Lots of us geeks are well into exotic foods, and Oriental foods seem to feature fairly highly in their diet. I'm going to show you how to make one of my favourites, sushi. There are many different kinds of sushi, each prepared in its own way. I'm going to describe how to make Maki sushi, which is the sushi most readers will be familiar with. The rice will be entirely suitable for other kinds of sushi like nigiri, so feel free to experiment. If you're vegetarian, that's fine - just make the sushi with only vegetables in it. It's even suitable for vegans, if you don't use dairy.
Now, many people think that sushi is all raw fish; this is wrong. Sashimi is raw fish. Sushi is (mainly) sticky rice, seasoned with vinegar. You might put some raw fish in with it, though. We're not going to use raw fish, because choosing good fish is an art form in itself. We're just going to look at "entry level" sushi.
What you'll need
You will need a few things that you may or may not already have lying around
your kitchen. Many of these things can be picked up from a well-stocked
supermarket, but you're far better getting them from a proper Chinese supermarket.
No, I don't know where they are in your area; the telephone directory is your friend.
You may already have a lot of this equipment.
- Sushi rolling mats
- A pan for cooking rice
- A mixing bowl large enough to hold the cooked rice
- A heatproof jug
- Wooden or plastic spatula - not metal
- A really sharp knife.
The rolling mats are little bamboo mats, made up of strands of bamboo approximately 3mm thick and 1mm apart. They are flexible along their length,
so you can roll up the sushi without it going squint.
When you go to cut the sushi, you need a really sharp knife otherwise you
just squash it out of shape. If you end up sawing away at it with a blunt
knife it will look terrible and fall to bits. You don't want that.
You will probably need to buy some of these.
- Sushi Nori - the roasted seaweed outer wrapper
- Sushi rice - goes really sticky when you cook it
- Rice wine vinegar - you could use any wine vinegar I suppose
- Stuff to put in the sushi - experimentation is the key
- Red and green peppers
- Flaked tuna
- Crab sticks
- Soft cheese (Philadelphia, thick crème freche)
- Baby corn and mayonnaise
- Smoked salmon
- Pickled Ginger
- Soy sauce
You can buy sushi vinegar already made up. It's surprisingly expensive,
compared to ordinary rice wine vinegar. Don't worry, I'll tell you how to make it.
Sushi nori usually comes in packs of ten sheets.
One coffee-mug of uncooked rice makes about enough for two rolls (roughly).
Ok, so you've been shopping, got all the goodies, the temperature-sensitive stuff is in the fridge, and
you've sharpened up your best kitchen knife. Good, we're ready to begin.
The rice is the key to sushi. Sushi restaurants often employ a full-time rice chef, who does nothing but make rice all day. Seriously. If you get the rice wrong your sushi will either go all soggy and horrible, or it will fall to bits. Fortunately, it's fairly easy to make "good enough" sushi rice - cook it like ordinary rice but get it wrong! It's meant to come out all sticky and gooey! Great, how can you fail?
So, to cook the rice put some rice in the pan. I'd say about 1.5 coffee mugs of rice to start with, which will make about enough for three or four sheets. Put about twice as much water in with the rice, bring it to the boil with a lid on, then back it off until it's just simmering. Leave it for 10 to 15 minutes, until the water has nearly all boiled away, but don't let it burn. Once it seems done (it will still be a little wet), turn the heat off and leave it.
While the rice is cooking, make the sushi vinegar. Put some rice wine vinegar in the heat-proof jug (about 25ml will do). Add a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of sugar. Heat it gently, either in a microwave or by standing it on the lid of the rice pan (if it seems flat enough) once you've got the rice simmering. You could add a tiny dash of soy sauce if you like.
Once the rice has cooled down a bit, turn it out into the mixing bowl. You can gently turn it a couple of times, until it cools a bit more. Now, we need to get the vinegar into the rice. Don't stir it - drag the spatula through the rice in a "cutting" motion, pouring a little of the vinegar in as you go. Once you've done this a couple of times, turn the bowl through 90 degrees and do it some more, at right-angles to the first lot of "cuts". Go back and forth a few times until it's thoroughly mixed. If you stir it, you'll break up the rice grains and it will turn into a particularly nasty porridge-y mess. So, don't stir it, OK?
