I LOVE sushi. My first introduction to sushi was in my law school days, about 20 years ago...(ouch, that means I'm 40-something!). Prior to this challenge, I attempted to make sushi once. At least once a week, I crave the whole sushi bar experience - it's fun, it's social, and you can sit back with a glass of sake and be entertained by the Master Sushi Chef as he creates an incredible variety of nigiri and specialty rolls.
However, it's a good thing, attempting to make sushi at home. It was enjoyable, educational, and expensive! We could have dined at Mille Fleurs!
I shopped at Nijiya, a local Japanese market, and wandered through the aisles like a kid in a candy store. After stocking up on some of the essentials, I stopped by Bistro d' Asia and sweet-talked Eric, my regular sushi chef, into selling me some small pieces of Tasmanian Salmon, Hamachi, and Searied Albacore - my three favs. The Tasmanian Salmon is so buttery, melt-in-your-mouth-delicious. I chatted with Eric about the Challenge and he gave me a few tips. I previoulsy blogged about Eric, and Coronado's Bistro d'Asia, here.
There were four parts to this Challenge: 1) Sushi Rice; 2) Nigiri; 3) Decorative Sushi Roll; and 4) Dragon Roll
PART I: Sushi Rice
The ingredients for Sushi Rice consist of Short or Medium Grain Rice, Rice Vinegar, Sugar, and Salt. Optional ingredients are Kombu and Sake.
The rice must be gently swirled around in a bowl of water and drained, 3-4 times, and then set in a strainer to drain again for 30 minutes
The Kombu adds a refreshing light ocean taste to sushi rice. According to the Kombu Seaweed Encyclopedia, the unique Umami (savory taste) of Japanese foods cannot be achieved without kombu seaweed, the "secret ingredient."
A small piece of dashi kombu is added to the rice while it soaks prior to cooking, remains with the rice while it cooks, and is then removed and discarded. Sake is added just before cooking the rice.
Recipe for Sushi Rice
(7 cups of cooked sushi rice)Preparation time: 1¾ hours, consisting of: Rinsing and draining rice (35 minutes); Soaking rice (30 minutes, which includes 5 minutes making the vinegar dressing); Cooking and steaming time (25 minutes); Finishing the rice (15 minutes)
2½ cups uncooked short grain rice
2½ cups water (for superior results use equal volumes of rice and water)
3 inch (75mm or 15 grams) square dashi konbu (or kombu) (dried kelp seaweed), wiped with a damp cloth to remove white powder, and a few slits cut in the sides to help release its flavors; 2½ teaspoons (12.5 mls) of sake (Japanese rice wine)
Sushi vinegar dressing
5 Tablespoons (75 mls) rice vinegar
5 Teaspoons (25 mls or 21 grams) sugar
1¼ Teaspoons (6.25 mls or 4.5 grams) salt
Rinsing and draining the rice: Swirl rice gently in a bowl of water, drain, and repeat 3-4 times until water is nearly clear. Don't crush the rice in your hands or against the side of the bowl since dry rice is very brittle.
Gently place rice into a strainer and drain well for 30 minutes.
Soaking the rice: Gently place the rice into a heavy medium pot with a tight fitting lid (if you have a loose fitting lid use a piece of aluminium foil to make the seal tight). Add 2½ cups of water and the dashi konbu.
Set the rice aside to soak for 30 minutes, during this time prepare the sushi rice dressing.
Preparing the Rice Vinegar Dressing: Combine the rice vinegar, sugar and salt in a small pan and heat on low, stirring until the mixture goes clear and the sugar and salt have dissolved. Set aside at room temperature until the rice is cooked.
Cooking the rice: After 30 minutes of soaking add sake (if using) to the rice. Bring rinsed and soaked rice to the boil. Reduce heat to the lowest setting and simmer, covered, until all the water is absorbed, 12-15 minutes. Do not remove the lid during this process. Turn off heat. Let stand with the lid on, 10-15 minutes. Do not peek inside the pot or remove the lid. During this time the rice is steaming which completes the cooking process.
Finishing the rice/Turning out the rice: Lightly moisten a flat thin wooden spatula or spoon and a large shallow flat-bottomed non-metallic (plastic, glass or wood) bowl. Do not use metallic objects since the vinegar will react with it and produce sour and bitter sushi rice. Remove the dashi konbu (kelp) from the cooked rice. Use the spatula to gently loosen the rice, and invert the rice pot over the bowl, causing the cooked rice to fall into the bowl. Always work with the rice gently so the rice grains do not get damaged.
Dressing the rice with vinegar: Slowly pour the cooled sushi vinegar over the spatula in into the hot rice. Using the spatula, gently spread the rice into a thin, even layer using a 45° cutting action to break up any lumps and to separate the rice. Don't stir or mash rice. After the rice is spread out, start turning it over gently, in small portions, using a cutting action, allowing steam to escape, for about a minute.
