To become a true sushi chef requires years, even decades of training -hundreds of hours spent learning how to craft dozens of different types of sushi, and especially perfecting the rice cooking technique. The word sushi actually refers to the rice, which must be prepared very carefully in order to attain the right flavor and consistency so the sushi retains its shape without becoming gummy. That said, while it’s an incredibly difficult skill to master, the actual process of making sushi is simpler than you might imagine.
It all comes down to the rice: To make sushi rice, you have to start with short grain Japanese style rice, which is made up of different kinds of starches than long or medium grain rice, giving it the familiar sticky consistency. I like to keep mine in a Rice Dispenser, but however you store it, for your first try you should measure out three cups worth into a Glass Bowl (or directly into your rice cooker bowl or a saucepan) and fill it with cold water.
The water will turn milky white as some of the starch rinses off the rice. Swish the rice around, the pour the water out and then rub the rice in your hands like in the picture above, squeezing it and rubbing the grains together. Then refill the bowl and repeat until the water is nearly clear. Drain it a final time, then fill it with just shy of three and a half cups of water. Then, set your Egg Timer and let it sit for 30 minutes.
When you come back, the rice will look whiter and the water will look a little clearer, and is ready to cook. This is the part where a high end rice cooker will do you a lot of good. If you have one, add the rice and water to your machine, set your cooker to its sushi setting, then skip ahead to making the rice vinegar mixture. If you don’t have a rice cooker, never fear: just add the rice and water to a standard Lidded Saucepan (if you didn’t rinse it in the pan to begin with).
Set the saucepan (with the lid on) over high heat. Wait for the water to come to a boil, but don’t take the lid off! Releasing the steam will hurt the consistency of the rice. Once it reaches a boil, turn down the heat to low and let it simmer for 15 minutes. Then, turn off the heat and let the rice sit for another 15 minutes.While the rice is cooking, combine in a small saucepan or microwaveable bowl:
1/2 cup Rice Wine Vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
and heat until sugar and salt are dissolved (30-45 seconds in the microwave, longer in a pot).
This is the part where it gets a little weird. Once the rice is done cooking, you want to transfer it into an unfinished wooden bowl or tray, like this Round Rice Tray. Why? A metal bowl will leave a metallic taste to the rice, and will cause the rice to cool down too quickly, making it hard and leaving it the wrong consistency. Glass bowls are okay in a pinch, but to get truly good sushi rice, you need a wooden surface – even a Wood Salad Bowl will do. Pour the rice vinegar mixture over the rice and, using the edge of a Wooden Spatula or Silicon Spatula (the Rice Paddle from your rice cooker actually works very well for this) stir the rice with cutting or slashing motions, folding in the liquid as you go.
Once the mixture is incorporated, have a friend of family member fan the rice with a hand fan or paper plate (or do it yourself with your free hand) as you continue to stir. This helps separate the grains of rice without mashing them, and the vinegar gives them a glossy finish. Keep fanning and mixing with the same slashing motions until the rice reaches room temperature. No matter what, do NOT put this rice in the refrigerator to hasten the cooling process, as it will ruin the consistency of the rice and make it unusable. Once the rice is completely cooled, cover it with a damp tea towel to prevent it from drying out – and that’s it! You’re ready to make your favorite kind of sushi.
What To Do With It
There are hundreds of types of sushi out there, but we’ll start with the roll style, which is the most common type in this country.
1 sheet Nori
Prepared Sushi Rice
Cooked Crab Leg Meat (or artificial crab slices)
Vegetables of your choice, sliced matchstick thin (for a California Roll: avocado and cucumber)
Soy Sauce And Picked Ginger, For Garnish
Spread the Nori shiny side down on a sushi mat - a small, usually square bamboo mat that rolls easily and is used to shape the sushi. You can buy these either individually or as part of a Sushi Kit. Then, cover the nori almost completely in a thin layer of sushi rice, leaving a small strip along the long/top edge, and a little space on the sides. It will take some practice to figure out how much rice you need, but err on the side of too much rather than too little, as it’s easier to remove the rice than it is to get some you add on to stick properly.
For a California roll, turn the nori rice side down (you’ll need a second sushi mat wrapped in plastic, so the rice doesn’t stick). Then, rub a thin line of wasabi lengthwise along the center of the rice (or nori, for a California roll), and then place your chosen fillings (no more than 2-3 or it will be hard to roll) on top of the wasabi, overlapping the ends of the strips just slightly. Pressing the filling against the rice with your fingertips, roll the end of the nori closest to you forward, using firm but gentle downward pressure, then roll the nori the rest of the way closed, pressing firmly to seal the edges. And you’ve got a sushi-tube!
Using a Sushi Knife or other sharp knife, slice the tube in half, and then slice the halves in thirds. If the knife sticks, it can be helpful to moisten it with water or more rice wine vinegar. Then flip the rolls on end, arrange on a Sushi Platter, and serve – garnished with pickled ginger and with a small bowl full of soy sauce for dipping! You’ll love the fruits of your labors, and your friends are sure to be impressed when you tell them you made it yourself!
While learning to perfect all the different types of sushi making and to make the most heavenly of sushi rice can take years of practice, exploring new foods from different cultures can be fun and easy – and the more confident you get with one kind, the easier it is to learn more and more exotic ways of cooking – and eating! Are you a big sushi fan trying to make it yourself for the first time, an adventurous eater, or just someone looking to try something new? I’d love to hear how your experiments turn out!