Making sushi at home can be a daunting challenge. It involves numerous specialty ingredients such as dried sheets of seaweed and a bamboo rolling mat, and patience and perseverance to craft perfectly rounded rolls. Chirashi is a more rustic Japanese dish of raw fish pieces served over a bed of vinegar rice. It comes from the word 散らす (chi-ra-su), meaning "to scatter," and can include a wide variety of raw fish types and other sliced vegetables. This dish is a very satisfying alternative to classic sushi rolls, with no muss or fuss and all the same beauty and flavor.
The most important starting point for chirashi is exceptionally fresh fish. I would recommend going to a high-quality fish market the day you plan to prepare the dish. You can ask for "sushi grade" fish blocks (most often you will see yellowfin tuna labeled as such), but don't be afraid to try some other seafood types including hamachi, branzino, and scallop. As when buying all fish, the fish should not smell "fishy" if very fresh. You do not want to prepare chirashi with fish bought at a regular supermarket without talking first to the expert behind the seafood counter.
The second important element of chirashi is the rice. As when preparing sushi rolls, you should start with short-grain Japanese sushi rice. I soaked the rice for 30 minutes before preparing in a rice cooker. You should be sure to rinse the rice after soaking until the water runs clear. Soaking the rice gives it a good bite and texture after cooking. Once the rice is prepared, spread it out on a cookie sheet to cool and then mix in rice vinegar and sugar, or a pre-packed blend of Japanese pickled vegetables including lotus root, carrot, bamboo shoots and shiitake mushrooms (I used this brand). The flavored rice pairs so well with the light, clean flavor of the fish.
If you love sushi as much as I do, and you have a good seafood market near your home, hopefully you will give this dish a try! It is as much an art project as a cooking project but the beautiful colors and flavors make the time and knife efforts worthwhile!