wanted dead or alive: A sushi primer

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    Hi all /img/vbsmilies/smilies/smile.gif

    It's been a little while since I had a chance to practice making some rolls.  I got a chance tonight to give it a try again.  Here's a few pictures of my progress.  It's not as good as I'd like it...but I'm am getting a little better.  I happy with the progress of my rice and portions inside the roll too.

   My wife signed me up for a sushi class in Chicago.  It's nothing big, just a two hour class covering a 5 course sushi meal.  But I figure with all the experience I've got a two hour class will be very welcome!  

   thanks again all...(thanks petals)





  dan
 
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Dan,

Your sushi looks terrific ! You didn't give up and look what you  accomplished. The pics are great.

Charron is right about using vinegar (or vinegar and water) for keeping your fingertips clean and not so sticky when rolling.

Look forward to hearing how your course is going. Please keep us updated.
 
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I know it's been a while since you posted this, but...
 
The last maki sushi that I made turned out real nice. The only problem was the tuna was cut too thin. So this time the tuna was cut to an adequate size...and I laid a small (fake) wasabi strip next to the tuna and cucumber. Lol, now I like horseradish...but YIKES! I over did it...just a tad :lol: Speaking of wasabi...I wonder where I can find some fresh wasabi? How long does fresh wasabi keep? Hmmm...maybe I'll have to go look at the Asian grocery store for it. The fresh wasabi that I've had hits hard and then dissipates as fast as it arrived. Is all real wasabi like that?

dan
Thin cuts: this is fine in maki rolls -- it's a question of taste. In nigirizushi, my experience in Japan is that most fish are cut a good deal thicker for nigirizushi in Japan than they are here. In part, that's because so many places here in the US use almost exclusively frozen fish or salmon, and if you cut these things too thick you'll notice the texture problems. Tuna is one of the very, very few fish that holds up well, texture-wise, to freezing. The only time you're likely to see really paper-thin fish is with something that has a very hard texture, like abalone or the infamous fugu. Otherwise fish cut too thin is a mark of a cheap place.

Wasabi: don't bother looking for fresh. Good fresh wasabi is very expensive and keeps badly. It does not ship well, either. There are a few places in the US and China growing it, but it's expensive and mediocre. I am told that some of the stuff in the Pacific Northwest is getting much better, but that's no help to you -- shipping is a serious problem. The cheapest I've seen good fresh wasabi in Japan is about $15 a root, and that's not top-notch wasabi by any means. Once you start in on a root, in 3 days it's shot; if you don't cut it, you've got about 2 days before it starts to go anyway. The cheap roots, on the order of $8 a root, aren't worth the price. For comparison, a wasabi root is about the size of a short, fat carrot, so that's a lot of money for not a lot of material. I would very strongly recommend that you stick to the powdered green stuff, which is what most people in Japan eat too. (Why? Because the good stuff is too expensive.) Incidentally, despite a lot of hoo-ha about authenticity, Japanese gourmets generally accept that making a sort of paste out of soy sauce and wasabi is perfectly fine so long as you're dealing with the powdered stuff -- there's no subtlety to get suppressed by this process.

One last thing: it's all about the rice. If you've got terrific fish and put it on second-rate sushi rice, it's a waste -- serve sashimi instead. Good sushi rice is very much the mark of the good sushi place. One Tokyo gourmet I know told me that you know a good sushi place by three things, in the following order: good rice, good fish properly cut, and good nigiri. As a result, if you're going to take the whole sushi thing seriously, I'd suggest that you make a point of going every once in a while to the best sushi place you can find, at a peculiar hour (like 3:00 in the afternoon or something), and trying to chat up the guy behind the bar. I mean, eat something, but what you want is to taste his rice, just as it is. That way you have something to compare it to in your own home product. Focus on flavor and mouth-feel. Once you can make good sushi rice, you can make brilliant home sushi of whatever kind, just by tinkering with this or that cutting, rolling, or whatever technique.
 
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    Thanks for the help and encouragement petals /img/vbsmilies/smilies/smile.gif

   Thanks for taking the time to post your comments Chris.

   I was much happier with the size of the tuna going in my rolls this time.  In the past I was going much too thin.  Next time I try some nigiri I'll go a little thicker there too.  

  Wasabi:  I've only had real wasabi twice and oh my word was it enjoyable (if that makes sense???)  I haven't tried the powdered stuff yet, I'll have to get some.  Right now I have a tube of green horseradish.   I hear the Green City Market in Chicago has some fresh wasabi, but I I'll be happy to get my hands on some of the powdered.

