I am everything Sushi is not.
To be candid, I can barely find my pants in the morning. There are ketchup packets in my bathroom and I often run into the middle of busy streets without looking. Matching my socks is a profound sartorial achievement. I’ve broken two work-desk drawers in the last year. There are 18 light bulb sockets in my apartment right now, and only two currently host a working bulb. My 2008 tax returns are still wedged underneath my pantry cart, and I burn my feet whenever I make pasta.
In other words, I am not graceful. Or elegant, well-composed, balanced, organized, attractive or at all formal. Throw in the fact that I typically don’t care for fish, and you’ll perhaps understand my surprise when the words “we should make sushi” slipped out of my mouth.
My friend Cassie joined me for the endeavor. She even brought along her sushi “kit,” including an instructional sushi video which became much more amusing as this wine bottle emptied.
What should be abundantly clear is that am farsicomically underqualified to render a definitive treatise on sushi making. I don’t know the proper names for the cuts or the best way to combine the dressing with the rice or the proper choice of fillings, and my roll-up method is, at best, haphazard. But I wanted to share a couple of observations.
First, I learned is that the key to reasonably good sushi is the rice. A bite of sushi should be harmonious: a balance of earth and brine and ocean and sweetness and acidity that falls apart in your mouth before you really have a chance to over-think it. This depends on the rice holding together until the nanosecond it hits the mouth, no shorter, and no longer. This depends on treating the rice with an acidic dressing made from rice-wine vinegar, salt and sugar, and then rapidly cooling the rice before the starch coat has time to “gum up.”
Secondly, while “Sushi Grade” is not an officially recognized term, you need to exercise caution when your dinner includes less-than-fully-cooked fish. Many sushi restaurants actually prefer fish that has been deep-frozen. (This link provides some helpful advice and some clarification)
We bought our fish from Findlay Market, a tuna filet, and a nice piece of sea bass. We seared the tuna and sliced off the cooked parts for Cassie to nibble on throughout the remainder of the production process. I cooked the sea bass en papillote (partially to keep it moist and partially because I really like saying “en papillote”) and sliced it into strips. (We also had cucumber, carrot, and avocado)
To make your own maki (rolled sushi), you really only need sushi rice, sheets of nori, ingredients for the dressing (rice wine vinager, sugar and salt), and a rolling mat. Wasabi, even the powder, is nice to have.
I think the important lesson I learned from this endeavor is that, while sushi making calls for a few extra steps and asks for a certain level of kitchen organization (which is again why I don’t consider myself qualified to elucidate a specific method) – this is finger food, meant to be enjoyed casually: You cook rice, you roll it in very tasty dried algae along with some Japanese horseradish and whatever fillings you find convenient. You slice it into little mouthfuls, you break out your chopsticks, and hang out on the couch with your friend watching Law and Order reruns.
That said, allow me a few production notes:
1.Dressing for the rice is roughly 4-2-1 Rice wine vinegar-sugar-salt. Heat until warm. About 2T per cup of rice. Other recipes may call for kombu or sake. This keeps it simple.
2.Use a short-grain sushi rice. Make sure to rinse it three times before cooking, to dislodge the starch coat.
2a. This was the point in Cassie’s instructional video that became a little goofy and hilarious. Apparently this step also involves “massaging” the rice, a step the narrator took very enthusiastically.
3.1 cup rice is enough for a two-person sushi rampage. Use slightly more than a cup of water. Do not salt it. Bring to a boil, reduce to a low simmer, and allow the rice to absorb the remaining water.
4.Use a paper plate to fan the rice to cool it to room temperature.
5.Add the dressing to the rice in sort of slashing motions.
6.Make sure fillings are prepped prior to rolling. Cut everything into little strips.
7.Fill a bowl with 1 quart of water spiked with 1T of rice wine vinegar. Dip your hands into the bowl before you touch the rice each time, and dip your knife into the bowl before you slice each roll.
8.Place half-sheet of nori smooth-side-down on the mat.
9.Place a layer of rice (dip your hand first!) on the nori, leaving a half-inch gap at the top.
10.Streak some wasabi along the center, to your taste.
11.Add a layer of filling.
12.Roll! Touch rice to rice, then nori to nori
13.Dip your knife, then slice. Halve the roll, cut each half into thirds.
14.Serve with GOOD dark soy sauce and some extra wasabi.
15.Devour with chopsticks
You know why I enjoyed this so much? I feel like I captured the “why” of a food despite our lackadaisical attempt to represent it’s form or its recipe. Forget, for a moment, the fifteen point bullet lists and the fussy method of cooling the rice and the practice needed to achieve coherent rolls. Hell, I even failed the “chopstick” part. But sushi, despite it’s elegance, has always been causal finger food, the stuff you spend a Saturday afternoon noshing on with a good friend while the laundry dries.
Sometimes you forget how a food tastes, but you’ll never forget how a food makes you feel.