|Everything You Need To Know To Make Sushi At Home!
If I could choose one food to eat for the rest of my life… sushi might just be that food. On any given day, at any given moment, if you ask me what I’m in the mood for, I will say sushi. Always.
The Brother and I are the only ones in our family who like sushi, and whenever we’re together we try to make a little time to go out to eat, just the two of us. For Christmas he got me a sushi kit, equipped with nearly all the things I would need… just add fish. Can I just say I am the luckiest sister ever?!
I’ve made sushi once before with friends, and have always meant to make it myself… but since those friends have moved away, and I don’t know many people who enjoy sushi, it’s never been something I’ve been willing to do all by my lonesome. With all the tools I need on hand, though, I no longer have any excuses!
Last week was the first Friday of 2013, and the beginning of my quest to expand my culinary know-how. My goal for this year is to make an informative blog post every Friday about whatever I’m learning at the time. Right now I’m calling it ‘FAK Fridays’, which stands for “Feeding my Appetite for Knowledge”, and is also a nod to the term FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions). Suggestions for a better acronym are welcome.
There’s a common myth about sushi which I’d like to debunk, and that is that sushi is far too difficult, expensive, and involved to make at home. You might be surprised to find that you can make restaurant quality sushi right in your own kitchen! Preparing sushi is actually simpler than many other foods, so do not be dissuaded by the lengthiness of this post — I’ve simply tried to be as thorough and explanatory as possible.
The first time you make sushi it may seem like a bit of an investment. There are a few tools you will need to make good sushi, and perhaps some ingredients you don’t normally have on hand. Sashimi grade fish can also be a little pricey, but once you have all the necessary equipment and pantry ingredients you will find that sushi at home is actually quite economical, especially if you serve a small crowd. Sushi can also be a fun experience, so once you’ve got the hang of it you can invite your friends and turn it into a build-your-own buffet!
I’ve provided as much information as I could think of, as well as plenty of photos. I’ve included instructions for cooking sushi rice, slicing fish, and creating rolls near the bottom of this post, so feel free to skip ahead if that’s what you’re looking for. If you notice any errors in the information below, or can think of anything to add, please share in the comments section at the bottom of the page!
A little history: Sushi first developed as a process of fermenting fish between two layers of vinegar-soaked rice. The process was a way of preserving the fish and breaking down it’s amino acids – this produced a sour flavor, as well as the “fifth taste” unami. The fish was fermented for a long period, and then the rice was discarded. Somewhere along the line, the process changed to eating the fish with the rice, and shortening the fermentation process. By the 1800′s, sushi had become one of the first forms of ‘fast food’ – the fermentation process was abandoned all-together, and it was therefore very quick to prepare and easy to eat with one’s hands.
The word “sushi” originally meant “sour-tasting”, and today actually refers to the vinegar-seasoned rice, rather than the fish itself (as sushi can be made with any ingredients, not just fish).
Sushi v. Sashimi: Many people seem to think these two words are interchangeable, but in fact they are two different things. Sushi is one of a couple things — either a pillow, or small oval-shaped bed, of rice with fish placed on top (called Nigiri), or a sushi roll (called Maki*), which may consist of any number of ingredients wrapped in rice and seaweed (Nori). Sashimi, on the other hand, is simply slices of raw (or sometimes lightly-cooked) fish, which are usually eaten before sushi at the start of the meal, like an appetizer.
*There are also other types, and sub-types, of sushi rolls. Some of these are: Futo-Maki (thick rolls), Hoso-Maki (thin rolls), Ura-Maki (literally, “inside-out” roll, so called because the rice is on the outside of the nori), and Te-Maki (hand rolls, which are cone-shaped and do not require a rolling mat to make).
