Having just moved from the urburbs to a full-on suburban town with a dearth of takeout sushi, we got our priorities in order. Step one, homemade sushi. Step two, umami bliss. Step three, unpack.
It’s hard to be taken seriously as an umami girl without a killer homemade sushi recipe. Still, I sure have taken my time sharing this one. Homemade sushi had been on my to-do list for years before I screwed up the roe to give it a try. (Wait, what does she think roe is?) I could never really identify what I was afraid of, but I never really had to, since totally decent takeout was always so readily available.
Not so much anymore. I mentioned a few weeks ago that we were preparing to move. It’s about the longest and least-linear story the world has ever known, so I won’t bother you with the details. But the endpoint, at least, is clear. The sign on the porch reads: “Cute house, needs work. No sushi.“
We’d known the move was coming for a while, so in addition to tinkering with kitchen layouts on Google Sketchup and hard-selling the new town to the kids, I gave myself several months of advance planning on the homemade sushi front. I’m no Morimoto to say the least, but we discovered that compared to the run-of-the-mill takeout we’d been living off on a weekly basis in our urburban city, the homemade stuff is a lot more special. (And I don’t mean “special,” like the temporary kitchen with no floor in the cute house.)
It’s hardly worth pointing out that sushi is a full-fledged umami experience. In this recipe, the umami flavors owe to the nori, the soy sauce, and to some extent the salmon and the shallot. Just as important as the umami itself is the range of other flavors and textures that it acts on. The creaminess of the avocado, the salmon and the mayonnaise, the spice from the Sriracha, the pungency of the shallots, the crunch of shallot and cucumber, and the saltiness of many of the ingredients all work together in an alchemy of taste. This dish, like all umami-rich food, is more than the sum of its parts. It eats like magic, but those parts were built from the ground up, with lots of attention to detail. Just like the special kitchen, and the whole special house, will be one day soon.
Until then, sushi.
House Special Roll
2 cups raw sushi rice
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1/2 pound sushi-grade salmon
2 ripe avocados
1 seedless cucumber
1/2 cup mayonnaise (I don’t buy the Japanese kind with added MSG, but a lot of sushi restaurants use it)
1 small shallot, finely minced (or 3 scallions, but I really prefer shallot)
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
Big squirt of Sriracha, to taste
1 package sushi nori (dried seaweed)
1 small jar masago (smelt roe) or tobiko (flying fish roe), optional
1. To prepare the rice, place it in a large bowl and fill with cool water. Stir with your hands for 30 seconds, then drain the water. Repeat this process until the water runs almost clear, probably 4 or 5 times. Pour the rice into a large pot (I like to use an enameled cast iron Dutch oven) and add 2 1/2 cups cold water. Bring to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 20 minutes without lifting the lid. Turn off the heat and let sit, covered, for 10 more minutes. Pour in the rice vinegar and stir with a wooden paddle (or a wooden spoon or stiff silicone spatula) for several minutes. Ideally you will be fanning the rice with a paper fan in your other hand while stirring, but the sushi will still taste good if you don’t.
2. Prepare the fillings: With a very sharp knife, cut the salmon into 1/2-inch-thick strips that are about as long as the short side of a piece of nori. Halve and pit the avocados. Slice the flesh lengthwise into strips and scoop it from the skin with a large spoon. Peel the cucumber, cut in half lengthwise and scoop out the watery center from each half with a small spoon. Then cut each half in half crosswise, and cut each quarter into 3 or 4 sticks.
3. To make the sauce, place the mayonnaise, shallot, soy sauce and Sriracha in a small bowl and stir to combine.
4. To assemble the sushi, lay a bamboo sushi mat on a cutting board with one of the short sides facing you. Place a piece of nori on the mat, also with one of the short sides toward you. Wet your hands (a bowl of warm water on the counter helps here) and pick up a small amount of rice (maybe 1/3 cup). Using your hands, spread the rice fairly evenly over the surface of the nori, leaving the half-inch strip farthest from you riceless. You don’t need to spread the rice perfectly to end up with good-looking sushi. Near the end closest to you, lay a strip of fish and some avocado and cucumber across the entire width of the rice. Spread on a generous bit of the sauce and sprinkle with roe, if using. Using your finger, wet the bare strip of nori to ensure it will seal the roll.
5. To roll the sushi, lift up the edge of the bamboo mat closest to you and tuck your thumbs underneath. Use the rest of your fingers to hold the fillings in place for a moment while you roll the mat once away from you to enclose the filling in the nori. Continue to roll the mat away from you, pressing gently and pulling slightly toward yourself at the bottom, to shape the roll. This is a nice video demonstration (also, I want that lady’s voice). Remove the bamboo mat. Wet the tip of your sharp knife, cut the roll in half crosswise, and then slice each half into three or four rounds. Serve with soy sauce for dipping and wasabi and pickled ginger, if desired.
6. Oh, and try this for dessert.