Sushi is how I roll
I love sushi so much that Max has suggested I become a sushi chef several times. The idea of being a sushi chef inspires a whirlwind montage in my head of learning Japanese, living in Tokyo, apprenticing under a great chef, and fiercely bartering for freshly caught fish at marketplaces at dawn…which would be great if it happened in whirlwind-montage speed and didn’t take the time and dedication and money to actually accomplish!
In spite of my love for sushi, however, I rarely treat myself to it: it’s pricey, and when it’s not pricey, it’s usually not very good or fresh.
However, it wasn’t long after discovering that our local fishmongers at The Lobster Place regularly have some sushi-grade selections that I decided to try my hand at making it myself.
There are several different styles of sushi that you can make at home. There’s sashimi, which is just raw fish, cut into bite-sized pieces. There’s nigiri, which is raw fish on little rectangles of sushi rice. And there’s maki, which are the sliced rolls that are wrapped in seaweed. If you want your presentation to be as delicate and artful as you get in a Japanese restaurant, that takes some practice. But if you just want to chow down on some delicious and healthy eats that most people are too scared to try to make at home–climb aboard!
Sashimi is the easiest to make. All you have to do is make sure you’re buying sushi grade fish, and then cut it into rectangles.
You want to have a very sharp knife so that you slice the fish without having to saw it at all. Some fish stores will prepare filets into the sort of rectangular prism you need for cutting sashimi, but it’s not hard to do it yourself. Cut off the skin (which you can fry and put in maki, if you want) and the thinnest parts and then just slice all you can eat! Pictured above is yellowfin tuna, yellowtail (or hamachi), and salmon. It was plenty of fish for four people and was just over $20 (around .75 lbs of fish).
Along with salmon, tuna, and yellowtail, a common fish to serve raw is mackerel. You might also consider scallops if you can get them fresh.
Now, I had served the above with a side of sushi rice and an appetizer of seared beef and steamed edamame. I originally had intended to make this as nigiri, but though I had properly seasoned the rice (a process I will explain shortly) I had no idea how to form the little balls of rice that the fish sit on–when I tried to roll them, my hands became a sticky, rice-covered disaster. However, you can also serve it over a bed of shredded daikon radish, which is how you often see it served in restaurants.
What made me try again (this time after learning an important tip) was an aimless trip I took last week to The Lobster Place. Not really sure what I was going to make for dinner, my chin hit the floor when I saw they had yellowfin tuna belly for $15.00/lb. Tuna belly, a fatty strip of fish that is often discarded by commercial fisherman, garners high prices in restaurants (often more than $8 for a single slice). Known as toro when it comes from the bluefin tuna, it is also considered an unethical ecological choice because of the current threat of extinction that bluefin tuna are currently under. However, while yellowfin tuna fishing practices may not be 100% eco-friendly, yellowfin is not at all endangered and I was thrilled to see this cut of fish available for sale.
Not even sure what I would do with it all, I bought two huge pieces that weighed in at 1.3 lbs. I knew as soon as I had a bite of it raw that I didn’t want to cook it, but there was no way that Max and I could eat so much raw fish. So I called a couple of friends and demanded they come over, which didn’t take too much persuading once I said there was tuna belly to be had.
Really the amount of effort that went into nigiri was only marginally higher than making sashimi. Instead of serving the sushi rice on the side, I balled it up with wet hands and put the fish on top, then wrapped it with a thin cut of nori (seaweed).
Wet hands is really the only secret to forming perfect rice: if your hands are wet, the rice won’t stick and you can make it any shape you want.
So let’s get started on the sushi rice.
Sushi rice for nigiri (enough to serve 4)
2 cups sushi rice
2 cups and 2 tbsp water
3 1/2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
Step 1) Rinse the sushi rice in cool water until the water runs clear. To save water, you could fill a bowl with the rice and water and stir it for a minute, drain and repeat until the water is more-or-less clear when you refill the bowl.
Step 2) Put the clean rice in a pot with the 2 cups and 2 tbsp water. Heat on high heat until the water boils, then cover and reduce flame to the lowest setting.
Step 3) Let the rice cook for about 20 minutes. Turn off the heat. Without lifting the lid of the pot, let it sit for about 10 minutes.
Step 4) Combine the vinegar, salt and sugar in a mug and heat it for 15 seconds in the microwave. You can also heat it over low heat in a saucepan. Stir the mixture so that all the sugar and salt have dissolved, then pour it over the rice.
Step 5) Mix the rice gently in a wooden or ceramic bowl, taking care not to smash the rice but to mix the vinegar seasoning completely.
And there you have it! Sushi rice!
To make nigiri, you only need one other ingredient: fish! You can also use wasabi and nori and of course, soy sauce for dipping.
To form nigiri*:
Cut the fish into thin strips while the rice is cooking.
As it the rice cools, a sheet of nori (available in most supermarkets, Japanese specialty stores, and online) into thin strips.
Then, get your hands wet, take a small ball of rice from your bowl, and shape it into a rectangle about two inches long and an inch wide. Press it against a piece of fish and set it down. Some people put a dab of wasabi between the fish and rice as they press them together, but I don’t like wasabi very much and if you’re unsure about your guests’ tastes, skip it.
Then wrap the fish and rice down the middle with a strip of nori, which helps keep it together.
Dip the nigiri in soy sauce fish side down, so that the rice doesn’t fall apart: it’s a bit more delicate than the restaurant version.
*There are many different ways to form nigiri and most of them supposedly require training in various kinds of wrist flips. The picture above was my very first attempt (aside from my dry-handed disaster), and while it may not be the most beautiful nigiri ever made, it was easy and tasty and I think it looked just fine, too, thank you very much!
So there you are! Easy sashimi and nigiri. In my next post, I will cover maki, which I promise, is almost as easy and is instantly customizable for different tastes and eating habits.