Now that spring has kicked into gear and the walleye are plentiful it’s time to harvest a few select fish for the table. Walleye are well known around the world as one of the best tasting fish swimming in fresh water. The flesh is white, flaky, and for a fresh water fish, firm, and flavorful. The smaller fish, say in that 15 to 18 inch range tend to be a little less fishy and slightly sweeter than their older counterparts. Some of this depends on growth rate and forage base so fish can taste slightly different from lake to lake. There are countless ways of preparing a fish that is this user friendly. So when I do harvest a few from time to time that’s when my Culinary Arts background kicks in and I go to work in the kitchen.
Now as far as the kitchen end of the deal goes, having spent most of my late teens and all of my twenties as a restaurant Chef or General Manager I picked up a few things. Before I headed off to Texas for culinary school, when I was 18, I worked for a year at a local Japanese restaurant/sushi bar. One skill that has come in handy over the years is learning to prepare sushi of all sorts. It’s surprisingly simple and easy to do. A few years back I got the idea of doing some tempura walleye strips and putting them in a roll. Thus, my Tempura Walleye Rolls were born. As I mentioned before, I like to harvest some of the smaller walleyes from time to time. This preparation is perfect for fish of this size. I can get as many as four rolls out of one 15 inch walleye. Here’s a list of what you’re going to need and instructions on putting the whole deal together. I’m going to break this down for making two complete rolls so converting this up or down will be easy if more or less servings are needed.
1 walleye felt cut into 4 long strips roughly ½ inch by 6 inches.
½ sliced avocado
3 tablespoons wasabi paste
½ cup cream cheese at room temperature
2 pieces of seaweed paper
1 cup tempura batter mix or made from scratch
1 cup uncooked sushi rice
2 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
½ tablespoon sea salt
1/3 cup teriyaki sauce or eel sauce
3 to 5 cups frying oil depending on pan or fryer size
-very sharp carving knife or felt knife or sushi knife
-bamboo sushi mat
-small plastic sandwich bag
-drying rack or paper towels
-deep frying pan or fryer
Start off by preparing the sushi rice. Follow the instructions on whatever sushi rice you are using. It’s usually one cup rice to 1 ½ cups water, but there are some variations. Rice takes 15 to 20 minutes to cook. Pull the rice from heat and allow it to cool once done. In a microwave container heat the rice vinegar, sugar, and sea salt, 20 to 30 seconds. I don’t want to boil this mixture, just get it hot enough to dissolve the sugar. In a plastic, glass, or wooden bowl toss the rice with the vinegar mixture and continue to allow the rice to cool. Some restaurants will use a fan at this point to help the cooling process, but you can also place the rice into the fridge to help speed up the cooling a little. Just don’t leave it in there so long as to get fully chilled and/or that it starts to become hard.
Next get the oil up to temperature, be that on the stove in a pan deep enough to fry in or a deep fryer of some sort. A good oil temperature is around 375 degrees.
Next prepare the tempura batter. This batter can be made from scratch if desired. There are several simple recipes available online; however, there are also several tempura mixes that work well. I’m partial to the Kikkoman tempura batter mix as it comes in a re-sealable bag as I seldom use it all at one time. If I’m making it from scratch then I usually opt for a basic sifted flower, egg yolk, and seltzer water mixture with a dash of sea salt. I’ll usually just eyeball this mix as far as water to flour or mix ratio. What I’m shooting for is a lumpy slightly thinner then pancake mix texture to the batter. This mix needs to be nice and cold, both when it’s used as well when it’s freshly made. So don’t make it too far ahead of time. You can drop ice cubes into your mix as it sits, but over time the melting ice will loosen your batter.
Next take the softened cream cheese and spoon it into the plastic sandwich bag. This baggy is going to be used to pipe the cream cheese onto the roll. Try to get it into one of the bottom corners of the bag. With a sharp knife cut just the tip of the corner from the plastic bag to pipe through. Place aside.
Next slice the avocado. Do this by halving a whole avocado. Leave the avocado in the skin, take a sharp knife and use the point of the knife to cut the avocado into thin slices while not piercing the outer skin. Leave the avocado in the skin until right before you need it to cut down on the oxidation and discoloration of the fruit. Use a tablespoon and scoop the avocado out from its skin in one scoop when it’s ready to go into the roll.
Next it’s time to fry up some walleye tempura style. Place the walleye strips into the batter and coat them completely. Take one strip out at a time and immediately place it into the hot oil. Don’t place more than a few strips into the oil at a time as they can stick together and too many pieces can lower the oil temp while cooking.
To get that cool tempura look, hold the strip by one end then when placing the strip into the oil move it back and forth in the oil as if painting the oil with a brush. Back and forth 2 to 3 times, slowly turning the strip over each time you move it. Then carefully release it into the oil. This will get the batter to finger off from the walleye strip and give you that cool almost tree branch look of tempura batter. This will also get the strips to lie out straight in the oil so they will fit properly in the rolls. Remove the strips when they start to becomes golden brown. They should only take one to two minutes to cook fully. There will be some small batter drippings floating in the oil. Use a slotted spoon and remove the batter pieces for use later in the roll assembly. Place both the strips and batter pieces onto a drying rack or plate with paper towels to drip oil and slightly cool.
Now it’s ready to assemble. This all needs to happen in relatively fast order, so have everything prepped and ready to go. Lay the bamboo sushi mat on a cutting board. Take one large piece of plastic wrap and lay this over and around the bamboo mat. This step can be skipped if desired but I personally like to wrap my mat as it keeps everything nice and clean. Place one sheet of seaweed paper flat on the mat, now take the sushi rice, which should be around room temp at this point, and spread it onto the paper with your hands. This rice isn’t called sticky rice for nothing so have a small container of water nearby for dipping the fingers in when dealing with the rice. This will help keep rice from sticking to fingers and hands. This layer of rice should be relatively thin. This is where a lot of people get it wrong and their roll ends up being too big to deal with. Cover most of the paper leaving just a little strip uncovered on one end. Next take a little wasabi paste and thinly spread it on the uncovered part of the paper. Caution: use the wasabi at your own risk as it has a little kick to it. Next take two pieces of the tempura walleye and place them on the rice end to end. Take the sliced avocado and lay the slices tight next to the walleye slightly overlapping each other. Take the plastic baggy full of cream cheese and pipe or squeeze the cheese out through the cut end so it forms one solid strip of cheese tight next to the avocado the length of the paper. At this point take a little of the rendered tempura batters pieces and sprinkle them next to the cream cheese. Take the teriyaki or eel sauce and lightly drizzle a little of the sauce onto the roll.
Start the rolling process by first rolling the paper by hand to get it started then use the sushi mat to finish and to form a tight roll. This takes a little practice but after a few times it gets easier to do. Try to make the roll as tight as possible, but not so tight that you tear the seaweed paper.
To complete the presentation slice the rolls evenly with a very sharp knife. If the knife isn’t sharp it will crush and possibly tear the rolls. Do this by making your first cut in the middle of the roll and then cut each resulting piece in the middle and repeat once again. Now there’s eight even pieces ready to serve. Place them on a plate, drizzle a little more of the teriyaki or eel sauce on top of the rolls and around the plate and serve with wasabi, soy sauce, and maybe some shaved pickled ginger if you like. Enjoy!