Everything You Want to Know About Sushi

Beginnings: The History

You think sushi is a relatively new craze, don’t you? That simply isn’t right, interestingly enough. Southeast Asians were eating salted fish and fermented rice called nare- zushi since the 4th century B.C. It fermented for a few months and then they ate the fish (very well preserved using that method) and tossed the rice. Today we don’t need to discard the rice and that’s a good thing, it is very healthy and tastes delicious.

Centuries later, in the 700s, sushi was present in Japan. It was called seisei-zushi during that period of time. The Japanese did not discard the rice and the fish was still partially raw when people in that time period and culture prepared their version of sushi. They were using it as a meal and not as a way to keep their fish from spoiling.

Numerous varieties of sushi with just as many different names were part of meal times in Asia for the ensuing years and centuries and then in the 1980s, the word finally reached America. Finally a food that “felt” like fast food that wasn’t bad for us! And not only was it not bad for us, but actually good because rice and fish are healthy foods. Some types of sushi even use vegetables rolled up inside. We know how good fish is for us, so it seems to be a perfect health food with low calories, low fat, and the benefits of rice and fish.

As more and more sushi bars pop up all over the country and the world, we will be seeing further combinations and additional recipes. Eventually people will start preparing their own sushi and it will be on dinner tables regularly and not just when we can make an occasional jaunt to a Japanese restaurant.

My Own Story

I admit it, I have a sushi obsession. I haven’t had the nerve to date to try the raw fish variety, so many readers may challenge whether it is sushi at all . . . but to me it is. The California Roll with imitation crab is very worthy of the best as far as cravings and obsessions go.

The bottom line is that I can’t get enough of the stuff. I had my first bite of it in Orlando and I was hooked. I am grateful that it has been found to be so healthy or I may have quite a problem on my hands! I’m probably untraditional in that I don’t dip my sushi into soy sauce but I do use the tiniest bit of wasabi with each roll.

If you are about to try sushi for the first time, the green stuff near the sushi bar is wasabi, Japanese horseradish and it is like nothing you (or at least I) have ever experienced, so proceed with extreme caution! The pretty “pink” stuff is pickled ginger (called “gari“) and it is to eat between different kinds of sushi to cleanse your palate and prepare you for your next bite of what must be one of the world’s most sublime foods.

How Do I Eat This Stuff?

Experts advise that although there is no protocol for the eating of sushi, it is usually a better experience to start with the milder types of fish and then continue onto the kinds with a more robust fish taste. The pickled ginger should be eaten between varieties. (Or some people prefer a little green tea for the same purpose.) Eat the varieties with the seaweed on the outside last.

The actual way to eat sushi whether with chopsticks or fingers is to dip it into soy sauce and simply eat it. Some people will say to mix the wasabi with the soy sauce; others will scream “nooooooooo!” at that suggestion. If you like soy sauce, give your sushi a dip in it. If you don’t like it, don’t ruin a perfectly good piece of sushi dipping it into something you won’t enjoy. You might like a small bit of wasabi directly on the piece of sushi. Experiment to see what you enjoy most.

One thing that most sushi aficionados will agree on is that the whole piece of sushi should be eaten in one bite if it is a smaller variety such as the California Roll.

Can I Make it Myself?

Absolutely! This recipe is for a California Roll. It will not get perfect the first time, but don’t give up on it. Even if it doesn’t roll right for you the first, second, or tenth time, you will still be able to salvage a meal of seafood and rice from it and the flavor will be the same.

The first step is to look for the equipment you will need. There are many places online that sell kits and even many grocery stores are starting to carry homemade sushi making supplies now. It is a good idea to know what you will be doing step by step before you start so that you know what to expect.

Remember that what you put into a sushi roll is your own choice. I am not suggesting anyone try the traditional Japanese kind of sushi with the raw fish unless you are 100% sure you know how to do it safely. I do not know myself, so this recipe is only for imitation crab or other cooked meats and fish.

The first step is to combine 6 tablespoons of rice vinegar (no other kind will do) with 2 tablespoons of sugar and 2 teaspoons salt in a small pan. Heat it until the sugar dissolves (it will take a very short time) and then put it aside to cool.

Next clean 3 cups of short grain rice (Japanese “sushi rice” style and uncooked) in running water and then put it into a saucepan with 4 cups of water. Soak the rice in the water for half an hour and then drain it. Move the rice to the heavy pot you will be using to cook it and add 4 cups of fresh water. Bring the rice to a boil over medium-high heat and then reduce the heat immediately. Simmer the rice for 15 minutes with a lid on the pan. After those 15 minutes, remove from heat and let the rice rest for 15 more minutes. Do NOT lift the lid during this time. As a wise alternative, just follow the directions on a rice cooker for perfect rice.

The next step is to prepare your vegetables. This includes peeling a cucumber and removing the seeds and peeling and halving an avocado. Both of them get cut into long thin strips as you have seen in other sushi. Put a little bit of lemon juice on the avocado so that it doesn’t discolor.

Prepare imitation crab meat (sometimes available in sticks) by cutting that into strips as you did with the vegetables.

So it has been rather easy until now, hang in there. The next step will be to put the cooked rice into a large bowl after it has cooked and then rested for 15 minutes. Loosen the grains from each other, but do not accomplish that by stirring, try a folding motion with a wooden spoon. Put some of the vinegar mixture on the rice (coat it, do not soak it! Do it a little bit at a time, it needs to just be coated, not wet or even moist so you may not need all of the vinegar mixture) and mix gently. Next spread it out on foil while it is still hot so that it can cool.

Now comes some of the tricky parts. Prepare a bamboo sushi rolling mat by covering it with plastic wrap. Put a sheet of “nori” (which is your seaweed sheet) on top of the plastic. The glossy side should be down.

Spread about a cup of the cooled rice on next with an inch and a quarter of space kept bare at the ends. Do not make it too thick. A few notes here: (1) Work with the rice after you have made your fingers wet and (2) look for nori that is very dark in color.

Put the strips of vegetables and imitation crab meat in the center and then the next step is for the actual rolling, remembering to remove the plastic as you are rolling. At this point, it is a better idea to recommend following the instructions on the bamboo mat when you bought it instead of trying to give a step-by-step tutorial.

Don’t worry about it falling apart until you are used to doing it, it will happen. The ingredients won’t be lost, just arrange them on a plate or in a bowl and you will still have the same taste and you can try again when you are ready (or see suggestion below).

When you are ready to cut the roll (and eventually with practice, it will indeed roll correctly!) keep the knife wet when cutting through the sticky rice. Serve with soy sauce, pickled ginger, and wasabi. The wasabi is sometimes sold in a tube; you will find it with the other ingredients and equipment.

As an interesting side note, in Japan wasabi was used in the past as an antidote for food poisoning. In some strange way, I totally understand how it would work!

And now the good news!

If you aren’t real picky about the way your sushi looks, by all means experiment with making it sans the rolling. Put some rice in your wet hands and roll it around vegetable and crab sticks. It won’t taste different; it simply won’t look so attractive. My own response to that happens to be “who cares?” This method doesn’t use the seaweed sheets, so I’d suggest using it just as a last resort or to salvage a try that wouldn’t roll right.

Last thoughts . . .

Check the internet for new recipes and methods for making sushi, keep practicing, and Bon Appetit!

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