The Classic: Japanese Sushi
The second challenge from the Foodbuzz Project Food Blog contest is to tackle a classic dish from another culture, and for this challenge I have selected to try my hand again at making Japanese Sushi! The Project Food Blog Challenge championed by Foodbuzz is an exciting adventure, and it is great to be a part of this opportunity in the next challenge being among the four-hundred food bloggers that made the cut in the first round.
Japanese Sushi is one area of cuisine that fascinates and inspires me at the same time, and I will attempt for the first time at making an "inside-out" roll. Japanese Sushi is always fun, and I enjoy exploring, learning new techniques, and perfecting them as I go. The image to the left is a regular sushi roll, not the "inside-out" roll, I will demonstrate them later in this post.
Okay, so a Cajun Chef making Japanese sushi, right? Go figure, but it is one of our families favorite meals. At least once a month, give or take a few weeks here or there, we make the trek to our favorite sushi restaurant on Lake Boone Trail in Raleigh, the unbeatable Sushi Thai Restaurant. Their special rolls are to die for, like the Hurricane, Dragon, Spider, Dynamite, Crunchy Shrimp, and the Neptune Roll. They also feature $1.00 sushi special price for dinner every night. But when we can’t make it to Sushi Thai, I like to make my own.
A word of caution here, making sushi is what I would call an advanced preparation method that takes great skill and practice. If you love sushi as much as I do, you too will want to learn how to do it yourself. Practice makes perfect and with practice comes confidence. Some of the sushi making steps were modified when we made ours, but I will present the complete steps as described in the traditional method.
Making Nigiri Sushi
I’ve made sushi about a half dozen times in my life and it is always a treat to prepare since a challenge is in making the rice, but also in getting the rolls and the sushi just so. Both practice and patience are a plus with putting together both the rolls and the sushi pieces. Just like a roux in Cajun Country you first start with making your sushi rice and this is quite a process to get it prepared. Before you do anything else read the instructions a few times to understand the process, yes, even for me I have to re-read the recipe just about every time I make sushi rice. All of these steps to making sushi have been adapted from the book The Book of Sushi by Kinjiro Omae and Yuzuro Tachibana, which I have owned this copy since 1983.
Sushi Rice (sumeshi)
Making sushi rice is zen for me, as I become one with the rice, as it takes on a personality that transcends any rice I have ever made. The rice starts out in a cool bath of fresh clear water and is rinsed and fondled until the water runs clear, which can be more than a few minutes. As I run my fingers through the rice and the water I reflect on the anticipated treats of fresh tuna, shrimp and avocado awaiting its proper place. Once the rice is washed it is set to rest for 1 hour to drain, then it is sent to the hot water for cooking.
To make a good sushi rice all the steps and ingredients must be followed to near perfect as written.
|1 1/3||Cups||Short-grain rice|
|5||Tbsp||Rice vinegar ( plus 1 tsp)|
|1.||Wash the rice until the water runs clear then drain in a colander for 1 hour.|
|2.||Place the drained rice in a pot with a close fitting lit and add the water. Cover and bring to a boil over medium heat.|
|3.||Cover tightly and boil over high heat for 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and boil for another 5 minutes.|
|4.||Turn heat to low and continue to boil for another 15 minutes, or until all the water has been absorbed.|
|5.||Remove from heat then take off the lid and spread a clean kitchen towel over the top of the pot and then replace the lid and let this stand for 10 to 15 minutes.|
|6.||While the rice is cooking, combine the vinegar ingredients in a small bowl and heat slowly until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and cool.|
|7.||Empty the rice into a nonmetallic tub or bowl, in Japan they use a hangiri1, and spread the rice evenly over the bottom with a large wooden spoon or spatula, in Japan a shamoji is used. Run the spatula through the rice in a right-and-left slicing motion to separate the grains of rice. While doing this, slowly add the vinegar mixture. You may not need all of the vinegar mixture as adding too much will make it mushy.|
|8.||Continue with the slicing motions with the spatula as you add the vinegar. Also have a helper to fan the rice to aid in the cooling process.|
|9.||The fanning and mixing take about 10 minutes, or until the rice reaches room temperature. Do not refrigerate the rice, but keep it in the tub and covered with a clean cloth until ready to use. Sushi rice will last only one day and does not lend well to leftovers.|
*Or, follow the package directions for your brand of sushi short-grain rice.