Fanning and Tossing the rice: Continue turning the rice, but now start fanning (using a piece of stiff cardboard) the rice vigorously as you do so. Don't flip the rice into the air, but continue to gently slice, lift and turn the rice occasionally, for 10 minutes. Cooling the rice with this fanning method give it good flavor, texture and a high-gloss sheen. The vinegar dressing will be absorbed by the hot rice. Using a small electric fan on the lowest speed setting is highly recommended. Stop fanning when there is no more visible steam, all the vinegar dressing has been adsorbed, and the rice is shiny. Your sushi rice is ready to be used.
Keeping the rice moist: Cover rice with a damp, lint free, cloth to prevent the rice from drying out while preparing your sushi. Lleave on the counter covered at room temperature; do not store sushi rice in the refrigerator. Sushi rice is best used when it is at room temperature.
* TIP: To prepare a differnt quantity of rice, for each cup of rice use: 1 cup of water, 2 Tbs rice vinegar, 2 tsp sugar, ½ tsp salt and 1 tsp sake. For superior results use equal volumes of rice and water when cooking the sushi rice since the weight of rice can vary.
PART II: Nigiri or Nigirizushi
Nigirizushi, hand-formed sushi, consists of an oblong mound of sushi rice that is pressed between the palms of the hands, usually with a bit of wasabi, and a topping draped over it. Toppings are typically fish such as salmon, tuna or seafood.
Here, I used Tasmanian Salmon, topped with a thin slice of lemon, and a sprinkling of green tea powder and Hawaiian Lava Salt. Before eating, I picked up the lemon and rubbed it, tea/salt side down, over the top of the salmon, and then discarded the lemon slice. You can also dip the nigiri in wasabi-soy sauce or Ponzu sauce.
Preparation time: 30 minutes, plus 1¾ hours to make the sushi rice
Yield: 14-16 pieces
2 cups prepared sushi rice
8 pairs of assorted toppings, 200 gms/7 ozs total of fish, meat or vegetables (see note below)
1 tablespoon Wasabi (paste, reconstituted powder) or any other paste to adhere topping to rice
Optional garnish, such as pickled ginger
1. When handling sushi rice, make certain your hands are very clean. To keep the rice from sticking to our hands, moisten your hands with vinegared water.
2. Form nigiri sushi by scooping up a small amount (about 2 tablespoons) of rice with your forefinger and second finger of your right hand and placing it in your cupped left palm.
3. Use the fingers and thumb of your right hand to form it into a long, narrow mound (about 2 inches x 1 inch wide or 50mm x 25mm) in your cupped palm.
4. Press enough to make the rice hold firmly together. Place the nigiri on a damp cutting board flat side down. Don't let sushi touch or they'll stick to each other. At this point, you can cover the sushi with plastic wrap, and they'll keep at room temperature (not the refrigerator) for several hours.
5. Smear a thin line of wasabi on top of the rice and place the topping piece on it. You may need to press the topping down lightly with your fingers and adjust the shape of the rice accordingly to form an attractive piece of nigiri sushi.
6. Garnish as desired and use strips of nori to tie the topping to the nigiri if needed.
7. It is customary to make nigiri sushi in pairs, so make two of each variety.
Use ONLY sushi/sashimi grade fish, from a reputable market or your local sushi bar. You can also use cooked shrimp, crab, meat or vegetables.
PART III: Spiral Sushi Roll
Preparation time: 15 minutes, plus 1¾ hours to make the sushi rice
Yield: One Roll, cut into 8 pieces
2½ cups prepared sushi rice
2 sheets of toasted nori, each sized 7”x8” (17.5cmx20cm)
Six assorted fillings (Use colorful fillings that complement each other)
1. Join 2 sheets of nori by moistening the adjacent edges and overlapping them about ½ inch (12mm).
2. Place this double sheet shiny side down on a rolling mat, part of the nori will extend beyond the mat.
3. Using moist fingers place 2½ cups of rice on the nori and gently rake your fingertips across grains to spread rice evenly, leaving ¼ inch (6mm) nori showing on the both ends of the sheet. Do not mash or squash the rice onto the nori. The rice should appear loosely packed and be evenly distributed over the entire sheet, but you should be able to see the nori sheet in a few places.
4. Using your fingers, form six grooves (in the same direction that you will be rolling the mat) at even intervals across the bed of rice. Make each groove about a finger-width wide to hold about 1-2 tablespoons of filling. Make the first groove about 2 inches (50 mm) from the edge of the nori sheet. Form the grooves by pushing the rice away, do not mash or squash the rice, leave a loose one grain layer of rice in the bottom of the grooves. Level the areas between the grooves where you have pushed the rice.
