Of course most of our chefs know through personal experience that dairy products are rarely on traditional Asian menus. But it’s hard to imagine contemporary American sushi without at least one cheese-laden roll. We use cream cheese on our Philly Roll, of course, but we also feature it on the Spicy Crunch Roll (formerly Snowfox #9); it’s wildly popular in most of our regions. While not for calorie counters, its richness provides a delicious balance when paired with our spicy mayo or the zip of jalapeno.
Most food writers and chefs recall the Philly Roll as the first cream cheese sighting in Western sushi. So the cheese is most often associated with salmon. (For our newer Americans, the nickname is short for Philadelphia). Although in our business we think of salmon from an Asian culinary perspective, the fish was a star entree in high-end American and European restaurants long before sushi became popular here.
In America’s culinary capital, New York City, there’s a long Jewish tradition of eating brine-cured salmon (called lox) on a bagel with cream cheese and capers. The combination then caught on with non-Jewish neighborhoods and swept across America, from delis to hotel brunch menus. In this way, the popularity of the bagel and cream cheese was similar to that of sushi after its growth in California. So though opinions on the Philly Roll’s origins may vary, cream cheese was almost certainly introduced to the maki roll as a great pairing with salmon.
Make them beautiful
The most common mistake I see among our sushi chefs cutting cream cheese is not making the slices big enough. So here I’ll take you through a foolproof method of getting the right size, but I’ll also demonstrate the freshest, safest way to store your prepped slices. Like most of the topics we discuss in Sushi Savvy, it’s the little details that often create a big change in your production and culinary skills.
First, make sure you’re working with a warm knife otherwise the cheese sticks to the knife, and you won’t have a clean cut. I soak my knife in hot, but not scalding, water for a minute. Your water is the right temperature if it’s a little uncomfortable to the touch. Be sure to dry your knife before cutting.
Cream cheese should be the star, or at least the co-star, of any roll it’s featured in. So my prep method ensures a consistent size that’s just right for the inside of the roll. For this technique you’ll need to use the 48-ounce block of cream cheese. When you’re done, your rectangular pieces should be of uniform height and width (a perfect square looking at it from the end).
Fortunately you can just follow my exact instructions in the photos here, and the 48-ounce block’s dimensions will already set you up for success.
Start with a perfect cube
The interior packaging on Philadelphia Cream Cheese’s large block will already have guide lines drawn on it for six smaller blocks. In order to start with a perfect cube, which makes the rest of your cuts simple, cut a block starting at the second guideline (two of their recommended blocks wide).
As pictured in the photo, the block will be about four inches square. You’ll want your final pieces to be about a half inch (or one finger) wide; so cut four slices from the cube. Now lay each piece flat and cut it in half. Then cut each of those halves in half, and you’ll have four uniform pieces of cheese ready to put your rolls.
In order to store my prepared cheese blocks without them sticking together, I roll them in paper. The key is to lay them, with a little space between each one, on a piece of paper that’s large enough to then fold over the top of them. This spacing allows easier access to them when you’re rolling and also inhibits bacteria growth. Next you simply roll them up into a convenient bundle, as shown in the photo here.
Even a shallow pan will hold enough bundles for as many as 12 rolls. Just remember the safe storage time for refrigerated cream cheese is seven days. Practice makes perfect, so if any of this is new to you, I wish you perfection with our twist on one of America’s favorite ingredients!