#1 – 48 Recipe Challenge: Recipe 37 – Sushi
I recently spent two weeks travelling round Japan, enjoying the cherry blossom, the culture and of course the amazing food. When I was offered the opportunity to join a Japanese cookery course, naturally I jumped at the chance. Notionally we were just going to be making sushi, but in fact we learnt how to produce an entire meal and have our own recipe book so we can try a few Japanese classics at home.
We started with making dashi – a fish stock which is the basis for many, many Japanese dishes, including miso soup. It’s made by boiling water with seaweed in it, then adding tuna flakes to infuse their flavour. This was an ingredient I’ve never seen or heard of before; dried skipjack tuna which was so hard it looked and felt like a small lump of wood. In Japan it is either sold in that form or pre-grated into thinly shaved flakes. The flakes are strained out before the dashi is used; they are just there to impart flavour. I’m not sure if this dried tuna is available in the UK, or if not, what I could use instead to reproduce this taste. This may need some research.
We used the dashi, mixed with miso paste and fresh tofu, to make the ubiquitous miso soup, added it to the vinegar for the sushi, and also made a sesame sauce to go with green vegetables. In this case we used the sauce for spinach, but we’re assured it works equally well with broccoli, carrots and other vegetables. It was seriously tasty so I’m looking forward to trying out some variations at home.
Next we prepared the rice for the sushi. Before visiting Japan, I incorrectly assumed that sushi meant fish with rice. It doesn’t. Sushi is simply the rice itself, once it has been prepared in a specific way with vinegar. Sushi can then be filled or topped with anything – meat, fish or vegetable. Sushi is made with short grain rice, cooked and drained but not washed too much because you need the sticky starchiness of it to ensure it holds together. The cooked rice is mixed with vinegar, salt and sake, and sometimes a drop of dashi (in which case the salt is omitted). Whilst it is mixed, it should be fanned so that it cools quickly. The Japanese prepare the sushi in a large wooden bowl, as this helps to absorb some of the moisture.
Once the rice was ready and cooling, I then had a chance to try my hand at preparing the Japanese layered omelette which was to form part of the filling for the sushi. Using a small rectangular frying pan, I had to pour a thin layer of egg into the pan and swirl it to ensure the whole pan was coated, let it cook through then roll it up using chopsticks. Then add another layer of egg to the pan, ensuring that I lifted the rolled omelette so that the new egg layer went right underneath it, cook that, then roll the whole thing again. And repeat.
My efforts were not as neat as the chef’s but nevertheless I thought not bad given I’m not particularly proficient with chopsticks.
Then came the time to prepare and roll our sushi. We were given a bamboo mat made of thin sticks of bamboo tied together so that it was very flexible. Onto this went a thin square sheet of nori (dried and pressed seaweed). We were told to spread the rice over the seaweed by hand. This was tricky as the rice is so sticky, a handy bowl of vinegared water to rinse our fingers off with regularly helped immensely. The rice had to be evenly spread over the seaweed, leaving the top 2 inches clear. We then had to use a finger to press a channel into the middle of the rice, and to receive the sushi fillings.
Our fillings were pickled mushrooms (the Japanese love pickles), cucumber, crab sticks and the omelettes we had made.
Then came the tricky bit – the roll! We were simply advised to be firm and to squeeze the roll together tightly. To my amazement, it worked! I had a long roll of filled sushi and it hadn’t fallen apart. Note that the seaweed is only around the outside, it doesn’t spiral into the middle. It’s just one big roll.
It was then a simple matter of cutting the sushi into portions (again, wiping the knife regularly with vinegared water to stop it sticking) and there we had it. Our very own sushi!
We were shown through to the dining room where we enjoyed a lovely meal of the filled sushi we had prepared, together with the miso soup and spinach with sesame dressing.
It all seemed very simple in the class, with the correct ingredients to hand. I suspect trying to recreate it at home will not be quite so simple because a huge amount rests on getting the texture of the rice correct. Both finding the right type of rice and cooking it correctly (so that it is cooked through and sticky enough to hold but hasn’t lost its texture and gone to mush) may prove challenging.
This was a really fun activity, and adds to the exotic cookery skills I learn last year in my Chinese and Thai cookery course. I’ll need to add some more ingredients to my store cupboard and invest in a bamboo mat, but I’m willing to give it a go at home and see what results I get.
Scores for sushi are:
Healthiness – 7/10 (depending on what you fill it with, pretty healthy although there’s a fair few calories in the rice)
Ease of prep – 9/10 in class, probably only 5/10 at home (as I said, I suspect I might struggle to get the rice right)
Flavour/taste – 8/10 (this was really tasty and the best bit is that once you’ve mastered the cooking of the rice and rolling the sushi, you can fill it with whatever you like best)
If you fancy giving it a go at home this recipe is pretty close to the one we used: