Something fishy in the kitchen?
February 22, 2011 12:12 PM   Subscribe

[sushi at home] can i do it without poisoning myself?

you all helped me start making kimchee. now i am ready for the next challenge: sushi at home! i have made veggie sushi before. but it is the fish part of fishy.sushi that terrifies me (raw fish). success stories? tips on buying fish? safety tips? tasty tips? (ok, and if you have amazing veggie recipies, i'd love those too!)

posted by anya32 to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Visit a good fishmongers and ask for sushi-grade fish. It is usually prepared and packaged separately.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:19 PM on February 22, 2011

Yes, I've done it plenty of times. Just make sure to buy "sushi grade" fish, and buy it the same day you're going to make it, and you'll be fine.
posted by Grither at 12:20 PM on February 22, 2011

If you have a Mitchell's[sound], they carry sashimi-grade fish.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 12:20 PM on February 22, 2011

Well, as long as you're not going after fugu, you won't poison yourself. Just obey the normal rules of spoilage and you're good. Make friends with a fish monger or a good butcher to get the best, freshest stuff.

May I recommend ceviche, though? Because of the citrus marinade, it's far less fishy and far more user-friendly for beginners. Besides, everyone claims they had the raw fish idea long before the Japanese. ;-)
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:21 PM on February 22, 2011

definitely staying away from the fugu (even before i knew what it was :) ). ceviche is a great idea, too. i have always enjoyed it but been afraid to make it at home, as well!
posted by anya32 at 12:24 PM on February 22, 2011

One thing about homemade sushi...unless you're making it for a large party, be careful of how much you buy. A little fish goes a loooooooooooong way, so you likely won't get the variety you have if you go out to eat.
posted by Gorgik at 12:32 PM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

and thanks for the tips about the "sushi-grade" fish and quantity. this is new to me.
posted by anya32 at 12:39 PM on February 22, 2011

I'm sure you've heard that anecdote about how apprentices are only qualified to make rice after working with a sushi chef for 7 years. I don't know if that's actually true, and I bring it up not to intimidate you but to point out the importance of getting the best rice you can find, cooking it properly, using vinegar, and getting the right shape. It's the small details that make a difference.

The cut, just like with other meats, is very important as well. Generally, you want to cut across the grain. I think people tend to cut too thickly. You kind of want it to drape over the rice, not sit on top of it. You'll get your fish in a rectangular block but you don't have to (and maybe shouldn't) cut it flat off the block. You can cut diagonally too. You also want to put a small bit of wasabi between the fish and the rice, less than pea sized. (And do yourself a favor and don't mix up wasabi in your soy. The point of sushi is to taste the fish.)
posted by danny the boy at 1:28 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

What city are you in? Google around and see if you have Japanese markets nearby. NOT asian, but Japanese. Usually, in the refrigerated section of Japanese markets there are pre-sliced fillets of sushi-grade fish. Usually the labeling will be in Japanese - familiarize yourself with what you might want before you go shopping so you can choose by eye and/ or know a few names in Japanese!

Rule #1: Does it look fresh and vibrant? Smell good? Buy it!

- Sushi grade refers to freshness and handling. I've seen plenty of regular fish markets or supermarkets in LA try to label and sell fish in the case as "sushi grade" that maybe was sushi grade 3 days ago.. but is not today! ALWAYS SMELL BEFORE BUYING AT THE FISH MARKET. This is less of a worry at the Japanese markets where the fish for sushi is always fresh (YMMV) and packaged on little styrofoam trays in plastic wrapped. You won't be able to smell these, but you won't need to. Once you start shopping, you'll see what I mean by this.

- There is a discussion we can have about special (flash) freezing techniques applied to "sushi grade" seafood prior to sale. I currently work in the seafood industry. If you google this, current propaganda will say all sushi fish should be previously frozen, there will be scary words and phrases bantered about. There are some good reasons why, for example, ahi tuna is always flash frozen, but it has nothing to do with scary scary. It's more about shipping times and processing. Done right, these techniques are nearly undetectable in a retail setting. If something is fresh caught from clean waters, flash freezing is totally unnecessary - Eat It! If you live in-land vs. somewhere with lots of fresh caught seafood (like Seattle, NYC which is a major distribution hub, or any other coastal region) your choices may only be flash frozen for sushi grade fish. That said, LA is notorious for having crap seafood, even though we're on the coast. Obviously, YMMV.

- I recommend against freezing fish at home. Your home freezer is a slow process that forms ice crystals, bursts cell membranes in the flesh of fish, and generally ruins quality.

- I recommend against any fish that is farmed or fresh water for sushi, flash frozen or not, because of contaminants and parasites. (yes flash freezing kills the parasites, but I'm against anything pumped full of antibiotics and good knows what + swims in poop. Sorry.)