What is Sashimi Grade Fish, and where can I buy it? A common misconception about the term ‘sashimi grade fish’ (also sometimes called ‘sushi-grade’) is that it simply means the fish is fresh, organic, or comes from clean waters. Hopefully your fish is all of these things, too, but what ‘sashimi grade’ actually means is that the meat has been flash-frozen to a temperature below 4° ferenheit, and held at that temperature for at least 24 hours to kill any parasites that may be living within the fish. No matter how clean or ‘organic’ your meat may be, fish can carry dangerous parasites and must be sashimi grade if you plan to eat it raw. When buying sashimi grade fish (or any fish, for that matter) it should be bright in color, moist and firm to the touch, and either smell like the ocean or not at all. Of course, sushi can always be made with veggies, tofu, egg, shrimp, or cooked fish to avoid these risks all-together.
|Sashimi grade salmon (left) and tuna (right)
If you want to make your sushi with raw fish, you will have to decide on what kind of fish you want, and where to buy it. You can always try asking your fish monger (the nice people behind the counter at your local fish market) if they carry anything suitable for eating raw. Some fish markets carry fresh (thawed) sashimi-grade fish, and can even help you out by filleting or slicing things a particular way. Remember that not all fish is okay to consume raw, so be sure to clarify before purchasing that it really is sashimi grade!
Another option is to check your local Japanese or Asian Market, if you’re lucky enough to have one nearby. The fish may be presented as fresh (thawed), but more often can be found vacuum-sealed in the freezer section. Fresh fish should be purchased the day, or night before, it is going to be used, and kept refrigerated at all times. If your fish is frozen, keep it that way and thaw it in the fridge the night before you’re ready to use it.
Sashimi-Grade fish is also available online from sites like Sushinut.com
— this is a highly rated site with a good reputation for quality products. They also offer a wide variety of fish which may be harder to find elsewhere.
Sushi Rice: Sushi rice is a short-grain variety of Japanese rice (Japonica), or sometimes short-grain California rice. It is most often white, but can also be found in brown varieties. Here in the States it is typically (and conveniently) labeled “sushi rice”.
Sushi rice, and other short-grain varieties, contain a lot of starch which is what gives sushi it’s sticky quality. To prepare, the rice is rinsed very thoroughly to remove excess starches on the outside of the grain (believe it or not, the rice has far more starch than we want!) and then cooked either on the stove, or in a rice cooker. It is then folded with a mixture of seasoned vinegar (called Sushi-Su) to flavor it and give it the proper texture and sheen. The finished rice is called “Sushi-Meshi“. I’ve provided instructions below for cooking the rice on the stove, but if you have a rice cooker feel free to follow the directions provided with it.
Sushi Condiments and Accompaniments: Sushi is almost always served with three basic things – soy sauce (or tamari, also known as shoyu), wasabi paste (which, here in the States, is actually a mixture of horseradish, mustard powder, and food coloring… but that’s okay, because it’s also what we’re used to getting in most restaurants), and pickled ginger (gari). Here in America, it is common practice to stir a small amount of wasabi into a shallow dish of soy sauce, and then dip the sushi lightly (fish first, if there’s fish on the exterior of the rise) into the sauce. A piece of sushi is meant to be eaten in one bite, two at most. The slices of pickled ginger are meant to be eaten in between pieces of sushi as a pallet cleanser (although here in the States, many of us like to put the ginger right on top of the sushi and eat it all together — something that would probably be cringed at by most sushi-chefs). These items can be found either in Asian Markets, or in the International isle of your regular grocer.
Other sushi condiments include sauces, such as Eel Sauce (called Tsume, used to top Unagi and other rolls), and Spicy Mayo (used in spicy salmon or tuna rolls), just to name a couple of my favorites. These are only a couple of the many sauces that can be found inside, atop, or along-side sushi.
In addition, rolls of sushi are often rolled or topped with toasted sesame seeds or fish roe (eggs). There are many different types of roe used in sushi, but some of the most common are Masago (capelin roe), Ikura (salmon roe), and Tobiko (flying fish roe). You can find these in many Asian markets, or at specialty fish stores.
In Japan, sushi is often served with warm sake (to start the meal) and green tea.
Equipment / what you will need:
- A bamboo sushi mat, called a Makisu (or a bamboo place mat would probably work, as well)
- Plastic wrap (such as Saran Wrap)
- Sushi-rice, or other short-grain rice
- Rice cooker, optional (I made my rice on the stove and provide directions below)
- Rice vinegar, sugar, and salt for making the Sushi-Su (the vinegar solution for flavoring the rice)
- Large wooden, glass, or ceramic bowl for mixing the rice, along with a wooden spoon or rice spatula (it is important that these be non-metallic!)
