- 3 cups short grained rice (will be enough for two hungry sushi fans)
- 50 ml rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sugar (could be more, but too sweet for my taste)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- (2 teaspoons sake, if you like to experiment)
When I grew up, nobody in Germany knew sushi. These days everyone does. Raw fish is the stereotype of Japanese food and during the last decade one of Japans most successful cultural exports. We all know sushi. Do we?
We don’t. There are so many ways to prepare and serve sushi that you could re-discover this dish day by day: maki, nigiri, California rolls, chirashi zushi, temaki, inari, oshi zushi... There is not "the" sushi at all. Most notably, sushi isn’t one thing: raw fish.
Sushi is chilled, vinegared and sugared rice, accompanied by a rich diversity of ingredients; a lot of them raw fish, but also tamagoyaki, raw meat or vegetables. I love my sushi most, when the rice is still slightly warm.
It is and art by itself to prepare the rice in the right way. Every family and restaurant in Japan has its own recipe, its favourite type of rice (or even a mix of different types), its way of washing, steaming, cooling and spicing it. It is unbelievable for us in the West that budding sushi chefs spend a year learning mainly how to wash the white grains in the perfect way.
Well, I did not. And I still rely on the help of my Japanese friend, who will, I am sure, read this Food Print especially critically! Anyhow, we cannot waste time to prepare our own sushi, so we must try and try again.
Let us get started with our rice. Wash it carefully while massaging it with your hands. The draining water should be crystal clear, what will take you quite a while to achieve. Give yourself 5 to 8 minutes for this - and be happy with the result or you will go to bed starving... If you have a lot of time, let the rice drain and soak for one hour. I never did.
Steam the rice in your rice cooker. In the meantime, mix rice vinegar with sugar and salt (and sake, if you like). This is where the originally Chinese dish got its name from, as sushi literally means "sour tasting", although in the beginning this sour taste was not achieved by vinegar but by fermenting fish that was later eaten without the rice. In the following centuries Japanese chefs started to add vinegar to get a better taste of fish and rice. Only in the 19th century sushi became the fast food style dish it is now internationally known as.
Circle Sushi at Tsukiji Fishmarket in Tokyo
Next you need a "hangiri" and a "shamoji". Hangiri is the name of the wooden, flat-bottom barrel you cool and spice the rice in. Place it under water before you put the rice in. If you do not have a hangiri, use any other non-metallic bowl or plate. The shamoji is the flat spoon like tool you need to stir the rice with. A wooden or plastic kitchen spoon will also do the job. Oh, and you need one more thing: a fan. You really do!
After steaming the rice, let it cool down for ten minutes. Then, transfer the rice in the hangiri and quickly stir it with the shamoji while you fan the rice; even better, if you have a sous-chef at hand for the later (many thanks to my mother! I would only be half that much interested in cooking without her long year outstanding example).
The best way to "stir" the rice is to plough through it in vertical and horizontal lines before you shift it; even better slightly through it up a little. Your final goal is to cool the rice, to separate the gluey grains and to make them shin. Mix in the vinegar while stirring.
You might feel a little silly by fanning the rice. Don’t worry, you will get used to it! If you receive curious questions, why the hell you are doing this, simply reply "To make the rice shin" - and enjoy your guest’s puzzled glance. You should worry more about your wrists, because stirring and fanning the rice will take you a good ten minutes.
After this process you should have more or less perfect "shari" - the rice you can now use for adventurous combinations of toppings and fillings. We will see in the following Food Prints, what we could do with our sushi rice.
No "Itadakimasu!" today; who would like to eat the plain sushi rice, if you could combine it with salmon, tuna or tamagoyaki?