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Greetings! April is the month that brings spring in full force and along with it the beauty of all those things that grow. Like the colors that spring brings, sushi is made to be beautiful. It is an art form that lends itself to creativity, and it is a type of food that is not only nutritious but flavorful as well.
Sushi is perhaps Japan's most popular contribution to world cuisine. Sushi started in Japan about 2 centuries ago when slices of salted fish were served with a handful of rice. Today however, salting of the fish is not necessary for preservation. One can find very fresh fish in nearly every major city. It is essential that the highest quality (freshest) fish be used in sushi preparation.
In restaurants where sushi is served, it is usually rather expensive. This is largely due to the fact that it is labor intensive. Sushi chefs have learned to apply their art to the western world in a very artistic fashion. You may find that sushi chefs will create rolls that not only appeal to the customers palate, but to the visual senses as well. Sushi chefs from Japan study the art for more than 2 years before becoming an apprentice. Like in much of the Japanese culture, the sushi chef places stringent demands upon his art and skill.
By making your own sushi you can select those items that appeal to you at a very modest cost. Like with any type of food, the quality of the ingredients is most important. Sushi can be eaten with chopsticks or the fingers (more common in Japan). Typically sushi is served with soy sauce (light soy sauce is preferred) and wasabi, a green Japanese horseradish, and pickled ginger (shoga).
Many types of sushi are made with some type of raw fish. Many include raw vegetables as well. Many types of sushi are formed into rolls (maki) using dried seaweed wrappers (nori) and rice. Nori can be found in most major supermarkets. Select sheets of nori that are about 7 inches square. If you happen to live in a town or city that has an oriental community, it would be wise to do some shopping for sushi ingredients at one of their local markets. You will likely find better quality fish and lower prices. Items like nori, soy sauce, shoga and wasabi are more common in asian markets.
The first thing you will need to make sushi is an appropriate type of white rice. Short grain rice is much preferred over the long grain. The second thing that is useful is a bamboo mat (makisu) for rolling the maki type sushi. Finally, a large bowl or pot of water with some seasoned rice vinegar added is very handy for keeping the hands wet. Wet hands help to prevent the rice from sticking to your fingers.
Fish Selection: It is very important to select the freshest fish possible for making sushi.
When selecting whole fish, choose fish that do not smell fishy at all and that have clear eyes. Fish older than a couple of days will have cloudy eyes and should be avoided. I further test the fish by pressing on it with my finger. If a dent remains in the fish then it is not fresh.
I prefer not to use any portion of a fish that has been exposed to air for any length of time. Rather, when I purchase a piece of fish, I select a large portion and cut some part of the unexposed portion for making sushi. The bowl of vinegared water also helps to retard bacterial growth on the fish and on your hands. Fish like salmon, halibut or raw tuna can also be treated by soaking in brine for 30 minutes with a little vinegar added. This will serve to firm up the flesh and add a bit of flavor.
Some fish cannot be found whole, like the red tuna (maguro) used for making tekka maki. This fish is usually found in a large chunk that may or may not have skin. Depending on how many people you intend to serve, purchase about 1/8 to 1/4 pound of each fish type per person for making sushi. Never use freshwater fish for sushi.
Parasites are rarely a concern with sushi type fish because the fish has typically been frozen at subzero temperatures for some period while the fish are in transport from the high seas or via air transport. The cold temperature kills any parasites if they are present. Some types of sushi fish are salted for preservation as well as frozen. This is most often done with mackeral (saba) and salmon (sake). Lox type of salmon is perfectly suitable for making sushi as well.
Here is a list of fish types and sushi items to look for when shopping:
Short grain white rice (Cal-Rose is good).
Nori (seaweed wrappers).
Bamboo mat for rolling maki.
Mirin (sweet rice wine for cooking)
Seasoned rice vinegar.
Imitation crab meat.
Avocado (ripe Haas type preferred).
Red tuna (fresh).
Salmon (fresh and/or lightly smoked like lox).
Mackeral (lighly salted fillet).
BBQ Eel (frozen, not canned).
Flying fish roe - tobiko (usually frozen).
Caviar (small jar).
Cream cheese (for Philadelphia roll).
Not all of these items are essential. Select those items that are freshest and it will be hard to go wrong. Be creative and use your imagination when making sushi. Also, make the platter you prepare pretty with some decorative and colorful rolls.