The Sushi Tails: Materials

Sushi Materials

If we’re going full steam ahead (pun intended) with this idea of making sushi at home we’ve got to make sure there are some basic items on hand. You can certainly make use of whatever you’ve got on hand so long as it’ll do the job. For example, a two-pocket school portfolio makes a wonderful fan in a pinch.

So here are the basics of what you’ll need:

Rice Measuring Cup

If you’re using a rice cooker odds are it came with a rice measuring cup, but to clarify – rice has its own standardized measuring system and any other measuring tools you have in your kitchen may say one cup on them… but they don’t mean one cup of rice. Its believed the original measurment is based on the size of a Japanese sake bottle which is clearly not the same as a standard kitchen measuring cup. That’s really important if you’ve got a rice cooker as many of them have lines to mark how much water to pour in to the cooker that correspond to the number of “cups” of rice you add.

That being said, I believe the end result of this month-long rice experiment is that we are going to veer slightly from the suggested rice cooker instructions and be looking at overall ratios of water to rice. So, while the rice measuring cup is important if you’re using your rice cooker for all the other times you are making rice, it’s not quite as crucial for making sushi rice at home.  Yes, I just wasted your time.

Rice Cooker

Look – I get it. Your kitchen is full of appliances and your cabinets are full of even more of them. The coffee maker, sandwich press, slow cooker, blender, grinder, peeler, juicer and slicer all take up room and cost money. But… there is no better way to consistently control temperature, time, humidity and pressure when cooking sushi rice than to use a rice cooker.

You can get them for fairly low cost these days and it really is going to make a world of difference to this whole experience of making sushi at home. Yes, you can use a pot and fiddle with the amount of water, the perfect temperature to set your stove to, the perfect way to fit the lid to keep steam in or let it out… but, no, I am not going to outline how to best do that here. We are all about easy and repeatable results around here folks. Get yourself a rice cooker and toss some other appliance taking room at the back of your cabinet if you must. Come on, you’re not juicing celery root and wheat grass for breakfast anymore anyway.

Paddle

After our rice is cooked we’re going to have to mix it to incorporate the sushi rice (more on that in a future post) and to help cool it down. While doing this it is very important to take care not to crush the individual rice grains nor mash them together. To do this sushi chefs use a slicing and folding technique that has been perfected over hundreds of years (again, in a post to follow.) The easiest way to do this is with a simple kitchen paddle. Not a spoon, not a ladle – a wooden or plastic paddle. Don’t fight history.

Wide Wooden Bowl

The bowl that the sushi gets prepared in after it has cooked needs to be fairly wide and wooden. The width allows for the maximum surface area meaning that more of your rice can be exposed to the air and cooled at once. The wood will help whisk moisture and heat away from the rice which is also critical at this stage when the sushi vinegar is added.

Fan

Immediately after incorporating the rice vinegar into the rice we’re going to want to cool it to around body temperature. If you’d like to use a hand-held fan that is dandy. I’ve grabbed a counter-top fan that I use on Low setting to do the job. It keeps my hands free to keep an eye on my slicing and folding technique. It’s up to you which you’d prefer to use. One caveat when using an electric fan: you’ve got to keep a close eye on your rice temperature as you don’t want to cool it too much!

Now that we’ve got all the right materials on hand we’re ready to get cooking!

The Sushi Tails: Ingredients

Sushi Rice

The beauty of sushi is in the simplicity of its ingredients. A perfect harmony of subtle perfection. The essence of flavours is inevitably a reflection of the quality and freshness of the components used. While you may be able to hide ingredients that are not top notch in many cooked foods by blanketing them under sauces and dressings, with sushi there is almost nowhere to hide. In this light it’s crucial to spend a bit of extra time and money to ensure you’re getting the best.

We’re already saving money making sushi at home and we know we are going to lose a bit of quality because we aren’t all trained sushi chefs who’ve studied the art for decades. So, let’s make the effort to get the best ingredients for the job.

The Rice

I’ve seen sushi made with all sorts of rice and the truth is many varieties are usable. However, the line between good sticky rice and lumpy mushy rice is very fine. Sushi rice is cultivated to be just perfect for the task at hand. It won’t harden up and dry out on you as quickly as some other types of rice and the high starch levels naturally binds the rice without becoming clumpy.

You can find a bunch of brands or types of sushi rice at the grocery store, and this will do in a pinch. I took the time to visit Rube’s Rice in the St. Lawrence Market to chat about my little sushi project. They pointed me to some Kokuho rice that is the gold standard. You can find good sushi rice at any Asian supermarket.

The Vinegar

Sushi vinegar is not white vinegar. Do not attempt to use it. Your kids will not forgive you. Sushi vinegar is made from rice. It comes in two general types: seasoned and unseasoned. While it’s possible to season your own rice vinegar at home I find the pre-seasoned one works just fine. Seasoned sushi vinegar is basically rice vinegar with salt and sugar. Without this seasoning your sushi will taste a little flat.

If you want to make your own it’s fairly simple. Seven parts rice vinegar; five parts sugar; one part salt.

In case you were wondering why sushi always scores fairly high in calories it’s because the seasoned vinegar has sugar in it. If you’re interested in keeping the calorie count down you can definitely try using unseasoned vinegar or making your own and holding back on the sugar content.

fish

The Fish

Do not – I repeat – DO NOT use anything but fresh fish for your sushi. This generally means sourcing it from a market or fishmonger. After you get used to seeing really fresh fish you will never be able to buy the limp, dilapidated grocery store fish again. Yes, it’s often more expensive and yes, it’s worth it.

In most sushi the fish is eaten raw. You do not want to eat sushi made with fish that isn’t fresh. It doesn’t taste good and it can make you very, very sick.

As mentioned before, you may be able to hide slightly dated fish if you fry it and smother it in sauce. You will not be effective in doing the same with your sushi. Fresh fish should be bright and shiny. It should look vibrant and be firm to the touch. It should smell like the ocean. Not like rotting fish.

If you are getting salmon or tuna you can ask your fishmonger to de-bone it and skin it for you. Many of these stores will sell sushi-grade salmon if you ask. If you can’t get fresh fish you should be making vegetarian sushi.

Nori/Seaweed

Nori sheets are used to wrap maki sushi rolls. They are made from seaweed in a method not too different from paper-making. The sheets are usually lightly toasted before using for sushi. Since I’m planning to make chirashizushi for my family it’s not as integral to the finished product. I like using nori flakes to sprinkle on top of my sushi bowl when making chirashizushi. You can find them already pre-toasted and mixed with sesame seeds. Perfect!

The Vegetables

Buy fresh firm vegetables that are in-season. How would you feel after sitting in the back of a truck for a week as you bump your way across the continent from sunny California or Florida? Your vegetables feel the same way. In Ontario greenhouse cucumbers and peppers are available nearly year-round!

 

I guess what I’m trying to say is: buy fresh and buy good quality ingredients. Sushi is a delicate balance of flavours that really shines on the elements used to create it. You won’t regret it!

The Sushi Tails: An Introduction

Chirashizushi

 

My kids LOVE sushi. Not in the way everybody loves puppies, or sunny days, or the way you may love a colour for your family room. I mean LOVE. As in the way sports fanatics LOVE their team. My kids can single-handedly put an all-you-can-eat sushi joint out of business by pounding back order after order of sushi. We recently went with some friends of ours and watched the kids put away 92 pieces of salmon nigiri. Ninety-two! That’s on top of all of the other sushi rolls, sashimi, edamame, and the like that was ordered.

As a parent, I’m pretty happy to watch them love a food that is relatively healthy for them to eat. On the other hand, the cost of taking five people out for sushi on a regular basis can be pretty daunting. I know for a lot of people the cost of sushi alone means it’s not a regular option for their family. Normally, I’d say I’ll just make a dish for them at home. I am a chef after all. For example, I can prepare rib steaks for my kids at home for a fraction of the cost of a high end steak restaurant. I can make it cheaper, and heck, I can make it better.

However, sushi chefs spend years apprenticing before they’re even allowed to make the rice at a good sushi restaurant. This isn’t something I can go into lightly. So, I’ve decided to dedicate a full month to learning the art of making excellent sushi at home.

I work right near the St. Lawrence Market. I have fresh fish and high-end sushi rice within arm’s reach. I have no excuse. So this journey is for all of you who don’t have the time or energy to make batch after batch of sushi rice while your kids bang their knives and forks clamouring for dinner. Join me as we take a journey on The Sushi Tails.

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