Several weeks or months back someone in some chat channel I follow posed the questions “Could you make a sushi burrito? Would you eat a sushi burrito?” It may or may not have been because a lot of my friends follow John Scalzi’s avant garde non-traditional burrito performance art. (The specifics don’t really matter of where these questions originated, though.) Of course the obvious answer for me to both questions is “yes”. I would definitely eat a sushi burrito and there’s an easy and obvious way to make a sushi burrito: you take a hand roll and roll it less like a waffle cone of sushi and more like a burrito of sushi. I’m told there’s even west coast chain restaurants that do exactly that. I’ve never been to one and they don’t seem to exist in my corner of flyover country, so I can’t report on that experience.

But of course, I would not still be thinking about the questions weeks (or maybe months) later if I just accepted the obvious answer. I got it stuck in my brain that I wanted to experiment with what a sushi burrito could be, beyond the most obvious traditionalist answer (burrito-sized and wrapped hand roll). I got to wondering out loud what interesting (and perhaps monstrous to you, if you are one of the people that hates explorations of burrito-space outside of the norm) hybrid possibilities exist in the possibility space of “sushi burrito”. Perhaps there could be something more of a pan-Pacific Rim meeting and melding of the food tastes than just “here’s a typical way to eat sushi in a bigger snugglier package”. Perhaps, as some of my friends suggested, my relative adjacency to John Scalzi in flyover country has lead me down a dark path of non-traditionalism and disrespect for major food cultures in both what can be described as “sushi” and what can be described as “burrito” in attempt what so ever of whatever sort of burrito kaiju I seem to be trying to build with this experiment in weird food science.

There’s maybe a huge possibility space there if you think about it too hard (as I seemed to), so I tried to narrow it down. The first key piece that fell into place very early on for me was that my experiment must contain “wasabi guac”. That phrase stuck in my head early and couldn’t be loosened. On many of my cruise vacations I’d somewhat often refer to my lunch as “green meal”, for the reason that I had two key green colored foods that I typically wanted to eat at some point every day given their far too easy availability in the Lido Deck buffets/taco bars: something with wasabi and something with guacamole. I very clearly have no problem eating those two foods in sequence, the next obvious question of course is “can they be combined?” and Experiment 0 results were positive: the wasabi guac space has room to explore. (At least for the given sample size of just me eating wild combinations of food because I’m curious.)

Wasabi guac easily narrows down the possibility space to experiments in deconstruction and reconstruction of the California roll. (Perhaps this particular Experiment 1 may be described as a “Baja California Roll”, making a more Mexican-if-you-squint California roll?) Thinking of it as a “(Baja) California roll burrito”, for various reasons, also led me towards thinking of my deconstruction/reconstruction in terms of the individual stations at a chain such as Qdoba or Chipotle, and how those foods interact. This also helped me set up some narrowing rules for myself in the possibility space: would I eat wasabi guac on tortilla chips? (Experiment 0 results: yes.) The way rice is typically prepared at both chains by mixing in lime and cilantro led me the obvious path for me of how to solve the “I’d still like seaweed to be involved even if I’m not using it as the wrap” question: prepare the sushi rice with sushi vinegar and strips of seaweed in a somewhat like manner. The meat station of my “California roll burrito” only needs (imitation) crab, saving me from needing to source sashimi grade fish (not that I can’t source it if I try, just that it is nice to have one more variable to control in Experiment 1). I’d need something for the bean station but that can maybe obviously be tofu (ironically what I typically order from the meat station at Chipotle, their “sofritas”, which is just Mexican-spiced tofu). The hardest remaining puzzle piece for me became “what do I do about ‘Japanese salsa’?” for the salsa station.

Experiment 1 Sub-Task 0: Asian Salsa

The idea I finally had for the “salsa” station finally arrived as I was exploring the ingredients of a California roll in more depth. Often considered the most boring filler element of a California roll, it has become the central concept of my first attempt at an “Asian salsa”. I started with cucumber which I both diced into chunks and spiralized “ribbon-cut” style for some fun slices. (Silly aside: given the names watermelon and butternut squash, I still think for consistency cucumber should be called water squash in the English language.) I spiralized some radish in “spaghetti-cut” form. This was an obvious idea from the way sashimi is often presented. I shredded some pickled ginger. I love pickled ginger, and can’t imagine sushi without it. (I’m the sort that likes a bit of pickled ginger with every piece of sushi.) To this basic “salad” I added a base of sesame oil and soy sauce. I spiced this up with additional ground ginger (I may have a ginger problem) and Gochujang Kick (powder), because I generally like a hotter, chunkier salsa. I realize that Togarashi might be more appropriate, but between trips to two different groceries and a somewhat unwillingness to visit a specialty shop or borrow ingredients from my parents for a silly food experiment like this, I used what I managed to find. (Obviously, nothing about this project has been about accuracy anyway, I think I like the Gochujang Kick a bit more than I like Togarashi anyway.)

I have two big concerns with this first attempt: 1) between all the soy sauce and the additional sea salt of the Gochujang Kick, it’s very sodium heavy, and I don’t know if that is a problem in general for the full project but from the “would I eat it on tortilla chips?” perspective adding so much salt on top of already salty chips is maybe a dumb idea for extended eating, and 2) it’s far too watery than I like my salsas. The chunkiness of all the vegetables is a good balance at least, and I tried to get it feeling a bit stickier/heavier-weight in how I balanced sesame oil to soy sauce (and it did stick to chips interestingly because of that), but it’s still maybe a bit thin outside of the chunks. I hoped some time in the fridge the vegetables may have soaked up more of the soy sauce. I’m not sure that it did, but I did buy way more vegetables than I strictly needed for an experiment of this scale, so I kept adding veggies to it after the initial batch.

On the verdict of “would I eat it on tortilla chips”? Yes, it was pretty good. 👍

Experiment 1 Sub-Task 1: Tofu

This is my first time cooking tofu for a experimental project like this, and I think only my second attempt at cooking tofu ever. Which is perhaps interesting, I’m surprised it hasn’t occurred to me to use in other projects. Because I’m keeping it to the “bean station”, I’m not too concerned if I don’t get it completely right. I was glad I learned to drain it and dry it in a quick early of the day web search, as the time to do that became one of the longer factors in Experiment 1. I skipped crusting them in corn starch as one site suggested to get a true crisp outside. I cooked it in sesame oil and added a gentle hint of lime.

Experiment 1 Sub-Task 2: Wasabi Guac

To push the concept of “wasabi guac” up another level from Experiment 0, I added half of my plan for the “meat station”. This comes from learning that the best tuna salad replacements for someone trying to avoid mayonnaise are tuna in hummus and tuna in guacamole. In this case, I decided to add some real crab claw meat (intended for dips) into the wasabi guac to make it much more of a full dip on its own. For the meat station itself I had some flakes of imitation crab. I’ve never seen a California Roll with anything but the sticks of imitation crab, so that felt required, and I still had a “meat station”.

Experiment 1 Sub-Task 3: Rice

I cooked a pot of (short-grain) sushi rice, and added a dash of rice vinegar and roasted seaweed to make it very sushi rice indeed. I didn’t use proper “sushi nori” seaweed, but a pre-roasted “snack” product because I was feeling cheap and didn’t think I’d use more than one sheet of seaweed and the snack was cheaper. (The irony did not escape me that I still bought too much of the snack. But I will probably use it as a snack, too.)

Experiment 1 Results

I’m going to label this a qualified success: I ate and enjoyed two entire burritos. While I tasted the “salsa” and wasabi guac individually with chips, I don’t think I quite balanced them well enough when paired together. The wasabi guac was probably too strong and drowned out the “salsa”. The salsa did add a nice, desirable texture and sometimes crunch though, so it didn’t entirely disappear from the final burrito. I think I used too much vinegar on the rice for the desired “sushi rice” effect, and the roasted seaweed was maybe too salty next to all the other sodium. I think I overcooked the tofu a bit as it had too much of an (undesirable) crunch for “beans layer”. (Or probably I should have scrambled the tofu rather than cooks it in squares. Also, that advice from one random website that crispy tofu “requires” a crust of corn starch seems disproven here.)

The first burrito was stacked roughly in “Chipotle order” and that made for a clean burrito but I thought it separated the wet ingredients too much from the dry ones. I think that particularly made the balance between the “salsa” and wasabi quac over-balanced. Using the tofu in squares also probably created too much of a layer boundary so that the layers didn’t touch enough.

The second burrito I made in a sloppier and wetter “homestyle order” with the wasabi guac directly spread upon the tortilla, followed by the rice, and then the “salsa” (including pouring a lot more of the “juice” on top), with the “meat” and “beans” layers on top. This order was much more satisfactory than the previous order.

The final result was about as weird as you’d expect. It tasted nothing like a proper burrito, which I suppose was a point of the experiment. It tasted somewhat like sushi, but also nothing like sushi and much more like something new and weird of its own. These findings don’t present to me any obvious variables to experiment with for an Experiment 2 yet, but I’ve got leftovers for a couple days and perhaps something will spark in follow up meals. Good science needs replication, so if anyone else wants try their hand at this experiment I would be curious to hear about any replication studies.

Experiment 1 Update 1

I realized that the wasabi guac was discoloring at a faster rate than I prefer and remembered that citric acid can help slow that so I added a ton of lime juice into the wasabi guac. The lime was a strong improvement to the overall taste of the wasabi guac, both on tortilla chips and in a leftovers burrito. I will need to remember it the next time I make a wasabi guac.