Phil's International Flair

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.
  • Large prawns.
  • Cucumber.
  • Avocado (ripe Haas type preferred).
  • Red tuna (fresh).
  • Albacore (fresh).
  • Halibut (fresh).
  • Salmon (fresh and/or lightly smoked like lox).
  • Mackeral (lighly salted fillet).
  • Yellowtail (fresh).
  • Sprouts.
  • Asparagus.
  • BBQ Eel (frozen, not canned).
  • Flying fish roe - tobiko (usually frozen).
  • Shitake mushrooms.
  • Salmon roe.
  • Caviar (small jar).
  • Cream cheese (for Philadelphia roll).
  • Tempura batter.

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.

Sushi Menu

Sushi Rice

Use the directions on the bag of rice that you have purchased, however add 2 tablespoons each of mirin and seasoned rice vinegar to the water before cooking. If you can't find directions, do the following:
  • 2 cups rice
  • 2 Tbsp. seasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. mirin
  • 2 cups water

Bring the water to a boil and add the vinegar and mirin. Now add the rice and bring to a boil once again. Allow to boil for about 1 minute uncovered, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Simmer for 20 minutes and then remove from heat. Let stand for 10 additional minutes and allow to cool before preparing sushi. This quantity makes about 4 cups of rice which should be enough to make sushi for about 4 people. Double the recipe if you need to make more for guests or healthy appetites. Any leftover rice can be used for fried rice the following day.

Some prefer to add the rice vinegar to the rice after cooking, applying about 1 teaspoon per cup of cooked rice. I personally have found that using the vinegar in the cooking water disperses the flavor more evenly. Feel free to experiment both ways to see which method you like better.

Some individuals will swear that soaking the rice for several hours prior to cooking improves the flavor. I have tried this and could not tell much difference. White rice is rather bland anyway and to me it is the taste of the fish that is most appealing.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 25 minutes

Tekka Maki

This is one of the basic maki rolls made with raw red tuna. Practice with this one first and the others will be much easier to roll.
  • 2 strips red tuna cut about 3-1/2 inches long and 3/8 inch square
  • About 1/2 cup sushi rice
  • 1 sheet nori

Lay the nori sheet on a flat surface or a bamboo mat. Use some plastic wrap over the bamboo mat to keep the rice from sticking on it if desired. Cover the bottom portion of the nori with rice no thicker than 1/4 inch. Leave about 1 inch of the nori uncovered at the top. Wet your hands continually while doing this or the rice will stick to your fingers. Lay the stips of tuna on top of the rice covered nori about 1-1/2 inch from the bottom. Now roll the bottom of the nori over the tuna and all the way to the top. Press the roll firmly together and slice into segments 1 inch long with a wet, sharp knife. You must wet the knife or the rice will stick and tear the nori.

Notes: You may also use bits and pieces leftover from slicing maguro nigiri for these rolls. Also, you may use other types of fish for this simple roll. If you use salmon, it would be called Sake Maki. Albacore, yellowtail or halibut may also be used.

  • Yields: 1 serving
  • Preparation Time: 5 minutes

Rainbow Roll

This is another basic maki rolls with a bit of flair.
  • 2 strips red tuna cut about 3-1/2 inches long and 1/4 inch square
  • 2 strips salmon cut about 3-1/2 inches long and 1/4 inch square
  • 2 strips albacore cut about 3-1/2 inches long and 1/4 inch square
  • About 1/2 cup sushi rice
  • 1 sheet nori
  • Green onions, slivered
  • 1/8 tsp. caviar
  • 1/8 tsp. tobiko

Proceed to make this roll as you would tekka maki. Arrange all of the fish strips in on the rice and add some slivered green onions on top. You may also put some tobiko inside the roll for a variation. Slice the roll into 6 or 8 pieces and place on a platter. Top half of the pieces with caviar and top the remainder with tobiko. The color arrangement of these rolls makes for an appealing presentation.

