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Sushi: How To

I am basically having a perpetual love affair with sushi. For years before I’d tried it I was sure I was going to hate it. The first time I had sushi was the pre-packaged stuff you get in grocery stores and gas stations, except this was from the metro station in DC one freezing winter evening. I was so cold I couldn’t even taste it. That’s probably for the best – at least it didn’t make me want to not try it again. Probably a year later I had proper sushi for the first time and fell in love. From that day to this, my love has been unending.

So that’s why about a year and a half ago, when I turned out my pockets and there was nothing but lint, and I really wanted sushi, I decided to try making it for myself. When I was done I was still in love, though of course I needed practice. So I kept making it from time to time. But after the first time I made it, I wrote this little How To guide to follow in the future (and also because my sister would kill me if I didn’t send her instructions). So, for a little personal throw-back, here’s my Homemade Sushi How To:

What you’ll need:

Nori (seaweed paper) – I buy it at a local asian market warehouse, but it can also be found in some grocery stores in “ethnic” or “foreign” isles. It usually comes in a pack of ten, which will make you ten rolls of sushi, which is about ten pieces per roll.
Bamboo mat – Again I bought this at the asian market, but they can be found online for less than $2 plus shipping. They’re for rolling the sushi.
Fillings – anything you want in your sushi. The options are limitless. I’ve used: tuna, tilapia, salmon, shrimp, krab, carrot, avocado, cucumber, lobster paste, pickled ginger, cream cheese, clams. I think that’s all I’ve tried so far but I’m all about experimenting. You can put just about anything into sushi. Really.
Rice – obviously. The stickier the better, because this helps the whole roll and individual pieces of the sushi hold together.  I also like to season the rice when I cook it to give it a little added flavor in the resulting sushi.
Condiments – I like to eat my sushi with soy sauce, copious amounts of wasabi, and a slice of pickled ginger on top. My sister prefers a slightly spicy mustard concoction she makes on her own. You can, of course, put sesame seeds and the like on the outside of your sushi rolls, and that sort of thing. All of these options add flavor and make your sushi more dynamic.

How to:

Lay out your bamboo mat flat with the bamboo horizontal to you. Place the nori on the mat. It will be useful for you to have a bowl of water to wet your hands, as that will prevent the rice from sticking to your hands as you press it onto the nori. Press room temperature rice onto the 2/3 of the nori that are closest to you, leaving the other 1/3 of the nori free of rice.  The rice should be about half an inch thick and you should try not to leave uncovered edges on the three sides nearest you. (Try not to wet the nori that is not covered by rice.)

2: About 1/3 of the way into the pressed rice, press a groove into the rice. This should be a depression about the width of two fingers and should run horizontally across the whole nori. Wetting your fingers will help you to press the rice without it sticking to your fingers.

3: Fill this groove you have made with your fillings. You will want to have your various filling selection cut into long thin strips to make filling the groove easier. Experiment with various combinations of filling. Cream cheese, cucumber, ginger, and krab is my personal favorite combination. These fillings are going to be maybe an inch thick and stand up above the pressed rice. Make sure that the fillings are evenly spaced and go end to end in the groove on the nori. This will help the sushi to roll evenly and stay together.

4: With the nori right on the edge of the bamboo mat closest to you, place your fingers along the fillings to hold them in place, and slide your thumbs underneath the bamboo mat. While holding the fillings tightly in place, roll the edge of the nori over the fillings and over to the rice on the other side. In this process you’ll have to remove your fingers from the fillings in order to tuck the edge of the nori into a roll. Using your fingers, try to make the roll as tight as possible, and keep going until there is half an inch or an inch of the plain (non-riced) nori not yet rolled up. Using water on your fingertips, gently wet the nori from edge to edge. Then, continue to roll the sushi. Wetting the edge helps seal the seaweed to itself. Gently wrap the bamboo mat around the roll of sushi and gently, very gently, squeeze the roll. This helps the nori to stick to the rice.

5: Gently place the roll on a plate or cutting board. With a very (very) sharp knife (preferably with a finely serrated edge), cut the sushi roll in half. You will want to do this with the seam of the nori facing up because this will prevent the nori from unraveling around the rice.  Do not press straight down to cut the roll, as this will squish fillings out of the sides. Instead, pull gently in a slicing motion to cut without pressing out rice and fillings.  Continue to cut the roll into whatever size pieces you’d like. I usually get about ten pieces per roll. Frequently the end pieces fall apart – don’t worry about that, it will take a lot of practice to prevent that from happening.

Viola. You have made sushi.  Mix and match fillings and amounts of rice and such until you are personally satisfied with how you like your sushi. (I tend to put a dollop of wasabi on each piece of sushi and then top it off with a piece of the pickled ginger. Then as I eat each piece I like to briefly dip it in soy sauce. Again, this is just a personal preference, but it is my absolute favorite.)

Good luck on your sushi making adventure!

Here's my first ever roll of sushi!!!
Here’s my first ever roll of sushi!!!


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