Thrifty Whitties: making sushi rice

Olivia Jones

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My housemates and I split dinner duty, so each of us cooks one meal per week and–supposedly–each of us cleans up after one meal per week. Since this equates with only cooking once per week, we often like to get creative and make experimental or elaborate dinners. However, there are those weeks when I don’t have the time to leaf through our collection of cookbooks or Internet food blogs to plan something. On these nights I draw upon my repertoire of easy, well-received meals. If avocados are on sale, chances are it is going to be roll-your-own-sushi night.

In my experience, it’s hard to go wrong with roll-your-own-sushi night. Everybody can choose what he or she wants and how much. Fillings can be acquired on the cheap, and prep and clean up is pretty simple. I like to cut the nori (sheets of seaweed) into quarters so that everyone can make little rolls without the hassle of bamboo mats and slicing the rolls into pieces. Budget-friendly fillings I recommend are surimi (fake crab), cucumber, avocado, carrot, tofu, burdock (if you can find it), and whatever else looks good in the produce section. To prepare your ingredients for your sushi-making extravaganza, you just have to remove any peels and chop them into thin slices no longer than three inches. Don’t forget to buy soy sauce and wasabi! I recommend the paste wasabi that comes in a tube over the powdered wasabi, as it has more of a bite and you don’t have to take the time to prepare it.

The key to making sushi at home that tastes like real sushi is in the rice. Please refer to my earlier article on properly cooking rice; all “Thrifty Whitties” columns are available on the Whitman Pio website. To season three cups of rice, heat 2/5 cup of rice vinegar and stir in 1 tsp of salt. Start making the vinegar mixture when the rice is almost done, or after it has finished and while you are allowing it to cool slightly. Japanese cooking is usually too sweet for my tastes, so I choose to only add 1 tbsp sugar: use your discretion. Once the sugar and salt have dissolved set the mixture aside and transfer the rice to a wide bowl with a fairly flat bottom.

Ask a housemate to help you fan the rice while you mix in the vinegar. I often hand my housemates a magazine, or whatever is on hand that looks like it will generate some airflow. Not only do you need to cool the rice before using it, but also fanning it while mixing in the vinegar will help the rice form a nice glossy finish. With your free hand, run a rice paddle, or wooden spoon through the bowl or rice in horizontal cuts while you slowly drizzle the vinegar mixture over it. I usually make a tic-tac-toe pattern in the rice with my strokes. Once all of the vinegar has been added, fold the rice over with your paddle a few times to make sure it is well mixed and then you are ready to go.

When setting the table for sushi night, remember a small plate or bowl for soy sauce. I recommend just eating with your fingers, especially if you are making quarter-sized rolls. If you want, you can accompany the meal with miso soup or really whatever you want. Have fun, and be creative with your fillings.