Sushi has long been one of my favourite snacks, I love love love fresh tuna or salmon sashimi (slices of beautiful fresh raw fish – yes, RAW!) and had never tried teriyaki chicken, tinned tuna mayonnaise or smoked salmon versions until I moved to New Zealand a decade ago. I still can’t quite get my head around the tinned tuna mayo ones and think my palate would screech in disdain if I tried to eat one, but for kiddies, this is a much better option than anything raw.
My favourite restaurant in Jo’burg was in Sandton City (I can’t recall the name now) where you could watch the chefs preparing their beautiful Japanese dishes where as much effort went into creating something visibly pleasing as flavoursome. It’s awesome to watch someone move a blade that quickly and shape what is essentially a dead fish (sorry for the faint-hearted among us) into delectable delicious creations – a true artform, a tantric dance with a super sharp blade where the dancer carefully moves through the steps in a very composed yet satisfying state.
Tempura battered prawns was another favourite, but what actually got me hooked on sushi was the california roll. Now for those of you who have had the pleasure of visiting Japan, you probably didn’t see a california roll anywhere in sight, but as with many things, this is an Americanised version of the original sushi dishes brought about in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s to introduce Americans to this ethnic food, brought to America by many sushi chefs entering the US via California at that time.
The sweetness of the rice, combined with the salty soy sauce, the tangy pickled ginger, temporary burn of the wasabi, freshness of the vegetable ingredients and soft pure texture and melt-in-your mouth goodness of the fish is always enticing, not to mention the vibrant colours of any sushi dish.
But, if you aren’t into munching on raw fishy parcels, there are gazillions of other versions to try. I made Smoked Salmon california rolls for a light Saturday lunch the other day, my husband and I both being converts of many years, but my young one eyeing the meal suspiciously. After a little enticement, bordering on bribery, he munched his first sushi mouthful and then proceeded to compete with my husband to finish what was on the tray. Needless to say I was very pleased with the subsequent requests for more of these little rolls. Preparing sushi is not as difficult as it might look, in fact it is actually very simple and quite relaxing. It just takes a bit of practice to make sure the rice layer isn’t too thick and that you roll the roll evenly, giving it a gentle squeeze along the length of the roll each time you roll it further.
Raw salmon is much brighter than smoked salmon, so the colour isn’t too bright in this pic, but it tastes just as nice. It’s also a great way to get little people into the kitchen and interested in cooking as they get to use their hands and can choose from any number of filling options.
4 rolls of nori (black or dark green sushi seaweed squares/rectangles)
1 cup uncooked rice (preferably short-grain white sushi rice)
1 – 2 cups cold water (probably best to just cook the rice using the instructions on the packet)
2 Tbsp sugar (I like castor sugar as it is a fine grain)
5 Tbsp rice vinegar (not essential, but does have a distinct flavour – if you don’t have this, normal vinegar is a good substitute but I wouldn’t use a Balsamic type vinegar)
Fillings of your choice could include:
cucumber, sliced lengthwise
100 g smoked salmon
Other less “traditional” filling options might include:
thinly sliced carrots, canned tuna, cream cheese, ham, pickled gherkin, smoked or teriyaki chicken, tofu, tinned pineapple chunks, etc.
and a bamboo sushi mat for rolling the sushi (normally pretty close to the nori sheets in any supermarket)
- Cook rice according to packet directions, using the water listed above. Remove from heat and cool.
- Meanwhile, chop the fillings of your choice into chunks or strips.
- Mix the sugar and vinegar and combine it with the cooled rice, stirring to incorporate evenly. This is what gives it the flavour and stickiness.
- On the sushi bamboo mat, spread out 1 sheet of nori.
- Cover it as thinly as you can with the rice mixture. Leave an uncovered 2cm strip of nori along the top edge (to seal the roll). A tip for spreading the rice is to make sure your hands are wet and gently pat the rice into place. If your hands become too sticky, the rice will stick to you instead of the nori and it becomes quite a messy task – fun, but messy.
- In the centre of the nori, lay out horizontal lines of your filling. Be careful not to overload with too much filling as you may have trouble rolling it up.
- Now you need a little concentration: Grip the mat firmly in both hands and roll up the sushi as tightly as you can. The mat will help you apply even pressure along the roll but do give a gentle squeeze along the length as you don’t want a loose roll that falls apart when you cut it.
- Be careful not to roll the mat up into the sushi roll.
- Wet the rice-free strip of nori using a little water on your fingertip and spread it along, re-dipping your finger if necessary. This will ‘glue’ the nori pieces together.
- Using a very sharp knife (this is the part for the parents please!), carefully slice the sushi into 2 cm slices. Another clue is to wet the knife blade if necessary so it doesn’t stick to the rice and pull the roll out of shape.
- Lay the pieces out neatly on a beautiful platter and repeat steps 4 – 10. Congrats, you’re done!
- Pour a little soy sauce into a small bowl, garnish your platter with a bit of pickled ginger and a teeny dollop of wasabi.
Keep practicing, you’ll get better with every roll and be ridiculously pleased with yourself 🙂