One of the first things I find out when I date someone is whether or not he shares my love for sushi. It’s a seriously important factor to me! Nothing beats going out for a night on the town with my sweetie and trying exotic concoctions at the local sushi bar. But let’s face it. Going to sushi bars is adventurous for only so long. If you want a real adventure, try making sushi for yourselves at home.
Intimidating? Yes. But, with your significant other at your side, you’ve got nothing to worry about. View this date night idea as a culinary challenge you can conquer together. The sushi-making date my boyfriend and I had recently was a blast: we challenged each other with sushi-rolling competitions and had some good laughs over our epic sushi failures. It was a great way to loosen up and relax after a couple of weeks of midterm-studying hell.
Sushi-making is definitely worthy of being considered a culinary art form. But, as my boyfriend and I discovered, sushi-making classes are not necessary to the learning process. (Mastering it is another thing, though.) All you need to get started is a few tips and a couple of sushi-making tools and you’re well on your way to becoming sushi gurus.
The guide I created focuses on making sushi rolls, but don’t forget there are other forms of sushi that you can experiment with, too. Typical ones include nigiri (fish on top of a rice pillow) and hand rolls, but heart-shaped sushi and even dessert sushi would be equally fun to create. Whichever kind you choose to make, just remember that properly prepared rice is essential to the successful outcome of your sushi (recipe included below). Once you master the sushi rice, you can get creative as you like!
**Tips and Tricks**
Organize and plan. Find out your sweetheart’s favorite sushi fillings ahead of time. Better yet, go grocery shopping and choose your ingredients together. When using fish in your filling, be sure to buy it on the day of your sushi date (you want it to be as fresh as possible, for both flavor and health-safety reasons). And, even though it’s nice to have a variety of fillings, don’t buy too many. A common mistake for newbie sushi chefs is to end up with too much filling and not enough rice.
Educate yourself. Learn how to make the sushi rolls ahead of time (this is when YouTube becomes your new BFF). Watching a few online tutorials (like The Pioneer Woman’s Sushi 101) will also help you hone your skills so you can impress and amaze your sweetie when you teach him how to become a sushi-rolling expert like yourself.
Schedule accordingly. Sushi-making is a very time-consuming process (the rice alone requires at least one hour, longer if you burn it), so be sure to schedule your date on the early side. Otherwise, you’ll both be starving by the time you’re done making the sushi…and nobody likes a cranky date!
Relax and enjoy the evening. Don’t expect your first sushi rolls to turn out perfectly. It takes practice! Keep in mind that you are on a date and it’s okay to mess up and laugh a little. You can eat your sushi mishaps together.
Rice paddle. A wooden rice paddle is essential for mixing your sushi rice with vinegar. Notice how I said wooden rice paddle. It is extremely important to use non-metallic tools when dealing with sushi rice, since metal will react with the vinegar and affect the taste of your sushi rice.
Bamboo rolling mat. If you think you can roll sushi without a rolling mat, then you are sadly mistaken, my friend! This is a must-have sushi-making tool that helps to maintain even pressure on all sides of the sushi roll, keeping the sushi roll intact during the rolling process. It’s a pretty cheap tool though, available at a specialty cooking store; you can buy mats packaged with a rice paddle on Amazon.
Plastic wrap. Always wrap your bamboo rolling mat in plastic wrap (particularly important when making a sushi roll with the rice on the outside) about 3 times around before using it. This prevents sticky rice from getting stuck in the mat, making the clean-up process much easier for you and your date.
Very sharp knife. Use a sharp knife when cutting the roll into clean, even pieces. This will prevent the roll from ripping and turning into a sushi fail during the cutting process. There’s nothing more disappointing than mastering the sushi-making process and failing on the final step of cutting, all because of a dull knife. (Cara and Phoebe show you how to sharpen knives here.)
Chopsticks. Complete the sushi-eating experience with two pairs of chopsticks for you and your sweetheart. If you don’t already own chopsticks (and you’re cheap like me), check out your school’s dining commons on campus, or even places like Trader Joe’s or Panda Express. They always have them readily available (and free for the taking).
Sushi serving plate & soy sauce dish. Although a sushi serving plate is not totally necessary, it adds to the whole cultural experience of eating sushi. No need for any particular sushi serving plate, though, as any square or rectangular plate will do. A small dipping bowl (or any small dish) is a must for serving the soy sauce.
*You can purchase sushi-making tools at an Asian supermarket or online. I highly recommend investing in Joyce Chen’s Sushi Kit. It’s more economical than purchasing items separately and comes with a bamboo rice paddle, bamboo rolling mat and instructions all for a good price.
Sushi rice. Sushi is nothing without rice. In fact, the definition of sushi is “vinegared rice.” Buy either sushi rice or short grain rice for its soft, round and sticky consistency. When preparing sushi rice, the rule of thumb is to boil the uncooked rice with an equal amount of water. But here’s my additional rule of thumb: always have your date help you make the sushi rice. Why? Because once the rice is cooked, two people are necessary to efficiently cool the rice to room temperature; one person fans the rice while the other person stirs the rice with the vinegar solution. And if you don’t plan on using the cooled rice immediately (maybe you’re still prepping the fillings), cover the rice with a clean, damp cloth. Note: Do NOT put the rice in the fridge! This will harden the rice and make it impossible to mold. Covering the rice will keep it slightly warm, which is the ideal temperature for sushi rice.
Rice vinegar. An essential ingredient for seasoning the rice (gives it a tart yet sweet flavor) and for moistening your hands and tools so the rice doesn’t stick to everything. (To prepare the moistening solution, mix 1/4 cup of rice vinegar with 3/4 cup of water.)
