One of the first times that I had sushi, I was working on a project monitoring endangered loggerhead shrikes on San Clemente Island, off the coast of California. There were more than 30 biologists working on various projects on the island, and we liked to have big dinners every now and again. I didn’t help make the sushi that time, as I was too busy deep-frying doughnuts for dessert. (I had ordered shortening on our weekly grocery order, expecting Crisco to make pies. Instead we ended up with a 7-gallon vat of liquid shortening! So we had some deep-frying experiments.) I’ve also had homemade sushi nights with southwestern willow flycatcher biologists in Arizona, Sandhill crane technicians in Nebraska, banders in the Yukon, and ferruginous hawk & burrowing owl technicians in Saskatchewan. And in the off-season, I like to make it here on the island with friends.
I’ve never had “real” sushi (as in, in a restaurant) but let me assure you, sushi doesn’t need raw fish! Sushi actually refers to vinegared rice mixed with other ingredients. The rolls many people are familiar with are a type of maki sushi.
1 cup sushi rice (also know as sticky rice)
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
4 teaspoons white sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 sheets nori (that’s seaweed)
assorted fillings, e.g. smoked or canned salmon, imitation crab, cucumber, carrot, red pepper, avocado, cream cheese, etc.
soy sauce for serving
Follow rice cooking instructions on package, ensuring you rinse the rice well first. Once rice is cooked and has sat the prescribed amount of time, transfer to large bowl.
Meanwhile, in a small microwaveable bowl, combine vinegar, sugar and salt ; microwave at high for 20 to 30 seconds or just until hot. Stir until sugar dissolves; let cool completely.* Drizzle over rice; gently toss with spoon to coat. Spread over surface of bowl; loosely cover with tea towel and let cool completely at room temperature, about 30 minutes. Do not refrigerate.
While the rice cools, prepare the fillings. Cut long, thin strips of the vegetables and cream cheese, and break the fish into flakes. Fill small bowls with water for moistening your fingers. Also, it is good to keep some paper towels or napkins handy to wipe your hands after you place the fillings on the rolls, and a wet cloth for cleaning your cutting knife.
Place 1 nori sheet, shiny side down and with long side closest to you, on bamboo sushi rolling mat that has been covered by plastic wrap. With moistened fingers, lightly spread about 1/2 cup of the rice in even layer on nori sheet, leaving a 1/2″ border along the farthest side. Along the longest side, lay down rows of filling ingredients. I tend to use salmon + cream cheese + 1-3 kinds of vegetables.
Working with closest edge of bamboo, lift and roll up nori, firmly encasing filling. Moisten the edge with water to seal. Set aside, seam side down. Repeat with remaining ingredients to make 6 rolls. Using a sharp knife, cut each roll into 8 slices, wiping knife with wet cloth between cuts.
Serve with soy sauce for dipping. Wasabi and pickled ginger are other traditional accompaniments.
*If you buy sushi vinegar, it will already have the salt and sugar added, so the microwave step will not be necessary.
What do you like in your sushi?