Tuesday, January 1, 2013
If you're interested in learning how to make sushi, you're in luck. On Saturday, January 26, Northwestern Michigan College offers an extended education cooking class on Sushi Rolls. Chef Misaeng Suh Liggett, a native of Japan, will provide tips on ingredient selection, preparation, and serving ideas. Leave with new skills, samples you prepare in class, and your own sushi mat to make sushi at home.
Over the holidays, we had a chance to learn how to make sushi from my sister Marcia's sister-in-law and nephew. Sumiko, a native of Japan, and her son Kenji were visiting from the D.C. area, and were kind enough to share their expertise with a bunch of Midwestern novices on a cold winter day.
In theory, making sushi reminded me of painting. Most of the effort goes into the prep work, not the actual rolling. And the rolling itself involves technique to get it right, including the right amount of pressure and the right amount of ingredients, whether paint or food.
But enough of the analogies. For sushi, you'll need
- nori (sheets of dried seaweed)
- seasoned rice vinegar
- sushi rice
- a selection of ingredients for the filling
- plain rice vinegar
- bamboo rolling mats
For our sushi making lesson, we used the ingredients pictured above: in the top row, left to right, are cucumbers, pickled daikon radish (takuan) and avocado; the small bowls in the lower left contain rice vinegar, sweet thinly sliced ginger (sushi yo shoga, the light pink), toasted sesame seeds and some of the uncooked rice; then there's the bright pink pickled ginger (kizami shoga) and crab.
We also talked about what local ingredients we could use, such as blanched asparagus, red peppers, pickled beets, chiffonaded basil or greens. And how about smoked whitefish? It would be fun to experiment!
The bright yellow color of pickled daikon sold in stores comes from food coloring, since daikon itself is white. Sumiko's mother used to pickle her own, although Sumiko confessed she has never done so. Traditional recipes call for hanging the daikon out to dry in the north wind for several weeks, then placing it with the pickling ingredients in a crock for several months. Fortunately, there are faster options online if you want to try to make your own: like this one, or this, or a couple here.
The bright strips of ginger are used inside the sushi rolls, while the pale pink, thin slices of ginger are used to accompany the sushi. Speaking of accompaniments, it is not customary to use soy sauce on rice or with vegetables, Kenji said. Traditionally it is used for fish.
A good quality nori will be easier to roll, according to Kenji. Some of the cheaper ones have a tendency to tear. We used Yama Moto Yama Roasted Seaweed Sushinori.
To bring out the flavor of the nori, toast it gently over an open gas flame on the stove. Sumiko takes two sheets, shiny sides together, and waves them quickly over the flame. Then place the nori shiny side down on a plate. Break the nori in half, or use scissors if it doesn't snap easily.
Seasoned Rice Vinegar
Sushi rice is flavored with rice vinegar seasoned with sugar and salt. Here's Sumiko's recipe:
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2/3 cup rice vinegar (we used Mizkan brand)
Heat ingredients in a small saucepan until sugar and salt dissolve. Remove from heat and let cool.
It's All About the Rice
Good sushi starts with high quality rice. Sumiko and Kenji's favorite is Tamaki Gold Signature Quality. This California short grain rice has won international awards for matching the top quality rice in Japan.
Here's how to prepare the rice:
- Place rice in a bowl and cover with cold water; swirl around with your hand and drain in a strainer. Repeat until water is almost clear. This will get rid of the starchy powder and enable the seasoned vinegar to absorb better.
- Let rice sit about 15 minutes in a strainer and drain.
- Add rice to rice cooker and put in the called for amount of water, based on your cooker and amount of rice and soak for 15 minutes.
- Cook rice.
When rice is done cooking, place a paper towel under the lid to absorb moisture and let rice sit for 15 minutes.
Gently place the rice in a large shallow bowl or pan and gradually add seasoned vinegar. Sumiko did this by circling a paddle over the rice, pouring the vinegar onto the end of the paddle and allowing it to drizzle down. Using the paddle, cut into the rice and gently fold to distribute the vinegar. The idea is that you don't want to stir and smoosh the rice. While doing this, fan the rice to help speed up the cooling time, which will help make the rice shiny. We used a bit more than 1/2 cup of the seasoned vinegar to 5 cups of rice, but don't go by amount. The seasoned vinegar can get stronger the longer it sits out, so Sumiko stressed to season to taste.
Less is More when Rolling Sushi
And now for the assembly! A common mistake when learning to make sushi is to overstuff the nori. This will make it difficult to roll and can result in a misshapen mess. When selecting fillings, Kenji also advises using just one firm ingredient, since it's harder to roll with more.
To begin, place a sheet of nori shiny side down on a bamboo rolling mat, toward the bottom. Dip your fingers in rice vinegar and flick on the nori. Scoop rice onto the nori, spreading in a thin layer with moistened fingers, covering a little more than half the nori. When your fingers get sticky just dip them in water as needed. Leave about an inch of nori showing at the top.
Then place your other ingredients in the center of the rice. It's tempting to want to put the filling along the bottom edge, Kenji says, but you'll end up with an off-centered roll. You're aiming to have the finished sushi with a nice spot of color circled evenly by the rice.
Next, dip your finger into the rice vinegar and rub the bare edge of the nori to help it seal. Do this last and be ready to roll because this will make the nori start to curl up.
To roll, place your finger tips along the center of your ingredients and lift the edge of the mat with your thumbs up and over the sushi.
Pull the top part of the mat forward, keeping it snug against the nori. Use the steady pressure from the mat to shape the roll. Do not press down with your fingers or you'll end up with a misshapen roll.
Once you've rolled the cylinder closed, gently pinch along the sides of the roll to seal it, and then open up the bamboo mat and remove the sushi roll. Here's a picture of our working table in the midst of the action. You can see the sushi rolls starting to line up on the tray.
To cut the sushi, use a sharp knife and have some wet paper towels folded nearby so you can wipe the blade between cuts. This will help keep the rice from sticking.
As you can see from our finished product, we still have a way to go to get a consistently centered sushi roll. But they still tasted wonderful. Some of our combinations included a traditional daikon, sesame seed and ginger roll, and a not so traditional avocado, ginger and crab.
Sumiko and Kenji also showed us how to make inarizushi, which is a small pouch of fried tofu, typically filled with sushi rice. We sprinkled toasted sesame seeds onto our rice before stuffing. In Japan, Kenji says, inarizushi is commonly given to kids as a way to introduce them to sushi. Parents often add cooked peas and carrots to the mix.
Inarizushi is named after the Shinto god Inari, who supposedly liked fried tofu. And note how the word "sushi" is spelled with a z instead of an s? That's what happens anytime "sushi" is preceded by another word.
We were all surprised to find that inarizushi comes in a can. To use, drain and gently squeeze each one a bit. Open each pouch and get ready to stuff them.
Sumiko recommends moistening your hand first by squeezing the pouch, then gathering a small handful of rice and squeezing into a ball to stuff into the pouch. And just like with the nori rolls, don't overstuff or the pouch can tear.
Then pinch the open ends of the pouch together and place seam-side down on a plate.
We enjoyed these, with the light vinegary sweet taste of the sushi rice and sesame seeds coming through. As Kenji said, it's hard not to like fried food!
Locating traditional ingredients for sushi can be a challenge in northern Michigan. I found both types of pickled ginger at Meijer, along with the nori, but other ingredients will probably require a trip downstate or an online purchase. Some options include Asian Delight Marketplace in Grand Rapids, Noble Fish in Clawson, and One World Market in Novi; online options include Mitsuwa and HMart (both of which have Chicago stores).