Sushi at Home

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Sushi we made during our class at Sur la Table

A trait I get from my father is that when I really want something, but maybe it’s a little frivolous, I take forever to actually jump in and do it. If Papa wants golf clubs or a new television, he’ll research characteristics and prices, he’ll go online and in stores, and he’ll talk about it. He’ll visit, and re-visit stores. And my mom will eventually say, “just buy it!!!”  But he needs to take his time. It’s what makes him feel comfortable. And I’m pretty much the same way. For a long time (like over 2 years, I’m embarrassed to say) I hemmed and hawed over a sushi making class. I wanted to go, but it seemed a little expensive and unnecessary. I mean wouldn’t it be too hard? Wasn’t class too expensive? Would I ever really make it at home? Why did I even want to make sushi? Who would I go with? And so I thought about it. And I researched which places had classes, and I price compared, and menu compared. I did this when I lived in DC, then when I lived in NYC, and then again when I moved back to the DC area. And then, as can be expected, I never signed up. But I talked about it and thought about it a lot. So, I’ve inherited this trait and now Ryan has to deal with my crazy inaction.

And like my Mom, who tells Papa to just buy it, Ryan gave me the push I needed. He suggested to Santa that I might want a cooking class for Christmas. And, Santa, Ryan and my parents came through.  (The same also happened for blooming tea, which I talked about and researched to death, and then my family finally bought it for me and I now have 4 different kinds of blooming tea).

For a Christmas gift my parents bought me a gift certificate to Sur la Table and I used it to sign up for sushi class (after repeatedly asking Ryan if we really should do that class over something else). No more thinking and planning, I was going to make sushi! And I’m happy to say, the class was totally worth it. Thanks Mama and Papa! Is making sushi at home faster or cheaper? No, it’s not. But is it more awesome? Absolutely. And shouldn’t we make the world more awesome? Yes. Now go watch the Kid President (who also wants to make the world more awesome) video I just embedded so you can feel awesome. No wait, finish reading my blog first.

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Silicone sushi mat

Ryan and I finally went to class at Sur la Table in February and we made spicy tuna and salmon rolls, and a veggie hand roll. It was much easier to assemble and create than we expected. And after class I called my parents to gush about how fun and amazing it was. And we had so much fun, and so much success that we bought a sushi mat after class. There were two options for sushi mats: bamboo and silicone. Bamboo is the traditional option, but to use it at home you need to cover it with plastic wrap. According to our instructor, bamboo mats are easy to ruin and difficult to clean, which is why you need the plastic wrap. Silicone mats are modern and don’t look as nice, but you don’t need plastic wrap and  you can clean the mat in the dishwasher. We went with the silicone mat.

Prior to class, making sushi seemed like one of those secret mysteries that must be hard to put together. And real sushi masters, I’m sure, do much more complicated things with their ingredients and rolls. But for the average home cook, sushi at home is a possibility. Then, a few after the class our friends Steve and Jess came to visit and suggested we take a crack at making sushi at home. Steve and Jess are great friends to have visit. They’re easy going, but also up to try different things. The main goal being just to have a nice weekend. They’d been to DC before, so were open for less site-seeing and instead  welcomed a weekend of eating and drinking in Arlington. And for us, an eating weekend is becoming the norm. When they visited in New York we spent the whole weekend taking them out for pizza, ramen, and to drink boots of beer in dingy dive bars. Anyway, back in Arlington, we took them to El Chilango, a great Mexican food truck, and to Bayou for beignets. But the highlight was definitely spending the afternoon together making up sushi combinations and gorging ourselves on what we’d put together. It’s a great way to have an adventure and catch up with old friends. Also, making sushi at home allows you to  customize your rolls and create something that’s both delicious and brag-worthy.

I’ve made sushi once more since they came to visit and took more step-by-step pictures that hopefully will help be a guide if you decide to make sushi yourself. I’ll try to be as straightforward as possible, but some things need explanation and stories to show what to do. But I hope you decide to take on sushi at home. It’s a fun activity and even if it doesn’t come out perfectly, it will still taste delicious.

My focus in this post is mostly on the way to make sushi. I’ll leave fillings mostly up to you, but I have included a recipe for spicy tuna. This is sort of a long post, so let’s get started.

Sushi Rice:

Ingredients –

1 1/2 cups short grain rice (You can also buy rice called “sushi rice.” So far, every short grain rice I’ve found also had “sushi rice” written on the packaging)

Rice Vinegar

2 tbsp sugar

2 teaspoons coarse salt

Directions – 

Note – Sushi rice is seasoned! It’s not just plain white rice. The basic instructions are first you cook the rice, then you let it cool a bit, then you season it, then cover the rice to keep it moist. Also, this amount of rice will make about 6 rolls, which equals about 36 pieces.

