Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Sushi at Home, seven years later

I'm doing it again, re-posting from my old blog. I couldn't find that V-Day rant, so here is one better: my all-time favourite: How To Make Sushi.  

I have made no secret about how cranky I have been feeling (again) (still) and some have even gone as far as to suggest that I should just keep to myself until I feel more human.  And I quote: "Start being nice! Old mean cat with her claws out. Just eat your prednisone and be mean to Scott and call me when it's over!"  Yep, my friends are sick of me.  I knew this was going to happen.  That's okay, I'm busy writing my book anyway!! GRRR  (damn that better be worth it!)  Scott has escaped for his week away for work so I will just soothe my shattered nerves with some good old blogging. So there! 

(Photo cred: Cass)

There has been a lot of talk about sushi in our house lately, the kitchen renovation makes food preparation (and cleanup!) enjoyable, plus the girls and I are seriously working on learning to cook things we love (and augmenting their mother-daughter-memory cookbooks we are working on), AND last but not least, we happen to enjoy a little Valentine's Day treat tradition of a real sushi/sashimi dinner out at a deliciously authentic Japanese restaurant in Owen Sound.  I am always impressed by their food.  The girls and I are going on Sunday.

I put a lot of work into this blog post in 2009, so seven years later I feel it is still worth sharing.  A few of the little details have changed but over all it is just as yummy making this stuff in my small town now as it was then.  Here goes:

Living in the city we ordered sushi frequently. Here in the boonies, we had to learn how to make our own. So we did.  It's not as hard as you may think, going into it.  I do not use raw fish, as I don't know where to source it sushi-grade, I will leave that to the restaurants.  
We use the odd crab meat for california rolls, but otherwise it is all veggie.  Nothing to be afraid of!  (technically the term sushi IS the type of rolls we make at home, what people commonly think of when they hear the word.. Sashimi is the raw fish preparation with similar other ingredients. I include this caveat for those who are squeamish about the word SUSHI)

After several attempts, looking up technique online, and experimenting with our own flavour combinations, we were ready to start making it for friends. It's time consuming, and a bit finicky, but so incredibly worth it.
Thought I'd try my hand at taking pics as we go and creating a foodie magical blog post like the experts.

There are basically 4 main components:
  • preparing and cooking the rice
  • cutting up the fillings
  • toasting the Nori
  • making the maki
A few tools handy to have for making this dish:
  •  large wooden or glass bowl for preparing the cooked rice (must be non-metallic)
  •  wooden spoon
  •  some sort of fan (we use a plastic plate)
  •  bamboo mat for rolling

List of ingredients:

3 c. rice - we use short grain Japanese rice, usually labelled sushi rice or sticky rice. Even the PC sushi rice at valu-mart works well.
3 1/3 c. cold water

To prepare the rice, rinse it under cold water until water clears.

Add the 3 1/3 c. water to the pot of rice, let soak for at least 30 minutes, in the stainless pot, covered.

Rice vinegar mixture in a separate small pot:
1/2 c. rice vinegar
1/4 c. sugar (organic fair trade cane sugar works well)
sea salt
Prepare rice vinegar mixture in a separate pot on back burner, mix vinegar, sugar and salt and simmer a few minutes just until sugar is dissolved. Let sit, heat off.

You can use what you prefer... whatever you use needs to be cut into thin strips, longer is better but short pieces will work too. Our favourites are:
  • portobello & red pepper            
  • avocado & cucumber
  • cucumber, red pepper & carrot
  • carrot, cucumber & red pepper
  • crab, avocado, cucumber, carrot

Note - we fast-fry/grill our portobello mushrooms in a tiny bit of Bragg sauce and maple syrup, or black bean sauce, or any sweet/salty combo we may have on hand. Slice into strips, set aside to cool.

 Nori is the Japanese name for edible dried seaweed. Comes in packages of 10 sheets, can be used for other dishes as well, such as julienne in salads - although it keeps well in the pantry sealed in a bag. It is thin and crispy, with one shiny side and some faint lines stamped into it. We get ours in Owen Sound or Collingwood, it is not too hard to find even around here and is inexpensive.
Preparing the nori is simple but crucial. For yummy sushi that is easy to chew: prior to rolling the maki, toast the nori one sheet at a time on a dry pan over medium-high heat.

