Photo by Romulo Yanesby Gourmet Live
In an ongoing collaboration between Gourmet Live and New York's Institute of Culinary Education, chef-instructor Erica Wides kicks off a new instructional series with a lesson in making your own maki.
Master sushi chefs may train for years, but all you'll need to get things rolling at home are the basic instructions, ingredients, and equipment outlined below. With a bit of time, space, and dexterity, you can go from DIY dream to dinner, whether for a party or a small supper for one or two. The proportions in this article will make about 10 maki, which is enough to serve four to six people, and can be scaled up or down as needed.
See also: Gourmet's Top 10 Timeless Recipes
1. Rice Reigns
The single most important element of sushi-making is the cooking of the rice. It's so important, in fact, that future sushi chefs in Japan spend the first two of their seven years of formal training learning to master this step. For the best shot at success, be sure to buy the right stuff: Japanese short-grain sushi rice. A few of my favorite brands are Kokuho Rose and Nishiki, but you can also opt for Koshihikari Premium or Tamanishiki, all of which can be found in large supermarkets, specialty stores, or online. Whichever you choose, remember that the type of rice is more important than the brand: Do not attempt to make sushi with anything but sushi rice. Other types contain lower levels of amylose (the sugar found in rice grains) and will not achieve the required sticky texture.
2. Rinse and Repeat
Sushi rice is processed for packaging with added rice starch powders (and sometimes talc), so it's essential to wash off this residue before cooking to avoid ending up with a pasty, goopy mess.
Start by measuring the rice: To make enough maki to serve four to six people (about 10 rolls), you'll need 2 cups of raw sushi rice.
Next, transfer the rice to a fine-mesh sieve. Set the sieve inside a large mixing bowl that you've placed in your sink, and run cold water over the rice until the water reaches the top of the sieve. Turn off the tap and swish the rice around in the sieve until the water becomes cloudy. Lift out the sieve, drain the cloudy water, and return the sieve to the bowl, refilling it with fresh water.
Repeat this rinsing process three or four times until the remaining water is 90 percent clear, and then let the rice drain for 15 minutes. This may seem like a lot of advance work, but Japanese legend says there are seven gods living in each rice grain, so treat your rice with respect!
3. Practice Patience
When it comes to cooking sushi rice, there's a fine line between perfectly puffed grains and edible glue. If you're using a rice cooker, just place the washed and drained rice into the cooker along with the appropriate amount of water, turn it on, and you're all set. If you're using a pot, follow a 1-to-1 ratio for sushi rice to water and bring the mixture to a boil. Once it has reached a boil, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid, reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting, and cook the rice for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, turn off the heat entirely and let the rice sit and steam in the pot, covered, for 10 more minutes. Whatever you do, do not peek!
4. The Shari-zu Secret
Shari-zu, a blend of sugar, salt, and rice vinegar, is the key to perfectly seasoned sushi rice. When stocking ingredients, remember to select unseasoned rice vinegar (steer clear of the pre-seasoned variety) so you can control the amount of sugar and salt. To make enough shari-zu for 2 cups of raw sushi rice, whisk together 4 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar with 8 teaspoons sugar and 1 teaspoon salt until dissolved.
Transfer the cooked sushi rice to a hangiri (a Japanese cedar rice tub) or a wooden bowl. A stainless steel or glass dish will also do the trick, but wood is best because it absorbs moisture from the rice. Use a rice paddle or wooden spoon to spread out the rice and break up any big clumps, and then drizzle it with the shari-zu. Fold the rice over itself to fully incorporate the shari-zu, but be careful not to mash the grains. Traditionally, you would have an assistant fanning the rice as you fold it, but whether or not you have a helping hand, the goal is to continue folding the rice until it stops releasing steam. Once you've reached this point, cover the rice with a damp towel as you prepare your fillings.
