratch, you will need to prep a little bit.
- Peel the skin with a peeler
- Thinly slice it
- Soak in water for about 10 minutes
- Boil for 3 minutes with 1L water and 1 tbsp vinegar
- Cool it down
- Marinate (optional)
If the cut ends of the lotus root are exposed to air, they will turn black. Soak in water to remove the scum and you will get a beautifully white lotus roots.
If you want to marinate lotus roots, feel free to use this marinade:
Mix them together and boil it in a small pan for 30 seconds. (The cooking time is to burn off the alcohol in the mirin) When it's cooled down, use the mixture as marinade. You can marinate lotus roots for 1 hour.
For chirashizushi, boiled prawns are usually preferred. So here are the steps for how to prepare and boil prawns.
- Stick a toothpick into the second or third segment from the head of the shrimp, leaving the shell intact, and pull out the vein
- Coat the prawns in a couple of pinches of salt and 1 tsp of corn starch. Rub it over the surface of the prawns and once they're covered, wash them under cold water.
- Boil 500ml water with 1 tsp salt
- Once the water is boiling, add the prawns and cook for 1 min
- After 1 minute, turn off the heat and leave as is with prawns in until the water gets warm to touch (Continued to cook with residual heat.)
- De-shell and ready to use!