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How Sushi Works

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Sushi is both a modern culinary treat and a Japanese tradition dating back hundreds of y­ears. But there are a lot of misconceptions about sushi. For examp­le, sushi isn’t just raw fish. Fish is merely one of the many possible ingredients that can be added to sushi.

In this article, we’ll learn where sushi came from, find out about the different kinds of sushi, and explore what it’s like to visit a sushi bar. We’ll also learn how to make sushi at home.

Sushi Toppings

If you’re making sushi at home, you’re free to put whatever you like in your sushi. However, certain ingredients are considered “classics,” due to the traditions and tastes of Japanese cuisine.

Although raw fish isn’t required, some of the best sushi is made with this ingredient. Saltwater fish are less prone to bacteria and parasites than freshwater fish. Keep in mind that species and nomenclature differs between Japan and the United States, and that similar varieties are often substituted for each other depending on location and the season.

At the Sushi Bar

Eating at a sushi bar is a little different from eating at a regular restaurant. Newcomers don’t have to worry, though — sushi bar staff are known for being helpful.

The bar itself surrounds the area where the sushi chefs operate. When you sit at the bar, you will get to talk to the chefs and see them in action. Your chef might have suggestions regarding what is in season or what he thinks you might enjoy, so don’t be afraid to ask. You can also let him know if you don’t want fish. Sushi is ordered directly from the chef, while drinks and other foods, like soup, are ordered from servers. The wait staff can also answer any questions you might have about the sushi bar.

Making Sushi at Home: Choosing Fish

Sushi is not usually made at home in Japan. Sushi bars are nearly ubiquitous there, and the Japanese often feel that only an expert sushi chef can make proper sushi. When they eat sushi at home, they order it. It also doesn’t make sense to buy a large selection of fish and other ingredients that have to be eaten that night. However, for special events, making sushi at home can be fun and delicious.

If you decide to use raw fish in your sushi, be very careful where you buy it. You can’t use just any raw fish — look for sushi- or sashimi-grade fish. You may have to check out Japanese markets or ask at a local sushi bar. Regular fish is not handled with the intention of raw preparation, so it is likely to contain bacteria and parasites that can only be removed by cooking. Fresh water fish are not suitable for eating raw.

Making Sushi at Home: Preparing Rice

The first step in making sushi is preparing the rice. The rice itself can be any white medium or short grain rice, but Asian food markets sell rice that is labeled “sushi rice.”

The rice must be rinsed until the water runs almost clear from the rice. Do this carefully to avoid mashing or breaking the rice. A strainer can be too rough, but gently swirling water around the rice in a pot works well. The rice should then be soaked in cold water for half an hour, then drained.

Making Sushi: Nigiri-zushi and Temaki

For toppings, we used thinly sliced carrots, avocado, and cucumber.

Toppings need to be sliced so they’ll fit into or on top of the sushi. The slicing is an art form all by itself. Toppings can be diced, minced, shaved, slivered, or cut into matchsticks. Here we have carrot slivers and long cucumber slices.

Making Sushi: Futomaki and Uramaki

Makizushi is rolled sushi, and it comes in several varieties, depending on the exact shape and size.

Futomaki is what many people think of when they think “sushi.” First, put a sheet of nori on your bamboo mat, shiny side down. Cover about two-thirds of the nori with rice (probably a little less than is pictured here). Place your toppings across the rice.

 

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