Friday, December 13, 2013

Faking It

We love sushi.  Alas, raw fish of the grade that can be eaten in sushi is hard to find this far inland (and we're only about 70 miles from the coast); sushi rice is easily 3 or 4 times the cost of regular rice;  Nori is hard to find.  And the one sushi bar in town that's affordable...let's just say that it shows--oh, it's perfectly safe, but everything is stale.

I'm not a sushi snob:  I cannot discern, as some Japanese claim to be able to, the difference between rice grown in the US and "proper" (i.e., Japanese) rice.  For me, sushi is an aspiration rather than an experience--because it's so expensive, merely having it is a subversive gesture, a middle finger to the constraints of my budget.  Still, I don't believe in going broke to give myself a treat, so while I would like to imagine myself at Jiro's, for my run-of-the-mill sushi cravings, I usually have to stick with the Albert Heijn offerings.

Or at least I would, if they were filled with things other than salmon and tuna and shrimp.  I don't know about you, but part of the thrill of sushi is the "exotic" raw fishes--in quotes because really, I'm talking about stuff like yellowtail and octopus--stuff that's not so exotic that it's hard to find, but more fancy than salmon-which-might-not-be salmon.   But my main quibble with Albert Heijn sushi is that it's been sitting in a box for two days--and you can taste every minute.  Paying almost €7 for something that tastes stale is a terrible waste of money, in my opinion.

But recently I uncovered a technique for faking sushi rice, using ordinary short-grained white rice, that didn't require a rice cooker.  That's something Europeans don't understand about Asians:  most of us don't know how to cook rice.  We grew up putting it into a rice cooker, and magic happened, and rice came out--sticky, of course, because proper rice should be a bit sticky (for eating with chopsticks, of course).  When I moved here, I never made rice because I literally didn't know how to.  It took a while to work out the proportion of water to rice, and the cooking times.  Happily, faking sushi rice is pretty simple.

  1. Wash the rice:  you'll want the water to be mostly clear--clear enough so that, when there's about an inch of water over the rice, you can see the kernels easily.  Keep in mind that rice varieties differ, so what I'm saying might be overkill or not enough for you.
  2. Drain the rice--leave it in a seive for about 30 minutes.
  3. Soak the rice--put it in a pot and add an equal volume of water (1 cup rice, 1 cup water).  Cover and let it sit for 30 minutes
  4. Cook the rice:  Bring the rice to a boil.  As soon as it boils, turn the heat down to low.  Keep the pot covered and let it simmer for 20 minutes.  Turn off the heat.  Leave it alone for 15 minutes.  
Do not screw around with these times.  You can make 1 cup of rice, or 3 cups of rice--it may take longer to come to a boil, but once it does, it will still simmer for 20 minutes, and sit covered for 15 minutes.  Do not remove the lid while it is simmering or "finishing"--you need to keep the moisture in.

Mirin, if you can get it, is good stuff.  If you can't, a bit of plain vinegar and white sugar will do.  The ratio I use is about 1 part sugar to 3 parts vinegar (by volume)--heat it up (microwave works fine for this, though be careful with a hot acid) and make sure the sugar is entirely dissolved.  At the end of the fifteen minutes, sprinkle the vinegar mix over the rice, and do your best to mix everything together thoroughly.  

A note about manhandling this sticky mess into submission:  Use a plastic utensil.  Not a silicone one, which will be too floppy, a plastic one.  I used my kidlet's plastic toddler spoon.  For a hard-core sushi experience, I suppose you can always find bamboo utensils, but basically this will not stick to plastic but it will stick like hell to metal.  It's still hard to handle, but less impossibly so.  

Good luck.  

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