Foodbuzz recently offered a limited number of gift certificates to Asian Food Grocer for many of its Featured Publishers. Who wouldn’t take up that offer? If there has ever been something on the to-make list, it’s sushi. That was the first thing that came to mind when poking through the site for things to buy, so we set about doing so this past weekend. We picked up several items including the bronze sushi set, rice paddle, sesame oil, oyster sauce, rice vinegar, ponzu and tempura batter mix all for just over $30, which included shipping and handling. The prices online seemed competitive with what we’ve seen in local grocers like 99 Ranch Market and Mitsuwa, both of which you should add to your hit list if they are near you. There were a couple of mishaps with the shipping process from Asian Food Grocer, and items were damaged in transit. The box was returned to the store, and they repackaged everything and sent it out again without delay, which was considerate. We’d forgotten what we’d ordered at that point, so pawing through the box full of goodies upon its arrival was like Christmas in October. When it came time to make the sushi, though, we were in for quite an experience.
Armed with just about everything you could possibly need to make sushi at home, there was no reason to really fear this trial by fire. Put aside a couple of horror stories we’d heard from other friends who messed up the rice, added too much wasabi, bought the wrong tuna, etc. It was time to give it a try, and if we fell to the same demise, well so be it. We’d keep it simple with an easy spicy tuna roll. How bad could it be? Here’s a behind the scenes look at the process.
The first step to any good sushi is the sushi rice. The sushi kit we purchased was the bronze level that came with nori (sheets of dried seaweed), Calrose rice, wasabi in a tube, dried sushi powder, pickled ginger and a bamboo mat for rolling. Too bad it didn’t come with a rice maker. Oh well, we forged ahead with a sturdy pot. Many people will tell you that if your rice is no good, your sushi will be no good. You must use a short grain rice that is low in starch and naturally sticky. There are specific types and brands (ie. Kokuho Rose, Calrose Botan, etc.), so put that Uncle Ben’s down! He just won’t work. You have to quickly soak and rinse the rice well, let it drain, make sure it’s perfectly steamed and then be sure to season it well. Flavorless rice, sticky rice, overly saturated rice…all bad. No pressure, right? After a good soak, rinse and drain, the rice was cooked exactly to the package’s measurements and directions, but it was a little bit al dente. Was it the lack of rice cooker or our fault? We’ve never had al dente sushi rice before, but at this point, we had to work with it. There was no sushi-oke on hand to toss and dry the rice, so we used a large flat platter to spread out the rice. You’ve probably seen a sushi-oke before–it’s the big, wooden flat bowl used to dry the rice and season it. Our platter seemed to work fine.
As mentioned before, the sushi kit came with a package of dried sushi powder. Initially, we had no clue what this was for, but a bit of Google action made it very clear. We were all ready to season up that rice with vinegar, salt and sugar, but the powder was a dried amalgamation of all three. Toss a few teaspoons on the rice, mix carefully, and you’re all set. Using the rice paddle, we cautiously combined the rice and powder, trying not to over stir which would increase the amount of starch and result in sticky rice. As you fold the seasonings in, you should fan the rice at the same time, so it dries as its seasoned. It only takes a few minutes before your rice is ready.
We left the rice to the side and moved on to the good stuff that would go inside. We had a little fresh tuna, salmon, avocado, cucumber and furikake, which is another type of rice seasoning. There are many different kinds of furikake, but we chose nori furikake that has bits of dried seaweed and toasted sesame seeds along with seasoning spices. We also whisked up some spicy mayo. A basic spicy mayo recipe includes mayonnaise, sesame oil and hot chili sauce. That’s it! Upon the first mixing of those ingredients, something was missing in the taste. It was too heavy, too thick. We poked around online and saw that Japanese mayonnaise is made with rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar as opposed to our American variety that has distilled vinegar. Plus, the Japanese version is a little thinner. In order to get a better consistency and flavor, we dropped a little rice vinegar in the spicy mayo, which made all the difference. Next time, it might be worth it to invest in a little Kewpie and see how that works.
