Introduction: Edible Beetlejuice Shrimp Arm From the Musical Number Dinner Party Scene
If you're like me, you grew up watching the film Beetlejuice and can even remember seeing it in the theaters when it first came out. If you're exactly like me, you're in total denial over the fact that this movie is turning 30 years old this month... While the entire film was incredible from start to finish, one scene that has stuck with me all this time is the dinner party thrown by Lydia Deetz's mother, Delia...the Day-O musical number...complete with killer shrimp arms... And while you can find any number of amazing and impressive Beetlejuice inspired dishes online, I haven't seen anyone truly tackle this scene with an edible version... Until now! That's right. This baby is edible. Made from sushi grade ahi tuna in a mango/avocado poke, draped with edible printed wafer paper and studded with shrimp digits, this thing is nothing more than an overgrown maki roll with attitude...which means you too can make your own version and celebrate 30 years of cinematic mastery. So let's get started!
This is an entry in the
Science of Cooking
Step 1: First Off, Some Inspiration!
Here's the original scene from the movie itself...
...and here are the reference photos of the actual prop arms as used in the film. I found these online by googling "Beetlejuice shrimp arm." So cool. The shrimp fingers were easy...I'd just use shrimp, but the outer shell was a bit more difficult as I wasn't quite sure how to make that work and still keep it edible. I finally found my answer when doing unrelated research for a cake project I want to do down the road...edible fabric made from paper! Yes, it's actually a thing! We'll touch on that later, but first...let's start designing our shells.
Step 2: Making the Outer Shells
The first thing I did was make a template of my own arm by tracing it. This gave me a good idea of how to size up the outer shell pieces. Next, I took those measurements and put them into Photoshop and created each segment individually. I pulled patterns up online for actual lobster and crab shells and blended those with a sand texture until I was happy with the look.
I then had these printed out on edible wafer paper using edible inks (I went to a bakery that does photo cakes and begged them to print for me. They were wonderful and agreed and this is what I ended up with.)
For anyone wondering, edible wafer paper is basically paper made from potato starch and vegetable oil that is used by the baking industry for decorating. It's bland and tasteless but works amazingly well for adding photorealistic details to things like cakes and cupcakes. There is also a sugar-based "frosting" paper product used a lot in bakeries for sweet applications, but as this is a savory treat, I'm sticking with the potato starch version.
You can purchase your own paper through Amazon, here.
You can also purchase printers capable of printing on this paper using edible inks, but I found local bakeries were happy to print my designs out for a few dollars. Either way...it all works.
Untreated, wafer paper is brittle and stiff and would crack and shatter rather than bend and fold around my arm, which meant I had to treat them with a magical mixture of gelatin and glycerine. This creates a gummy layer that seeps into the fibers of the paper, making it flexible and stretchy and fabric like...exactly what I needed for the project!
To make your own edible fabric out of wafer paper, you will need:
- 4 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin
- 2 tablespoons vegetable glycerine
You'll also need a food-safe paintbrush, a sharp knife, and a silicone mat.
Now, much like our wafer paper, this gummy paint is pretty tasteless and bland so when it comes time to actually eat your sushi, you shouldn't notice that the paper adds any additional taste. It does add a bit of texture (it's gummy so it'll give your sushi a bit of a "chew" to it) so I suggest peeling it off before you actually eat your sushi.
Start by blooming your gelatin in your water for 10 minutes. Then pop into your microwave and zap for 20 seconds at a time until all your gelatin is melted and mixed in.
Use a spoon to scoop off any foam or scum that is on the surface of your gelatin water. Once that's scooped off, add in your 2 tablespoons of vegetable glycerine and mix well.
Place the pieces of wafer paper you're planning on treating face down on your silicone mat. Using your food safe paint brush, paint a layer of this gummy mixture onto the back of your wafer paper and allow to dry (You'll know it's dry when you touch it and it doesn't feel tacky or sticky.)
Dust the entire thing with cornstarch and gently brush back off. This will seal your gummy paint and make it easier to handle. To make actual edible fabric, you would paint and dust both sides of your wafer paper which would make the paper super flexible and stretchy, but I wanted these pieces to remain slightly stiff and moldable, which is why we're only painting the back.
Use your sharp knife to carefully trace around your pieces on the mat and peel them off. They're now ready to use!
The third photo is a picture of all my shell pieces all cut-out, coated with the gummy paint, and drying face down on silicone pads before being dusted with cornstarch.
Step 3: Mixing Up Our Poke
Now let's make our poke base. This is a simple recipe and oh so delicious. You will need
- 1 mango, diced
- 1/2 avocado, diced
- 1/2 lb sushi-grade ahi tuna, cubed
- 1/4 teaspoon black lava salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black sesame seeds
- 2 cups cooked and cooled sushi rice
- 5 large cooked shrimp (I cooked mine on skewers to keep them straight as they cook), de-veined but not de-shelled (I like how the shells look on the finished product.)
- 1 tablespoon fresh spring onion
- 2 Tablespoons ponzu sauce
- 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon wasabi 1/2 cup seaweed salad
- Nori sheets
Whisk together your ponzu, vegetable oil and wasabi and drizzle that over your seaweed salad, mango, avocado, spring onions and ahi. Sprinkle with your black sesame seeds and your sea salt and toss well to mix.
Step 4: The Sushi Gods Are Crying Right Now...
Because what we're making isn't a traditional sushi or maki roll, I'm gonna start out by apologizing to any sushi purists and say I am absolutely aware of the fact that this is NOT how you roll sushi. But then again, as this is the world's first edible shrimp arm, I'm declaring myself an expert on this and saying this IS how you do it for this. So yeah, suck it.
Pack that rice in there and then top it with a healthy and generous scoop of your poke mixture. Pack more rice on top and sculpt it to give it a nice tapered effect like you'd find in an arm.
Use a little water or mirin to help seal the edges of your nori together. To make the hand part, I just balled up a wad of rice and poke in an additional piece of nori and shaped it together until I was happy with how it looked.
Cut 5 slits into the top of your nori and sushi "hand" and jam your shrimp into there, head first. Arrange them so they splay out like fingers of a hand. Our final product is now starting to take shape!
Step 5: Gotta Hand It to You...
Now that we've got our arm roughed out, it's time to add the "shells." My wafer paper has dried and it's flexible and ready to go. I used a mixture of water and mirin to gently moisten the nori sheets and then pressed the wafer papers down, holding them in place until they stuck. I started at the bottom first and moved upward, making sure to use the photo of the prop for reference.
I covered the whole thing with plastic wrap and then popped it into the fridge for an hour to really firm up before doing any last tweaks and adjustments. Now it's time to plate it up!
Step 6: Ta-daaaaaaah!
And here it is all finished!
I took it to work today and it's currently in the fridge in the office.
I sent out a memo to everyone that there's sushi in the fridge and have been sitting here just listening to the reactions I'm getting as people open the fridge door and see what the sushi is. Once they get over their initial shock, they're really enjoying the actual sushi part.
We have a be nice policy.
Please be positive and constructive.