Don’t Be Scared to Make Sushi!
For some reason, a lot of people (including me, until recently) place sushi in the category of ‘Things Best Left To Professionals’, like orthodonture and synchronized swimming. This is partly because a lot of people think “sushi” means raw fish. It doesn’t, necessarily. The term “sushi” historically means a dish made with special sushi rice, and all you can be sure of now in a dish called “sushi” is that it will contain rice. What some people think of as “sushi,” simple slices of raw fish, are actually called “sashimi” and become “sushi” when they are placed on top of a pillow of rice (these are called “nigiri”). Rice and other ingredients can also be rolled up with seaweed (these are called “sushi rolls”). When rolled up lengthwise and sliced, they are called “maki,” and when rolled into a cone shape in the hand they are called “temaki”. This is a very simple explanation for an ancient tradition that is of course incredibly complex under the surface, but it gives you the most basic choices when you set out to make “sushi.”
This is a very simple explanation for an ancient tradition that is of course incredibly complex.”
Sushi rice is special. It is made by steaming glutinous, short-grained rice until tender and then mixing it, while still warm, with a vinegar solution. To make sushi rice, you will want an inexpensive, simple rice steamer. They turn out much more uniformly cooked rice than a saucepan on the stovetop. If you decide to make sashimi, or sushi including raw fish, you will need two things: a very, very sharp knife and a trustworthy fish-purveyor. Ask for “sushi-grade fish”. There are no regulations to control this terminology, so you must go on trust. I am not a very adventurous sashimi eater and confine myself to yellowtail tuna and salmon, but other people like cuttlefish, razor clams, and eels.
Any vegetable can be included in sushi rolls. The important thing is to slice them into very small and delicate pieces: tiny matchsticks of carrot, cucumber, little whorls of spring onion and batons of avocado are natural accompaniments to fish and also delicious on their own. You might make a spicy condiment by mixing Tabasco with a quality ready-made or, better yet, your own homemade mayonnaise.
To make sashimi, nigiri and maki rolls, you will want a Japanese shopping trip, whether online or in person. You will want to procure:
- sushi rice
- sheets of roasted seaweed, nori
- a bamboo mat for rolling sushi
- a tube of a Japanese horseradish preparation called wasabi
- pickled ginger (if you like)
- soy sauce
- a bottle of mirin, which is a sweetish, non-alcoholic rice wine
- a bottle of rice wine vinegar
- a bottle of sake, which is a fermented alcoholic rice wine
Once you have all your items besides the fish, a day before you want to eat your sushi, get a small jar with a lid (like an old mustard or mayonnaise jar) and pour in equal amounts of mirin, rice wine vinegar and sake (perhaps 2 tbsp of each) and crumble in ¼ of a sheet of nori. Place in the fridge overnight.
When you are ready to make your sashimi and sushi, buy your fish and keep it in the fridge as you make your other preparations. First put your rice on to cook (about ½ cup per person). It will take about 20 minutes to cook and another 10 minutes to rest. Cut up your vegetables on one cutting board and place your bamboo mat on another. Cover the mat with a sheet of nori. When the rice is ready, place it in a large bowl and sprinkle over enough of the wine marinade, stirring and fluffing with a fork to make the rice stick together in a slightly wet (but not soggy) fashion.
Now, take your fish out and slice it as thin or thick you like: tuna against the grain, salmon in slices from the side of a fillet (having removed and discarded the center “spine” of the fillet).
Make some sashimi slices by cutting quite thick slices of fish, which you can dot with wasabi if you like. Make some nigiri by creating pillows of rice slightly larger than your thumb, dabbing a bit of wasabi on top and laying a slice of fish across each pillow. To make maki, place a layer of rice on 2/3 of the seaweed on your bamboo mat, leaving the top third empty.
Horizontally across the middle of the rice, spread spicy mayo if you like, then place a line of fillings: just vegetables, just fish, or a combination. Then roll it away from you, using the bamboo mat to press the roll tight. Remove the roll from the bamboo mat and place it on the cutting board. With a wet, very sharp knife, cut the roll into six or eight pieces.
Serve all your sashimi and sushi and little dishes of soy sauce and extra wasabi.
Some people love little whorls of pickled ginger with their sushi; I am not one of them.
It’s a love/hate thing.
Have you tried your hand at making your own sushi at home?
Photo credit: Avery Curran
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