Let's start with some sushi basics: All sushi is not raw fish; raw seafood is called "sashimi." Sashimi is slices of raw seafood served on a platter with thinly sliced ginger, finely shredded radish, and "wasabi" (Japanese horseradish mustard). Sushi includes many varieties but all include rice. "Nigiri," hand-formed sushi, is usually served in pairs. Sushi rolls, or "maki," are made from seaweed sheets ("nori") and served in six pieces. Pressed sushi ("oshi") is cut into small squares.
As for equipment, minimally you'll need a very sharp knife. The classic sushi knife is called a "bento" knife, but any sharp knife will do. Secondly, you'll need a bamboo mat for rolling the sushi. A wooden spoon can be used to spread the sticky rice onto the nori, or you can get a wooden or plastic rice paddle. Ingredients will vary based on what you are preparing but some basics include sushi rice, nori (seaweed), pickled ginger, wasabi, soy sauce, seasoned shredded cod fish (pink powder), Japanese mayonnaise, fresh seafood and vegetables. Most ingredients can be purchased at your local Asian market and fresh seafood supplier.
Making sushi rice
Use short-grained rice; you'll need about 1 cup of cooked rice for each roll. Don't use instant, converted or brown rice. A basic formula is equal parts rice and water, which will make cups of rice equal to the total of the rice and water. Bring the rice and water to a quick boil; boil for 1 minute, covered; simmer for 20 minutes; let stand for 10 minutes. Put the hot rice in a large bowl and pour sushi vinegar evenly over the surface of the rice, mixing it into the rice with quick cutting strokes; use 1 tablespoon of vinegar per cup of rice. Fan the rice or spread it out on a flat baking sheet to cool.
The California roll
Spread about 1 cup of rice on one end of a sheet of nori, leaving about 1 inch uncovered nori at the end. The biggest mistake is using too much rice - the rice should be less than 1/4 inch thick - you should be able to see nori through the rice. Place avocado slices on top of the rice first, one slice thick, near the edge of the rice, the edge opposite the uncovered nori. Lay two thin pieces crab meat (real or imitation) lengthwise, on top of the avocado. Then add several strips of cucumber next to the crab and on top of the avocado. (Note: To keep the bamboo mat free of food, place the nori on a sheet of plastic wrap on top of the mat.) Slowly fold the mat over, tucking the end of the nori to start a roll. Remove the roll from mat and cut into six to eight even pieces: Keep the knife moist to prevent sticking, remoistening before each cut. First cut the roll in half, then place the two halves together and cut into thirds (six pieces) or quarters (eight pieces). Turn the pieces on end and arrange on platter.
Other sushi rolls
Using the basic method above, work with preferred ingredients to create other rolls, e.g., cucumber sliced into squared-off strips ("kappamaki"), raw tuna cut into long pieces and placed end to end ("tekkamaki"). Hand rolls ("temaki") are made from half of a nori. Place a tablespoon of rice on the side of the nori; add cucumber, asparagus, cooked shrimp, crab, fresh tuna, smoked salmon, cooked eel, sushi mayonnaise or whatever your desire. Then roll the nori into a cone by folding over the bottom corner and rolling. You may want to seal the cone with some wasabi or sticky rice grains.
Handmade sushi ("nigiri")
This is classic sushi. Place about 2 tablespoons of prepared rice in your hand and shape into an oblong about 2 inches by 1 inch. Put a dab of wasabi on the top of the rice, and then the slice of fish. Cooked, butterflied shrimp and raw tuna are the most popular but also try cooked eel, conch, abalone and squid.
The important thing to remember about sashimi is that the fish should be saltwater fish, not freshwater fish. Freshwater fish can contain parasites that are killed by cooking; saltwater fish do not contain these parasites. Favorite choices for sashimi are tuna, halibut, red snapper or yellowtail from a fresh fish market. Sashimi is usually sliced into pieces about 1 inch by 1-1/2 inches by 1/4 inch thick. A typical sushi bar serving is four slices but, at home, it's up to you.
In addition to sushi, one of my favorite Spring-to-Summer appetizers is the spring roll. Like sushi, they are light in calories and the perfect choice for an easy lunch or the starter course of a full dinner. Enjoy your shift as sushi chef and my guess is that you'll be going to local sushi spots less and dining at home more.
Jacqui lives in San Ramon with her pug, Nina Simone, and volumes of cookbooks and recipes. Her column runs every other week. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vietnamese Spring Rolls (makes 8 rolls)
2 oz. rice vermicelli
8 rice wrappers (8.5 inch diameter)
8 large cooked shrimp - peeled, deveined and cut in half
1-1/3 Tbsp chopped fresh Thai basil
3 Tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
3 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
2 Tbsp of either shredded carrot or thin cucumber slices (optional for added color)
2 leaves lettuce, chopped
4 tsp fish sauce
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp white sugar
1/2 tsp garlic chili sauce
Mix 1 part crunchy peanut butter to 2 parts hoisin sauce. Whisk over medium heat until blended, adding a few splashes of water to make the sauce less thick.
Thai Dipping Sauce:
1 Tbsp light soy sauce
1 Tbsp white-wine vinegar or rice vinegar
3 Tbsp Mirin
1/4 tsp grated ginger root (optional)
Note: The fish sauce, rice vermicelli, chili garlic sauce, mirin, hoisin sauce and rice wrappers can be found at most Asian food markets.
1. Bring a medium saucepan of water to boil. Boil rice vermicelli 3 to 5 minutes, or until al dente, and drain.
2. Fill a large bowl with warm water. Dip a wrapper in the water for 1 second to soften. Lay wrapper flat.
3. In a row across the center, place 2 shrimp halves, a handful of vermicelli, basil, mint, cilantro; carrots or cucumbers as desired. Add the lettuce last, leaving about 2 inches uncovered on each side. Fold uncovered sides inward, then tightly roll the wrapper, beginning at one end, close to the lettuce, and around to the other. Repeat with remaining ingredients to make 8 rolls.
4. Refrigerate, up to 6 hours, until ready to serve. Serve with dipping sauces.