Thursday, May 22, 2008

Cooking Extreme Sushi Recipes

Let's talk about Japan's greatest creation, just barely edging out Ghost in the Shell, bento, Otsuka Ai, Iron Chef, comedy routines based on torturing Morning Musume and Pocky. Sushi!


First, we have to clear up one of the most common misunderstandings in multicultural culinary experience. Sushi is a category of traditional Japanese food consisting mainly of rice mixed with seasoned vinegar, seaweed, vegetables and either cooked or raw fish. The fish doesn't have to be raw, people! In Japan raw fish is more often used, but it's still perfectly "authentic" using cooked. Actually, till now I've held a general rule that I won't eat raw fish unless I'm somewhere on the coast, but lately I've heard from a lot of people saying that this is mainly a paranoid fear story that we get fed, and raw fish off a fishmonger or supermarket shelf is quite safe to eat.
Anyway, on with the sushi thing. I'll talk about ingredients and preparation today, and construction tomorrow, as I think this is a subject which deserves detailed attention.
First, you need the right rice. This is easier to obtain than you might have been told - a lot of places (I see it mostly in health food shops) sell "sushi rice" which is usually overpriced and not particularly special. I have made great sushi from this, from arborio rice (italian risotto rice), pudding rice and regular big huge economy bag short grain rice. As long as it's short grain and cooked the right way, it'll be fine.
"Cooked right" means cooked the way I'm about to tell you, no deviations. This method of rice cooking is 100% bullet-proof and 99% idiot-proof. It's derived from the guidance of Yasuko-San, who is an actual bona fide Japanese mother. You do not mess with a Japanese mother when it comes to cooking rice. You shut up and cook the darn rice they way they tell you to. Actually I had to adjust the figures a bit because the rice we get over here has a different absorption ratio, but the principle still stands.
(for 2-3 people) Take one and a half cups of short grain rice, wash it till the water runs clean, and put it in a saucepan with 3 cups of water. The saucepan must have a tight-fitting lid. Now, put the saucepan on a medium heat, and simmer it for 15 minutes. DO NOT move the lid at any time or Yasuko-san will find you and beat you with her samoji*.
Now, crank the heat up to the top and cook the rice for 1 full minute. You should hear it start to sizzle at the bottom of the pan at the end of the minute. If you're using electric hobs (as I am cursed with, living in a high-rise), have a hob preheated to high heat and just slide the pan over onto it. Then take it off the heat, with the lid STILL TIGHTLY ON, and let it stand for 10 minutes WITHOUT TOUCHING THE DARN LID.
Rice cooked in this way will have the perfect consistency, will need no draining (because all the water is absorbed), and actually tastes better. For long grain rice, it will be firm and smooth - with a quarter teaspoon of salt added to the boiling water, I'll eat a plain bowl of white rice cooked this way with gusto. For short grain rice it will be sticky but the grains will keep their shape, perfect for sushi or rice balls. All hail Yasuko-san! Ganbatte! Ganbarimasu!
For the seasoned vinegar, combine a quarter cup of white wine vinegar (best of all rice wine vinegar), 1 and a half tablespoons of sugar and 3/4 teaspoon of salt in a small pan, and heat it just to boiling so it all dissolves. Once the rice has finished its 10 minutes rest, spread it out in a shallow container (I use my vertical-sided saute pan which is perfect) and drizzle the vinegar mixture over it, then dig it in well with a spatula or wooden spoon. Try not to squash the grains too much, you want them firm and well-shaped for perfect sushi.
Now you need to cool the rice before rolling. A real sushi chef would fan it by hand. Actually, scratch that, a real professional sushi chef would have one of his underpaid kitchen monkeys fan it by hand. Fortunately we have the benefits of modern technology, and an almost-total disregard for tradition. Stick it in front of an electric fan for about a minute, then dig it around with a spatula to bring the hot rice from the bottom to the top, and leave it there for another minute. This will leave the rice cool, and slightly drier (but still moist and sticky enough to shape well).
So you've got your rice ready, perfectly cooked and seasoned, awaiting your rolling skills. Now all that remains is the final transformation. Find out more tomorrow, as we venture deeper into the world of sushi! Thrills, spills and seaweed! There's danger at every turn!
* Rice paddle
Mark Hewitt is an English foodie, cook, philosopher, geek, shaman and writer. At the start of 2007 he sold or gave away almost all his possessions and left on a backpacking journey round the world, the purpose being (at least in part) to figure out why he would want to do such a thing. You can follow his journey and find other articles at: