Saturday, November 14, 2009

Nov 14: Daring Cooks cook Sushi

The November 2009 Daring Cooks challenge was brought to you by Audax of Audax Artifex and Rose of The Bite Me Kitchen. They chose sushi as the challenge.

Sushi (寿司 or 鮨 or 鮓) is much appreciated for its delicate taste and exquisite appearance. Sushi actually means vinegared rice, which is the essential ingredient in every sushi recipe. Sushi is simple and cheap to make at home, needs no special equipment and is an excellent way to use left overs.

Although sushi in various forms has been around for fourteen centuries, the modern version was invented in Japan in the 1800’s where a 'hand-formed' sliced fresh fish and vinegared rice ball was eaten as a snack food. Nowadays, sushi is made with various seafood, meats and vegetables, raw and cooked.

The challenge is in four parts:- {A four part challenge! For this challenge I detailed what I did as I followed the recipe. For the full recipe with tips and video links see Audax Artifex or The Bite Me Kitchen blogs}

Part 1: Making proper sushi rice – you will wash, rinse, drain, soak, cook, dress, and cool short grain rice until each grain is sticky enough to hold toppings or bind ingredients. Then you will use the cooked rice to form three types of sushi:
Part 2: Dragon sushi roll – an avocado covered inside-out rice roll with a tasty surprise filling
Part 3: Decorative sushi – a nori-coated rice roll which reveals a decorative pattern when cut
Part 4: Nigiri sushi – hand-shaped rice rolls with toppings

I had big plans for this challenge - fillings and a party. During college, we made sushi to save money since eating out was expensive for us starving students... lol. Also, sushi was made when we had parties. However, work has been pretty hectic. When I finally found time to invite people over, I caught a cold. I ended up scaling back on the fillings, not having the party and making the basic challenge.

PART 1 : SUSHI RICE (makes about 7 cups of cooked sushi rice)
This is an elaborate rice recipe that calls for rinsing, straining/draining, soaking and finally cooking.

2½ cups uncooked short grain rice [I used a medium grain Calrose rice]
2 ½ cups water
For superior results use equal volumes of rice and water

Sushi vinegar dressing
5 Tablespoons (75 mls) rice vinegar
5 Teaspoons (25 mls or 21 grams) sugar
1¼ Teaspoons (6.25 mls or 4.5 grams) salt


Rinsing and draining the rice
1. Swirl rice gently in a bowl of water, drain, repeat 3-4 times until water is nearly clear. Don't crush the rice in your hands or against the side of the bowl since dry rice is very brittle.
2. Gently place rice into a strainer and drain well for 30 minutes.

Soaking the rice
1. Gently place the rice into a heavy medium pot with a tight fitting lid (if you have a loose fitting lid use a piece of aluminium foil to make the seal tight).
2. Add 2½ cups of water and the dashi konbu.
3. Set the rice aside to soak for 30 minutes, during this time prepare the sushi rice dressing.

Preparing the Rice Vinegar Dressing
1. Combine the rice vinegar, sugar and salt in a small bowl.
2. Heat on low setting.
3. Stir until the mixture goes clear and the sugar and salt have dissolved.
4. Set aside at room temperature until the rice is cooked.

Cooking the rice
1. After 30 minutes of soaking add sake (if using) to the rice.
2. Bring rinsed and soaked rice to the boil.
3. Reduce heat to the lowest setting and simmer, covered, until all the water is absorbed, 12-15 minutes. Do not remove the lid during this process. Turn off heat.
4. Let stand with the lid on, 10-15 minutes. Do not peek inside the pot or remove the lid. During this time the rice is steaming which completes the cooking process.

Finishing the rice

* Turning out the rice
1. Moisten lightly a flat thin wooden spatula or spoon and a large shallow flat-bottomed non-metallic (plastic, glass or wood) bowl. Do not use metallic objects since the vinegar will react with it and produce sour and bitter sushi rice.

2. Remove the dashi konbu (kelp) from the cooked rice.

3. Use the spatula to loosen gently the rice and invert the rice pot over the bowl, gently causing the cooked rice to fall into the bowl in one central heap. Do this gently so as not to cause the rice grains to become damaged.