- Very sharp, non-serrated knife (it is important to have a sharp knife for sushi, especially if you plan on slicing raw fish)
- Sheets of nori seaweed (this is available in the International isle of common grocers, as well as Asian markets)
- Small bowl with 10 parts water and 1 part rice vinegar (or about 1 cup water and 2 TBSP vinegar – this is called te-zu, or hand-vinegar, and is for dipping your fingers and knife into to keep the rice from sticking)
- Fresh vegetables of choice (cucumber, avocado, bell peppers, asparagus, spinach, mushrooms, etc.), for filling rolls
- Sashimi-Grade fish, or cooked fish, or crab meat, or cooked shrimp, or cooked tofu, or scrambled eggs, etc., for filling rolls
- Soy sauce (or Tamari), pickled ginger, and wasabi paste. You may also wish to have some Japanese mayonnaise, plum sauce, or other sauces for adding to rolls, but this is entirely up to you.
Note: you may also need a pair of fish tweezers, used for plucking the pin-bones from fish fillets, but in my experience most sushi grade fish will be sold already de-boned.
Cooking Sushi Rice
Cooking sushi rice on the stove can be a tricky thing to do, and many suggest avoiding it all together by using a rice cooker. If you own a rice cooker, by all means use it… otherwise I found this method to work very well. The recipe I’ve provided will make about 4 cups of cooked rice, which is approximately enough to make 10 hoso-maki (regular-sized sushi rolls). I do not suggest trying to make a smaller batch, as it is very difficult to cook a smaller amount of rice without messing it up.
For the rice (Sushi-Meshi):
2 cups dry sushi rice, or short-grain rice
2 cups + 2 TBSP water, plus more for rinsing
For the seasoned vinegar (Sushi-Su):
1/2 cup rice vinegar
2 TBSP sugar (this amount can vary based on taste)
1/2 tsp. salt
Some versions of Sushi-Su use a bit of powdered Dashi (fish stock) or a small piece of kombu seaweed for flavor. These are optional, and I’ve left them out for simplicity’s sake.
You can also find pre-made bottles of Sushi-Su (often labeled “sushi vinegar”) at Asian markets, but note that these will be made with different ratios, or different flavors added.
1. Place the dry rice in a large bowl and cover with cool water. Run your hands through the rice, swishing the grains around between your fingers. The water will become very milky. Tip the bowl to one side to drain off the water, then scrunch the rice around with your hands. Don’t squeeze hard, just rub the grains of rice together to further clean them. Washing away the powdery starches on the outside of the grain will keep the rice (once cooked) from turning into a gluey-mush. Cover the rice with water again, and repeat the swishing, draining, and scrunching action another 3-4 times, or until the water is almost clear. Drain the rice completely.
|First rinse, the water is very milky | scrunch gently to rub the grains together | final rinse, the water is mostly clear
2. Place the rice into a medium saucepan, and add 2 cups plus 2 TBSP fresh water. Set over high heat, and bring to a boil, uncovered. As soon as the water begins to boil, cover the pot tightly and reduce the heat to it’s lowest possible setting. Set a timer and let the rice cook for 15 minutes. No peaking! Do not remove the lid during this time! When the timer goes off, turn off the heat completely and let the rice stand for another 10 minutes, again, without removing the lid.
3. While the rice is cooking, make the seasoned vinegar (sushi-su). Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan, and stir over low heat until the sugar and salt have just dissolved. Do not bring this mixture to a boil, as it is considered to mar the flavors. Set aside to cool until the rice is ready.
4. When the rice is finished cooking, transfer it to a large, non-metallic bowl. Large wooden bowls (called hangiri)
are traditional, but glass or ceramic will work as well. Just use the widest non-metallic bowl you have, as the rice will need plenty of room. You will also need a rubber spatula, wooden spoon, or rice spatula (again, the important thing is that it is non-metallic).
Pour about half of the sushi-su (vinegar mixture) evenly over the rice, and fold it in with your spoon or spatula. Make vertical slashes down into the rice with the edge of your spatula, then scoop the rice up the side of the bowl and over itself. Work gently so as not to mush the rice together — the goal is to separate the individual grains so that the rice is coated evenly, and isn’t too dense.
While cutting and folding the rice with one hand, use the other to fan the rice (if you don’t have a hand-fan, a paper plate or piece of cardboard will work… I just grabbed the package of nori to fan my rice with!). Fanning the rice helps it cool faster, and creates a glossier finish and more desirable texture.
