Ok…Seriously…How good does that look?
Given the widespread adoration for sushi these days it has always amazed me that more people don't attempt to replicate this Japanese meal in the comfort of their own homes. What could surpass the pleasure of creating your own maki combinations with an endless supply of fish? Just think of the possibilities. My suspicion is an overarching belief that some meals are better left to the experts. The precision and foreignness of Japanese cuisine feels daunting to most. Surely there is some trick to obtaining the stunning entrees that arrive tableside when we eat out. Where in the world would one even get all of the ingredients, not to mention sushi grade fish?
It was with all this culinary baggage that I received an email from a CT Bites reader. "I'm hosting a sushi dinner…where in Fairfield County can I get sushi grade fish?" Aha..a brave soul. I led her to the appropriate fish market (Spolier alert: Fjord Fisheries) but now feeling implicated in this fish-fest, I had to see how this sushi dinner unfolded. I invited myself to dinner.
Here is how it went down, and how you can replicate this sushi smorgasbord in your own home.
Almost all the prep can be done before your guests or family arrive which makes for the perfect dinner party. It is also surprisingly cost effective compared to eating the same meal in a restaurant. Read on…it's easier than you think!
The two mandatory components of an authentic sushi dinner are 1. A good Asian market 2. A top notch fish market.
1. Lucky for us, Fairfield County has several solid Asian markets nearby:
The Oriental Food Market 109 New Canaan Avenue, Norwalk (203) 847-0070 has a helpful staff who will help you weed through the shelves of exotic goods to locate the items on your shopping list.
Lin Asian Food Market 532 Boston Post Rd · Milford (203) 874-8050 is good as well.
Kamsen Foods 22 Barker Ave White Plains (914) 428-4500 is excellent if you live further South.
When you journey to the market of your choice, here is what you will need to pick up:
White "sushi" rice
Rice vinegar (seasoned) -if you don't want to make your own seasoning for rice
Rice vinegar (plain) if you want to make your own flavor adding sugar and salt
Dried nori sheets (for the rolls)
Soy sauce (for dipping)
Tempura batter mix (if you want shrimp or veggie tempura)
Tempura dipping sauce (if you are making tempura)
Sriracha Hot Sauce (used in spicy sauce)
Sesame seeds (if desired)
Pickled ginger (if desired)
Seaweed salad (Fresh Market, Balducchi's, & Whole Foods also sells this)
Bamboo rolling mats and a wood spoon to fold the vinegar into your rice. (Whole Foods also sells these)
2. Now that you have your ingredients, let's talk fish. There is some ambiguity regarding what defines sushi or sashimi grade fish and not every fish seller will carry it. If you frequent a good market like Fjord Fisheries (with Westport and Cos Cob locations) they can special order it for you if it is not in stock. The only requirement for the raw fish used in sushi is the "parasite destruction guarantee," which is accomplished by 'freezing and storing seafood at very low temps for a certain period of time as is sufficient to kill any parasites." I'm all for that.
Our sushi home cook special ordered her yellowtail, ikura (salmon roe) $30 for 1/2 lb, flying fish roe $5 for 1/4 lb, with about 2 days notice. The tuna and salmon were both in stock and ready to be taken home. Fish for 6 people, or 3 1/2 pounds was about $120. A good rule of thumb is to purchase about 1/2 pound of fish per person. This was more than adequate, and we had plenty left over. Mind you…this does not make great leftovers. If you are looking for food to eat over the following week, make yourself some chili.
Now that you have your fish, let's talk about proper Nigiri sushi fish slicing: Make sure your knife is VERY sharp and slice across the grain of the fish with the blade at a 45 degree angle. The back end of your knife should be laying on the block of fish as you cut. Refer to this sushi fan site for tips for selecting and cutting your fish. Don't miss this particularly informative video on proper cutting technique from Howcast.com.
Ok…Now that that is settled, let's get on to the rest of the meal prep….
A key component to proper sushi is the rice. Sushi rice is a short grain variety and only this kind of rice has the right balance of starches to allow the rice to stick together and keep the final product intact from plate to mouth. Do not attempt to use regular short grain white rice. The result will not be pretty. To prepare the rice, refer to instructions on the bag and make sure you strain the rice in water until the water runs clear before cooking.
Once rice is cooked, you will need to spread it out in a wooden bowl (wood prevents sticking in the next step). Drizzle 1/4 - 1/3 cup "seasoned rice vinegar" over the rice and fold it into the rice with a wooden spoon while fanning it to cool (our cook used a magazine). As soon as the rice has cooled to room temperature, you can cover the bowl with a damp paper towel or cloth and take a break after all of that fanning. Note: It is better to leave it out at room temperature rather than refrigerate it and then try to warm it back up to room temperature. Also, they weren't kidding when they say 'sticky rice." In fact it is so sticky that you have to dip your fingers into water as you handle the rice, as well as each time you reach in to the bowl to line your maki or it becomes a comically clingy mess.
If you choose to prepare your own seasoning for the vinegar, cook rice as directed and then season with plain rice vinegar, salt and sugar. There are a variety of recipes for sushi rice. Some are sweeter, some more vinegary. It's really a matter of taste.
Other ingredients & accessories: Now you have got almost all of the pieces to the sushi puzzle, but you need a few more ingredients for your maki if you choose to add them. You will also need to make your homemade spicy sauce as seen below:
Cucumbers (peeled and cut into thin strips)
Avocado (cut into thin strips)
Shrimp for tempura shrimp (IQF or Individually quick frozen, peeled, deveined, tail on)
Ginger (if desired)
Spicy Sushi Sauce (whisk the following ingredients together and store in fridge)
½ cup (low-fat) mayonnaise
2 tbsp Sriracha hot sauce
¼ tsp roasted sesame oil (we left this out)
Lastly, right before the guests arrive or as our host did it, over cocktails, toss your prepared shrimp into the batter and immerse shrimp head first into a pan of 350 degree oil. Drain and you've got some tasty maki fillings, or a quick appetizer.
You are now ready to sit down and eat. Here are the things you may want on your table at this point:
Fish roe and/or tobiko
Sliced avocado & cucumbers cut lengthwise
Seaweed/Nori (a.k.a. maki wrappers)
Wasabi (made from that wasabi powder you bought earlier)
It is pretty much a free-for-all from here on out. Fold your nori sheets in half and start filling them up! Our feeding frenzy began with this a beautiful maki with salmon, shrimp tempura, avocado, fish roe and spicy sauce. Hand rolls are definitely the simplest to configure and the quickest way to get your meal into your mouth. For those of you with more patience, you can use your bamboo mat and make maki that perfectly resembles your restaurant fare. Here are some tips for maki making with kids.
If you would like some basic instruction, here is a great step-by-step guide to maki making from Epicurious.
We left dinner giddy with our newfound raw fish freedom. The ability to create an endless combination of sushi possibilities was both exhilarating and filling. No dessert necessary for this meal, but the Mochi from Trader Joe's is a nice deal closer.