Trying to make sushi for the first time is hell for any perfectionist. And well, I am one of those perfectionists. But my dream was also to master the skill of making sushi one day. A day I kept stalling and stalling… Until I put this goal on my list.
Oh, the horror I’ve read in cookbooks!
‘If your knife is not sharp like shark’s teeth, you will diminish the flavor of the sushi.’
‘If your rolling technique isn’t brilliant, your sushi will fall apart.’
‘If your rice gets too cold, it will become too hard and therefor taste awful.’
‘If your rice is too hot, your topping will lose its freshness.’
‘If you don’t cut the tuna exactly in the right angle, it will become chewy.’
Oh my god! How can a person not be totally scared off after reading this? I know I was. The only thing I could think was: if you don’t do every step perfectly perfect, you’ll FAIL. So I never made sushi. I wanted to, though. I had the cookbooks, the rolling mat, the nori (seaweed), everything. A friend even gave me a sushi kit for beginners a couple of years ago. But I just didn’t have the guts. I had to throw all the ingredients away, because the dates expired.
A few months ago, another friend gave me a sushi kit again. On top of that, Ruud gave me the cookbook ‘500 Sushi’ at Christmas. This time I made an agreement with myself. I wouldn’t let the dates expire. I would face my fears. I would make sushi.
So I did! This weekend, on Sunday to be exact, three days before the expiration date of the seaweed. The time had come! No more excuses. Ruud even wanted to help, which was great! Discovering new things together is so much more fun than doing it alone, don’t you agree? So, did it all go perfectly? On the contrary!
Before starting a big cooking project, or any cooking project for that matter, you have to make sure you’ve got all the supplies and ingredients needed. So last week I checked what I had and bought everything I still needed. Or so I thought. One of the recipes required a marinade made out of soy sauce, mirin (rice wine) and rice vinegar. I had bought all these, so no problem. Except for the fact the recipe required way more mirin and soy sauce than I actually had. I forgot to check the quantities! I just figured one bottle should have been enough. Rookie mistake! So Ruud went out to the supermarket to buy more soy sauce and mirin. Thank god for having the supermarkets opened on Sundays these days!
Ok, so we lost a little time, but we had started at 5pm and normally we eat around 8pm, so no big deal. Ruud started to make the marinade while I was cutting all the fish and vegetables. And then we had to do the part we both feared most: preparing the rice. It felt like everything could go from here. Everything I’ve read and heard I was hearing in my head again: ‘Sushi chefs practice years preparing the rice before they’re even allowed to roll sushi… Rinse it thoroughly… Never lift the lid… Let it simmer, not boil… Don’t stir, but cut the rice… It must be exactly at body temperature…’ How were we supposed to not ruin it? We read the recipe one more time. And oh my god, there we saw it. Rice vinegar. It needed a LOT of rice vinegar. Just about all the rice vinegar we just put in our marinade… So Ruud rushed to the supermarket again, and then to another, because of course the rice vinegar happened to be out of stock.
When he came back, he quickly put the rice in the pot to boil. It was getting late now, and we were getting hungry. And then, when the rice had almost finished cooking, it hit us. We had forgotten another thing. We had not washed the rice. According to every recipe we had read and seen, this was a crucial step! ‘Rinse it until the water is not milky anymore.’ Oh god, what to do now? Start all over with the rice? Lose another half an hour? Or just leave it and hope it would work out anyway? The instructions on the rice container didn’t mention any rinsing. Surely, if it were that important, it had been in the cooking instructions, right? We decided to go with the container and not cook any more rice. We crossed our fingers…
It probably was around 9pm when I could finally start rolling sushi. And at that point, I made a very wise decision. I got rid of my cookbook. Well, not entirely, of course. But I decided not to follow any recipes anymore. I remembered what stuffing I needed for my recipe which we had made the marinade for. I would make that recipe, and improvise the rest after that. I had so many great ingredients laying in front of me. Every combination would be great! So no reading, no more complicated stuff, I would just focus on mastering the rolling technique. From that point, it became so much fun. The rolling actually turned out to be easier than I thought. Now I got creative. It was so much fun making up all these new kinds of sushi! Do you want to know which sushi I made? I’ll show you!
