Friday, November 14, 2008

The Joy of Sushi-Making

Guess what Andrew and I made for dinner last Saturday night? No, seriously, guess!

OK, are you done guessing? SUSHI! No joke! Oh, was that obvious? Did the title maybe give it away? Well, isn’t it amazing?

Seriously, though, if you haven’t made sushi before, you’re maybe as intimidated as I was by the thought of putting together this trendy dish all by yourself. However, if you have made sushi before, then you should know how fun and surprisingly simple it actually is. And this was a team effort. Andrew and I made sushi together, not because it was so complex and time-consuming that it had to be a two-person job, but because it is fun to do together. You could have a sushi-making party! Or a sushi-making family night, or a sushi-making date. Do you have a long lost sister, father, uncle, or cousin to reconnect with? Make sushi together. It’s a great icebreaker.

Now, how did we accomplish this daunting task? How did the complex and intimidating become the simple and fun? Allow me to address some of the concerns I previously had regarding making sushi at home:

Problem: Raw fish is dangerous—what if I get food poisoning?
Solution: Don’t use raw fish! Use cooked shrimp, scallops, crab, smoked salmon, etc., as well as tofu, vegetables, fruit, cheese, even chicken or beef.

Problem: I have no idea where to buy the more uncommon ingredients: the seaweed (nori), pickled ginger, wasabi, and sushi rice
Solution: Most supermarkets actually carry this stuff now, either in the Asian food section, or at the sushi-to-go stand, if your supermarket has one.

Problem: Rolling sushi is difficult.
Solution: No, it isn’t! It’s actually quite simple. Seriously.

Problem: My guests/boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse/kids/self is/are picky and would never eat sushi
Solution: Remember, sushi can encompass all kinds of foods. You can include and exclude whatever you want in your rolls. Pretty much the only thing you really have to like is rice, and you can make sushi that is vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free, or fat-free … or not!

Um, am I missing any? Well, this should at least give you an idea of how doable this is.

You can be pretty flexible with ingredients. The essentials are: rice, rice vinegar, and nori. You’ll probably want some or all of the standard condiments: soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger, and then, of course, your fillings.

I used:
-Bamboo shoots
-Mandarin Oranges
-Green pepper
-Blue cheese
-Cooked shrimp
-Cooked crabmeat
-Smoked salmon

And there are about a billion other options. Well, I don’t know if there are actually a billion—don’t quote me on that—but, you know, LOTS. Let your imagination run wild!

The rice is very simple to prepare: use regular white rice, and prepare it as you normally would. Once it’s cooked, transfer it into a large, non-metal bowl. Stir in about a tablespoon of rice vinegar per cooked cup of rice. Keep stirring it around until it reaches room temperature. As for how much rice you’ll need, keep all this in mind:

-Each roll requires approximately one cup of cooked rice
-Each roll makes about six pieces of sushi
-If sushi is the main dish of your meal, expect each person to eat anywhere between12 and 18 pieces of sushi

So, if you’re making for four people, you’ll probably need 60 to 70 pieces of sushi, or 10 to 12 rolls. That means you’ll need about 10 to 12 cups of rice. That might seem like a lot, but what can I say? Rice is essential in sushi.

Once your rice is about room temperature, you can start rolling. This is the fun part! Yes, it’s even more fun than cooking rice. Here’s me, getting ready to go:

The pros use bamboo mats to roll, and they aren’t too expensive or hard to find—they’re often sold at supermarkets in the same place as the other sushi stuff. You can also get them at most kitchenware stores. They aren’t essential, though (we didn’t use them). A sheet of heavy-duty foil will do the trick as well. Place a sheet of plastic wrap on your bamboo mat or foil, and then place one sheet of nori shiny-side down on the plastic. Now, wet your fingers, and start pressing down about a cup or rice on your nori. You’ll want to leave a space of about ¾ of an inch at the top and bottom of the sheet, and then the rest should be covered in a ½ inch thick layer of rice.

Now, add your fillings. You can get really creative here—try out any combination of fillings that tickles your fancy. Just be careful not to over-pack your roll. Here are a few we tried:

-Avocado, carrot, and crab
-Cucumber, shrimp, orange
-Bamboo shoots, avocado, smoked salmon
-Green pepper, procuttio, scallion
-Procuttio, pear, and blue cheese (I got this idea from Cat Cora’s Cooking From the Hip)

Just lay them out in a narrow row along the edge of the square closest to you. Then, begin rolling the mat away from you, using the mat and plastic to keep your roll neat and tight—just don’t roll them up in the sushi. Now, I realize this might have been the ideal spot to stick a demonstrative photo (or, better yet, video), but in my great excitement to be making sushi, I forgot to take a picture. Sorry, folks!

Once your roll is done, slice it into one-inch thick pieces, just like Andrew:

Need a closer look? Check it out:

One thing that we neglected to do, that I recommend you guys try is to keep track of what’s in which roll. It might seem obvious while you’re in the process, but it’s easy to get confused once they’re all rolled up. You pretty much can’t go wrong, though: most every combination of fillings will taste good.

Here are a few of our finished products:

The photo quality might suck, but the sushi quality was quite good, if I do say so myself!

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