Nigiri-zushi (握り寿司, lit. hand-formed sushi). Consists of an oblong mound of sushi rice that is pressed between the palms of the hands, sometimes with a speck of wasabi, and a slice of fish called neta draped over it. Certain fish are typically bound to the rice with a thin strip of nori, most commonly tako (octopus), unagi (freshwater eel), anago (sea eel), ika (squid), and tamago (sweet egg). Nigiri is generally served in pairs.2
Putting It All Together
To Slice Sushi Topping
Cutting fresh fish into uniform size and thickness appropriate for nigiri-zushi topping takes some skill, which can be acquired with some practice. We bought an 8-ounce piece of sashimi grade tuna, or maguro for our fish topping ingredient. Here are the steps to preparing your fish topping:
|1.||For measuring large pieces of tuna lay one hand on the block of tuna. The width of 4 fingers is just about right. Cut this amount off of block.|
|2.||Turn the cut-off block 90°.|
|3.||The next two steps are the correct way for cutting the fish, and is the traditional method. If you find this part too hard then just skip to step 5 of the cutting method. Measure about 5/8 of an inch from the left side. Using a sharp knife slice diagonally downward to the bottom corner to make a piece of flesh triangular in cross section.|
|4.||To cut this triangular piece, lay it down with the side that was cut on the bottom. Placing the knife blade at the middle of the right side of the triangle, cut amount two thirds of the way through the piece, then use the knife to unfold the piece. It is placed on the rice bottom side down to become the topping|
|5.||Continuing with the rest of the tuna we simply just cut our pieces about ¼ of an inch thick by slicing across the top and down through the bottom. If you are following steps 3 and 4 then the last piece on the right side will also be triangular in shape, and should be cut in similar fashion as the first triangular shaped piece. Now there should be a number of pieces of tuna for sushi toppings.|
To Make Nigiri-zushi
The key factor to making really good sushi is a balance between the topping and the rice. The hand-formed rice is gently squeezed together, as the word Nigiri means “squeezing”. For one finger of sushi the topping weights no more than a ½ ounce and the rice weights no more than and ounce.
Before beginning the actual process have all your tools and ingredients ready, such as a sharp knife, a clean, damp kitchen towel, a small bowl of wasabi horseradish, and a bowl of water with a bit of vinegar in it in which to rinse your fingers. The preferred method is to slice the fish fillets as you go which is typical of most sushi shops, but in our case our tuna was already sliced.
The traditional method of setting up sushi is listed below, which after reading many times I may try this technique the next time. But what I did was take a little bit of rice and shaped into a small elongated block, then placed a tiny pit of wasabi on that and added the topping tuna or shrimp. And continued with this until all the toppings were set up. Some of them I left out the wasabi for variety. Now the 11 step traditional method below seems like a lot of work, but the technique most likely only takes 20 to 30 seconds to complete.
|1.||First pick up the topping (fish or shrimp) between the left thumb and index and middle fingers of your left hand. Lay it along the base of the fingers of the left hand (not on the palm).|
|2.||With your right hand, take the appropriate amount of rice from the container at your right side, hold it lightly and round it by tapping it gently and quickly two or three times on the inside of the container. The rice should be about the size and shape of a Ping-pong ball.|
|3.||Holding the rice in your right palm use the tip of your right index finger to place a dab of wasabi in the center of the topping.|
|4.||Put the rice on top of this.|
|5.||Lightly press the top of the rice with your left thumb, leaving a small depression on the upper surface. Keep the fingers of the left hand, and the topping flat.|
|6.||Press the upper end of the rice with your left thumb while simultaneously pressing the bottom end with your right thumb.|
|7.||With your right index and middle fingers, press the top of the rice making the depression in the top more shallow.|
|8.||Gently push the left upper corner of the sushi forward with your left thumb to turn the piece over, Slide the piece back to the base of the fingers.|
|9.||Press the sides of the rice with your right thumb and middle finger. Then press the upper end with your left thumb and the lower end with your right thumb and the topping with your right index finger and middle fingers.|
|10.||Taking the sushi between your right thumb, middle and index fingers, turn the piece of sushi around to the right.|
|11.||Press the top end with your left thumb and the bottom with your right thumb and the topping with your right index and middle fingers. After the topping is right side up place it on your serving dish.|
To Prepare Sushi Shrimp Topping
Sushi-topping shrimp must be nicely colored, well shaped and opened flat to embrace the finger of sushi rice. Prepare them as follows and then refrigerate until needed. In our case we accidentally shelled the shrimp before we cooked it, and it still came out ok for us.
Take note: diverting from tradition in this procedure by removing the shells prior to inserting the bamboo skewers, I found it easier to work with and the end results were acceptable for this application.
Before boiling insert a bamboo skewer under the shell on the leg side of each shrimp to keep it from curling. The skewer should not pierce the flesh.
