When you say “Japanese”, sushi usually comes to mind and is often followed by a squirm, presumably at the thought of raw fish. As with all Japanese ingredients, there is much mystery and much confusion about the variety of sushi and sashimi. There are several hotels and restaurants in India which now serve very good sushi as part of their menu (many have trained Japanese chefs or young Indian chefs trained by Japanese chefs), and a few speciality Japanese restaurants, which are truly outstanding and world class. I was fortunate to experience a rare sit-down dinner last month in one of the country’s top Japanese restaurants, Sakura, at The Metropolitan in New Delhi.
Sakura is a quintessential Japanese experience, down to the half pink curtains and small private dining rooms, and is the only Japanese restaurant in the country to serve fugu, which can kill people if not carved by an expert hand. Chef Nariyoshi prepared a special seven-course sit-down, within which there were specialities and innovative dishes marrying Japanese flavours with quirky French ingredients such as a roast rack of lamb with fresh ground wasabi and tempura coated with three crispy coatings other than tempura flour. It seems though, that sashimi and sushi are sacrosanct and cannot be touched. So, for the novice, here are some guidelines to help you navigate your way through a sushi and sashimi menu, followed by a simple recipe for sushi.
Sashimi is simply sliced raw fish. The most popular are salmon, tuna (maguro—lean and reddish in colour), belly of tuna (toro—fatty, and very expensive), yellow tail, squid, mackerel, snapper and prawn. An assorted platter of sashimi is called sashimi moriawase. Sushi is raw fish, omelette or vegetables with vinegared rice, rolled in different ways with or without the seaweed wrapper, nori. Shaped sushi, which is 2” oblong bits of rice topped with raw fish, is called nigiri sushi. Aburi sushi is the same thing, but with fish which has been slightly seared. Temari sushi are balls of rice on which thin slices of fish are sculpted. Then you have the “maki”, which are rolls. Ura maki are inside out rolls where fish and vegetable fillings are wrapped in a sheet of nori and then rolled in rice and often sprinkled with sesame seeds. Nori maki and the variation, hosomaki, are probably the most common type of sushi, where rice and fillings are rolled together in a seaweed wrapper into a long cylinder, and then cut. Rolls can contain any fish, from eel (unagi) to octopus, or avocado, asparagus and shitake mushroom. Then you have variations such as the California roll, with mayonnaise, avocado and prawn or crab. Along with your beautifully crafted sushi or sashimi, you have wasabi (hot, light green, Japanese horseradish paste), gari (thin, slightly sweet slices of pink pickled ginger) and shoyu, Japanese light soya.
When attempting sushi at home, you cannot compromise on the above ingredients—you must use Japanese rice, which is available in Mumbai (Crawford Market) and New Delhi (INA Market). Nori, gari and wasabi are also available at these places. Akasaka, a restaurant and shop in Chennai, has it all. If you can get hold of a bamboo mat for rolling, then go ahead with nori maki, otherwise only attempt nigiri, aburi or temari sushi, which you can form with your hands. Don’t rush anything. Sushi takes time and practice. And remember, when you cut a sushi roll, you must wipe and wet your knife each time and your knife must be razor sharp. In restaurants, most sushi and sashimi seafood is imported, hence the price.
This is Chef Nariyoshi Nakamura’s recipe for sushi. In India, it can be tricky attempting raw fish at home. I suggest you use poached prawns or smoked salmon instead of the traditional tuna.
Sushi nori maki
4 large sheets, toasted dried layer nori, each about 20 x 18 cm
600gm vinegared rice
150gm tuna/smoked salmon
1 tbs wasabi
2 tbs gari
2 tsp light soya
Cut the salmon in four strips of the same length as the nori. Cut the cucumber in quarters lengthwise, peel and remove the seeds and cut into sticks. Cut the nori in half. Place the half nori sheet on a bamboo rolling mat, with the shiny side down. Top the nori with ½ cup of the sushi rice, spread evenly on the sheet, leaving a border of 1cm (about half an inch) free on the inside of the sheet.
Take a little wasabi on your finger and spread it across the rice in the centre. Place the salmon across the centre of the horseradish and start to roll using the bamboo mat, making sure the nori sheet end goes under the rice. Roll the mat up firmly and squeeze gently. Remove the rolled sushi from the mat, cut in half and then into three pieces with a wet knife.
Wet your right hand with water and vinegar solution (1 tsp each of vinegar and water). Take the slice of tuna in your left hand, and using the index finger of your right hand, apply a little wasabi. Take about 3 tbs of sushi rice in your hand, make an oval ball and put on top of tuna. Press the rice and the fish gently with the fingers of your left hand and the middle finger of the other hand. The rice must come at the bottom.
For the vinegared rice (sushi-meshi):
3 cups short-grain Japanese sushi rice
3 cups water
1” square dried kelp (konbu)
4 tbs rice vinegar
3 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
Wash the rice gently under running water in a clockwise circular motion, taking care not to crush the grains, until the water runs clear. Soak in the water for 10 minutes. Leave the rice to drain in a colander for about 30 minutes. Put in a saucepan with the water and kelp and bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce to medium heat and simmer for about 15 minutes until the rice is cooked and the water has been absorbed, or cook in a rice cooker. Remove the lid and cover the top of the pan with a towel to absorb any condensation. Put back the lid and leave the covered saucepan to one side for 20 minutes.
While the rice is cooking, mix the dressing ingredients in a small bowl, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, then keep aside. Put the cooked rice in a wide wooden tub or plastic bowl. Stir gently in a circular motion with a rice paddle or wooden spoon, sprinkling in the dressing little by little, until it has been absorbed. Ideally, the rice mixture should be fanned by hand to help cool it while the dressing is being stirred in. Cover the bowl containing the vinegared rice with a damp cloth until it is needed for sushi. Keep at room temperature, not in the fridge, and use within 12 hours.
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