While the rice is cooling you should be preparing your fillings for the sushi. Chop some red and green peppers into thin strips (you won't need much). Slice some crab sticks lengthways, so they roll more easily. You can make a really good tuna filling by thoroughly draining a can of tuna flakes in brine, then squeezing it so
all the water comes out. Next, chop up some spring onions, and a small red chilli (add as much as you think you'll like, or leave it out altogether). Mix the tuna, spring onion, chilli, and a pinch of salt in a bowl.
If you're going to use baby corn, blanch it now so it's got time to cool. Just plunge it into a pan of boiling water, keep it in there for 30 seconds to 1 minute, and take it back out. Cut them so they are roughly the same thickness along their length (chop off the last 3/4" or so where it tapers to a point).
Rolling your sushi
I will say now, don't expect it to come out anything like the sushi you buy on the first attempt. Like everything else, it takes practice. Even now I still sometimes roll really bad sushi, and it all comes out too loose and falls to bits. I guess I'm not so l337 after all.
The sushi nori is very dry and papery when you get it. When it gets wet it softens, so it's important to keep your rolling mat and the work surface it's sitting on perfectly dry and free of little stray grains of rice. Lay the rolling mat out flat, with the bamboo strips running across in front of you. Then place a sheet of sushi nori on the mat, shiny side down. Make sure the top and bottom edges are square with the strips of the mat, and that it is more-or-less central. Spread a thin layer (not quite as thick as your finger, maybe 3/8" thick) of rice over a little more than half of the sheet of sushi nori. Get it right up to the sides, and the edge nearest you.
Make sure the rice is fairly smooth on top and has a nice straight edge at the top - if it's a wavy line your sushi will be difficult to roll and come out a funny shape.
Spread some Philadelphia or crème freche on the rice, across the middle leaving about 1/2" from the top and bottom edges clear. Lay some strips of peppers lengthwise up the middle of this. Or use one of the other fillings. I only say to do the soft cheese and peppers filling because it stays together really well when you roll
it, especially if you gently press the peppers into the cheese.
The great moment! Gently wet the top edge of the sushi nori, all the way across and about 3/4" down. Then lift the edge of the mat nearest to you, and then start to curl it over the rest of the sushi. Once you've got enough of it rolled up, start to squeeze it together into a nice round shape like a fat sausage.
Finish off by rolling it right over a couple of times so the wet edge sticks. Smooth it down so it's all sealed.
Make a couple more in the same way. If it doesn't work first time, keep trying. If it all goes horribly wrong you can pick the nori off the rice and try rolling it again. Keep at it, you'll get it. Don't forget that if it doesn't really work, you still get to eat the evidence!
Cutting your sushi
I find it's easier to cut the sushi once it's been standing for a few minutes. You can clingfilm it and it will last for a day or so in the fridge before it goes soggy. It's really best made fresh, certainly not more than six hours before you need it.
Get your very sharp knife, and a mug of fairly hot water. Wet the blade so it doesn't stick to the rice.
Now, cut the first 1/4" or so off a roll of sushi. Then cut it into sections, somewhere between the width of your index finger and the width of your thumb. Don't cut yourself. Contrary to what many people think, you're less likely to cut yourself with a really sharp knife, because it's far less likely to slip. Lay each piece out on a plate when you've cut it. If you've made rolls with different fillings, you can lay them out in artistic patterns - remember, it's supposed to look good and taste good.
Serving your sushi
Make sure everyone has a little dish of some sort for their soy, wasabi and pickled ginger. You can dip pieces of sushi in a little puddle of soy on your dish, and maybe put a little wasabi on it. Wasabi is very hot, so be careful.
Pickled ginger is for cleansing your palate between different kinds of sushi, or you might just like eating it. If you're using chopsticks, remember to pick things up from communal plates with the fat ends (i.e. the ends that don't go in your mouth!) and try not to drop stuff. Just like rolling the sushi, practice makes perfect.
Sushi is good with beer, although I'd stick to something good and fairly light and lager-y for this. You could also have some dry white wine, although really you should have sake. The problem with sake is that there is just about as complicated a set of rules of sake etiquette as there are for port. Just don't pour yourself sake (it's terribly unlucky, and is thought of much the same way we think of people drinking alone, at home, in the morning), and when someone pours you sake, you should pour them some. Don't let a guest sit with an empty sake cup!
Well, hopefully that's given you some idea of how you can make sushi yourself. It's immensely satisfying when you get a batch that goes together well, and all the pieces come out with the filling right in the middle, and it all looks really good. For a total outlay of a few pounds, you can make lots of sushi that would cost a fortune in a restaurant. Give it a go, and if you have any real success stories (or horror stories) please let me know!