Sushi is one of my most favorite genres of cuisine, and its certainly become ubiquitous and popular enough that you can find a sushi bar on any Main Street in the US. Truly excellent sushi, however, using top-grade fish can be hard to come by, even in major cities. Its also quite expensive to to make sushi-going a constant habit, as the best restaurants will run you $60 and up per person.
There is a more economical alternative, which is to make sushi at home with the best ingredients you can find. This isn’t really an option for those of you who don’t have access to top quality fishmongers, such as in the fly-over states, but for us coastal folks that have stores that can get fresh cuts of fish, this can be a fun, rewarding, albeit time-consuming activity. I encourage you all to try to make sushi at home at least once, because it gives you a much finer appreciation for the professionally-made product. Even if you don’t have access to sashimi-grade fish, you can still make vegetarian sushi, or cooked seafood sushi.
With a bit of trial and error, and after doing it a few times, you should be able to get some tasty and decent-looking results. Note that unless you have a culinary background and have spent a lot of time making sushi, you’ll never get anything approaching the visual beauty of something coming out of say, Nobu, Masa or Sushi Yasuda, because sushi making is an art that takes many years to master, but it will definitely taste good.
First there is the issue of our condiments — you’re going to want to get access to the very best soy sauce you can find. Try to stay away from anything commercial — This is an artisan-made Ohara Hisakichi shoyu from Japan, which I bought over the Internet at Grateful Palate for about 33 bucks a bottle. You would never want to use something like this for cooking, but as a condiment for top grade sushi or sashimi this is exactly what you want.
Wasabi is another thing that is heavily overlooked when making Sushi at home. You’ll want REAL Wasabi, not the artificially colored white horseradish paste. The real deal tastes much different and is much more subtle in its “punch”. In the United States there are only a few domestic cultivators of Wasabi rhizome, one of which is Pacific Farms out of Oregon. There is also RealWasabi.com but I haven’t bought from them yet. Pacific Farms takes real Wasabi rhizomes and processes it into paste, and ships it to you direct in a cooler — the stuff needs to be kept refrigerated or frozen until you use it, and once you open a bottle, its only good for a few days before it oxidizes. This stuff is great for all kinds of uses, not just sushi and sashimi — it’s fantastic for making salad dressings as well as a mayo/mustard/wasabi sauce for roast beef, burgers and steaks and fried seafood. If you are very, very lucky, you can also find actual, unprocessed Wasabi rhizome at certain Japanese supermarkets, such as Mitsuwa Marketplace in NJ… however it is EXTERMELY expensive, like 40 bucks more for a few ounces of rhizome, and to get full effect out of it you need a shark skin grating tool from Japan or a microplane grater.
As far as fish goes, I would try to get a sashimi-grade cut of Tuna or Salmon. You won’t need a huge amount, just a fillet or two, but if you have to buy a larger amount, there’s plenty of stuff you can do with it, as I’ll show later. You also might want to buy a pound or so of nice shrimps or Alaskan king crab or lobster — none of that surimi stuff.
Note: Rachel has instructed me not to “poo-poo” surimi as many Japanese actually like the stuff and she cares for it more in a California roll than King Crab or Snow Crab. Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV)
Ready for Do It Yourself Sushi? Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.
Here’s our mise-en-place for sushi: Japanese sushi rice, edamame (for snacking on while the sushi is prepared) cooked Alaskan king crab, fresh avocado, toasted sesame seeds, Japanese nori sheets, lemon, tobiko (fish roe), and de-seeded cucumber cut lengthwise into nice julienne strips.
As far as the rice goes, you’ll want a Japanese style short grain rice, either domestic or imported. One of the bigger brands in the US is Nishiki, which is fine for our use. Japanese sushi chefs use a number of different short grain varieties to make sushi rice, including Koshikihari, which is a very high grade and if you can find it, definitely pick it up.
To make the sushi rice, you’ll want to follow this recipe. Note that part of this process involves making of the “Su” or the rice vinegar/sugar mixture that seasons the rice. Some Asian supermarkets actually sell pre-mixed “Sushi Vinegar” in bottles which is actually Rice Vinegar and Sugar combined, so if you buy this stuff, you can omit the step of actually making the Su.
Our first roll is a simple California roll, which is just a bit of crab, avocado and tobiko. Here we’ve spread out some of the sushi rice over a toasted nori sheet (this is done by waving a nori sheet over a open flame a few times) sprinkled some toasted sesame seeds, and lined up the ingredients. The key with sushi is not to try to stuff too much junk in a roll, because it can be difficult to roll up cleanly, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience doing it.
Here we’ve transferred our assembled California roll to a sushi mat (which you should be able to buy in any Asian market or over the Internet for only a few dollars) and are carefully rolling it up. For practice, and the first couple of times you do this, you might want to try putting the nori sheet on top of a layer of plastic wrap on top of the Sushi mat.
Once you’ve rolled up your first roll, you’ll then want to cut it into six or eight even pieces, depending on how big it is. Here we have our roll in a cutting guide device we found at an Asian grocery. Once you’ve done it a couple of times, it’s not so hard to do — just cut each roll in half and then cut each half into three even slices.
Once you’ve mastered the basic rolling technique, there are many different varieties of sushi rolls that you can make. What you decide upon can be left strictly to your imagination. This is crab with avocado, kampyo (preserved gourd), carrot ribbons, cucumber and tobiko.
This version has sliced pieces of Japanese omelette (Tamago) added.
These maki sushi bites aren’t picture perfect, but they definitely taste nice.
Here we have some simple rolls of sashimi-grade tuna, with a rub of Wasabi paste. Again, these are not perfect Nobu quality in terms of presentation, but they taste terrific.
Sashimi-grade Salmon with just a small slice of lemon on top.
Spicy tuna rolls, made with our sashimi-grade Tuna mashed up with some mayo and hot chili paste, and rolled up with some avocado, thin lemon slices and fresh wasabi paste.
The basic maki roll can be again modifed by making inside-out rolls, which is where you take the rice layer and put it on one side, flip the nori sheet over and layer the other fillings, and then roll up the maki so the rice layer comes out on the outside.
An inside-out California roll.
Inside-out California roll with Sesame Seeds.
Inside-out California roll with Tobiko.
Once you’ve done a few maki rolls, try your hand at Nigiri sushi. Simply roll up a finger sized portion of rice in your hand in order to make a thumb-like shape. Cut a small piece of fish and place it on top. I’ve garnished the fish here with a very small sliver of lemon.
If you’ve managed to be patient and not eat as you go, you’ll have a nice platter of rolls when you are done. Rachel was patient, I was not.
If you manage to have too much fish left over, and want to make another meal the next day, try encrusting the leftover fillets with sesame seeds. Add a little bit of olive oil to the pan and fry it up on medium-high heat, just to sear fish and make the crust. This is the leftover salmon.
And the leftover Tuna.
Sesame-Encrusted Salmon with green salad
Sesame-Encrusted Sashimi-Grade Tuna with Soy/Sesame/Ginger Dressing and Glass Noodle Salad.