It comes out of the package a greenish-black colour, toast until it is a lighter green. If the heat or your pan is uneven you will get spots in your nori that get very bright green and thin, this is okay but will serve as a challenge when rolling as it will tear when the moist rice hits it.

Try to toast evenly - I stand over it with my tongs constantly flipping it back and forth, takes only 30-90 seconds per side. I have accidentally ruined a few pieces learning to toast them, but I have gotten the hang of it now. Toast all of the sheets you will be using for this batch of sushi - we use 5 sheets per 3 c. rice recipe - and set aside on a dry plate. They cool quickly so don't worry about that, they should be room temp. to use.

So.... When your rice has soaked, your rice vinegar is cooling, your veggies are prepared, and your nori is toasted, it is time to cook the rice.

As your rice has been soaking, just turn on the heat, bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer for approx. 15 minutes, or until water is absorbed (and when you tip the pot sideways no water pours out). Turn off heat, allow to sit 5 min.

This is another key step - the rice has to be cooled rapidly to handling temperature, approx. room temp or slightly above. Too warm will make your veggies/nori mushy, too cool will be hard to handle - this rice must be used immediately. One time we made it ahead and then took it to our friends' but it was already fanned to temp. and sealed quickly so it held it's temperature/consistency.

With wooden spoon or bamboo spatula, scrape rice into large wide wooden or glass bowl. Pour vinegar mixture onto hot rice. Gently stir/fold rice over and over to blend vinegar mixture - it will absorb quickly and become very shiny and sticky. This is where the munching begins for me - this rice is so good, tastes like in a restaurant.

Fan the rice constantly while stirring, this does whatever magical thing it does to make the rice perfect.
At this point, you have gathered everything you need, and you can begin rolling!

Have a bowl of cool water handy for keeping your fingers wet - the rice is SUPER sticky.

Begin with bamboo mat flat, with plastic wrap on top. Place one piece of nori (shiny side down) on the plastic wrap. Begin pressing the rice gently onto the nori, putting an even layer all over the nori, leaving approx. 2 cm at each end. Arrange vegetable combination along the middle as desired, being sure to place veggies right to the edges, sometimes hanging over:

To learn to roll it is truly trial and error - practice practice practice.  It took me a while to master rolling, and I still flubber it up a bit sometimes but the kids love to eat those as well as the perfect ones, no worries! You have to pull the plastic wrap a bit taught under the nori/over the bamboo mat, and neatly tuck the short end over the veggies and press it with the mat, keeping all of the goodies inside:

Then pull back, gently tuck it over again, and squish it evenly with the support of the mat again. The 2 cm. exposed edge of nori will stick to itself, sealing the length of the roll.

 And repeat...
Cut into bite-size pieces with a sharp WET knife. Arrange as desired. Repeat.

We usually cut the ends off and use only the neat rounds on the platter, but this is primarily because I like to munch the ends as they arrive - serving as an excellent appetizer! Quality control! I would have taken pictures of the ends but they um, didn't last long enough.

The finished product! We like to garnish with dry-toasted sesame seeds, Bragg sauce or gluten-free Tamari, pickled ginger and wasabi. Normally we use the tin of dry wasabi that you rehydrate with boiled water, but we do keep a prepared tube in the fridge for "emergency."
  (Photo cred: Z) :-) ~ like my new sushi plates?

This is a fun meal to prepare as a family, and to enjoy together. I realise it is not a very locavore-friendly meal, but it is a great way to experience another culture.  Sushi is a healthy and beautiful example of how others around the world take pleasure in their food, respecting their bodies and the ingredients they are fortunate to have.  
On sushi day I always end the day grateful to be alive. 

Best beverage to accompany is Asahi or other Japanese beer, or simply green leaf tea. I don't mind a little bubbly with it, personally.  Such a special time and feast with family deserves celebration. 


Article & Photos © Natalie Richardson 2009-2016
(with hand-modeling cred to S)  :-)

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