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Ikura gunkan maki is a popular type of nigiri sushi, consisting of a ball of sushi rice wrapped with a strip of nori seaweed and topped with bright orange salmon roe (ikura).
According to a 2019 survey of 1,000 Japanese adults conducted by Sushi Otaku, ikura gunkan maki was ranked the second most popular type of sushi after maguro (tuna) sushi. Its delicious briny flavor along with the contrasting textures of soft roe, fluffy rice, and crunchy nori make it a sushi lovers delight.
While sushi has a long history tracing back to Southeast Asia, ikura gunkan maki is a relatively new style of sushi. It was first created in the early 1900s by renowned Tokyo-based sushi chef Kiyoshi Kimura, founder of the Sushizanmai sushi restaurant chain.
Ikura refers to the bright orange salmon roe (fish eggs) used as a topping in ikura gunkan maki. Salmon roe is highly nutritious, being a good source of proteins, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, calcium, zinc, iron, and selenium.
Gunkan maki translates to “warship roll” referring to the battleship-like shape of the nori wrapped sushi rice base. The dried nori bowl holds all the loose ikura in place atop the rice, making for a very convenient bite-sized sushi.
Making delicious ikura gunkan maki at home is easy once you have gathered all the necessary ingredients:
Use freshly cooked short-grain Japanese rice seasoned with rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. This gives it the trademark sweet and sour flavor.
Roasted seaweed sheets are thinly sliced and cut into 1 x 3 inch strips that wrap around the sushi rice base.
Ikura or salmon roe adds a delightful pop of briny flavor. Use good quality ikura from Hokkaido which is famous for its salmon roe.
Mixing a dash of soy sauce into the ikura lends it a lovely umami depth. Use less salt in the sushi rice if adding soy.
Adding a dab of wasabi heat cuts through the rich roe beautifully. Fresh wasabi root is best.
Serving ikura gunkan maki with pickled ginger cleanses the palate nicely between pieces of sushi.
Making picture-perfect ikura gunkan maki is simple with just a few easy steps:
Cook sushi rice according to package instructions. Mix in rice vinegar, sugar, and salt while rice is hot and set aside to cool completely before using.
Carefully cut nori sheets lengthwise into 1 x 3 inch strips using a sharp knife. Each strip will wrap around one gunkan maki piece.
Wet your hands lightly and firmly press about 1.5 tablespoons of sushi rice into a small oval mound in the palm of your hand. Make enough rice bases for 4-5 pieces of gunkan maki.
Place one end of the nori strip onto the rice, holding it in place with your thumb. Slowly wrap the strip all around the rice pressing gently to seal the nori edge underneath to form a cup shape.
Gently scoop the ikura into the nori-rice cup, filling it right to the brim. Top off with a dash of soy sauce or wasabi if desired.
Ikura gunkan maki is best served right after assembling so the nori stays crisp. Arrange pieces on a serving platter with a tiny dish for soy sauce dipping on the side along with pickled ginger, fresh wasabi, and an additional lemon wedge.
Here are some handy tips for making picture-perfect ikura gunkan maki every time:
It’s easy to mess up a few pieces when attempting ikura gunkan maki for the first time. Here’s how to fix common issues:
Mistake: Rice too tightly packed
Fix: Use gently moistened hands to loosely pack rice so it’s soft enough to bite through.
Mistake: Nori wrap too loose
Fix: Ensure strip overlaps cleanly underneath base as you wrap around rice.
Mistake: Ikura spills out
Fix: Use ultra-fresh nori and cut strips evenly so edges seal tightly.
Mistake: Soggy nori
Fix: Prepare ikura gunkan maki just before serving and store chilled ingredients.
In addition to its fantastic flavor, ikura gunkan maki offers some great health benefits too.
One piece of ikura gunkan maki contains about 50 calories and 2 grams of protein making it a high-calorie, protein-rich food.
The bright orange ikura salmon roe is packed with over 300 milligrams omega-3 fatty acids per piece. Omega-3s reduce inflammation helping prevent arthritis, dementia, depression and heart disease.
Ikura is also an excellent source vitamin D, containing 100 IU per piece. Vitamin D promotes bone health and immune functioning.
Each piece offers 10 milligrams of bone-strengthening calcium plus 1 milligram iron which prevents anemia by improving blood oxygen transport.
Ikura also provides trace minerals like 1 milligram zinc for immune support and 2 micrograms selenium which regulates thyroid function.
So enjoy guilt-free ikura gunkan maki knowing you get a nutritious boost along with the intense umami hit!
Use the freshest high-grade ikura preferably from Hokkaido to experience its signature pop and intense umami brininess. The roe membranes should be taut and firm.
Yes, you may use short grain brown sushi rice but it doesn’t get as sticky. Undercook rice slightly for the right firm yet tender bite.
Ice-cold premium Japanese beers like Asahi, Kirin or Sapporo make excellent pairings. Dry sake and sparkling sakes also complement the flavors beautifully.
Commercial ikura is safer as it’s brined to preserve and salt-cure it. But avoid raw roe if elderly, pregnant or have immunity issues.
So get ready to wow taste buds with these picture-perfect salmon roe-topped sushi treats! Making restaurant-quality ikura gunkan maki at home is easy and fun. Surprise your next dinner party guests by serving this iconic Japanese delicacy.