Sushi is totally fun to make and to eat. And it’s really good for you: it’s low-fat, high in fiber (especially if you use brown rice), provides omega-3 fatty acids and protein (if you use fish), and lots of iron and other minerals (from the seaweed). If you make California rolls, you get more good fats (monounsaturated fatty acids) from the avocado.
Sushi is also a great idea for a party. When I was in grad school, my BFF Rebbie taught me how to make sushi. Then we had a party where we made a bunch of rice, and provided the nori wrappers and several of the bamboo rolling mats. (You might need to visit an Asian grocery store to find these mats. If you live in the Seattle area, this is a good excuse to visit Uwajimaya, which is a fun destination all on its own.) On our visit to Uwajimaya, Rebbie and I picked up an assortment of fish and veggies. We asked our friends to bring their favorites over too, and we had a great roll-your-own sushi fest. We made lots of interesting combinations and best of all we got to eat the proceeds (which made it a feast as well as a fest!). I think saki was also involved…
Another great thing about sushi is that it’s kid friendly to make — kids get to make choices about what fillings they’d like and they get to put their hands right in the food while they’re making it. (If your kid isn’t a very adventurous eater, you might not want to tell them that nori is seaweed.)
My younger son loves California rolls. When we go to Safeway, he often asks me to buy him a package from the deli. I’d rather get him that than a crappy cookie or doughnut, but sushi is so expensive! (Why are the crappy choices always cheaper?)
So, I told my son that he’d have to learn to make his own sushi if he wants to eat it all the time. He got very excited about the idea — those of you that know him know how he pours his energy into things that fire his imagination. Lately, he’s been showing some interest in cooking and imagines himself to be quite the chef.
So for Christmas, I gave him an apron that says “master chef” and a sushi making kit (that I scored from amazon.com when their holiday gift sets dropped to 50% off).
I thought sushi would make a fun New Year’s Eve dinner, so I offered to give my son his first lesson. Making the rice is longest and most boring part of the process, so I kept an eye on all the timing for that and just called him into the kitchen when something needed to be done.
To make sushi rice, you need short-grained rice, a good rice pan with a tight fitting lid (or a rice maker), sushi vinegar, and a wooden spoon or paddle. You want the rice to end up sticky, so the first thing you have to do is rinse the rice thoroughly to remove the loose starch.
We followed the directions that came in my son’s kit and placed 2 cups of short-grained white rice in our rice pan.
Then, we covered the rice with with water and swirled the rice around to loosen up the starch. We poured off the cloudy water, being careful not to pour out our rice.
We covered the rice with fresh water, swirled again, then poured off again. Repeat, repeat, repeat until the water pours off clear (takes about 5 minutes total).
Once the water was clear, we drained off as much of the excess water as we could. Then we added 2 cups plus 6 teaspoons of cold water for cooking. We placed our tight-fitting lid on the pot, then placed the rice on the stove on med-high heat until the rice started to steam (about 10 minutes).
Once the rice was steaming, we turned it up to high and let it cook hard for 2 minutes. During the hard cook, some foam appeared around the rim of the pot, which is normal. After the two minutes, we turned the heat to medium and let the rice simmer for 5 minutes. At that point, we took the rice off the heat and let it just sit and steam for 15 minutes more.
Our instructions told us it was now time to fluff the rice. So my son grabbed his bamboo paddle and pushed the rice around to fluff it up.
After this, we covered the rice with a clean cloth and the pot lid and let it stand for another 15 minutes (I told you the rice was the most painstaking and boring part of this, right? It gets better, I promise.)
Finally, it was time to season the rice. My son measured 1/2 cup of sushi vinegar.
We spread the rice onto a shallow plastic platter, then sprinkled it with the vinegar while mixing the rice around. We fanned the rice to cool it, then covered it with a damp clean towel. The rice was ready and it was time to move onto making some California rolls!
Traditional California rolls contain cucumber, crab meat (or imitation crab) and avocado. But we didn’t have any cucumber on hand so I substituted carrot and green onion instead. To me, the avocado and the crab meat (imitation in our case) is what makes the California roll unique — exact veggies are flexible. California rolls are often rolled “inside-out” with the rice on the outside, but that’s trickier to do, so we went with “inside-in” rolls (nori on the outside).
To get your fillings ready for sushi, you basically have to prep everything to be long and thin. I sliced the logs of imitation crab into thinner pieces. Then I peeled a carrot and cut into long thin julienne-style pieces. I peeled and pitted an avocado and cut into thin strips as well. And then, because I like onion, I cut the green tops off some green onions to include in half the rolls.
Also, in a small bowl I mixed 6 tablespoons of water and 2 teaspoons of sushi vinegar. This solution is used for dipping your fingers and knife to keep the sushi rice from sticking to you or your tools.
My son put a piece of nori on his sushi mat, so the long side of the nori went to left to right. Then he grabbed a hand-full (about a half cup) of sushi rice and I showed him the picture of how he was going to spread the rice over the surface of the sushi.
He used his fingers to spread and push the rice until he had a thin layer that covered the rectangle of nori — except for a narrow strip (about a 1/2 inch) along the top. (He needed another scoop of rice to cover the whole thing, so I think we used about 3/4 c to 1c cooked rice total per roll). The blank piece of nori is used to seal the roll. You can see the blank strip at the top of the nori in this picture.
Once the rice was spread over the nori, I had my son use his finger to dig a slight trench from left to right in the middle of the rice. This was our spot for fillings. He chose to put crab, carrot, and avocado in his first roll. First, he made a line of crab by placing the long pieces in his trench, slightly overlapping the ends so he had a continuous line. Then, he laid carrot next to his crab. Finally he added a line of avocado.
For the first roll, I demonstrated how to roll it up. I turned the sushi mat so the bamboo sticks and the the fillings were both running left to right. Then I picked up the edge of the mat closest to me and used it to raise the edge of the nori up and over the fillings. I told my son to think of it like the seaweed was the edge of a tidal wave that was curling over the fillings and was going to pull them out to see (toward me).
As you roll, it’s important to keep the fillings as tight as possible. So, as I rolled, I used the mat to tighten the roll, always sort of pulling the fillings toward the center with my fingertips. (My thumbs are on the backside of the mat.)
If you don’t keep your fillings tight, they may fall out when you slice the roll. That’s OK, you just eat the scraps and try again.
When I got to the end of the roll, I dipped my fingers in the water/vinegar solution and used my finger to paint a line of moisture along the bare edge of the nori. This helped the nori on the edge stick the rolled up nori, sealing my California roll.
Once the roll was sealed, I used a serrated knife to cut the slices. I repeatedly dipped the knife in the vinegar/water to that it wouldn’t get stuck to the rice inside the roll.
The slices from the two ends don’t look pretty because they’re ragged on one side. You can either flip them ragged-side-down, or, if you’re like me & my son, you can argue over who gets to eat them.
This was a pretty one:
After watching my demo, my son graduated to rolling his own:
We made four rolls, half with onion and half without:
I served them with miso soup and salad for a fun New Year’s Dinner.