Making sushi at home can seem quite intimidating. You may think you have to buy several varieties of fish, appropriate vegetables and accompanying spices and seeds. You need to cook rice with the right consistency and texture. And you need to have the techniques and tools required to put it all together.
But, according to four Triangle chefs and one fish supplier, it doesn't have to be so mystifying or demanding, so long as you know what you're shopping forand what you already have. These tips should make your next home sushi experience tastier and a little more homemade.
In sushi, there is no ingredient more important than rice. The name "sushi" even refers to the type of rice used to make a vast array of rolls, plus the pillows used to support glistening strips of seafood in nigiri.
Mike Lee, of Raleigh's Sono and Durham's M Sushi, expected to open downtown this week, says it is essential to use the best available rice—the "super premium" varieties koshihikari or tamanishiki. Available at select Asian markets in the Triangle, they are prized for their inherently sweet, slightly nutty flavor and starchiness. And if you find bags marked "new crop," consider yourself a winner of the sushi Powerball. If you can't find those varieties, says Lee, go for the best Japanese or Korean brands you can find.
"It's sad to see that a lot of sushi restaurants in the area don't pay attention to how important the rice is," says Lee, whose staff makes several 50-cup batches throughout lunch and dinner service. Rice will vary from bag to bag, even in the same brand, based on when it was grown and how long it's been stored. He makes a test batch with every new bag to ensure quality and gauge cooking time.
According to Lee, rice should be rinsed well enough before cooking that water will run clear through it in a colander.
A heavy-bottom pot with a tight lid, like a Dutch oven, is ideal for cooking rice. If you lack patience to watch the pot boil, Lee recommends investing in a high-quality electric rice cooker. (Again, go with a Japanese or Korean brand.) When the rice is done cooking, transfer it to a wide, shallow bowl; wood is ideal, but start with what you've got.
"You have to mix in the seasoned vinegar right away, while it's piping hot," says Lee, who uses a dimpled, paddle-shaped spatula to cut in the vinegar and coat all the grains. "Then you want to cool it down quickly so the excess moisture is controlled. A piece of cardboard works great."
The seasoned rice wine vinegar sold at most grocery stores and even some Asian markets is, like its balsamic counterparts, not authentic. Lee considers most brands a poor substitute for a recipe you can do yourself. The basic ratio is 3 parts rice wine vinegar to 1 part sugar and one-half part salt—or 6 tablespoons rice wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 tablespoon salt. Tweak this depending on how sweet you like your rice or if you'd like to add kombu (edible kelp), umami or citrus.
"As long as you keep it close to the basic ratio," Lee says, "you can be as creative as you like."