See also: 10 Outrageous Pies
5. Fine-Tune Your Fillings
Less is always more when it comes to fillings, so as you plan what to wrap up in your roll, think minimal and trade America's all-you-can eat mentality for a refined and balanced Japanese aesthetic. Thin strips of cucumbers, scallions, daikon radishes, avocado, and other veggies are suitable for sushi, as are prepared seafood such as crabmeat, smoked salmon, cooked wild shrimp, and cooked eel. You'll want a total of about 1 pound of fillings to make 10 maki (roughly 1/4 pound each of crabmeat, avocado, salmon, and cucumbers, for example). Cut ingredients into long, thin strips about the size of a pencil.
If you're opting for raw fish, always purchase it from a reputable market and buy only fish that's specifically marked for sushi use. Keep in mind, however, that what American distributors consider "sushi grade" may not meet the standards of thoroughly trained sushi professionals. For safety, we recommend using prepared seafood instead.
6. Set Up for Success
Sushi-making is a fun and creative process that works best in a well-organized work space. Begin by wrapping a bamboo sushi-rolling mat in plastic wrap, for efficient cleanup later. Set aside halved sheets of nori on a waterproof surface, and place a platter or plate nearby to serve as a clean landing spot for your finished rolls. Mix up some pungent wasabi by combining 2 tablespoons of wasabi powder with just enough water to make a thick paste. Finally, fill a small bowl with warm water and add a splash of unseasoned rice vinegar. This mixture, known as te-zu, is used to dip your hands in before handling the rice. Don't skip the te-zu step, or you'll end up with rice-coated hands, making it hard to cleanly roll out your sushi.
7. The Right Way to Roll
Once you've set up your sushi-making station, begin preparing your first roll by laying your rolling mat in front of you with the bars parallel to the table's edge. With a dry hand, lay a half sheet of nori on the bottom edge of the mat, dip both hands into the te-zu, and shake off any excess (your hands should be only slightly damp). Pick up a handful of rice about the size of a tennis ball and gently spread it over the nori without smearing or mashing the rice too firmly. Spread the rice evenly, especially the left and right edges. For an extra kick, run a tiny dab of wasabi paste along the center of the rice.
Place one to three types of fillings horizontally beside the wasabi, remembering not to overfill your maki. Roll the mat and the nori up and over to lock in the fillings then release the mat and use it again to finish rolling the remaining nori. Always roll tightly to compact the fillings within the roll, then allow the finished roll to sit (seam side down) on a cutting board for a few minutes to help seal it. Finish rolling all of your maki before you cut them.
Once you're ready to serve your rolls, dampen your knife (a sharp chef's knife works well) with te-zu. The vinegar mixture will prevent your knife from sticking to the rice as you then cut the rolls into 1-inch slices.
8. Fresh Is Best
Sushi should always be made and enjoyed fresh. Seasoning sushi rice with shari-zu actually thwarts bacterial growth by altering the rice's pH, so freshly made rolls can sit out for a few hours, but don't push it. Refrigeration can destroy sushi's delicate flavors and textures, so try to prepare your rolls as close to serving time as possible. Nori gets soggy quickly once rolled around damp rice, so sushi chefs will always make maki last. If you absolutely must refrigerate your sushi maki, do so before cutting, and cover the rolls tightly with plastic wrap.
Whether you're hosting a party of 2 or 20, sushi-making is the ultimate at-home entertaining idea that invites guests to get in on the food preparation. Serve your maki on large platters to allow guests to sample one another's custom creations, and don't forget to add an edible garnish by mounding mini-Mt. Fujis of wasabi next to heaping piles of pickled ginger. Get rolling!
More from Gourmet Live:
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Gourmet's Classic Comfort Foods
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The Best Sandwiches Across the Globe
Photo by Romulo Yanesby Gourmet Live
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My after-school snack was a sacred ritual. I sat on the carpet in my parents' bedroom at a low table, the television turned to "I Dream of Jeannie," and ate a peanut butter and honey sandwich cut into neat squares. I wasn't fussy about crusts. I just loved the sticky pairing of creamy peanut butter with syrupy golden sweetness drizzled from a honey bear in diagonals across the soft white bread. Nothing else--save for maybe apples and peanut butter in a pinch--could have made for as sweet an