When we started writing this blog, one of the promises we made ourselves was to use the blog as motivation to cook new things at home. And so far we are making progress, but mostly with new tools like sous-vide and using “molecular gastronomy” ingredients in baking. But the next step was for us to explore new cuisines, and we went right for Japan.
We love Japanese food and have a favorite local sushi bar and are even members in a Sake tasting club (great fun), but rarely cook anything other than tempura at home. But we decided that needed to change. So we bought Debra Samuels’ “My Japanese Table”, a cookbook with Japanese recipes adapted for the American kitchen. Samuels is a well-regarded food writer for the Boston Globe and lived /cooked in Japan for ten years, so we took the plunge. So far the cookbook is a good read, with plenty of simple recipes for Japanese basics like teriyaki and tempura. But we know what we wanted to do at home, sushi. And this recipe is why we bought the cookbook. Sushi balls are very pretty sushi that you can make at home. And its fun…really.
Usually the big issue with making sushi at home is actually constructing the rolls. Sushi rice is super-sticky and the shaping tools are uncommon for most home cooks. Without constant practice, home sushi can look like a train wreck. And while the flavor of the sushi can be good, the presentation is a big part of the dish. One way to handle this challenge is to simply prepare the rice and ingredients and then present them with nori as a buffet for hand-rolls. But with Sushi balls, anyone can make an attractive individual piece of sushi. You can even have fun and experiment with presentation.
The trick is to simply place the fish or veggie on a square of plastic wrap, then place a tablespoon or so of rice on top (be sure to keep your hands moist with water when handling the rice). Then bring up all the corners of the plastic wrap and twist tightly into a ball. When it unwinds, you have a well-shaped sushi ball. It only takes a few tries to get the hang of it, and then you can experiment with different combinations of ingredients. Samuels suggests cooked shrimp, lightly salted cucumbers and smoked salmon. We added some seared ahi, salmon roe and browned shiitake mushrooms. Cooked crab or scallops would also be very good additions. But feel free to experiment based on taste and budget (and this is an inexpensive dish).
Now that shaping the sushi is less of a challenge, the real effort goes in making the sushi rice. While in sushi bars “mastering” the rice can take years, it is something you can do well at home- on the first try. The trick is to buy the correct rice and follow all of the steps. For the rice you need short grain japonica rice, which is available in most supermarkets. Don’t substitute long grain rice. As for the steps, you must rinse the rice and then either soak it for cooking or use a rice cooker- the recipe deals with both. While the rice is cooking you make the Sushi-zu seasoning of rice vinegar, sugar, salt and mirin. When the rice finishes cooking, you place it in a bowl and then gently sprinkle and mix the Sushi-zu seasoning with the rice. Then fan the rice to cool it down. The rice should stick together but not be mashed or “gluey”. But if you use the right rice and follow each step you will get consistent, tasty, results.
Slice cucumbers, sprinkle with salt, wait for 5 minutes and drain. Done. Continue reading