Making sushi can be fun and easy

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Making sushi at home may seem fussy and complicated, but it need not be. It needs virtually no cooking, is inherently low in fat and nutritious, and can involve the guests in preparation. A temaki zushi(hand-rolled sushi) party is fun and an authentic way to eat sushi at home. When the Japanese are not eating sushi at restaurants or ordering in gorgeous, costly platters of nigiri-zushi(nuggets of vinegared rice topped with slabs of sashimi-raw fish), they serve temaki zushi to friends and family.

Sushi is not raw fish. It is the sweet and vinegary rice that forms the base for raw or cooked fish, vegetables, and a variety of toppings. A dollop of sushi rice is placed atop a rectangle of yaki nori(roasted seaweed). Then one chooses from a kaleidoscope of foods and places them on the rice. The seaweed and rice combination is then rolled, cone-like, and lightly dipped in soy sauce. The crunch of the seaweed, the complimentary sweet and briny flavors, and the eye-watering heat of wasabi (horseradish mustard paste) create a most satisfying combination.

Excellent ingredients are important, as they will be standing on their own merits. There is maguro(raw tuna), tobiko(flying fish eggs), scallops, and flounder. If you don’t like raw fish, use smoked salmon, or cooked crabmeat and shrimp. Cucumber strips, radish sprouts, watercress, shiso leaves (a plant in the mint family), avocados, steamed asparagus, sweet shitake mushrooms, and omelet strips provide balance and texture. Cutting things into similar sizes and grouping them on a large platter makes a beautiful presentation. Condiments are soy sauce, wasabi, and gari shoga(vinegared ginger slices).

Raw fish must be bought at reputable places; there are no bargains. Be prepared to pay $15-$20 per pound for tuna. Sliced thin and as part of a large array of food, a half-pound goes a long way. The storage, cutting, and handling of the fish is important. Don’t be intimidated; just be vigilant. You do not need to buy the pre-cut and very expensive sashimi slices if you stick to simpler fish choices. A good scrub in soapy hot water of your knives and cutting boards before and after using is crucial.

Rice remains the most important ingredient. There is no substitute for short-grain, Japanese rice. It’s ”sticky” characteristic gives it the distinctive quality necessary in making sushi. Many brands are available, even at local supermarkets. Mamiko Maki of Winchester, who is Japanese, recommends using Tamaki brand and says Nishiki is passable. The Japanese know rice and make very clear distinctions among the brands. Mamiko uses Kagayaki (available in Japanese markets), which she considers ”good quality and reasonably priced.”

The only cooking you have to do is making the rice. A rice cooker is convenient, but a heavy-bottomed pot with a good fitting lid will do. The preparation of short-grain rice is different from that of long-grain rice. Short-grain rice must be washed and soaked before cooking, and the water must be cold when the rice begins to cook. After cooking, a mixture of rice wine vinegar, sugar, and salt is stirred into the steaming rice, coating the grains until shiny. There is a bottled version of this seasoning, and it is good enough, even for the most particular Japanese cooks.

Once considered exotic ingredients, most of the makings of a sushi party now can be found in any supermarket with a reasonable international or Asian section. For the really authentic, however, try an Asian or Japanese specialty market. It will be one-stop shopping (except for maybe the fish), and you are more likely to find the freshest of everything due to the high turnover.

Where to find fresh ingredients for sushi:

The following stores carry fresh fish and other good sushi ingredients.

Fish Sea to You 212 Northern Avenue Fish Pier Boston 617-350-0130

New Deal 622 Cambridge Street Cambridge 617-876-8227 Fresh Pond Seafood 355 Fresh Pond Parkway Cambridge 617-497 – 9821

Japanese Specialty Markets These stores can be pricey but will have everything you are looking for (Some have fish available).

Yoshinoya’s 36 Prospect Street (Central Square) Cambridge 617-491-8221

Kotobukiya 1815 Massachusetts Ave. (Porter Square) Cambridge 617-354-6914

Pan Asian

Reliable Market 85 Union Square Somerville 617-623-9620

China Merchandise 120 Cambridge St. Burlington 781-229-6886

Te Maki Sushi Party for 8
Arrange all ingredients on one or two platters

Sushi Rice – makes 7 cups cooked rice
Double to make sure you have enough.
(When preparing Japanese rice add 1 ¼ cups water for each cup of uncooked rice.)

2 ½ cups short grain rice
2 ¾ cup water

Seasonings
5 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt

*You can use prepared sushi – su seasoned vinegar – check the package
for proportions.

Make the rice no more than 2 hours before you plan to use it

1. Place rice in a bowl or pot and wash by stirring and draining three or four times until the water becomes almost clear.
2. Let the rice soak in 2¾ cups rice for 20 minutes. The rice will turn white and plump up the grains.
3. If using a rice cooker start cooking. If using a pot, cook the rice over medium heat until the water starts to boil. Then turn the heat to low and cook for 10 minutes. Turn the heat off and let the rice steam for 10 minutes. The pot should be covered during the entire process. Total time about 30 minutes.
4. Remove the rice to a large bowl and with slashing movements toss and lift the rice. Do not mash and mix it.
5. Combine the seasonings for the rice. Make sure sugar and salt is dissolved.
6. Sprinkle the seasoning mixture onto the rice as you toss the rice, coating all the grains until shiny. With a newspaper or magazine, fan the rice to cool it down as you mix it. It does help to have someone else do this while you are tossing the rice.
7. Place in a shallow serving bowl. Cover the rice with a clean damp dishtowel to keep from drying out. Never refrigerate sushi rice.

Seasoned Shitake Mushrooms

6-8 dried shitake mushrooms – soaked in water (reserve the soaking liquid) until soft, rinsed, and sliced into strips.

½ cup mushroom liquid
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon mirin (sweet rice wine) you can add another teaspoon of sugar if not available

1. Cook the mushrooms in a saucepan with the mushroom liquid, soy sauce, sugar and mirin until the mushrooms have absorbed all the liquid, about 5 minutes. Stir occasionally. Do not walk away from this pot.

Assorted Fillings

½ pound fresh tuna – sliced ¼ by 2- 3 inch
½ fresh crabmeat
½ pound cooked shrimp sliced down the center
4 ounces tobiko – flying fish eggs or salmon roe
½ pound smoked salmon
½ pound scallops – sliced horizontally in thirds – with lemon juice
2 avocadoes – peeled and cut into 8 long sections
2 English cucumbers (no peeling necessary) seeded and cut into ¼ by 3
inch strips
1 bunch watercress, washed and dried
radish sprouts, rinsed and dried
(2 packages shiso leaves – 8 to a package)
seasoned shitake mushrooms
Steamed asparagus spears, lightly salted

20 sheets nori – roasted seaweed sheets, cut in half
Soy sauce
Gari shoga pickled ginger slices
Wasabi – Japanese horseradish paste – it comes in tubes all prepared in the refrigerator section or as a powder in a small can. If you buy the powder – you will need to mix a few teaspoons of the powder with a little water.

Set a plate, disposable wooden chopsticks, and a small dish for soy sauce and wasabi for each person.

To make a roll:

1. Take a rectangle sheet of nori rough side up, and spread a small amount of rice on the left side of the nori. Flatten rice and spread a little wasabi on the rice.
2. Lay the fillings of your choice on the diagonal. Fold the lower left corner of the seaweed over the filling and continue to roll into a cone.
3. Dip into soy sauce.

Ginger acts as a palate cleanser.

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