  I love your suggestion about focusing on the rice when I go out for sushi.  Even though I've aways noted the rice, in various preparations.  I never focused on it quite the way your describing as a learning tool, thanks.  

    Do you have any suggestions on rice that has worked for you?  or perhaps slicing the tuna loin?

   thanks!

  dan
 
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Wasabi: The only powdered wasabi I know of that contains any significant amount of the real wasabi root comes from Penzey's Spices, and is not cheap, but you can order on-line. Everything else, powdered or paste, is green horseradish. Real wasabi root is delicate and expensive, and in very high demand. Most of the time wasabi in Japan is green horseradish too, though, so don't sweat it. (Although this does make a lot of the supposedly gourmet items containing "wasabi" a bit of a joke -- "wasabi mayonnaise" is just mayonnaise with green horseradish in it, but people will pay more for it because they think it's a gourmet item.) I personally would pass on buying root wasabi unless you know someone who really knows what he or she is talking about who assures you that it is actually of very good quality. In my experience, mediocre wasabi is worse than decent powdered/paste green horseradish, because it has almost no taste. I do prefer powdered to paste, because I find that the flavor degrades somewhat over time after you make up the paste; a lot of premade pastes include stabilizers and preservatives and stuff to overcome this, and I'm not a huge fan of those either.

Rice: I'm basically just passing on the standard wisdom among Tokyo-ite gourmet types, who get very wound up about the rice. You may have heard that a classic haute cuisine French place can be rated by the quality of its stock, demi-glace, and roast chicken. If those are perfect, everything else will be too. In a similar way, the quality of a sushi place can largely be determined by the nigiri: if the rice is perfect and the nigiri perfectly formed, everything else is bound to be perfect too -- you can trust the chef to season everything just so. In Kyoto, by contrast, the mark of a great chef is his dashi: if the dashi is perfect, you're in the hands of a master and can just let him take care of everything.

My suggestions about brands and types and methods are worth nothing. I don't like sushi rice -- never have. I used to have various ideas about why this might be, but after a year in Japan I discovered that it's just a taste thing: I don't like sushi. Now sashimi, on the other hand, is something about which I could write rhapsodies. My problem isn't the fish, it's the dang rice. Well, no matter -- you and it seems more or less everyone else like sushi, so go ahead. I'm just saying it's really, really important to get the rice right. But somebody else will have to make suggestions about the hows.

EDIT (forgot...)

Tuna: Tuna is normally cut across the grain, rather thick, in rectangular slices. The usual way to do this has to do with how you block the chunk of loin. Basically when you get it whole, it looks kind of like the letter P lying on its flat side, with the grain running perpendicular --- if you draw a letter P on a piece of paper, the primary grain of the fish runs in a line through the surface of the paper and down into your table, if you see what I mean. The object is to cut this into precisely rectangular blocks without disturbing the grain. So when you look at the block you've got, you've got to figure out how it aligned with the fish in its natural state. Cut the piece along the main line of the fish, i.e. parallel to the backbone and skin, so that the blocks you produce are rectangles (or as close as you can get) with one end exactly the size you want for your slices. Then you just cut slices off that end, working from the right to the left (assuming you're a righty), fairly thick, and you'll have perfect rectangles for your nigiri.

Sometimes, however, the end of your fish piece will be more of a triangle. In this case, you have to work out how best to get a clean rectangle out of this triangle. The remainder will be smaller triangle-ended strips. These you can slice at an angle into medium-thin triangles, or cut into long thin strips for making pencil-thin maki rolls (usually made with a small amount of rice and half or 2/3 of a nori sheet).

Of course, it all depends what you like. Sushi chefs are anxious not to waste any tuna, because it costs a fortune. For them, the idea is to get as much perfectly-blocked fish for slicing and putting on nigiri (or serving as sashimi), then after every by of that has been cut, to use some triangular parts sliced thin at an angle to make little sashimi rosettes. Then the remainder go into maki, where texture matters a lot less. If you prefer maki in the first place, that changes everything. Do you follow?
 
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   ok...I'm still going at it.  This is a pic of my last attempt.  I tried a new way to make the rice, trying to improve.  I used a different ratio when cooking the sushi rice.  In short...it wasn't enough water and I didn't have enough sushi rice to start over.  So I added a bit more water, it didn't end well.  The whole meal wasn't horrible...but it wasn't that enjoyable knowing the mistake was so obvious to taste.  

  

   thanks again all!

  dan
 
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