After a little mixing, give the rice a taste. It should be mildly sweet and tart, but if there isn’t enough flavor for you feel free to add the remainder of the sushi-su. Continue folding and fanning the rice for another 5-10 minutes, or until the rice is just slightly above room temperature. The rice should be shiny and individual grains clearly visible — not mushy.
5. Sushi rice is best used fresh, and should not be stored in the fridge as it will become dry and hard. If you aren’t going to use the rice immediately, cover the bowl with a warm, damp towel to keep it moist, and set aside at room temperature.
There are a few things to know about slicing fish, but the number one most important thing is to use a very, very sharp (and non-serrated) knife. Once you have that, the rest is easy!
1. Sashimi Grade fish can almost always be purchased pre-cut into a long rectangle, which is easy to slice into strips for sashimi or sushi. If your fish is not cut this way, you may need to fabricate (prepare it) yourself. I won’t go into all the details of filleting fish, but for mine it was necessary that I remove the skin (by making a horizontal incision near the tail, tilting the blade down towards my cutting board, and working the blade back and forth up the length of the fillet to separate the meat from the skin). I then sliced off the thinner sides of the fillet (which I cut into lengths to use in sushi-rolls) and was left with a rectangular piece of meat. You may also need to run your fingers up and down the surface of your fish feeling for pin-bones — if you feel any bones, use fish tweezers to pluck them out.
Here I’m using sashimi grade salmon, which I bought frozen and thawed overnight in the fridge. I removed the skin (on the left) and trimmed the edges, then inspected the fish for any pin-bones (right)
2. When slicing fish, always use a very sharp knife, and make your cuts in one fluid motion. Do not saw back and forth, as this will damage the delicate meat. Always slice against the grain of the fish.
There are several different types of slices used for making sushi. The main ones you will need to know are the rectangular cut (Hira Zukari), the angle cut (Sogi Giri), and the paper-thin cut (Uso Zukuri). All of these are made by slicing against the grain at the end of the fillet.
Food-safe disposable gloves are optional, but clean hands are a must when working with your sushi ingredients!
3. Here I am demonstrating the angle cut (Sogi Giri). For each cut the basics are the same. Start your cut with the heel of your blade, then pull the knife back (towards you) and down, finishing with the tip of the knife on the cutting board. Cuts should be made in one fluid motion, with no sawing back-and-forth (which can damage the fish). Angle cuts, as the name suggest, are made at a slight angle. These are mostly used for topping Nigiri, but can also be used as Sashimi. Rectangular cuts are made with your blade perpendicular to the cutting board. These are the most common slices, and can be used for Sashimi, or cut into matchsticks and used to fill rolls. Angle cuts and rectangular cuts are typically made about 1/2-1 cm. in width, depending on how tender the fish (tougher white fish is sliced thinner, to ensure it won’t be chewy). The paper-thin cut (Uso Zukuri) is the same as the angle cut, only it is made very thin (usually about 2mm in thickness). These can be used as garnish, or rolled onto the outside of Ura-Maki (sushi that has been rolled with the rice on the outside of the nori).
Ready, Set, Roll!
Once your rice is cooked and all of your ingredients are cut into thin matchsticks (here I’m using bell pepper, carrots, cucumber, and avocado) you’re ready to roll. Have an area where everything is easily within reach, including your rice and a small bowl of te-zu
(1 cup of water plus 2 TBSP rice vinegar). You will also want to have a clean towel or dish cloth nearby for wiping your hands and knife blade as needed.
|Have your mise en place ready! (Is there a Japanese word for mise en place?)
1. First wrap your bamboo mat in plastic wrap. This will help keep things from sticking, especially if you plan to make Ura-Maki (rolls with the rice on the outside). To assemble a roll, place a sheet of nori onto your prepared mat. You can use one full sheet of nori, which will make a thicker roll that can hold more ingredients (futo-maki), or fold the sheet in half and tear it down the middle to make two smaller (standard-sized hoso-maki) rolls. Nori has two sides to it — one shiny, and one slightly rough. You want the rough side facing upwards, so that it will be in contact with the rice (this will help the rice and nori stick together, and leave the shiny side out for presentation).
