Sushi is the most exquisite, sophisticated and beautiful art, made into food form.
Always delicate, colourful, and carefully presented, it is like a lifelong artisan’s craft. The famous sushi chefs of Japan are indeed like craftsmen, who have honed their skills over a lifetime with patience and dedication. But sushi is also delicious – light yet quite filling, with an interesting mixture of being sharp and a little sweet.
Because I love cooking, when I lived in Japan as an athlete, I tried to learn Japanese cooking. Of course that included sushi – perhaps the most well-known of all Japanese foods. But I often heard people say that sushi is something you eat out, not at home. This is because sushi made by properly-trained chefs is so delicious, and it’s difficult, at home, to produce sushi that is anywhere near as tasty and varied. This is a fair point and it’s mostly true. But I also think it’s a bit of a shame because it discourages ordinary folk from having a go and learning how to make it. So this week ordinary me is making sushi!
I’m keeping it simple – maki-zushi with (mostly) readily available ingredients (traditional filling ingredients like takuwan, shiitake and kampyo aren’t widely sold outside Japan so I have used more common ingredients). My sushi will never reach the dizzy heights of sushi made by a Japanese person, let alone a sushi chef. But it is fun to learn, and it is possible to make a basic but tasty version of this art-form at home.
Making it at home will hopefully whet your appetite for trying proper, authentically-made sushi in Japan. So if you’re planning a trip to Tokyo for the Olympics next year, make sure eating sushi is on your to-do list!
Sushi is best eaten on the day it is made. The rice hardens up after that, as it does if you refrigerate sushi, which is a definite no-no. So set aside enough time to make your sushi feast and then enjoy the fruits of your labours soon afterwards.
White sticky rice 480g, water 600ml
Rice vinegar 4 tablespoons, salt 1.5 teaspoons, sugar 1 tablespoon
Wasabi paste, sushi ginger, soy sauce
Fillings: cucumber, tuna mayo, ham, smoked salmon, cream cheese, avocado, asparagus, carrots. All ‘long’ items cut into thin strips.
Kit: a bamboo rolling mat
Start by making vinegared sushi rice. Mix together the vinegar, sugar and salt. Rinse the rice in a little cold water in a saucepan by stirring the rice vigorously with your hand and pouring off the starchy water. Repeat 3-4 times until the water runs clear. Add 600ml water and leave for 60 minutes. Then cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes bringing it to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and leave to stand with the lid on for 10 minutes. (Ideally a piece of kombu seaweed should be added to the rice and removed just before boiling point, but if you cannot find kombu, just boil the rice without it).
Empty the cooked rice on to a large clean tray (ideally a wooden ‘sushi-oke’ bowl but these are hard to come by), spreading it out, and sprinkle the vinegar mixture over it. ‘Cut’ through it using a spatula. Cool the rice by fanning it.
Now you can start rolling. Cover your rolling mat in cling film. Place one sheet of nori on it, shiny side down. Cover the nori with a thin layer of rice, leaving a gap at the top. Rinse your hands in cold water frequently to stop the rice from sticking. Add small amounts of your fillings along the length of the nori.
Tucking the fillings in with your hands as you go, roll the nori away from you, giving it a good squeeze at the end to make it compact. Using a very sharp knife, slice off the ends of the roll and discard, then slice your roll into bite-sized pieces.
Arrange on a large plate. Mix a little wasabi with your soy sauce on a small dipping plate, and enjoy your maki-zushi with sushi ginger.