Boil the shrimp in lightly salted water just until the shrimp turns pink. Remove from the water, drain and cool, then remove the skewers.
Remove the shell but leave the tail attached.
|4.||Carefully make an incision along the leg side of the shrimp, cutting about two-thirds of the way thorough the shrimp, and only enough so that the shrimp can be opened and flattened. Do not cut all the way thorough the flesh.|
|5.||De-vein the shrimp.|
|6.||Lightly press the shrimp flat and keep refrigerated until ready to prepare for sushi topping.|
NOTE:Images of the Inside-Out Maki will be forthcoming.
How To Roll Inside-Out Maki
Uramaki is the Japanese word for inside-out rolls. They are a little more difficult to make than maki rolls are. These are very similar to maki rolls, only with the rice on the outside instead of inside the nori. This is my first attempt at making the Uramaki inside-out rolls.
This is my first experience with making the inside-out rolls, so what I am going to make is two versions of the inside-out rolls, one will be a Cajun Crawfish Roll, and the other a Smoked Salmon Avocado Roll.
Cajun Crawfish Roll
For the Cajun Crawfish Roll filling, combine the following:
- 1 pound Crawfish tails
- 1/3 cup Green onions, chopped
- 2 Tbsp Creole mustard
- 1/4 cup Mayonnaise
- 1 Tsp Cajun Spice Blend
- 1 Tsp Prepared Horseradish
- 1 Tbsp Asian Chili Garlic sauce
Combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl and reserve for filling the sushi rolls.
Smoked Salmon Avocado Roll
For the Smoked Salmon Avocado Roll filling, have the following prepared and ready:
- 4 ounces Smoked Salmon, thinly sliced and julienne
- 1 medium Avocado, peeled and sliced into thin strips
Preparing the Rolling Mat
Lay out a piece of plastic wrap twice the length of the bamboo mat. The plastic wrap should be oriented so that the short side is near you. Lay the bamboo mat on the center of the plastic wrap, orienting the little bamboo sticks that make up the mat are parallel to the short end of the plastic wrap.
Fold the bottom end of the plastic wrap over the bamboo mat.
- Fold the top end of the plastic wrap over the bamboo mat, pressing to make sure it sticks to the part that has already been folded over.
- Fold the corners in little triangles, so they don’t stick out.
Fold the two sides in, making sure they stick to the plastic wrap that has already been folded in.
- Turn over so the folded parts are down, and start rolling your sushi!
Rolling the Maki
With the rolling mat prepared with plastic wrap, lay a piece of nori on the plastic side of the rolling mat, shiny side down.
- Place about 3/4 cup of prepared sushi rice (sumeshi) on the nori.
Wet your hands with water so the rice won’t stick to your hands. I find it’s useful to have a small bowl of vinegar water sitting next to my work area so I don’t have to keep running between the sink and my work area to keep my hands wet. Spread the rice over the nori with your water rinsed hands, covering the entire sheet of nori.
Turn the nori over, so the rice side is facing the rolling mat (this is why we cover the rolling mat with plastic wrap )
Place your desired fillings along the bottom edge of the nori. In the case of the Cajun Crawfish Roll, place about 1/3 cup of the crawfish filling along the bottom edge of the nori sheet. In the case of the Smoked Salmon Avocado Roll, place strips of sliced salmon and avocado strips on the bottom edge of the nori sheet.
- Using the rolling mat, begin to tightly roll the sushi. Start at the side nearest to you, and roll away from you. Try to roll it without letting the rice stick to the rolling mat. If the rice sticks, try cooling the rice a little more before you make the next roll.
- When the sushi is completely rolled, use the rolling mat to squeeze the sushi so it does not unroll when you are trying to cut it.
- If you are putting some sort of fish or vegetables on top of the roll, lay thin strips overlapping on top of the roll.
- Squeeze the roll again with the rolling mat to press the toppings onto the sushi roll. This will help ensure that the toppings don’t fall off when you cut or eat the sushi.
- If, instead, the recipe asks you to roll the sushi in something such as masago or sesame seeds, you can either put the topping on a plate and roll the entire roll in it, or spoon the topping over the roll and press it into the roll so it does’t fall off.
- Using a very sharp knife, cut the sushi into six or eight pieces, depending on how thick you like your sushi. It helps to have your knife freshly sharpened; otherwise it’s pretty easy to squish your sushi when you are cutting it. This can cause the sushi to fall apart . Also, it helps to wet your knife before cutting the sushi, so the rice and fillings won’t stick to it.
|1Hangiri ~ In Japanese cuisine it is a round, flat-bottom wooden bowl or tub used in the final steps of preparing rice for sushi.|