Since the "How to section an orange" post got such a warm reception, I thought I'll start a Technique of the Week column :) Based on the picture, you might think that I will tell you how to make sushi. Well, not yet. That's a technique that I still need to work on myself. But I can tell you how to make great sushi rice since it's something that I finally mastered.
Although I am an avid fish cook, sushi is one of those dishes I preferred to leave to professionals. At least that was the case until this weekend. Memories of make-your-own-sushi parties, that were so popular with my college friends, still make me shudder. If you ever ate one of those dilapidated cucumber rolls made with mushy rice while pretending to have a good time, you know what I mean. What made me consider making my own sushi after all those years of bad memories was watching Japanese cooks select pieces of fish to serve raw at the New Deal Fish Market. I've been watching them with curiosity for months, and the nosy person that I am, I could never resist asking them questions about what fish to use and how to prepare it.
It wasn't the fear of eating raw fish that was stopping me. Parasites in some of the salt water species are so rare, that it is safe to eat these fish raw as long as they are as fresh as New Deal sells them. What I was worried about was not knowing how to properly cut the fish, make the rice, and put them together. But I guess there is the first time for everything, and I decided to give it a shot.
Believe it or not, rice scared me more than the fish. I don't own a rice cooker and making a small quantity of rice in a pot always leaves me with a burnt bottom. My plan was to use Cook's Illustrated baking method. It simulates a rice cooker by surrounding the rice vessel with even indirect heat and works wonders on brown rice. My hope was that it would work for sushi rice too.
While looking through at least 5 recipes for sushi rice on-line and in my cookbooks, I found out why the rice we made for sushi in college was so awful. First of all, we skipped the rinsing step. You have to rinse rice thoroughly before cooking it to get rid of extra starch. Second, we didn't let it rest after cooking. Third, we used seasoning from a package instead of making our own. And fourth, we didn't cover it with a damp towel to prevent it from drying out after it was done.
By following Cook's Illustrated baking method and Ming Tsai's recipe for seasoning I got really fantastic rice -- glossy, toothsome, and just barely sweet. Finally, I had rice that was worthy of New Deal's fish.
It made all the difference! I decided to keep it simple and served most of the fish as sashimi (just sliced) or nigiri (sliced over a ball of rice). The most complicated thing that I attempted was spicy tuna rolls with crispy tempura bits. The verdict by Jason, the sushi snob, was that sushi is definitely worth making at home!
How to make sushi rice
Makes enough rice for 8 rolls
2 cups short-grain Japanese sushi rice
2 cups water
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
2 Tbsp mirin (Japanese sweet sake)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp salt
Rice cooker method
- Place rice in a fine sieve and place the sieve in a bowl of water. Rinse thoroughly changing the water in the bowl at least 3 times until the water runs completely clean when you remove the sieve from the bowl. Drain well.
- Place rice and water into the rice cooker, turn it on, and wait for rice to cook. Proceed to the Finishing Rice section.
- Preheat the oven to 375F.
- Place rice in a fine sieve and place the sieve in a bowl of water. Rinse thoroughly changing the water in the bowl at least 3 times until the water runs completely clean when you remove the sieve from the bowl. Drain well and put into an 8x8 Pyrex dish.
- Bring 2 cups water to a boil.
- Pour boiling water over rice and cover the Pyrex dish tightly with foil. Place in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes. Proceed to the Finishing Rice section.
- Allow rice to rest covered for 20 minutes.
- Combine the vinegar, mirin, sugar, and salt in a small non-reactive saucepan and set over medium heat until the mixture is hot and sugar dissolves. Do not allow it to boil.
- Invert rice into a large wooden bowl. If you don't have one, you can use a glass or stainless steel one, but wood works best.
- Fold half of the vinegar mixture into rice with a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon. Use a cutting and folding motion when stirring rice to avoid squashing the rice grains and releasing their starch. Taste the rice. It should have a pleasantly sweet-acidic edge. If necessary, fold in more vinegar mixture.
- Wet a dish towel (or 2 layers of paper towel) and cover the rice. Let it rest for 20 minutes to develop flavor. Keep rice covered while shaping your rolls.