5. Place your fillings in the grooves. Fill the grooves a little higher than the surrounding rice bed.
6. Roll the sushi up from the edge closest to you. This will form a spiral pattern of nori, rice and fillings inside the roll.
7. Slice the roll into 8 pieces with a very sharp, wet, knife, wiping the blade with a damp cloth after each cut.
8. Place the pieces on a platter and garnish.
PART IV: THE DRAGON or CATERPILLAR ROLL
The dragon roll, often referred to as a caterpillar roll as well, is a uramaki roll, an outside thick roll of eel and cucumbers that are wrapped with thinly sliced avocado. The green layers of the avocado resemble the scales of a dragon. Grilled eel are sold in Japanese supermarkets in refrigerated or frozen packages. You then broil the eel before using it in the roll. Unagi is the Japanese word for freshwater eels. Anago refers to saltwater eels.
My Slayed Dragon (headless) was filled with unagi, asparagus (instead of cucumber) and roasted red pepper, and topped with some Tobiko and Eel Sauce
Preparation time: 30 minutes, plus 1¾ hours to make the sushi rice
Cooking time: about 5 minutes (grilling the eel)
Yield: 2 inside-out (uramaki) sushi rolls
1 sheet 7”x 8” (17.5cmx20cm) of toasted nori (dried seaweed sheets), cut into halves
1/2 Japanese cucumber
2 cups of prepared sushi rice
Glazed Barbecued Eel (ungai) (about 3½ ounces or 100 grams)
Vinegared Water – ½ cup of water combined with a dash of rice vinegar
Various small amounts of sauces to use as the flames of the dragon (or legs of a caterpillar)
Optional: 2 tablespoons (25 grams or 1 oz) Fish Roe (Fish eggs)
1. Cut cucumber into strips ¼ inch (6mm) x 7” (175mm) long, then salt, rinse & dry the strips.
2. Grill (broil) the eel for about 2-5 minutes until bubbling. Cut into two lengthwise strips.
3. Halve, pit and peel the avocado. Cut the avocado halves into thin even 1/8 inch (3 mm) slices. Fan out the cut avocado into a 7 inch (175 mm) overlapping pattern.
4. Cover bamboo mat with plastic wrap. Place a sheet of nori shiny side down, lengthwise, on the edge the mat.
5. Moisten lightly your hands in the bowl of vinegared water.
6. Place one cup of rice on the nori and gently rake your fingertips across grains to spread rice evenly. Do not mash or squash the rice onto the nori, the rice should appear loosely packed and be evenly distributed over the entire sheet, you should be able to see the nori sheet in a few places.
7. Flip the rice-covered nori over (so the bare nori is now on top) and place on the edge of the mat closest to you.
8.Arrange one of the eel strips across the length of the nori, not quite centred on it but a little closer to you. Place half the cucumber sticks next to the eel.
9. Lift the edge of the mat closest to you with both hands, keeping your fingertips over the fillings, and roll the mat and its contents until the edge of the mat touches straight down on the nori, enclosing the fillings completely. Lift up the edge of the mat you're holding, and continue rolling the inside-out roll away from you until it's sealed. Tug at the mat to tighten the seal. If the rice doesn't quite close the roll add more rice in the gap and re-roll using the mat to completely cover the inside-out roll. Place the roll on a damp, clean smooth surface.
10. Spread about 1 tablespoon of the optional fish roe along the entire top of the rice-covered roll. Using the plastic covered mat gently press the fish roe so it adheres to the rice.
11. Slide a knife under one fan of avocado and transfer it onto the top of an inside-out roll. Gently spread out the avocado layer to cover the entire roll. Lay the plastic wrapped mat over the avocado-covered roll. Squeeze very gently to shape the roll.
12. Lay a sheet of plastic wrap over the roll. Slice the roll into 6-8 equal, bite-sized pieces, wiping your knife with a damp towel before each slice. Discard the plastic wrap. Repeat the above to make one more roll.
13. Arrange the cut pieces on a serving plate with the sauces so the finished dish appears as a dragon breathing fire and flames (or a caterpillar with many legs).
GRAND FINALE: Calamari & Seaweed Salad
As soon as Eric sees me walking through the door of Bistro d' Asia, he knows to start preparing this salad for me! It is made with seaweed, fried calamari, red grapes, mango, cucumber, and pieces of various raw fish (usually albacore, yellowtail, salmon, or octopus), and tossed in a spicy Ponzu dressing. This was very easy to duplicate at home, but Eric's orignial version is the best! Sometimes, certain things just taste better when someone else prepares them.
Our version started out relatively healthy, with only a few pieces of fried calamari. However, when John saw the deep-fryer and bowl of batter, he immediately started scrounging about for other things to dip in Alton Brown's Fish and Chips Batter.