Sushi was, believe it or not, just a few decades ago thought of as a bizarre and unusual foreign dish. It didn’t truly take off until the 1980s, when it was part of a huge explosion in interest in healthy eating in America. But even 30 years later, first timers find sushi intimidating, especially when it comes to making it themselves! So, as a public service, here’s a quick primer on the basics of what and how with sushi.
The term “sushi” is often synonymous with “raw fish” in many diners’ minds but it in fact refers to the vinegared rice in the dish, not the topping or filling (which may or may not consist of raw fish).
Just like Spanish jamon, French confit or Korean kimchi, sushi was originally created as a means of preservation. At some point before the 16th century, it was discovered that salted fish packed in rice underwent a particular form of fermentation that not only preserved the fish, but created a whole host of the savory flavors prized by the Japanese and now identified as umami.
Fish would be preserved for a period ranging from several months to several years. The rice was discarded, and the fish was consumed either thinly sliced, or as a flavoring in other dishes. By replacing the fermentation process with a splash of vinegar and sugar and using fresh fish instead of fermented, modern sushi was invented in early 19th century Edo (modern day Tokyo).
TYPES OF SUSHI
- Nigiri – hand formed sushi
- Maki – rolled sushi
- Uramaki – “inside out” rolls
- Futomaki – thick rolled sushi
- Hosomaki – thin rolled sushi
- Temaki – hand rolled, cone-shaped nori with ingredients inside
- Sashimi – cut fish or other meats without rice
- Chirashi – scattered sushi
- Oshi – pressed sushi
- Inari – stuffed sushi
Vinegared rice (sumeshi) is the most important aspect of any form of sushi. It’s made by combining rinsed and steamed short-grain rice, rice vinegar (often flavored with kombu, or sea kelp), sugar, and salt.
HOW TO MAKE SUSHI MAKI, THE BASIC SUSHI ROLL
YOU WILL NEED:
- A bamboo mat
- Sushi rice and fillings (fish and or vegetables to your liking)
1. “The rough side of the nori”
Feel the nori sheet from both sides, and you will find one side to be a bit smooth and the other a little rough. The nori should lay on the rolling mat with the rough side facing upwards.
2.”Getting busy with rice”
Get your hands wet, and make about a handful of rice to a ball of rice. It’s important to keep your hands wet while working with sushi rice, because it is sticky. When you work with the nori though, you should keep them as dry as you can. That is why you should have a bowl of water (with a bit of rice vinegar added to it) and a dry hand-towel nearby when making sushi.
3. “The spread”
Gently put the rice ball in the middle of the nori sheet, and start spreading it equally on the nori, creating a layer of rice covering almost the entire sheet except the upper margin of about 2 cm that should be kept uncovered. Later on, the margins need to be empty of rice in order to close to sushi roll properly. Be careful not to compress the rice, but merely spread it over the nori.
4.”Can you fill this?”
Now it’s time to place a slice of fish (preferably no more than one) on the edge of the nori, along with 1 to 3 pre-cut slices of vegetables (carrot, cucumber, green onion, asparagus, and so on).
5.”Commence the rolling sequence”
Using the closer edge of the rolling mat, close on the filling with the nori making a rectangular-shaped hill, and tighten it from above.
6.”Continue the rolling sequence”
Move forward, continue rolling in the rectangular hill steps, keeping it tight with every move until you reach the end of the nori. Put pressure on the roll from all three sides at all times, especially on stops, to allow it to roll tightly.
Use a wet, sharp knife to cut the roll into little sushi units, 6 to 8 units per roll, that’s your call.