Sushi represents the ultimate and most definitive attempt in the long history of Japanese cooks distilling good food to its purest essence. It represents the quest to make a single, perfect bite. Fresh fish. . . perfectly cooked sweet and sticky rice. . . a little dab of soy sauce. I’m inclined to think they succeeded.
It’s true that chefs spend lifetimes mastering the art of Sushi making, but what most people don’t know is that it’s actually not intimidating at all to make a simple, more relaxed version at home. I’d even go so far to say that Sushi is easy to make. It’s just difficult to MASTER.
Before we get to rolling, let’s give what we’re making today context with a brief the history of sushi in Japanese cuisine. . .
When thinking about Sushi, most people today probably imagine Nigiri-zushi, which is the fresh fish like tuna or salmon over a small portion of vinegared rice shaped by the hands. But that was not Sushi’s original form.
Like many things now Japanese, the earliest origins of Sushi were in China, where it started as a technique for fermenting and preserving fish, which was salted and consumed while discarding the rotted rice. This unique food soon found its way to Japan.
It was the introduction of vinegar into the rice in the 1600s that the fermentation time could be shortened and rice and fish were consumed together. With this Hako-zushi, or Box Sushi, vinegared rice and fish are pressed in special container and fermented for one night only, cut into molded squares the next day.
It wasn’t until later in the Edo period, in the 1700s that Nori-Maki or rolled Sushi was invented. Nigri Sushi was invented a century after that, supposedly to satisfy the appetites of short tempered nobles. Fresh fish and sticky, vinegared rice together at last.
These later Nigri and Maki Sushi are what we’ll be making today. I considered attempting some Box Sushi, but don’t yet feel familiar enough with the technique to pull it off. So I figured, why not just make the type of Sushi that I and so many others love today, as a tribute to the culmination of its long history in Japanese cuisine.
FOR RICE (1 : 1 ratio)
2 cups short grained Sushi rice
2 cups water
FOR RICE SEASONING
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp. kosher salt
To start, you must wash the rice 4-5 times. Pour rice in a bowl and cover with ample cold water, stirring and rubbing the rice together with your hands. The water will turn opaque with starchiness. When this happens, quickly strain and then repeat. Keep washing and straining until the water stays clear with minimal starch.
Let drain until fully dry, about 30 minutes
Combine rice and water in a medium pot and bring to a boil without stirring. When its boiling aggressively, cover with a tight fitting lid and turn down the heat to the lowest possible flame you can maintain. Let simmer 10 minutes. The rice shouldn’t be too cooked. A little bite (al dente) is good.
Meanwhile, make the seasoning. Bring rice vinegar, sugar and salt to a simmer and stir until everything is mostly dissolved (Some salt might not). Set aside.
When the rice is cooked, stir in the seasoning. You must cool down the rice at this stage as well. Don’t stop stirring but BE GENTLE. You don’t want to mash it. Every few stirs, also fan the rice with something to help drive off steam and cool it down faster. When almost room temperature, cover with a wet towel and set aside.
You’ve just made sticky rice. It might seem a little salty, but once everything is assembled. It will be perfect.
Prepare your Sushi filling. Aside from great fish, you might want some veggies. I went with scallions, cucumber, carrot, and of course Japanese daikon radish.
And also of course, I couldn’t make my first Sushi ever without a good wild caught salmon and yellow-fin tuna. Classic. Try to slice the fish in single strokes as opposed to sawing it. You’ll get cleaner, nicer pieces.
I cut some thin-ish sashimi pieces, and also diced some up into a mince.
It’s time to roll. You’ll need Nori-Maki, or Sushi seaweed, available at most super markets. You’ll also need a sushi mat. They are also pretty cheap and easy to find.
To start, trim the top third off the Nori. Save scraps for tying up Nigri later. Place the remaining 2/3rds an inch away from the edge of the mat. Dip your fingers in some cold water to keep the rice from sticking, and place a full and even, but not super thick layer of rice all over the seaweed, making sure to leave an inch of space at the opposite end. Lay down a single line of your fillings in the middle, taking care not to overstuff.
I recommend looking up one of ample videos online of how to do this, but I’ll do my best describing the process of rolling. Carefully life the mat so that the Nori folds completely over and around the filling, then STOP ROLLING. You want the contents surrounded one time.
While holding the roll with one hand, gently tug on the opposite, flat end of the mat to tighten and bind it together. Again, you’re not continuing to roll it up. You’re simply folding over completely one time, then tugging the mat.
If necessary, use a little more water to fold down any excess Nori into the roll.
It might be wonky the first time, but you’ll get the hang of it. Just don’t quit.
Boom, there’s the money shot. Slice each roll into 6-8 pieces with a wet knife.
Simply use your wet hands to shape and roll the rice into little balls for Nigri. Drape your fish and use Nori scraps to tie one time around.
If desired, make some pickled ginger, which I personally love with my Sushi. Just peel and shave the ginger as thin as possible (a mandolin works great). Heat up some rice vinegar with a pinch of salt and sugar and then let cool to warm room temperature. Pour over the ginger and let stand for at least 2 hours, if not a whole day.
Now, we assmble our platter.
Veggie rolls, salmon rolls, tuna rolls, spicy tuna rolls with chili pepper. Any combination you can imagine. . .
Don’t forget the Soya Sauce!
That is truly the perfect bite of food.