You ever wonder why sushi chefs at really nice Japanese restaurants are usually pretty old? Because it takes them until their senior years to truly master the art.
Sushi-making is a whole different animal from western cooking. Sushi-making is so much more than just some sharp knives and mysterious-looking sea creatures. It requires a level of honor, respect, and dedication that can only fully be achieved after decades of training under a wiser, more skilled itamae, or sushi chef. I certainly learned that the hard way in the infamous FOX Masterchef sushi battle. (So, to say I am a reluctant sushi-maker is an understatement.)
We westerners use sushi as the catchall for all different kinds of the Japanese specialty, but it actually comes in many forms from raw cuts of sashimi to nigiri (raw fish laid atop vinegared sushi rice) to what we most commonly recognize as rolls, being makizushi.
Makizushi (巻寿司 or “rolled sushi”) is a cylindrical piece formed with the help of a bamboo mat called a makisu. Makizushi is generally wrapped in nori (seaweed) but is occasionally wrapped in a thin omelette, soy paper, cucumber, or shiso (perilla) leaves. Makizushi is usually cut into six or eight pieces, which constitutes a single roll order.
In my opinion, the easiest and most approachable starter sushi to make would be the famous California roll. It’s obviously not made by the Japanese, but by Americans who have taken the theme and transformed it into something novice sushi aficionados can accept. For all you out there that find that raw fish makes your queasy, the California roll contains no raw fish, but instead, crab meat, thinly sliced vegetables, sushi rice, and nori.
All you need is a bamboo mat (which you can find about any place that sells a fair amount of kitchen supplies), nori, short grain rice, some veggies, wasabi, vinegar, and soy sauce. All these ingredients you can easily find at the local grocery store.
Here’s how it works:
Make the sushi rice by cooking short grain rice as per package directions, then while still hot, stir in about 3 tablespoons to ¼ cup of rice vinegar (depending on how much rice you have made). Fan out the rice on a sheet tray to cool off slightly. Slice 1 carrot, 1 cucumber, and 3 scallions into long matchsticks, and set aside. Slice an avocado into thin slices. Break crab legs open, delicately remove the meat, and set aside.
Now that the rice is cool, lay the nori sheet out on the bamboo mat, and spread the rice delicately over the nori sheet in an even, thin layer. When doing this, the rice will be sticky, so if you wet your fingers with some water, it makes the whole process a lot easier. Lay a couple pieces of each vegetable across the rice in a line. Lay crab on top then avocado.
Now gently pick up the edge closest to you, fold over the mound of veggies and crab, and begin to roll forward, like you’re rolling up your yoga mat. Use the bamboo mat to help to get even, consistent pressure, and roll all the way forward. Once it’s completely enclosed, take it off the mat, and set aside. You did it! Seriously, that’s it!
Now all you have to do it slice it up, and serve with some toasted sesame seeds, soy sauce, and wasabi. It’s really that simple, and anyone will be impressed, especially if they’re never had sushi before. People love being introduced to something new, and you get to be the hero of the evening, looking like a master sushi chef. Okay, well not master, but they don’t know that, so ham it up as long as possible.
Kinjirō, Ōmae and Tachibana, Yuzuru (1988). The Book of Sushi. Tokyo: Kōdansha International, 1998. Print.
For more of an in-depth guide, click here to read Katie Walsh’s article “Makizushi Sushi Rolls at Home.” It comes complete with step-by-step pictures.