  • Yields: 1 serving
  • Preparation Time: 5 minutes

Tree Roll

Another maki roll with a bit of life to it.
  • 2 strips salmon cut about 3-1/2 inches long and 3/8 inch square
  • 2 pieces of steamed asparagus
  • About 1/2 cup sushi rice
  • 1 sheet nori
  • 1/2 tsp. tobiko

Proceed to make this roll as you would the basic tekka maki except using salmon. Cut and arrange the asparagus so that the tips of the spears protrude out the end of the roll before rolling it. Slice the roll into pieces and place on a platter with the spears of the asparagus sticking up. Garnish each piece with a dab of tobiko.

  • Yields: 1 serving
  • Preparation Time: 5 minutes

California Roll

The California Roll is one of the more innovative American inventions made in the tradition of the Japanese art of making sushi.
  • About 1/2 cup sushi rice
  • Imitation Crab meat (stick form is preferred, but pieces may also be used)
  • Avocado (slice sections about 1/4 inch thick)
  • Cucumber (peeled) sliced 1/4 inch square and about 7 inches long (remove seeds)
  • 1 sheet nori

Similar to the tekka maki roll, spread rice on the nori leaving the top 1 inch uncovered. Arrange the crab, avocado and cucumber on the rice about 1-1/2 inch from the bottom. You will need 2 to 3 slices of avocado for one roll. Roll the nori upwards to cover the ingredients. Leaving the seam part of the nori down, slice the roll with a sharp wet knife into sections about 1 inch long and serve with wasabi, ginger and soy sauce.

  • Yields: 1 serving
  • Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Tempura Roll

This unique roll has become one of my favorites and can be made very colorful and decorative by the application of tobiko (flying fish roe). The tobiko is bright orange lending a delightful color to this roll.

The tempura fried shrimp can be prepared in advance by dipping a large prawn in tempura batter and deep frying in hot oil. When you do this, leave the tail on the shrimp but remove the rest of the shell. Do not dip the tail in the batter. Then when you fry the prawn, the tail will turn a bright red color that adds beauty to this roll.

  • 1 sheet nori
  • About 3/4 cup sushi rice
  • 2 tempura fried shrimp
  • 1 tsp. tobiko
  • Cucumber sliced about 7 inches long by 1/4 inch square
  • Pea sprouts or radish sprouts

This roll can be made "inside out" by doing the following:

Place a sheet of plastic wrap on a flat surface (or over your bamboo mat). Sprinkle the tobiko over the area that approximates the size of the nori. Now spread sushi rice over this area, no thicker than 1/4 inch. Place the nori over the rice. Now spread more rice over the nori. Arrange the tempura fried prawns on top of the rice about 1-1/2 inch from the bottom. Leave the bright red tails sticking out the end of the roll. Add the sliced cucumber and arrange the sprouts so that some of them will stick out the ends of the roll as well. Finally, grasp the plastic wrap and roll upwards, peeling the wrap back away from the rice as you roll. Finally, slice the roll into 6 equal sized pieces and arrange on a serving tray. Serve with the normal condiments.

  • Yields: 2 servings
  • Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Philadelphia Roll

I assume this roll is named after the brand of cream cheese that can be used. Those who like lox and cream cheese on a bagel will probably like this roll as well.
  • Cream cheese sliced into 1/4 inch square strips
  • Lox or slightly smoked salmon
  • About 1/2 cup sushi rice
  • 1 sheet nori

Apply sushi rice over the nori as in the other rolls. Arrange one layer of lox in a strip about 1-1/2 inch from the bottom. Arrange the strips of cream cheese on top of the lox and then cover the cream cheese with another layer of lox. Roll in the typical fashion and slice into 6 pieces with a wet sharp knife. Serve with the normal condiments.

