Roll Out!

Yeah, I’m hungry now.

I freely admit that sushi techniques can be found just about anywhere on the web. I also freely admit my noobness when it comes to sushi prep. Having been born into an Irish Catholic household, I was more likely to fry my fish on Friday than wrap rice and seaweed around it.

Results may vary, but the satisfaction of creating a sushi roll is infinite.

I am, however, ravenous when it comes to consuming sushi rolls. This has, unfortunately, led to the eating of many substandard items. Rolls where pieces of fried breading were a main ingredient. Rolls made almost entirely of rice with a sliver of Krab (crab’s adopted Neptunian brother) for form’s sake rather than flavor’s. Gray tuna. Limp haddock. Rubbery shrimp. And since the places in my area who actually make consumable sushi seem to be closed whenever I need them the most, I do my best to make my own whenever I feel a hankering.

And you thought sushi was only made from raw fish. Shame on you.

Yes, it’s labor intensive, but it’s not as expensive as you might think, although that depends upon your ingredients. You can make veggie rolls for pennies, and yet drop a hefty sum for lobster and roe on the same day. And no, no, no, sushi does not NEED to be raw. Most of mine isn’t, in fact. The sole exception to this (except for the occasional veggie roll) is the tuna roll, which I wouldn’t sully by adding cooked tuna.

I’m going to take a look today at the inside-out roll. I had been frustrated by the formation of this roll for some time, and one day, it just…clicked. I’m not entirely certain why. Maybe it was because I changed the type of wrap I placed around my bamboo mat. Maybe I managed to make a decently sticky rice. Maybe the sushi could just smell my fear. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Prep your mise-en-place early.

Sushi can be made of just about any ingredients you like: vegetables, seafood, chicken, pork, peanut butter and jelly, the sky’s the limit. There are some select items you’ll need every time, though.

Item one: sushi rice. DO NOT drop a ton of dimes on an officially-sanctioned and trademarked Japanese sushi rice. Instead, head over to the Hispanic section of the ethnic aisle and grab some short-grain or pearl rice there. It’s a lot cheaper, and serves nicely as a culinary equivalent. You’ll also need some rice wine vinegar, sugar, and salt for the rice. I’m sure you have them already, though.

Item two: nori sheets. These are flat pieces of edible seaweed for wrapping the sushi, and not as expensive as they used to be. Do NOT store these in your fridge. Keep them dry and crispy.

Items three: the extras. Wasabi powder. Pickled ginger (also called Gari). Roasted sesame seeds (white and black, if you can find them). Soy sauce. Sriracha. Maybe some seaweed salad, which you can often find already prepared.

Okay, I cheated with pre-matchsticked carrots. Sue me.

Firstly, the cutting and prep. This is largely contingent upon what type of rolls you’re planning, of course. I usually matchstick some onions, cucumbers, and carrots just for form. My sushi today consists of three rolls, so I need to consider prep for each.

Roll one: a Tampa Roll. This usually consists of fried grouper, onion, and mayonnaise. Today I have catfish. Deal with it. I’ll cut the catfish filets into strips before pan-frying them and will have spicy mayonnaise, carrots, onions, and cucumbers at my disposal. Bob’s your uncle.

The spicy shrimp filling. That particular shade of orange doesn’t occur in nature.

Roll two: a Spicy Shrimp roll. This is my signature roll, to be honest. The filling consists of seared shrimp which I have then diced and soaked for a couple of hours in a hellish sauce concocted from five different pepper sauces. If you overdo it, add some sour cream to cut the heat. But remember that the rice will do the same thing, so don’t bland the spice to death.

Roll three: the Philly Roll. My best gal’s favorite, this is also known as a Bagel Roll. Cream cheese and lox, cut into workable strips beforehand. Onions are optional. Very basic and very tasty. Toss some capers into the mix if you have them handy.

Okay, get everything ready first. Next is the rice. There are a kazillion different recipes for sushi rice out there, so I won’t bore you with redundancy. Find one that uses a vinegar/sugar/salt solution for flavor, though. It makes a ton of difference. Alton Brown has a good one here.

Step one is the preparation of the bamboo mat. Cover it on both sides with plastic wrap so that the inside-out roll doesn’t stick to it. I use Glad Press and Seal for this – the edges are less likely to come apart on you as you roll out your sushi. This makes a HUGE difference, believe you me.

Step two: place your nori on the mat. I usually cut it down in size by a third or so with a pair of scissors. The rest tends to get in my way, and can lead to excessive rice content in my rolls. You’ll be working horizontally on the mat.

Step three: completely cover the nori with rice. Be sure to dip your fingers into some water every time you go back to the rice bowl, otherwise you’ll have a rice mitten in no time. Press the rice down as you spread it out, and then sprinkle some sesame seeds onto the rice once you have a good, not-too-thick covering.

Step three. The mashing of the rice.

Step four: the flip. Carefully pick up the sheet of covered nori and flip it over so that the seaweed side is now facing up.

Step four: flip it out.

Step five: ingredient time. Lay your ingredients down in a horizontal strip. Add some wasabi and/or sriracha for spice if you feel like it. Your roll’s thickness will correspond to how many ingredients you add here – use your judgment.

Step five: the ingredients make the roll.

Step six: roll it up. Using the flexibility of your bamboo mat, roll the nori around your ingredients. Press down pretty firmly as you go. Once the sushi is in a roll shape underneath the mat, compress it firmly with the bamboo one last time. This pretty much locks the roll and its ingredients into place.

Step six: roll and press.

Step seven: the reveal, part one. Pull away the bamboo mat and extract the roll. Slowly. Carefully. Glorious.

Step seven: the roll emerges.

Step eight: the reveal, part two. Take hold of your longest, sharpest knife and wet the blade by wiping it with a damp washcloth. The less drag, the better. Call everyone within shouting distance to come see. When they’ve arrived, slice the sushi in half, using as few strokes as possible. Relish the oohs and aahs as the colors of the ingredients reveal themselves, but don’t cut yourself, now – how embarrassing would that be? Place the two halves next to each other and cut them into eight to ten slices, depending upon the width desired. Now you can plate.

Step eight: slice it up.

You can array the sushi family-style:

A cutting board makes for a suitable sushi platter.

…or on a plate with your ginger and wasabi standing by. Soy sauce in a shallow dish for dipping is somewhat traditional, but I like a little swab of wasabi on each piece these days. Be sure to nibble on some of the ginger from time to time in order to cleanse your palate.

Presentation is everything.

Those are the basics,but by no means the end. The sheer variety of ingredients you can roll up is next to limitless, so don’t be afraid to experiment. Mess around. Let me know if you have any tips that I may have missed here, or if you have a particular favorite that you’d like to recommend. I feel compelled to warn you, however: once people find out that you make your own sushi, you’ll have house guests much more often. So keep things spruced up.

Feed ’em and free ’em!


About The Brawling Poet

I'm a father, husband, and teacher (in that order) with slightly geekish interests. And don't worry - I brawl metaphorically. Check out my Twitter feed at @TheBrawlingPoet as well.
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