2. Dip your fingers into the hand-water (the te-zu) and rub your hands together, shaking off any excess. You want your hands damp, but not dripping. This will prevent the rice from sticking to your fingers and making a mess. Re-wet your hands as necessary. Grab a handful of rice and place it directly onto the nori, and spread it gently into an even layer. If you plan to make your roll with the nori on the outside of the roll, leave a small gap of no rice at the top and bottom edge of the nori, leaving a space of about 1/4-1/2 inch. If you plan to make your roll with the rice on the outside, spread the rice right up to the edges of the nori, then gently flip the entire thing over on your mat, rice-side down.
|Here I am making a roll with the nori on the outside. Note the space between the rice and top edge of the nori – this will ensure that the roll will seal properly.
|Here I am making an ura-maki, a roll with the rice on the outside. Here the nori is covered all the way to the very edge with rice, this way when one edge of the roll meets the other the rice will stick to itself to seal the roll shut.
3. Place whatever ingredients you like in a line down the middle of your rice/nori, overlapping each other slightly. Don’t add too much, or your roll may not seal shut. If you’d like you can smear a little wasabi, Japanese mayonnaise, or other sauce down the center of the rice to add a little extra flavor.
Pick up the bottom edge (closest to you) of the bamboo mat, and use it to roll the nori into a tight cylinder. Roll with your thumbs under the edge of the mat, and your fingers holding the ingredients in the middle to get a nice tight roll. Once one edge of the roll meets the other, give the whole thing a firm but gently squeeze. Try to apply even pressure to ensure the roll is sealed, but do not squish it too tightly. Once the roll is sealed, use your dampened fingers to press flat against each end of the sushi roll, to firm the rice and keep it from spilling out the sides.
4. To slice the roll, dip the tip of your knife into the hand-vinegar, then point the knife upwards to let the water drip down the blade. This will keep the rice from sticking to your knife, and also keep the nori from catching on the blade. Slice your roll in half, using a sawing-motion and very little down-ward pressure (a sharp knife is important, because you don’t want to squish the roll). Line up the two halves, and slice them into thirds to create six equal pieces. Congratulations, you’ve made sushi! An extra (and optional) step for rolls with the rice on the outside is to roll them in toasted sesame seeds or fish roe, as demonstrated in the left photo below. I’ve cut my roll in half and am coating half in masago, half in sesame seeds.
After your first roll or two, you’ll start to get a feel for how much rice to use, how damp your hands should be to keep it from sticking, how many ingredients will fit, and how tightly to roll. Before long, you’ll be a sushi master!
Of course, rolls aren’t the only part of a sushi plate…
How to Make Nigiri
Nigiri is nothing but a small oblong-shaped ball of rice with a little wasabi paste and fish on top. It is exceedingly easy to make.
1. Dampen your hands in the te-zu, and grab a small ball of rice (about 1-2 TBSP). Roll it around in your hand to make an oval.
2. In your other hand, pick up a piece of sliced fish (or cooked and butterfly’d shrimp, or other ingredient). Try to always handle raw fish only with your finger tips, as the palm of your hand may be too warm. Using your index finger, smear a very small bit of wasabi onto one side of the fish (or shrimp, etc.). This will add a bit of heat, and also help the fish adhere to the rice.
3. Place the oval-shaped ball of rice on top of the slice of fish, and press it down slightly, molding it to the desired size and shape. Flip the nigiri fish-side up, and apply a small amount of pressure around the sides and bottom of the rice once more, to ensure it will hold together. Do not squeeze hard, as you want the rice to be tender (not dense) when eaten. Done!
|Making Salmon Nigiri
|The Anatomy of a Sushi Plate
(Japanese for “I humbly receive”, said at the beginning of the meal and similar to saying Bon Appetit!)
There’s nothing quite like sipping sake and eating fresh sushi in your pajamas, in the comfort of your own home. Am I dreaming? Is it really this easy? Somebody pinch me.
Reading over this post I’m beginning to think I shouldn’t be calling it “sushi 101″… maybe “sushi, the compendium” would be more apt? What can I say, I like to be thorough! And, now that you probably know more than you ever wanted to know about sushi, hopefully you’ll feel a little more confident in making it yourself.
Now, if you’ll excuse me…