Sushi and sashimi may look very simple, but a lot of skill goes into this age-old Japanese culinary tradition.
Sushi chefs take years to master their trade and are constantly working to perfect their craft, but with a little practice (and a lot of patience) you could make some impressive sushi at home this summer. Here are some tips about how we go about it at Saké The Rocks.
There are some key tricks to keep in mind:
- First you must source the best quality sashimi grade seafood. There are stores at Sydney Fish Market that sell portioned sashimi grade fish, which I recommend for home cooking. You can also purchase fresh whole fish for sashimi and ask the friendly staff for advice if you are not confident in choosing the right product. They can fillet the fish for you, or if you choose the portioned sashimi grade fish, they can even slice it for you to save the trouble at home. In Sydney, tuna, salmon and kingfish are the most common fish to make sushi/sashimi and easy to source ingredients.
- For sushi rice I recommend using short grain rice like koshihikari, which is often available at supermarkets. You can also buy sushi vinegar at the supermarket, however I recommend the brand Mizkan (or Mitsukan) that can be bought from good Asian grocery stores. If you want to get more serious, you can make your own sushi vinegar (see below).
Sushi vinegar recipe
450ml rice vinegar
150g Japanese fine sugar (jyohakuto)
75g fine salt (hakata no shio)
2.5g konbu (dried kelp)
Dissolve the sugar and salt in the vinegar. Place the konbu inside and seal air tight and leave in cool place for one week to infuse the umami flavour of konbu into the vinegar.
Cooking sushi rice method
Rinse 3 cups of short grain rice with water washing off some of the starch. Strain and place in a rice cooker. Water ratio is 1:1. Let it sit for 1 hour before pressing the cook button to let the rice absorb some minerals from the water. The result is usually better if you leave the rice to rest, as otherwise the centre of the grain may still be hard.
After the rice has cooked, keep the lid closed for 15 minutes to let it steam for a while. Place the cooked rice in a bowl and gently mix through 75ml of sushi vinegar ensuring each grain of rice is coated. Let it cool down to body temperature before preparing sushi.
- Make sure to use hot rice when mixing the sushi vinegar
- You can use other rice like brown rice but short grain rice is ideal
- Jasmin rice and long grain rice do not absorb much sushi vinegar so best to stick with short grain or medium grain.
Slicing sashimi (raw sliced fish)
- A very sharp knife is one of the most important things when slicing sashimi
- Always slice fish against the sinew for best result
- Different fish need to be sliced differently. For example, salmon and kingfish are soft in texture and their sinew is not chewy so it can be cut a little thicker compared with tougher flesh seafood such as sand whiting, squid and abalone which are best sliced thin
Making nigiri sushi
Nigiri is a specific type of sushi consisting of a slice of raw fish over pressed vinegared rice.
- Slice a piece of fish roughly 2mm thick, 7cm in length and 2cm wide
- Wet your hands lightly so the rice won’t stick to your hands. It might sound pedantic, but it’s important to have just the right amount of water on your hands: too much water will make the rice ball crumble and also make the nigiri taste watery, so minimum water on your hands. Sushi chefs do the clapping action, which is good to disperse the water evenly on your palm
- Using one hand, grab about 14g of sushi rice and form a small van-shaped ball (rectangular prism). Using your other hand, pick up the sliced nigiri fish and dab a little wasabi on one side. Place the fish wasabi side down on top of the rice and gently hold them together.
- Don’t squeeze the rice too tight as you want it airy so that it falls apart the moment it’s put into the mouth
- Don’t over handle the fish as best nigiri is served with warm rice (approx 36 degrees body temp) and cold fresh fish that has only touched for a couple of seconds
How to make makimono (sushi roll)
After preparing nigiri and sashimi, there will always be some fish off cuts and you can make makimono (sushi roll) with these.
You will also need to have some nori, avocado, cucumber, Japanese mayo or any other ingredients you want to use.
You will also need a sushi-rolling mat, which can be bought at Asian grocery stores.
- Cut your fish, avocado, cucumber into batons.
- Halve your nori sheet and place one half horizontally on the rolling mat. Spread a small handful of the rice mixture on the sheet leaving a narrow gap at the edge furthest from you.
- Place a row of ingredients across the centre of the rice and roll up, ensuring that the seam/join is on the bottom.
- Make as many rolls as you wish, alternating the ingredients. Good filling combinations are salmon and cream cheese, avocado and cucumber, tuna and avocado and sesame seeds.