1. Using a fine mesh strainer, rinse the rice with cold water until the water runs clear. This might take 2-5 minutes. Using your hands to gentle turn and move the rice so you can make sure all the rice is being rinsed off. This step removes excess starch from the rice.

2. Cook the rice according to package directions.

3. While rice is cooking, mix the vinegar seasoning. In a small bowl stir vinegar, sugar, and salt. Stir until sugar and salt are dissolved. Or mostly dissolved, I have a hard time getting the coarse salt to dissolve all the way. Set bowl aside.

4. Once rice is cooked, remove the pot from the heat, let it stand covered for 5 minutes so the rice can cool.

5. Using a large flat spoon (you can also buy a traditional paddle in stores) gentle transfer the rice to a large platter. Traditionally a wood platter is used. In the classroom the instructor used a rimmed baking sheet. I used a glass Pyrex dish. Throughout this whole process you will probably need to rinse your spoon occasionally as rice gets stuck to it.

6. Once the rice is transferred, use your spoon to gently fold the rice over in your dish. This is giving it air so the rice cools a bit. While folding, fan the rice. (Sushi kits often come with fans, but I just used a stiff piece of paper). You want your rice to be cool enough that it doesn’t wilt or melt the nori when they come into contact. But you don’t want it so cold that the rice loses its stickiness. You want the rice to be “tepid,” according to my instructions from Sur la Table. Room temperature is fine, but if it’s a little warm that’s ok. If it’s a little warm the nori might get wrinkly (I had that happen) but the roll can still be made.

7. When the rice is the right temperature pour the vinegar mixture 1 tbsp at a time over the rice. You might not use all the vinegar mixture. You want to distribute the vinegar mixture evenly. Use your spoon to gently fold the rice and coat it all with the vinegar. Continue this until the rice has a sheen.

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8. Cover the rice with damp paper towels. You can also use a kitchen towel, but the instructor said that detergent scents and flavors can be transferred through cloth, so paper towels can be preferable.

Fillings:

1. Chop up vegetables into matchsticks. I used red peppers, carrots, radishes, and cucumbers. You can really use whatever vegetables you like. Heck, use whatever you like – string cheese, Twizzlers, pretzel sticks. All of those things could easily be in matchstick form.

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Spicy Tuna:

I think the part that makes people nervous about making sushi at home is buying the fish. How do we know what will be good? Am I going to get sick? I can’t make you any promises about the fish you buy, but I can tell you what I know. Our instructor at Sur la Table said that “sushi grade fish” means that it is fish that has been frozen down to a certain temperature so that bacteria will be killed. She said you can ask at the fish counter about what they recommend to use in sushi. She also said some sushi bars, and sushi bars in grocery stores, will also sell you fish.

Ryan, Steve, Jess, and I went to Whole Foods. I asked the man behind the fish counter what we could use for sushi. He told me that he wasn’t allowed to recommend any of the fish for sushi, but that people do it all the time, and in Europe this fish would be considered ok for sushi. So the four of us looked at each other and decided were were going to go for it anyway. We also went to the sushi counter at Whole Foods and I had the most ridiculous conversation where neither the lady nor I understood the other.

Me: Do you have fish we could use to make sushi?

Lady at the Sushi Counter: This is sushi

Me: No, no. I want to make it at home. What fish can I use?

Lady at the Sushi Counter: Sushi is here. You can eat this.

Anyway, I walked away and we bought the salmon and tuna from the fish counter and none of us got sick. Now back to the recipe.

Ingredients: 

4 oz yellow fin tuna

1 tbsp Sriracha

1 – 1 1/2 tbsp mayonnaise (If you can find Japanese mayo – which I can’t! – use that)

1/2 tsp mirin (it’s a liquid and you can find it in grocery store in the “ethnic food” section)

1-2 tbsp finely chopped green onions (more or less to taste)

1 tsp lemon zest

Instructions:

1. For the sauce, mix the ingredients together. Taste. If it’s too hot put in more mayo. Not hot enough, add some Sriracha. Based on my research, basic spicy tuna sauce includes hot sauce, mayo, mirin, and green onions. Mix those basic ingredients to your liking and you’ve got sauce.