* Dressing the rice with vinegar
1. Slowly pour the cooled sushi vinegar over the spatula onto the hot rice.

The rice is turned out and the vinegar mixture is poured over the rice like flavoring over a snow cone.

2. Using the spatula gently spread the rice into a thin, even layer using a 45° cutting action to break up any lumps and to separate the rice. Don't stir or mash rice.

3. After the rice is spread out, start turning it over gently, in small portions, using a cutting action, allowing steam to escape, for about a minute.

* Fanning & Tossing the rice
1. Continue turning over the rice, but now start fanning (using a piece of stiff cardboard) the rice vigorously as you do so. Don't flip the rice into the air but continue to gently slice, lift and turn the rice occasionally, for 10 minutes. Cooling the rice using a fan gives good flavour, texture and a high-gloss sheen to the rice. The vinegar dressing will be absorbed by the hot rice. Using a small electric fan on the lowest speed setting is highly recommended.

The rice is fanned as I turn, mix and break up any rice clumps. I couldn't find my small fan so I ended up using a cardboard pizza box. :-)

2. Stop fanning when there's no more visible steam, and all the vinegar dressing has been adsorbed and the rice is shiny. Your sushi rice is ready to be used.

* Keeping the rice moist
1. Cover with a damp, lint free cloth to prevent the rice from drying out while preparing your sushi meal. Do not store sushi rice in the refrigerator leave on the counter covered at room temperature. Sushi rice is best used when it is at room temperature.

Rice Vinegar – this gives prepared sushi rice its unique clean, crisp taste. Do not use bottled “sushi vinegar” as it is too harsh and has a bitter after-taste. Look carefully at the label of the rice vinegar it should have NO SALT and NO SUGAR in the product. Apple cider vinegar is a good substitute if rice vinegar is not available. You can use mild white wine vinegar or mild red wine vinegar if you cannot find rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar. DO NOT USE NORMAL WHITE VINEGAR it is too harsh.

PART 2 : Dragon Rolls (also called Caterpillar Rolls)
Yield: 2 inside-out (uramaki) sushi rolls

Looking up Unagi (eel) on Seafood Watch, I see that it's on the "avoid" list. As an alternative, I decided to use black cod/sablefish. Also, it's a regional product so freshness is good.

The black cod is sliced and glazed with eel sauce. However, a terriyaki sauce can be used as an alternative.

Cooking was done under the broiler, after 5 minutes the cod was flipped and glazed again. Cooking continued until a nice char is achieved.

* 1 sheet 7”x8” (17.5cmx20cm) of toasted nori (dried seaweed sheets), cut into halves [Oops... I didn't read the halving part. I ended up using a full sheet.]
* 1/2 Japanese cucumber
* 2 cups of prepared sushi rice
* Glazed Barbecued Eel (ungai) (about 3½ ounces or 100 grams)
* 1 Avocado
* Vinegared Water – ½ cup of water combined with a dash of rice vinegar
* Various small amounts of sauces to use as the flames of the dragon (or legs of a caterpillar)

* 2 tablespoons (25 grams or 1 oz) Fish Roe (Fish eggs)

The ingredients ready to be sushi-fied.

1.Cut cucumber into strips ¼ inch (6mm) x 7” (175mm) long, then salt, rinse & dry the strips.
2.Grill (broil) the eel for about 2-5 minutes until bubbling. Cut into two lengthwise strips.
3.Halve, pit and peel the avocado. Cut the avocado halves into thin even 1/8 inch (3 mm) slices. Fan out the cut avocado into a 7 inch (175 mm) overlapping pattern.
4.Cover bamboo mat with plastic wrap. Place a sheet of nori shiny side down, lengthwise, on the edge the mat.
5.Moisten lightly your hands in the bowl of vinegared water.
6.Place one cup of rice on the nori and gently rake your fingertips across grains to spread rice evenly. Do not mash or squash the rice onto the nori, the rice should appear loosely packed and be evenly distributed over the entire sheet, you should be able to see the nori sheet in a few places.

Also, sprinkled a littled sesame seed on the rice.

7.Flip the rice-covered nori over (so the bare nori is now on top) and place on the edge of the mat closest to you.

