KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 15 — Chinese New Year is always a time for rejoicing and a great reason to party. Sometimes partying means getting out the old mahjong tables and gambling till the odd hours of the morning. Sometimes it’s the entire family lounging in front of the television snacking on festive cookies.
Nothing wrong with either of these but perhaps it’s time for something different. It is a new year after all. After all, a good party is when you and those close to your heart gather to reconnect and spend time together having fun.
May I suggest, then, as an alternative to mahjong tiles and Chinese New Year movie marathons on the television, a “roll your own sushi” party? Sure, it’s more convenient to pick a brightly-coloured plate from a sushi conveyor belt. Sure, it’s more authentic when a sushi chef who has trained for decades in Japan performs the deed before your reverential eyes.
It’s simply not as fun as rolling your own sushi, making a mess, and then seeing your friends making an even bigger mess, laughing all the while. Some folks would offer a platter of sushi at a party; why not let sushi become the party?
Of course, to make things easier for beginners, let’s not handle raw seafood here. That means we are not doing nigirizushi, the hand-pressed mound of rice with a topping — usually a piece of raw fish such as salmon or tuna — that most of us identify as sushi.
Instead, the perfect sushi for a “make your own sushi” party is makizushi, in which a toasted nori (seaweed) sheet is rolled around vinegared rice and fillings (which not need be raw seafood) before being cut into bite-sized pieces. There are several types of maki (which means “roll”), from the basic hosomaki (thin rolls) and futomaki (literally “fat rolls”) to more complicated uramaki (an inside out roll, where the rice is on the outside and the covered with sesame seeds or fish roe).
Two of my favourite sushi rolls, the California Roll (which contains crab sticks, cucumber and avocado) and the Philadelphia Roll (filled with) smoked salmon, cucumber, and Philadelphia Cream Cheese, which gives it its name), are popular examples of uramaki.
If rolling the maki with a bamboo mat proves to be too tricky, do try a hands-only technique to create temaki, a cone-shaped sushi roll. (Imagine those cones of kacang putih that used to be sold outside primary schools when we were kids.) Its shape makes it easy to hold, dip into soy sauce and wasabi, and eat by hand.
Try them all and find out which is your favourite method. Time for a “Keep calm and roll your sushi” poster, wouldn’t you agree?
HOMEMADE HAND-ROLLED SUSHI
There are two crucial parts to your sushi-rolling party: the rice and the fillings. For the rice, go for a short-grain variety often called “sushi rice” and easily found in the Japanese section of supermarkets. Sushi rice has a glossy look to it, thanks to the addition of rice vinegar, which is why it’s called sushi-meshi in Japanese (“su” means vinegar and “meshi” means rice).
Allowing the rice sit in the water for about half an hour before cooking ensures the grains of rice have a chance to soak up some water. The resultant rice will have the shiny texture we want.
The other aspect you have to consider is preparing your sushi fillings well ahead of time before the party begins. As a chef in a professional kitchen always has the mise en place ready before cooking, the same applies here. Also arrange the tools used for rolling the maki (such as the bamboo mats and small bowls of water) around the spaces allocated for each guest so they can easily be reached when needed.
(a) Sushi rice
· 2 rice cooker cups sushi rice
· 1½ rice cooker cups cold water
· 4 tablespoons rice vinegar
· 3 tablespoons sugar
· 1 teaspoon salt
Rinse the rice with cold tap water until the water runs clear. Add the rice and cold water to the rice cooker. Soak the rice in the water for 30-40 minutes before cooking. Meanwhile, combine the vinegar, sugar and salt in a small bowl.
Once the rice is cooked, turn off the rice cooker and allow the rice to steam for a further 10 minutes. Next scoop the hot rice into a large mixing bowl and pour the seasoned vinegar over it. Using a wooden spoon, gently fluff the rice so that every grain of rice is coated with vinegar without becoming mushy.
Allow the rice to cool by putting the mixing bowl in front of a table fan. When done the rice should be glossy but not wet. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth until it’s time to roll the sushi.
(b) Sushi rolls (maki)
Tools (a set for every guest)
· Bamboo rolling mats
· Plastic cling wrap
· Individual cutting boards
· Sharp knives
· Small bowls of water
· 1 pack of nori (seaweed) sheets, lightly toasted
· 1 pack crab sticks, lightly blanched if frozen
· 2 cans of tuna chunks, drained and mashed with mayonnaise, ground white pepper and salt (to taste)
· 8 eggs, hard boiled and mashed with mayonnaise, ground white pepper and salt (to taste)
· 4 Japanese cucumbers, cut into medium strips (not finely julienned)
· 4 avocadoes, cut into thick slices
· 1 ripe mango, cut into triangular strips
· A bottle of Japanese mayonnaise
· Toasted white sesame seeds, as garnishing
· Tobiko (flying fish roe), as garnishing
· Soy sauce
· Pickled ginger
* Do play with other ingredients for the fillings — whatever you enjoy eating!
First line your bamboo mat with plastic wrap to prevent the nori or rice from sticking to the mat. Place the glossy side of a toasted nori sheet on the mat. Spread a thin layer of sushi rice over half of the sheet, pressing it down lightly.
Arrange the fillings you have chosen about 1 inch from the edge of the sheet. Use a single filling to create a hosomaki (thin roll) and more fillings for a futomaki (fat roll).
Roll the bamboo mat over the maki tightly and leaving an inch of the nori sheet at the end. Dip your fingertip into the bowl of water and wet this last part. Roll the rest of the maki, pinching the mat to ensure an even cylindrical shape.
Unroll the bamboo mat and place the rolled maki on the cutting board. Dip the tip of the knife in the bowl of water. Cut the roll into half, then each half into two, and repeat once more to produce 8 equal pieces.
A variation is to add some extra toppings such as the tuna-mayonnaise mixture on top of the cut pieces of futomaki. (The smaller pieces of hosomaki are best enjoyed as is.)
To make an uramaki (inside out roll) such as a California roll, sprinkle sesame seeds or tobiko on the top half of the rice. Then flip the nori sheet so the rice is now facing down. At the other end of the sheet, place the crab sticks, cucumber and avocado. Roll it as you would a basic maki, only with the rice facing out. Cut as described above.
To make a temaki (hand-rolled sushi), cut the nori sheet into half. Place a smaller portion of sushi rice and fillings in one corner. Then tightly roll the nori sheet by hand into a conical shape.
Serve with soy sauce, pickled ginger and wasabi.
Yield: Provides enough ingredients for a sushi-rolling party of 4.
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