Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Simple Sushi - Oxymoron? I Think Not!

The term "simple sushi" may sound like an oxymoron but is it really that hard to make? I mean, we can all agree that sushi chefs are masters of their art and it takes years of training to be good at making this Japanese dish. Can a home cook without any kind of training or experience bang out some nice sushi rolls? Well, let's find out.

First of all, let's lower our own expectations, shall we? We are never going to be able to produce sushi that looks like a work of art overnight. So let's not even think that. Just keep it simple. The key to making good sushi is a belief in yourself, know what you need and be organized. However, before we get to that, let's just review what is it that we are actually making. Sushi is very different from sashimi. The term sushi has become such commonplace that it has been used interchangeably with sashimi. A lot of times, sushi gets confused with sashimi, which is just slices of raw fish, served as-is. On the other hand, sushi refers to the Japanese snack food that comprises vinegared rice that is rolled with dried seaweed sheets (better known as nori) together with vegetables or cooked seafood ingredients.

Here are the things that you'll need to make sushi:

Sushi rice (any short grain variety will do)
Nori (seaweed sheets)
Sesame seeds
Rice wine vinegar, sugar, salt
Sushi-rolling mat made from bamboo (covered in plastic saran wrap)

For this application, we'll be making maki-sushi, which is rice and seaweed rolled with vegetables or seafood. This is the most common type of sushi. Let's do a vegetarian one, starting with basic ingredients like avocado, carrots and cucumber. Simple enough, right? Now, let's get ourselves organized by doing a mise en place of whatever ingredients and tools that we are going to need.

First off, let's make the sushi rice. Wash the rice until the water is clear, which eliminates most of the starch. Drain the water and let the rice sit for about 30 minutes. Cook the rice with a tad less water than you would normally add, to make sure that the rice will not get too mushy when the vinegar mix is added. While the rice is cooking, let's make the vinegar mix. Now, every sushi chef have their own secret recipe for this but let's just make do with a standard recipe:

2.5 - 3 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 - 3 tablespoon sugar
1.5 teaspoon salt

Heat up these ingredients in a small pot until the sugar dissolves. Do not let the mixture boil. Let it cool down. When the rice is done, transfer it out of the pot and start adding the vinegar mix, folding it thoroughly and gently into the rice with a wooden ladle. As you do this, you are supposed to fan the rice to cool it down but that's up to you. I personally don't think it is necessary. As you add the vinegar mix, taste the rice to make sure that you've not added too much. After you've made rice, you should use it immediately and not let it sit. At most, sushi should be consumed a couple of hours after it is made.

Before the rice is done, you should get the vegetable ingredients ready. Cut the carrots and cucumber (remove the seeds first) into thin matchstick-like portions. As for the avocado, cut them into thin slices as well. Now you are ready to roll your sushi. Before using the bamboo mat, wrap it in saran wrap to make sure that the rice doesn't stick to the mat.

Let's make sushi, shall we?

Lay down a nori sheet onto the mat. Now, spread the rice on 2/3 of the nori, starting from the bottom, covering it with rice all the way to the sides. Add your vegetables in the middle of the rice from one side end to the other. Make sure you don't add too much as it will be hard to roll. Now, lift the end of the mat closest to you and fold it over the filling, all the while making sure you are rolling instead of just folding. As you do this, tuck the end of your fold into the rice, closing the fold, applying even pressure throughout. Now, lift the end of the mat that you were rolling and continue rolling the rest of the nori, making sure you keep the roll tight.

Congratulations, you've just made maki-sushi! Serve the sushi with either soy sauce or ponzu (Japanese citrus soy sauce) and wasabi.

NOTE: For a more awesome-tasting sushi, I like to add a miso sauce together with the ingredients before you start rolling the sushi. It gives the sushi a sweeter taste that you'll never find anywhere else. Here's the recipe for the sauce:

3 tablespoon red/yellow miso
2 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoon sake
2 tablespoon mirin

Bring this mix to a simmer and keep stirring until you get a pasty consistency.

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