Relief! I flipped the rice over with out any problems. :-)

8.Arrange one of the eel strips across the length of the nori, not quite centred on it but a little closer to you. Place half the cucumber sticks next to the eel.

9.Lift the edge of the mat closest to you with both hands, keeping your fingertips over the fillings, and roll the mat and its contents until the edge of the mat touches straight down on the nori, enclosing the fillings completely. Lift up the edge of the mat you're holding, and continue rolling the inside-out roll away from you until it's sealed. Tug at the mat to tighten the seal. If the rice doesn't quite close the roll add more rice in the gap and re-roll using the mat to completely cover the inside-out roll. Place the roll on a damp, clean smooth surface.

10.Spread about 1 tablespoon of the optional fish roe along the entire top of the rice-covered roll. Using the plastic covered mat gently press the fish roe so it adheres to the rice.

11.Slide a knife under one fan of avocado and transfer it onto the top of an inside-out roll. Gently spread out the avocado layer to cover the entire roll. Lay the plastic wrapped mat over the avocado-covered roll. Squeeze very gently to shape the roll.

Ready to spread out the thinkly sliced avocado.

12. Lay a sheet of plastic wrap over the roll. Slice the roll into 6-8 equal, bite-sized pieces, wiping your knife with a damp towel before each slice. Discard the plastic wrap. Repeat the above to make one more roll.

Plastic wrap over the tope helps to press down the avocado and makes for easier slicing.

13.Arrange the cut pieces on a serving plate with the sauces so the finished dish appears as a dragon breathing fire and flames (or a caterpillar with many legs).

Bamboo mat (makisu) – A 10 inch (25cm) square mat made of thin slates of bamboo tied together with string.
Substitutes: a thin magazine cut to size wrapped in plastic wrap or a few layers of parchment paper cut to size about 10 inch (25cm) square.

PART 3 : Spiral Sushi Roll
This is easiest 'decorative' sushi roll.
This is a big roll where two sheets of nori are joined to form a large roll!

* 2½ cups prepared sushi rice
* 2 sheets of toasted nori, each sized 7”x8” (17.5cmx20cm)
* Six assorted fillings, each filling should be the size of a pencil (see note below)

Since this is a big roll, my inspiration for this one is Futomaki (which means "Big Roll"). Typically the ingredients are vegetarian.

Here dried shittake mushrooms and kampyo (dried gourd) are rehydrated.

Rehydrated, washed and sliced... ready for cooking. Simmered in 2/3 cup of water, 2 T of soy sauce and 1 T of mirin (sweetened rice wine).

The ingredients - eggs, carrots, cucumber, mushroom, gourd and spinach (seasoned with a little soy and toasted sesame oil.)

1.Join 2 sheets of nori by moistening the adjacent edges and overlapping them about ½ inch (12mm).

2.Place this double sheet shiny side down on a rolling mat, part of the nori will extend beyond the mat.

3.Using moist fingers place 2½ cups of rice on the nori and gently rake your fingertips across grains to spread rice evenly, leaving ¼ inch (6mm) nori showing on the both ends of the sheet. Do not mash or squash the rice onto the nori, the rice should appear loosely packed and be evenly distributed over the entire sheet, you should be able to see the nori sheet in a few places.

4.Using your fingers form six grooves (in the same direction that you will be rolling the mat) at even intervals across the bed of rice. Make the first groove about 2 inches (50 mm) from the edge of the nori sheet. Form the grooves by pushing the rice away, do not mash or squash the rice, leave a loose one grain layer of rice in the bottom of the grooves. Level the areas between the grooves where you have pushed the rice.

5.Place your fillings in the grooves. Fill the grooves a little higher than the surrounding rice bed.

Wow! This is like a double-decker sandwich of sushi rolls! Rice spread out and filling placed in the grooves. Now it's time to roll! I miscounted the grooves so I had to double up a groove with two ingredients.

6.Then roll the sushi up from the edge closest to you, this will form a spiral pattern of nori, rice and fillings inside the roll.

7.Slice into 8 pieces with a very sharp wet knife, wiping the blade with a damp cloth after each cut.

8.Place the pieces on a platter and garnish.

Make each groove about a finger-width wide they will hold about 1-2 tablespoons of filling. Use fillings that compliment each other and are highly coloured. Use parboiled vegetables cut into strips, seafood, left over eel, smoked fish or chicken, whole cooked beans, edible flowers etc....

