Like many a food lover, you may love sushi and the wonderful flavors it offers your palate. However, you may be able to give into temptation only occasionally because let’s be honest it isn’t cheap to eat at a fine sushi restaurant. However, if you think sushi is a dish that can be savored only in restaurants and sushi bars, you’ll be happy to know that making sushi at home can be fun and satisfying.
Sushi for Beginners
The first and most important thing that you need to know about making sushi is that the sushi rice is the central and most important part of the preparation. This is pretty interesting because when this style of preparation and preservation was invented in ancient China, the fermented rice was thrown away and only the meat or fish was consumed. Common folk began to wrap fish or meat in salted rice, which was put away for preservation. Months later, the rice was thrown away and the meat was eaten during the cold winter months. Over time sushi was considered and treated as a delicacy that was exclusive to the royalty and the rich. Today, sushi is prepared quite differently than it was in that era.
A journey through the history of this style of food preparation is a revelation. In the 8th century sushi rice was layered with raw carp and salt and place in a wooden bucket, which was weighed down with a heavy stone, until the rice and fish had fermented. Fortunately you will not need to do this. Over time many different styles of sushi emerged, most of which now use sushi rice as an integral ingredient. In fact the word sushi means, ‘it’s sour’, and in contemporary world cuisine it refers to the vinegared sushi rice.
The rice is the most important ingredient in sushi. And so it’s vital that you use the correct type. Sushi rice is also called mishiki rice. When you go to the grocery store to buy the rice you may find it confusing to select from the many choices before you. While there are hundreds of varieties of rice it is a good idea for you to identify the basic kinds such as the parboiled, long grained, brown and wild rice. For sushi you will use short grain rice that is cultivated especially for it. It is a good idea to look at the labels or ask an attendant about the brands that are available. You can also buy sushi rice online and have it delivered to your doorstep. You can also buy bamboo mats for making sushi, sushi vinegar, bamboo spatula and nori sheets.
The Japanese cultivated rice specifically for sushi and call it ‘shari’. It is small grained and sort of round. There are many different varieties including the japonica rice and the koshihikari rice. The latter is considered to be amongst the best varieties of sushi rice. The Tamaki Gold is koshihikari rice that is grown in California. It has a firm outer wall. When you think of sushi rice you may imagine sticky rice. This is one of the main qualities of this type of rice, along with being moist and plump. Sushi rice is also firm, it should not be crushed or bruised during preparation.
It’s Cooking Time
Measure out the sushi rice that you want to cook. Usually one cup will be adequate for three rolls. Put the rice in a strainer and wash it two or thrice under running water, until the water runs clear. Place the rice in a pot and add the same amount of water as the rice that you are using.
Proportions: If you are using two cups of rice then you will need two cups of water. If you cook the rice in too much of water it is likely to get overcooked and become more like runny paste, so do be careful with your measurement.
A few secret ingredients: Some sushi chefs recommend that you remove two tablespoons on the requisite water and replace it with two tablespoons of sake. Add a 4” by 6” piece of kombu or dried seaweed, it adds a subtle and, wonderful flavor to the sushi rice.
Allow the sushi rice to soak in the sake and water mix for about ten to fifteen minutes. It will begin to look whiter than before. Then place the pot on the fire and cook it on high flame, stirring the rice with a wooden spoon, until the water begins to boil. Now lower the flame, cover the pot and allow the rice to cook for about fifteen minutes.
Avoid leaving the rice on high flame as it may overcook and begin to burn. Check to see if the water has evaporated and only rice grains remain in the pot. If there is some water still left, allow the rice to cook, and stir it once or twice. This is done to ensure that the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot and begin to burn. Remove from heat and keep covered for about twenty minutes.
When the rice is ready, use a wooden spoon and remove it into a wooden or plastic bowl. If some grains of rice stick to the bottom of the pot don’t scrape them off, as they may be overcooked or burnt. Only take out the rice that comes out easily from the utensil. If some grains are burned, do not use it for sushi. You need to allow the sushi rice to cool down until it is room temperature. The rice should not be placed in the refrigerator as it will cool it too fast and damage its texture and flavor.
Sushi seasoning: It is time to add the rice vinegar to the cooked rice that you have removed into a bowl. For two cups of rice, in a saucepan put four tablespoons of Japanese rice vinegar (not the seasoned variety), half teaspoon salt, about five tablespoons white sugar and one tablespoon oil. Place the pan over low flame and cook until the sugar and salt dissolve. Take the pan off the heat and allow it to cool. You may like to transfer the vinegar solution to another bowl so as to cool it faster. Alternatively, you can stir the vinegar, salt and sugar mix until the later dissolve. You may want to do this while the sushi rice cooks and cools down, so that you have the seasoning ready in time.
Pour the vinegar over the sushi rice and stir it gently. The rice will look wet, but don’t worry it will dry up as you mix it gently. Traditionally this process is completed in a hangiri, which is a round wooden tub, with a wooden paddle. Interestingly the word su means vinegar, shi translates as ‘skill of hand’. The manner in which the vinegar is mixed into the sushi rice is crucial. Use a light flipping and chopping movement to mix the vinegar into the rice. The idea is to ensure that every grain of rice is covered in the vinegar mix.
Things to Keep in Mind
- It’s a good idea to read the instructions that are offered on the sushi rice packaging. Sometimes the rice variety may require a change in the proportion of water that is used to cook it, or the cooking time may differ.
- The sushi rice should be cooked so that the grains stick together but it shouldn’t resemble a paste.
- There are several kinds of rice vinegar available in the market. The seasoned rice vinegar contains salt and sugar, do taste it and make adjustments to your recipe.
- Do ensure that the cooked sushi rice is cool before you add the vinegar; otherwise the heat from the rice will continue to cook it.
- To cool the sushi rice, do not refrigerate. Allow the cooked rice to cool down to room temperature. You may want to spread it over a flat utensil, but take care not to mash it with the wooden spoon. Cover the bowl with a moist cloth to ensure that the rice doesn’t dry out.
- If you are in a hurry to cool the rice, use a hair dryer on the cool setting.
- Do not use a metal utensil or foil to lay the cooked rice. When you add the vinegar to the rice, it will react with the metal.
- The proportion for the sushi seasoning can be changed according to your personal preferences. It may take a few tries for you to decide on the proportions that suit your palate, and are to your liking.
- The sushi rice can be cooked in a rice cooker too.
Sushi can be prepared and served in many different styles. Some may like to serve the sushi rice in a ball form with a topping. You can make a sushi roll or simply serve it in a bowl with a topping. It is a good idea to explore several styles before you choose your favorites.