This was my first one. See how the bamboo of the mat is laying square to the direction I’m facing? Yeah, that doesn’t work. So after turning the bamboo mat, this is how my very first sushi turned out:
Okay, some of the seaweed is inside of the sushi instead of around it, and I didn’t put enough rice on at the ends of the rolls. But for a very first time, I believe they look very good! I filled this sushi with cod fish, asparagus, yellow pepper and chives.
For the second and third sushi, I tried to make nigiri. Nigiri are sushi that consist of a small rice package underneath a topping. I had thought these must be the easiest sushi to make. Just form a rice ball and lay something on top of it, right? I was wrong. This was actually much harder then rolling the sushi! The rice balls had the inner desire to fall apart. It was a true struggle to let it all stick together. Besides that, I really have to sharpen my cutting skills of the topping (they should be a bit thinner and also prettier), but for now, I’m satisfied with the way they look!
The left sushi is made with salmon and the right one with tuna. After a Japanese colleague of Ruud saw this picture, he told him I should have used fat tuna instead of this lean one. I didn’t know. My fish store only had this particular tuna… I will try and find a fat one next time!
The next sushi was the one of the recipe! Yes, the one with the marinade, the one why Ruud drove to the supermarket twice. As you can see, it consisted of marinated and grilled tofu and peppers, avocado, spring onions and some salt and pepper. This is how it turned out:
Even though this particular one had us all stressed up and consumed a lot of time, it was so worth it in the end. It was so delicious! The marinade was absolutely awesome!
After that, I really, really wanted to try out uramaki. That’s an inside-out sushi roll. The rice is on the outside, which requires flipping over the nori sheet with the rice. This probably wasn’t the best idea to make for my first time… I was so afraid I would break it! On YouTube, the flipping over looked so easy, but in real life, it was impossible. Don’t try this at home, people. At least not if you’ve never made sushi before. This definitely is advanced level sushi making. In the end, Ruud helped me by putting the bamboo mat on top and then we carefully flipped it over with four hands. Not the most elegant way perhaps, but it worked!
Uramaki looks so pretty! My version had tuna, marinated grilled peppers, avocado, spring onions and chives in it with sesame seed on the outside.
Then I made another nigiri. This one had cod fish on top. In restaurants, I have never seen sushi with cod fish on top. I believe now there’s a good reason for it. It tastes awful. Cod fish definitely belongs inside a sushi, not on top of it.
I decided it was time to make my last sushi roll. After all, we were just the two of us! Because this was the last one, I wanted to make a really big futomaki with lots of stuffing. I definitely wanted to use the marinated tofu and bell peppers, since we went through so much trouble to make these. I also added marinated prawns, asparagus, avocado, spring onions and roasted walnuts.
Oh my god, this tasted like heaven! It was absolutely my favorite sushi of the whole evening! And this one only existed because I decided to skip all the recipes. The marinated prawns, the roasted nuts and the asparagus were there only because I had wanted to make some recipes out of my ‘500 Sushi’ book. I didn’t though, but put them together in this sushi instead. It was the best choice I had made the whole evening.
Now, it was time to eat and enjoy all these delicious flavors! Omnomnom. Besides the fact they tasted absolutely delicious, I’m proud to say none of my sushi fell apart! Yay! I’m a born sushi roller! So I can cross my 63th goal of my list!
Have you ever tried to make sushi before? If not, but if you’d like to, let me share some tips with you. You can learn from my mistakes!
– Ditch the cookbooks. Learn the techniques by watching YouTube videos. They are so much more positive than the books.
– Don’t bother following all kinds recipes with fancy fillings. Focus on your rolling technique instead.
– Experiment with different kinds of filling. Just use your creativity. Most of them will probably be awesome.
– Make futomaki or hosomaki. These are the rolls with the seaweed on the outside. Nigiri (rice with topping) and uramaki (inside-out sushi) are advanced-level sushi!
– You don’t need fancy Japanese killer knives. Our Ikea knife worked just fine. We just sharpened it right beforehand.
– Check and double check if you have everything, before you begin. In the right quantities. Just saying.
Please let me know your favorite sushi stuffing. I’ll make sure to try it out next time!