PART 4 : Nigiri Sushi
Nigiri sushi is the type of sushi most often made in sushi bars. In Japanese, nigiri means “squeeze”.

* 2 cups prepared sushi rice
* 8 pairs of assorted toppings, 200 gms/7 ozs total of fish, meat or vegetables (see note below)
* 1 tablespoon Wasabi (paste, reconstituted powder) or any other paste to adhere topping to rice

* Garnishes such as Ginger (pickled), chilli strips, vegetables flowers etc
* Thin strips of nori or vegetables (for tying topping on)

Fillings for this part of the challenge - omelet and smoked salmon with onion/chive cream cheese.

1.When handling sushi rice, make certain your hands are very clean. To keep the rice from sticking to our hands moisten your hands with vinegared water.
2.Form nigiri sushi by scooping up a small amount (about 2 tablespoons) of rice with your forefinger and second finger of your right hand and placing it in your cupped left palm.
3.Use the fingers and thumb of your right hand to form it into a long, narrow mound (about 2 inches x 1 inch wide or 50mm x 25mm) in your cupped palm.
4.Press enough to make the rice hold firmly together. Place the nigiri on a damp cutting board flat side down. Don't let sushi touch or they'll stick to each other. At this point, you can cover the sushi with plastic wrap, and they'll keep at room temperature (not the refrigerator) for several hours.
5.Smear a thin line of wasabi on top of the rice and place the topping piece on it. You may need to press the topping down lightly with your fingers and adjust the shape of the rice accordingly to form an attractive piece of nigiri sushi. If your topping is very loose like fish roe you can place a strip of nori (higher than the rice) around the nigiri and form 'battleship' sushi. The cavity that the nori forms holds the topping so it does not fall off.

Typically, the wasabi is applied to the ingredient. It just seemed more convenient at the time to apply to the rice ball instead.

6.Garnish as desired and use strips of nori (or vegetable) to tie the topping to the nigiri if needed.

7.It is customary to make nigiri sushi in pairs, so make two of each variety.
I kind of bucked the trend here. Ages ago, I attended a sushi making session and in the back of my mind, I remember it was "bad luck" to do even numbers. Maybe it was cutting sushi, but for the nigiri, I made 3's.

The Finished Sushi!
My caterpillar roll: Topped with Tobiko, the orange stuff.

The Futomaki spiral roll.

Finally, the nigiri - egg and smoked salmon with chive and onion cream cheese.

Overall, I enjoyed making sushi and learning a new way to make rice. The only downside this month is that I can't taste a thing. The cold has me congested so my sense of taste is pretty much shot. The texture of the black cod was very similar to unagi. I'll have to try this recipe again when I regain my sense of taste. :-)


Audax said...

John as always a wonderful step-by-step posting of the challenge recipe. And that dragon roll is wonderful so cute and yummy at the same time. And all those fillings for the spiral roll looks so classic. Well done and bravo on a great success - sorry to hear about the cold hope you are feeling better. Cheers from Audax in Australia.

Lauren said...

Absolutely stunning! I love all of your step by step photos - feels like we're all in the kitchen with you! The flavours in your sushi sound magnificent =D. Hope you have a less busy, more relaxing month! And get better soon!

chef_d said...

Wow beautiful dragon roll! I love the colors of your sushi! I can almost taste them :)

Amy I. said...

Beautiful, beautiful! Your dragon is my favorite but they all look so professional :)

Angelica said...

Wow, kudos for making your own "eel"!

Shawn said...

Two words: You're amazing!
Hope you are feeling better. Life is a LOT better if you can taste what you eat. :)

Rose said...

You did such a great job and your step by step photos are wonderful! I hate the inability to taste while you have a cold - that's like insult to injury! Hope you're feeling 100%. Thank you for doing such a beautiful job!

Kiyi Kiyi said...

Beautiful ingredients and sushi!
Looks great!
I liked the mushroom idea.

Lisa said...

John, that black cod with eel sauce is making my mouth water... and your Dragon roll and Nigiri are gorgeous! As usual, love the photos too! Your post makes me want to try it again..awesome job!