  • Yields: 1 serving
  • Preparation Time: 5 minutes

Shitake Maki

Another basic maki, Shitake Maki is a roll made with the flavorful Shitake mushroom.
  • Shitake mushroom, sliced into strips 1/4 inch square
  • About 1/2 cup sushi rice
  • 1 sheet nori

Like the other maki rolls, put the rice on the nori, arrange the mushroom strips about 1-1/2 inches from the bottom and roll. Slice with a sharp wet knife into 6 equal sized pieces.

Serve with wasabi, light soy sauce and pickled ginger.

  • Yields: 1 serving
  • Preparation Time: 5 minutes

Kappa Maki

Kappa Maki is a vegetarian type of roll made with rice and cucumbers.
  • Cucumber sliced into strips about 7 inches long by 1/4 inch square around
  • About 1/2 cup sushi rice
  • 1 sheet nori

Like the other maki, spread rice over the nori first. Arrange the slices of cucumber about 1-1/2 inch from the bottom of the nori and roll in the typical fashion. Cut into 6 equal sized pieces and serve with the normal condiments.

  • Yields: 1 serving
  • Preparation Time: 5 minutes

Nigiri Sushi

Nigira sushi is simply slices of fish placed over rice.
  • 20 slices fresh fish cut 1/4 inch thick by 3 inches long and 1 inch wide
  • About 2 cups sushi rice

To make Nigiri, wet your hands and pick up some of the sushi rice and form it into a cylinder a little bigger than your thumb. Take a slice of fish, wipe a little wasabi on it and place it on top of the piece of rice and press them together. Arrange on a plate and serve. Allow about 1/4 lb. of fish per person. A variety of fish served in this way looks most appealing. Serve with the normal condiments.

Typically red tuna, yellowtail, salmon, halibut and mackeral are served in this manner. You may also use octopus, abalone (if you can find it), clam, or any other type of ocean fish. Steamed shrimp is also a favorite served in this manner.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Unagi

Unagi is freshwater eel that has typically been charbroiled with a sweet teriyaki type of sauce. Asian markets will often have Unagi frozen and vacuum packed. One package goes a long way unless you like it as much as I do. This is one of my personal favorites.
  • 1 package frozen unagi (about 1/2 lb.)
  • About 1 cup sushi rice
  • 1 sheet nori cut into strips about 1/2 inch wide (use scissors)

To make Unagi, first thaw and slice the eel into strips about 1 inch wide and 2-1/2 inches long. Place these strips on a piece of foil and broil in the oven or toaster oven for about 3 or 4 minutes.

Wet your hands and pick up some of the sushi rice and form it into a cylinder as you would to make nigiri. Take a slice of unagi and place it on top of the piece of rice. Wrap a strip of nori around it to keep it attached to the rice. A sweet thickened teriyaki type sauce may be dabbed on the unagi for flavor, but I have found this not to be absolutely necessary. The Japanese make a sweet sauce by boiling the head of the eel and flavoring it with soy sauce and mirin. Since we normally don't purchase eel with the head on, this is a bit impractical if not almost disgusting. I have found the sauce already on the frozen barbequed unagi to be perfectly adequate. You may also decorate the unagi with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds. Arrange on a plate and serve.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Sashimi

Sashimi is simply sliced raw fish. These slices are typically served with the normal condiments of wasabi, ginger and soy sauce. Fish suitable for sashimi are: Red tuna, albacore, salmon, red snapper, yellowtail, bonita, shad, scallops, sea eel, clams, oysters
  • 8 slices salmon cut 1/4 inch thick by 1-1/2 inches long and 1 inch wide
  • 8 slices red tuna cut 1/4 inch thick by 1-1/2 inches long and 1 inch wide
  • 8 slices albacore cut 1/4 inch thick by 1-1/2 inches long and 1 inch wide
  • 8 slices yellowtail cut 1/4 inch thick by 1-1/2 inches long and 1 inch wide
  • 8 slices halibut cut 1/4 inch thick by 1-1/2 inches long and 1 inch wide
  • 8 pieces scallops

Serve a variety of sashimi for color and variation of flavor.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 10 minutes

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