Monday, March 05, 2007

Maki sushi

This post represents a fairly successful attempt at home sushi! Normally, this is definetely something to be left to the experts, but we had been going out for it so much lately that I felt like the only way to put this craving to rest was to actually try to make some. It was mostly vegetarian, but we also had crab (er, alaskan pollack, pressed, dyed and formed into crab-like sticks) and cooked shrimp. If we seek out some sushi-grade tuna or something, maybe we'll try making the raw fish variety someday, but for time being it seemed best to stick to relatively benign ingredients. We did not make nigiri or anything fancy, just stuck to maki rolls. It was definetely a group effort--in fact, I did very little beyond prepping the ingredients. I am not so skilled at rolling and it was really neat to see Melanie, Jeremy, Ryan and Betsy producing these beautiful maki rolls. Even if our sushi wasn't perfectly authentic, it was a fun thing to do all together.

First, I made the sushi rice so it would all be ready to go. This is probably the most involved part of the whole operation. Sidenote: I heard once that the Japanese word "sushi" actually refers to the rice, not the rolled up bits of deliciousness that you make with the rice. Is this true? Anyway, I have a rice cooker so everything is a little bit easier. I think it would not be too much worse on stove-top though. I rinsed well 3 scoops of sushi rice (I use Kohuko Rose brand) in several changes of water to remove the starch. Drained and added 2 ¼ cups of water and turned on the rice cooker. While this was cooking, I mixed ¼ cup rice vinegar with 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon sugar over low heat just until the sugar and salt dissolved. Removed it from heat at that point and allowed it to cool to room temperature. When the rice was done, I scooped it into a wooden bowl and sprinkled the rice vinegar mixture evenly over the top. I covered the bowl with a damp dishtowel and let it sit for 2 minutes. I then enlisted Melanie to fan the rice while I stirred it gently (sort of in an up-down stabby motion, rather than round and round) to keep from breaking the rice grains. It's sort of hard to stir and fan at the same time, so it's good if you can get Melanie to come over and do that part for you. You want to bring the temperature of the rice down and get the grains very shiny but not mushy. Set the rice aside, covered lightly by a towel, until we were ready to assemble. If it's going to be much more than an hour until you eat, you may want to keep the rice in the fridge. Something interesting about quantity: This seemed like a lot of rice but it went pretty quick between all 6 of us making and eating rolls. I ended up making a second batch after we ran out halfway through. The second batch was a little too much--I'd say one and a half batches of rice done this way would be the right amount for 6 people, unless you want leftovers. However, if you only have 4 people, one batch would probably be the perfect amount of rice.

For fillings, like I said, we did not use raw fish of any kind. I had about ¼ pound of cooked shrimp, cut up into little chunks and a package of those weird crab-like sticks (thankfully for Ryan's sake, they were not made from over-fished haddock; apparently alaskan pollack is still OK to eat), which were sliced into thin strips. We also had a can of inari (sweet, fried tofu) which I cut into thin strips. I soaked 1/3 cup of dried, sliced shittake mushrooms in hot water for one hour, then put them in a pan with their soaking liquid, 2 tablespoons soy sauce and a bouillon cube. Reduced off all the liquid and set them aside. For other vegetables, sliced 8 radishes into thin sticks, 2 carrots into matchsticks, 1/2 long english hot-house cucumber into long, lengthwise strips, and one red bell pepper into thin strips as well. I also sliced up 2 avocados and drizzled very lightly with lime juice, just to keep them from browning. Also at the ready was a container each of black sesame seeds and white sesame seeds. I think that was it for filling choices.

Fortunately, Brian had rolled maki before, so he was able to provide guidance. My first one was really bad, but everybody else had good luck. You need to lay a sheet of nori (seaweed wrap) on a bamboo mat and then carefully spread rice over it. Maybe about a 1/3 cup of rice, unless you are Ryan who made a very successful Jumbo Roll with about 3/4 cup of rice. Then you flatten out the rice over the sheet of nori, but leave about a 1/2 inch space from the edges. Jeremy spread his rice with surgical precision, and it was a thing of beauty. Then place the fillings of choice on the end closest to you and begin to roll up. The trick is to get all your fillings in under the first roll over or it will probably not stay together very well (my mistake). Then just roll up, using the mat to press it tightly and keep your roll neat and together. Then slice it up crosswise into chunks of whatever width you prefer. There is a slight learning curve, but everybody at our house was turning out very pretty rolls fairly quickly, and I don't think any of us were what you would call predisposed to good sushi-making skills (well, maybe Brian because he is sort of an artist and Jeremy because he is sort of a doctor, but the rest of us are marathon runners and public health people, so really it must be easy).

Good filling combos were shrimp and avocado and cucumber, inari and crab and avocado, shittake and red pepper and avocado...really, avocado makes everything delicious. We also started sprinkling black sesame seeds on the rice before rolling it up--that was really good.

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