My favourite bit of a supermarket just now is the world foods aisle. I’ve managed to work my way through the whole range of instant noodles and bought some great ingredients from it. However the one thing that’s been catching my eye recently was the range of sushi related products in our local Tesco. Sushi mats, rice wine vinegar, sushi rice, wasabi… everything you need to give making sushi a go.
On Friday night I decided to invite my brother and his wife over to have a go.
With the type of sushi decided I now needed to consider the fillings. Surprisingly a lot of people still associate sushi with raw fish. I was talking to some friends recently about going to a local sushi restaurant and they recoiled at the idea; saying they didn’t like the thought of eating raw fish. Personally I like raw fish in sushi. As long as it’s fresh and you trust the supplier or the restaurant that’s serving it then there shouldn’t be a problem. If a restaurant can’t get fresh fish in Aberdeen then you’d have to seriously question that restaurant!
However I decided to play it safe for everyone else that was going to eat it. Besides, just getting the sushi right was enough to worry about without having to source fresh fish on the day and trying not to poison anyone. Raw fish was out and in its place I decided for the slightly untraditional fillings of smoked mackerel, steak, peppers and spring onions.
Going down a less authentic route for the filling was acceptable to me if I cooked the rice as well as possible. I also decided that it’s all very well being authentic but it’s pretty pointless if it’s hard to get the fillings on a Thursday night after work (when I would be shopping for ingredients). That and some of my guests don’t like smoked salmon.
Right enough pre-amble I think. Onto the sushi.
Rice is the key to good sushi. I spent a lot of time worrying about the rice. Which wasn’t helped by the rice cooking at a low simmer in a closed pot that you’re not allowed to lift the lid of under any circumstances. Not even to peek.
Eventually after leaving the rice to stand for 15 minutes after boiling I transferred it to a bowl to cool and season. Thankfully and with no small amount of happiness, I found the rice had cooked perfectly. Fluffy, separate grains which were wonderfully sticky.
I gently folded the rice wine vinegar seasoning through the rice as it cooled and draped a damp tea towel over it until ready to roll.
First up was the smoked mackerel maki rolls. With Dave on photographer duties (he is a professional after all) I laid out a sheet of nori and spread the rice on top. Then I placed a few strips of mackerel, some slices of red pepper and some slices of spring onion alongside it. I was really nervous about the act of rolling the maki. I don’t know why but I was sure it was going to go hideously wrong. After all sushi chefs train for years to make this stuff so I can’t make anything edible in my first attempt can I?
Turns out as long as you’re careful and keep the roll quite tight using the sushi mat you absolutely can get an edible, albeit slightly messy looking, maki roll on the first attempt. Which I then sliced up into horribly uneven pieces and served to three hungry diners.
I gave everyone a ramekin full of soy sauce and some wasabi to add to it if they wanted. Two big mouthfuls later the first round of sushi was gone and I was on my feet to make the second.
This time it was the turn of the steak. For once I’d managed to hit my target and had cooked the steak medium. A dab of wasabi on the bottom of each slice of steak then I pushed it onto the top of an oblong of sticky rice and served. It turns out there’s a very good reason why sushi chefs use fish for nigiri most of the time. Fish breaks apart very easy so if you can’t eat your piece of nigiri in one go you can very easily bite it in half. That doesn’t work so well with steak. We’ll just pretend that didn’t happen though, ok? The steak, while a bit messy, was delicious. The soy and ginger marinade made the meat sweet and slightly sticky with a gentle heat lying in the background. I’ll need to remember about the marinade for a future dish as it would go brilliantly with some stir fried noodles.
Next up was the mackerel nigiri. This was much more successful in that it was a lot easier to eat than the steak. Still due to the nature of the nigiri and it’s tendency to fall apart if you try to dip it into the soy sauce more than once I think everyone preferred the maki roll. Lucky for them I still had enough rice and mackerel to make another 8 pieces of maki. Once again the slices were hideously uneven (I fared better the next day when I made a final roll for lunch) but the sweet mackerel, peppers and slight tang of the spring onion tasted superb with the sweet, sticky rice dipped in the fiery wasabi soy mixture.
Sushi is great, sociable food. Perhaps next time I would just knock the lot up in one go instead of getting up after every round to make the next one. That way everyone can pick at it a piece at a time. I also wouldn’t use steak again on the nigiri. It’s too chewy for that but it might work well in a roll. The smoked mackerel was a true star. It worked brilliantly and you can’t ask for a more simple ingredient to prepare.
I think this is a great example of how far I’ve come as a cook. For me the biggest difference between someone who thinks they can’t cook and someone who now thinks of themselves as a cook is that the cook will overcome their fear of failure and have a go. As I was getting ready to make the first roll a sense of impending doom washed over me but you have to try these things to become a proficient cook so I pressed on and gave it a bash. Six years ago I hadn’t even made mashed tatties because it seemed easier just to boil them and there was less to go wrong! It’s almost funny now I look back on those days.
One last note for my fellow bloggers. Beware if you offer to feed a photographer and end up asking them to hold a camera while you prepare the food you will end up with a lot more pictures than you normally take. I had 62 pictures to sort through for this post. I decided to use a lot more than I normally would as I think it’s good to have a full set showing most of the process for once.
Serves 4 (3 maki rolls and 8 pieces of nigiri)
2 pieces of frying steak
3 fillets of smoked mackerel
500g sushi rice
5 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
3 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 chilli, finely sliced
1 pepper, finely sliced
2 spring onions, finely sliced lengthways
Marinade the steak in some soy sauce, a teaspoon of ginger, the chilli and some pepper for at least 2 hours.
Cook the rice according to the packet instructions.
For 500g of rice I cooked simmered it very gently for 10 minutes in a pan with a closed lid.
Then let it stand off the heat for 20 minutes.
Don’t remove the lid at any point while it’s simmering or standing!
Dissolve the sugar and salt in the rice wine vinegar (20 seconds in the microwave helps this along).
Transfer the rice into a large glass container then gently fold the vinegar into the rice a few teaspoons at a time.
Cover the rice with a damp tea towel to keep it moist until needed.
Fry the steaks over a high heat for 2 minutes on each side then set aside to rest.
Remove the skin from the mackerel fillets and trim them into long strips and 4 large sections (about the width and length of a thumb).
Trim the steak into similar sections.
To make the rolls:
Lay a single nori sheet shiny side down on a sushi mat.
Dip your hands in water then take a handful of rice and lay it onto the sheet.
Spread the rice across the nori so it covers the seaweed end to end with a small gap at the top and bottom.
Lay the mackerel strips along the middle of the rice.
Place a few strips of spring onion and red pepper alongside the mackerel.
Gently lift up the end of the mat and roll it into a tight cylinder.
Use a little bit of water to stick the seaweed together at join.
Carefully move the cylinder to a flat surface and cut into individual maki rolls with a very sharp, wet, knife.
For nigiri pieces:
Dip your hand in water and take a handful of rice.
Squeeze it gently while moving it in the palm of your hand to shape it into a tight oblong of rice.
Squeeze a pea sized blob of wasabi onto the bottom of the mackerel or steak slice and then push that on to the rice.
Pour some soy sauce into a small bowl or ramekin.
Add some wasabi paste and stir it in with some chopsticks or a teaspoon.
Dip the sushi piece into the soy and eat in one go!