Nori. These are the dried seaweed sheets that hold the sushi together. Make sure your nori is dry before using it. Nori will become sufficiently sticky enough to hold the roll together once you add the rice to it.
Fish. When buying raw fish, it is vital that the fish is labeled as “sushi grade” or “sashimi grade.” These aren’t mere marketing terms; they increase the odds of your fish being fresh and safe enough to be consumed raw, as is usually the case with sushi. If you or your date aren’t comfortable consuming raw fish or don’t trust the fish sold at your local grocery store, try searing, cooking, or frying it in tempura batter. If fish is totally out of the question, get creative and try different kinds of meat (beef or chicken teriyaki, anyone?).
Veggies. These are necessary for adding a variety of textures to the sushi. Dating a vegetarian? Go crazy with the veggies! Veggie roll or not, remember to cut the veggies very thinly. Some veggies even have specific cutting instructions (like avocados, cucumbers, and carrots), so do your research ahead of time.
Spicy mayo. This is the perfect sauce for kicking up any sushi roll an extra notch. To make, combine 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise with 1 teaspoon of Sriracha sauce, which is a Thai chili sauce. My boyfriend and I didn’t have any Sriracha sauce on hand, so we substituted with chili pepper sauce to give our sushi a Mexican flair. Like I said before, sushi allows you and your sweetheart to get creative, so go for it!
Sesame seeds (white or black), Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs), or masago (orange fish eggs). These are all ingredients that can be sprinkled on the sushi after rolling with the bamboo mat to create a new dimension of flavor and texture.
Soy sauce. This is the traditional dipping sauce for sushi, but I highly recommend using lower sodium versions. Otherwise, your sushi dinner will be very salty, leaving you both with dry mouth later in the evening (not good for after-dinner smooching!).
Wasabi. That green blob of spicy paste you usually see sitting on the sushi plate is intended to be mixed with the soy sauce to spice it up a bit. It’s also smeared sparingly into the sushi during the assembly. You can buy it as a dried powder (to be mixed with an equal amount of water) or as a paste in a tube (I prefer this version since it is ready to use). If you aren’t able to find wasabi at your store, a good substitution would be another spicy condiment like Dijon mustard.
Pickled ginger. Known as gari, it isn’t an integral part of the sushi itself but is always included alongside sushi to nibble on between courses to cleanse the palette. Not a fan of canned ginger? Make it from scratch with your sweetie.
Spread the rice evenly. Place a sheet of nori (rough side facing up) on top of the plastic-wrapped bamboo rolling mat. Evenly spread about 1/2 cup of sushi rice onto the nori (don’t forget to dip your hands in the vinegar solution first!). Note: Do not spread rice on the top inch of the nori sheet. This area should be left clean to seal the roll at the end (unless you are making an inside out roll, go ahead and cover the entire nori sheet, then flip the nori over so that the rice side is down on the rolling mat).
Do NOT overstuff. I know it’s tempting to put as much filling as possible in the sushi rolls, but you should avoid doing this at all costs! Otherwise, your roll will split open and the fillings will spill out. When it comes to sushi, less is more. Gently remind your date that this isn’t his chance to overstuff his sushi like he does his burritos at Chipotle. Arrange the fillings about one inch from the bottom of the nori, laying the veggie strips horizontal to the direction you’ll be rolling the mat. Also be sure they cover the nori evenly from one side to the other.
Press ever so gently. This step will take a bit of practice with your sweetheart. Apply gentle, even pressure when rolling the bamboo mat. If you press too hard, the roll will come out in shapes other than circles (which could also be fun–observe my triangular sushi in the above photo).
Cut it like an iron chef. As anxious as you and your sweetie may be to see the end result, let your roll sit with the seam side down for a few minutes before you attempt to cut it (patience, young grasshopper!). Before you cut the roll, remember to dip your knife into the vinegar solution before each cut to prevent sticking. Tip: To make sure your pieces are the same size, cut the roll in half first, line the two halves up against each other, and then cut into thirds (for 6 pieces) or quarters (for 8 pieces).
Brynn Cahalan is a senior at UC Irvine majoring in Business Economics and minoring in Digital Arts. She loves taking on daring challenges in the kitchen and proving that “fancy” food can be made by chefs of all skill levels. This post is dedicated to her boyfriend, Nick, who loves trying new sushi concoctions just as much as she does.
Serves 2 (yields approximately 1 3/4 cups, enough for 3-4 rolls)
Adapted from Joyce Chen Sushi Instruction Kit
1 cup sushi rice (or short grain white rice)
1 cup water
2 1/4 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Rinse the rice in a colander until water comes out clear (this removes the external starchy deposits, which helps the rice to better absorb the vinegar seasoning). If you own a rice cooker, follow the manufacturer’s directions. If not, place the rice with the water into a heavy pot. Cover and cook until boiling. Stir gently with a rice paddle, cover again, and turn the heat down to medium-low until almost all of the water is absorbed, about 5-8 minutes. Then turn the heat down to low and steam until all of the water is absorbed, about 10-15 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the rice to “set” in the covered pot for another 10 minutes.
While the rice sets, mix the rice vinegar, sugar, and salt in a non-metallic bowl until dissolved and set aside. Once the rice has set, gently pry the rice from the pot with the rice paddle and dump it into a wide, shallow, non-metallic dish. Moisten the rice paddle with the vinegar solution and spread the rice out evenly. Note: Do NOT scrape off any rice that sticks to the pot. This type of rice will ruin the delicate sushi taste. Fold the rest of the vinegar solution into the rice while your partner fans the rice so that it cools to room temperature. Continue stirring and fanning the rice until the rice has a glossy sheen, about 10 minutes.