How to Make Ikura Gunkan Maki: A Step-by-Step Recipe

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.

What is Ikura?

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.

What is Gunkan Maki?

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.

Ingredients Needed for Ikura Gunkan Maki

Making delicious ikura gunkan maki at home is easy once you have gathered all the necessary ingredients:

1. Sushi Rice

Use freshly cooked short-grain Japanese rice seasoned with rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. This gives it the trademark sweet and sour flavor.

2. Nori Sheets

Roasted seaweed sheets are thinly sliced and cut into 1 x 3 inch strips that wrap around the sushi rice base.

3. Ikura (Salmon Roe)

Ikura or salmon roe adds a delightful pop of briny flavor. Use good quality ikura from Hokkaido which is famous for its salmon roe.

4. Soy Sauce (Optional)

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.

5. Wasabi (Optional)

Adding a dab of wasabi heat cuts through the rich roe beautifully. Fresh wasabi root is best.

6. Pickled Ginger (Optional)

Serving ikura gunkan maki with pickled ginger cleanses the palate nicely between pieces of sushi.

Steps to Prepare Ikura Gunkan Maki

Making picture-perfect ikura gunkan maki is simple with just a few easy steps:

1. Preparing the Sushi Rice

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.

2. Cutting the Nori Sheets

Carefully cut nori sheets lengthwise into 1 x 3 inch strips using a sharp knife. Each strip will wrap around one gunkan maki piece.

3. Forming the Sushi Rice Base

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.

4. Wrapping the Nori Around the Rice Base

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.

5. Filling with Ikura

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.

Serving Suggestions for Ikura Gunkan Maki

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.

Tips and Tricks for Making Perfect Ikura Gunkan Maki

Here are some handy tips for making picture-perfect ikura gunkan maki every time:

  • Use a very sharp knife to cut clean edges on the nori. Frayed edges let the loose ikura escape.
  • Wet hands prevent rice sticking while molding perfect rice bases.
  • Fill nori cups with ikura right to the top so that the spherical ikura shape is maintained.
  • Eat ikura gunkan maki soon after assembling before the nori gets soggy.
  • Chill all ingredients including freshly cooked rice well before preparing for best results.

Common Mistakes When Making Ikura Gunkan Maki and How to Avoid Them

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.

Health Benefits of Eating Ikura Gunkan Maki

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!

Frequently Asked Questions about Making and Eating Ikura Gunkan Maki

Is it okay to use lower quality ikura?

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.

Can I use short grain brown rice instead?

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.

What drinks pair well with ikura gunkan maki?

Ice-cold premium Japanese beers like Asahi, Kirin or Sapporo make excellent pairings. Dry sake and sparkling sakes also complement the flavors beautifully.

Is it safe to eat raw salmon roe?

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.