2. For the tuna, remove any tough sinewy parts of the fish. In the picture below I’m holding a tough sinewy part. In between the tuna layers there is sinew, but you only really need to remove what is tough (and therefore what would be hard to chew). You can tell what’s tough because when you try to cut, you’ll have some resistance against your knife. There are two ways to remove the sinew. #1 Use a knife and cut the tuna into cubes. You can cut around the tough bits  pretty easily #1 Use a spoon to scrape off the layers of tuna. This will scrape the meet from the sinew and give you small pieces of tuna.

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3. Once you’ve removed the tough parts what you want it small pieces of tuna. You can do this by cutting the tuna into small pieces or by scraping the meat using the spoon.

4. Mix the tuna with the sauce. Set aside until you’re ready to fill your roll.

Making the Roll:

Make sure you have a spacious work area. Within your reach you’ll need a sushi mat, nori, the rice, cut up veggies, fish, knife, damp towel, and bowl of water. The first time we made this at home we made an epic mess. The second time I used my giant cutting board as a work space. This way I could spill, drop rice, and make rolls without getting stuff all over my table. To gush for a second, I’m crazy for my huge cutting board. I got it from the Container Store and it’s 20″x15″. Huge rights? It’s great because there’s space for EVERYTHING. Space for cutting, space for what’s on deck to be cut, space for what’s already been cut, and space for the bits that need to be discarded. Sure it doesn’t really fit in the sink, but it does fit in the dishwasher. Gush over. Let’s get rolling.

Sushi rolling set up

Sushi rolling set up

1. Place your sushi mat in front of you.

2. Put a piece of nori, shiny side down, on the sushi mat. The bottom of the nori and bottom of the sushi mat should be aligned. The nori is likely perforated. You want the perforation to be parallel to you. You also may want to break off 1 to 1.5 lines so you don’t have too much nori. I like to break off a bit of nori because it had a chewy mouth feel and I don’t want more of that.

3. Using the bowl of water lightly wet your hands. You want a light sheen on your hands. This is so the rice won’t stick to you too much.

4. Grab a baseball size ball of rice and put it in the middle of the nori. Using your fingers gently spread the rice across the nori. You want a thin layer of rice. Grab more rice and fill in any holes so that your whole nori sheet it covered.  If your hands are getting too covered in rice, use the bowl of water to wipe off the rice.

Jess spreading her rice

Jess spreading her rice

5. If you want nori on the outside of your finished roll move on to the next step. If you want rice on the outside of your roll, flip the nori over. Now the rice will be touching the sushi mat and the nori will be facing you. About 1/3 of the way up the nori from you, put a thin layer of rice.

6. Place the fillings about 1/3 of the way up the nori (if you are doing rice on the outside, you’re putting your filling on the thin layer you just made in the previous step). Layer your fillings parallel to you. Try not to go crazy, it’s easy to overfill.

This is an example where the nori will be on the outside of the finished roll

This is an example where the nori will be on the outside of the finished roll

7. Put your thumbs under the sushi mat. Put the rest of your fingers on the fillings. Hold the fillings in place as you use your thumb to pull the edge of the sushi mat up and over the fillings. Press gently. What you are doing is creating a seal and locking the fillings in the roll.

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8. Check on your roll to make sure it’s sealed. Then, gentle pull the sushi mat over the roll again, but this time keep pulling so you’re rolling the entire sheet of nori. You should not have a log of sushi.

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Sushi rolled is sealed! Now to roll it all the way over. This is an example with rice on the outside of the roll.

9. Using a sharp knife cut the sushi into six pieces. You will likely need to use the damp cloth to wipe your knife between cuts. The knife will get very sticky from the rice and fish. I like to cut the middle first, then cut each half in thirds. Your end pieces might be a little sad and have things falling out. All you have to do it take some extra rice or fillings and stuff it in there to look nice. It’s your roll, in your house, so it doesn’t have to be perfect.

You can see the end piece is falling out a bit. I just shoved everything back in and places it cut side up. Then you can't tell it's messy.

You can see the end piece is falling out a bit. I just shoved everything back in and placed it cut side up. Then you can’t tell it’s messy.

10. EAT IT! You earned it! Hope it’s delicious.

Messy Level: High. At least the first time, this was an epic mess. I’m sure professional chefs have this down to a science, but not so for me the at-home cook. The first time we had spills, rice, and soy sauce all over the table. The second time we were less messy,  but there were still a lot of dishes. Making sushi takes a lot of utensils, plates, paper towels, and ingredients. It’s another reason why you should make sushi in a group because then you have help cleaning up. Also, if you stay away from spicy tuna and stick to just plain, non-saucy fish you’ll probably have less clean up.

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