When I started cooking Japanese food in the 1970s at a restaurant in Salt Lake City, Utah, I had no idea how popular sushi would become. Now, with sushi bars in every major town in the United States, it seems I’m not the only one who loves the delicate, fresh flavors and textures of this classic food. In 1987, I was lucky enough to train under a Registered Japanese National Treasure, master sushi chef Inou of Hama Sushi in Tokyo. I now run my own sushi restaurant, and my customers love the crisp, light flavors and pleasing textures of soft sushi rice cradling fresh vegetables or fish. While there’s certainly no substitute for the variety and freshness you find at a good sushi bar, you can make delicious sushi at home with widely available ingredients just by mastering a few easy techniques. And you don’t even need to use raw fish.
One of the most popular forms of sushi happens to be the easiest to make at home. Maki-sushi (or nori rolls) are seasoned rice and fillings rolled in seaweed wrappers (or nori). Unlike nigiri sushi (slices of fish atop a small bed of molded seasoned rice), a nori roll can have a variety of fillings which may or may not include raw fish.
It’s perfectly authentic to use smoked or cured fish, such as smoked eel, salmon, or trout, in sushi. They’re easy to find, and a sure thing for freshness. Cooked shellfish like crab and shrimp are also perfect for nori rolls. You can also sear or grill fish and slice it thinly.
Nori rolls are an excellent showcase for fresh vegetables. Choose your favorite combinations, but some of the ingredients that I like include cucumber slices, avocado slices, steamed asparagus spears, lettuce, sprouts, radishes, young seaweed, carrot sticks, and steamed squash. Eggs, scrambled or cooked in an omelet and thinly sliced, also make good fillings.
I’ll show you two ways to make a nori roll —with the rice on the outside of the roll, or the rice on the inside and the nori on the outside. I’ve chosen to make a California Roll, filled with avocado, cucumber, and cooked crabmeat, as an example of an inside-out roll (where the rice is on the outside). The Seared Tuna Roll with Japanese radish sprouts and scallions has the nori on the outside of the roll. You can learn the techniques using these recipes, and then vary the fillings once you’re comfortable making the rolls.
To make authentic sushi, you’ll need a few key ingredients. The most important is Japanese-style sushi rice. Long-grain rice, minute rice, or other kinds of rice just won’t mold like sushi rice. There are several good brands of sushi rice on the market, including Nishiki and New Rose brands, as well as Lundberg Farm’s sushi rice.
You’ll also need nori: very thin, usually brittle, rectangular sheets of dried seaweed that come in stacks of several sheets wrapped in cellophane. Look for brands that say “toasted.” If you do buy nori that isn’t toasted (it will seem limp), or if you live in a humid climate, toast the nori yourself by waving it over a medium-hot burner until crisp or by putting it directly on a rack in a 350°F oven for two minutes.
To your shopping list, add wasabi powder (ground from Japanese horseradish root—this becomes a very spicy condiment when reconstituted with water), unseasoned rice vinegar, a good-quality soy sauce like Kikkoman, a jar of pickled ginger, and a bamboo sushi-rolling mat. Check natural food stores, grocery stores, Asian markets, and mail-order sources.
Buy the best-quality fresh ingredients you can find for the fillings. For the California Roll, avoid canned crabmeat and check your local fish counter for cooked lump crabmeat or cooked crab legs or claws. If you can’t find crab, use cooked shrimp. Buy top-quality tuna for the Seared Tuna Roll. If you can’t find the spicy Japanese radish sprouts, you can substitute other sprouts or shredded Daikon radish.
Read through the photo captions carefully and you’ll be ready to roll. The recipe makes ten rolls, so have a few friends over and you can all learn to roll. If you want, make the rice before everyone arrives. Once it cools slightly (about 40 minutes), you can keep it at the perfect lukewarm temperature by storing it in a cooler. When you start rolling, you’ll find that your second sushi roll will look better than your first, and your third will look better than your second….
Ingredients for authentic sushi: from left, nori (dried seaweed), bamboo rolling mat, pickled ginger, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sushi rice, and wasabi powder.
SOURCES FOR SUSHI-MAKING INGREDIENTS
Eden Foods Inc., 701 Tecumseh Road, Clinton, MI 49236; 800/248-0320. www.edenfoods.com. Call for product information (wasabi powder, nori, soy sauce, pickled ginger).
Gold Mine Natural
Foods, 800/475-FOOD. www.goldminenaturalfood.com. Call for catalog or ask for the Sushi Lover’s Kit and Lundberg Organic Sushi Rice.
The Oriental Pantry, 423 Great Rd., Acton, MA 01720; 800/828-0368. www.orientalpantry.com. Call for catalog.
The Wooden Spoon, PO Box 931, Clinton, CT 06413; 800/431-2207. Call for catalog or ask for the Sushi Chef Sushi-Making Kit.