Spicy Mayonnaise – Serves 4
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
3/4 teaspoon sriracha, plus more if desired
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
Mix all of the ingredients in a small bowl, adding more spice to taste. Chill until ready to serve.
Not really having an idea how much fish to buy, we just got a quarter pound of fresh tuna and fresh salmon. The salmon was easy to slice, but the tuna had to be ground to smaller pieces, which was easy to do with a food processor. Sushi’s very adaptable, so once you can roll anything in the seaweed that floats your boat. For these, the salmon would be paired with avocado and persian cucumber, and we mixed the tuna with a little soy sauce, wasabi and sesame oil until it tasted just spicy enough.
Using all of the elements in the sushi kit, we laid one piece of nori on top of the bamboo mat followed by a layer of rice. Most people say a cup of cooked rice should be on each piece of nori, but that seemed like too much, so we used 1/2 to 3/4 cup per roll. As you can see in the picture above, we absentmindedly put the fish in the center of the nori, but after a couple of failed attempts to create a nice roll, we realized that would not work. In order to actually roll it correctly, the goodies need to be at the edge closest to your fingers, so that you can roll everything together like a little cigarette. There are also some people who leave an inch or an inch and a half of nori rice-free, so the roll will seal, but we went right to the edges because we were using less rice. It worked just fine. Use the bamboo mat to lightly squeeze the sushi roll closed, then cut away.
From here, it’s easy. Repeat this process until you run out of meat and vegetables. It’s best not to overstuff the roll, but definitely don’t skimp on the good stuff. You can sprinkle extra sesame oil or hot chili sauce or dollop wasabi inside if you like more flavor. Some people might squeeze cream cheese inside too. You have all the freedom in the world. Once all the rolls are ready, just slice into eight pieces and set on a platter. The platter below is two salmon rolls and two spicy tuna rolls, which yields a decent amount. Dollops of wasabi and the spicy mayonnaise topped it all off. Even though we only paid for the tuna and salmon out of our pockets, making sushi at home can still be much more inexpensive than going out. Not like we don’t appreciate the art of fine sushi served before us, but this was something that we’re no longer afraid to try on our own. Once you’ve stocked up on a bag of rice, bamboo mat and nori, picking up the fixings shouldn’t break the bank.
Oh, and those little lightly fried veggies on the sides of the plate are florets of broccoli, red peppers and carrots that we cooked up in the tempura batter from our Asian Food Grocer box. The batter was light and airy, which makes fried vegetables feel slightly guilt free. They went well with a little spicy mayo and ponzu sauce. Perfect for a little Sunday sushi. If we can do it, you can too. The amount of fish below could easily serve eight people, so make it a party and invite your friends over for sushi! Maybe that’s what we’ll do for our next gathering…
Spicy Tuna Rolls – Serves 3
4 ounces fresh raw tuna, ground
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon wasabi
1/4 teaspoon sriracha
3 nori sheets
1 1/2 – 3 cups sushi rice
Mix well with a small bowl. Layer on top of sushi rice covered nori, then roll and slice into pieces. Sprinkle with nori furikake before serving.
Salmon, Avocado and Cucumber Rolls – Serves 5
4 ounces fresh salmon, sliced into 1/2″ strips
2 small persian cucumbers, sliced into 1/2″ strips
2 medium avocados, sliced into 1/2″ strips
5 nori sheets
2 1/2 – 5 cups sushi rice
Lay pieces of salmon, cucumber and avocado on top of sushi rice covered nori, then roll and slice into pieces. Sprinkle with nori furikake before serving.
Yo! We’ve been nominated for a Foodbuzz Blog Award, and the category is ‘Blogger You’d Most Want to See Open Their Own Restaurant’. We’re heading to the 1st Annual Foodbuzz Festival in San Francisco in a couple of weeks, and it’d be great to come back with a win. We’d love it if you put in a vote!