Monday, 27 August 2012

Foolproof Sushi (Maki)

Takes: 45 mins, mainly passive
Multitasking level: Very low
Feeds: 1 person per full roll (6 maki pieces)

The important thing to note in my Potted History of Sushi in the UK* is that ladies love sushi, and in particular Maki (just meaning "roll"), which are the bite sized ones that come in servings of six. If you have to bring food to a party and you bring sushi, I can guarantee you'll be beating the women away with a stick, because it seems a lot harder than it really is and is quick to make in huge quantities.

(I'm just going to add here that since making this tutorial, I have become better at both sushi, food photography and half moon manicures, so these pictures might be replaced with some that I can bear to look at a little more soon.)

These will be available in Asian supermarkets, online, or for extortionate prices in regular supermarkets.
  • Sushi rice - This is a special short grain rice that sticks together well without forming rock hard clumps. Don't let me catch you trying to just overcook Jasmine or American Long Grain. I will catch you because you will be crying over your terrible attempt at sushi
  • Sushi vinegar- This is what makes it sushi. Sushi roughly translates as "sour rice"
  • Nori- Available in packs of about 6 sheets for three quid in Tesco or about 2 quid for a hefty block in an Asian supermarket. It's really about how willing you are to be slightly terrified by jars of hot chilli fermented bean curd
  • Fillings- We're going to use cucumber mainly here, but avocado, bell peppers etc are also good. Do not put raw fish in it unless it's Sashimi quality (that means it's been flash-frozen to kill off bacteria) and don't use smoked salmon because it's way too strong a flavour
Ok, you know what I said about having got better at sushi?
These things are too fat. Get that yellow pepper size zero if
you're going to use it- this sushi is a cruel land for curvy veg

1. Prepare sushi rice

Filthy starch trying to sabotage your
a) Put half the amount of rice you want to end up with in a pan. Overestimate, because you can always make onigiri (rice balls) with the leftovers

b) Wash the rice with cold water, draining each time the water gets nice and murky. This will stop us ending up with slimy rice. Do it until the water runs clear or you lose the will to live (for me, between 5 and 8 times)

c) Rest the very tip of your finger on the rice. Fill with cold water until the water in the pan reaches the first knuckle of your finger. You'll get to know exactly where is perfect with time, but this is generally pretty accurate

d) Put a (preferably clear) lid on the pan, and put it on the hob on full blast until it boils. From now on, no removing the lid until you're ready to actually do stuff with your rice
e) Once it boils, turn the hob down to its lowest setting for 10 minutes until the water has completely absorbed

f) Take it off the heat and put to one side for between 5 and 35 minutes to steam off the bottom. DO NOT REMOVE THE LID UNLESS YOU WANT TO DESTROY EVERYTHING. Prepare your fillings now.

g) When you're ready to go, lift the lid and add two tablespoons (or a slosh) of sushi vinegar, and stir your rice around

Apple corer and speed peeler make
preparation an adventure and an ego

2. Prepare fillings
a) Chop up everything that's going in into lovely long, thin strips
b) Get a tiny bowl out and fill it with water and some salt. You're going to use this to stop the rice sticking to your hands
c) Admire how organised your little sushi station looks

3. Make Maki
a) Lay out half a sheet of nori on your sushi mat
Ripped nori is hella butch
b) Dip your hands in the water bowl. Pick out a really small handful of sushi, and press it lightly onto the nori, making a layer thin enough that you can see the nori through, which extends to all but the last inch of the sheet (because it's going to squish up)
c) Lay a sparse line of filling on the side closest to you
d) Using the mat to help you, roll the first tiny bit on top of itself to make a solid starting point. Now carefully roll it away from you, keeping it tight without ripping the nori. Press in the middle to ever so slightly squish the mix out to the sides. This might take a bit of practice, so be ready to eat your first (delicious) failed attempt

Look, this bit's fiddly, so I'm just going to go ahead and give a picture sequence

This is no place for Bachelor Frog levels of cleanliness
Keep it tight
See how useful it is to have pictures?

Squishy squishy! Distribute even pressure to avoid
sushi roll beer gut
, and try not to split your nori
Just remember I told you I'm better now.
e) Once everything's rolled up, you can either leave it circular or press it into a square shape in the mat. I like squarish because they look cool on a plate (tessellating food makes me happy). Leave the roll to cool inside the mat so it retains its shape

4. Slice up and serve
This picture was cropped to hell,
so now it looks like we're making
a) Get a big knife out. Make sure it's sharp. Dip it in the salty water you used for your hands, put your fingers over the big maki roll, and cut it in the middle. Then cut each side into three. Make sure to get the gunk off your knife between cuts to make sure the maki look superfiiine
b) Arrange on a plate, possibly add other fun sushi bits such as a little dish of soy sauce or (my favourite) pickled ginger. As we've mentioned before, soy sauce quality does matter, but wasabi... Well. In this country, wasabi is green coloured horseradish sauce. Real wasabi is grated and mixed into a paste at the table, and loses its flavour in about 10 minutes, so don't lose sleep over not being able to impress your lady-friend with high quality stuff at this stage

Chow down.

NB: These refrigerate well, but not for days and days. Rice goes hard once compressed, and even harder when compressed and cold. Try to avoid terrifying rice pellets of tasteless doom.

Got leftover sushi rice? OM NOM. Get over to my Onigiri tutorial and learn how to make that delicious before it turns into a gelatinous lump in your pan.

A potted history of sushi in the UK
Sushi came into public consciousness in the UK in the 80s through American classics such as the Breakfast Club ('85) but also through Japan becoming a hideously fashionable place due to its expanding tech economy. It was food for "yuppies" and was laughed at throughout the nineties when every curry-and-chips loving Briton happily declared how they could never eat raw fish because that was disgusting. Sushi grew in mainstream popularity throughout the early noughties, and its current availability in supermarkets has promoted a search for "authentic" sushi for hipsters, as Britons come to reject classics such as "Chicken Mayo Californian Rolls" available in the Tesco Meal Deal range. Sushi is a bit of a cult classic in the west, but mainly among women as it poses a "light" alternative to a sandwich (while still being almost entirely rice), and is the only recognisable representation of Japanese cuisine in the UK, as most Britons harbour no desire for anything that's been purposefully left to rot before eating.