- I recommend anything that is from the sea (wild caught) and fresh enough that it smells briney and sweet for sushi at home!

- Get one of those pretty picture books on How To Make Sushi so you know what tastes good raw and how it should look color-wise before buying.

- The hardest part of making sushi is learning how to make sushi rice properly. Traditionally, it takes 5 to 8 years of apprenticeship in a good restaurant in Japan to be able to do this correctly! Short cut recipes and techniques on the internet abound - Practice! Practice! Practice!

- There is a discussion we can have about how to buy quality nori, but I still can't figure this one out. I usually buy something mid-priced at the Japanese market. Maybe ask someone at the store?
posted by jbenben at 1:29 PM on February 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

If you're just starting out, I'd stay away from raw fish and use, instead, artificial crab sticks, smoked salmon, and veggies as filling. Learning how to roll sushi properly can be tricky (warning: you will get rice all over your hands and counter, etc, if you're not careful) and more expensive fillings might be a waste for your first, inevitably sloppy rolls. It's actually one of the few things I'd actually really recommend you get an illustrated cookbook for, to show you how to do it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:29 PM on February 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

Oh, my apologies; I didn't catch that you've made veggie rolls before. In that case, I defer to jbenben.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:31 PM on February 22, 2011

Me and a freind took on the same challenge a couple years ago. We bough healthy looking fish from Krogers. Everything turned out fine and delicious. We did buy way too much and we overfilled out stomachs, but otherwise no one got sick. We now have a sushi party every two months. Our standard build is:

Spice Tuna (or slamon)
California rolls
Veggie rolls
Flying fish roe
posted by bleucube at 1:38 PM on February 22, 2011

I agree with PhoBWanKenobi, both on getting a good (maybe Japanese-cook-written, not some shovelware-type) illustrated book and on starting with inexpensive, less perishable ingredients that can sit out longer as you (potentially) struggle with it.

Makiko Itoh's Just Hungry (How to Make Sushi Rice)/Just Bento (How to Make Sushi Rolls Without a Mat) and Cooking with (the) Dog (e.g. How to Make Futomaki Sushi and California Roll) are two good online sources for advice.

The forums at Maki's sites are a good place to ask about specific nori brands, as well, although much of that comes down to your individual taste (for starters you're probably OK buying anything with a picture of a sushi roll on the packet).

Good luck and have fun!
posted by wintersweet at 1:45 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh one more thing, any time you work with rice, you want to moisten your hands with water to prevent it from sticking.

I think you'll enjoy practicing how to make nigiri because worst case, it degrades gracefully into chirashi. You could also try making temari, which is like nigiri but in a ball shape.
posted by danny the boy at 1:54 PM on February 22, 2011

If you don't have a suitable place to buy sushi-grade fish in your area, I have eaten numerous fantastic sushi dinners made with fish ordered from Catalina. It's very well packed and always arrives cold and in excellent condition.

They also sell sushi-making kits and instructions, though I can't personally vouch for those having never used them.
posted by magicbus at 1:59 PM on February 22, 2011

Yes, you can. But your sushi will probably be so disappointing, you'll just end up eating your fish as sashimi.
posted by Rash at 2:23 PM on February 22, 2011

Your sushi will probably be so disappointing, you'll just end up eating your fish as sashimi.

I hate to discourage you, but unless you live in a place that's devoid of sushi bars, my opinion is that it's ultimately not worth it. I had fun learning to make sushi, and I eventually learned to turn out some adequate rolls, but really, the pros around the corner do it so much better. You wouldn't think so few ingredients with so little cooking would be so hard to get right, but there it is.

I still buy fish when I go to a Japanese market, but I just cut it into sashimi.

This is a good online source for sushi grade fish.
posted by CunningLinguist at 3:46 PM on February 22, 2011

Whoops, magicbus already posted the link.
posted by CunningLinguist at 3:47 PM on February 22, 2011

Oh man, you don't even have to make it into rolls or nigiri to get the full effect of sushi.

When my wife and I are feeling lazy, we just make a bunch of sushi rice, cut the fish into manageable pieces (or get the pre-cut stuff from our local Asian market) and then we cut the sushi nori sheets into quarters -- take one quarter sheet, put a glob of rice on top, and then place the fish on top of that (or whatever other sushi makings you want.) Maybe we'll fold the nori over or not. Dip, then eat. I'm pretty sure this was inspired by Donna Hay's "Cheater's Sushi."
posted by curse at 4:25 PM on February 22, 2011

Mrs. Plinth and I have made sushi several times. Yes, it's hard to get the rice just right. Yes, it's hard to get perfect rolls. Yes, every bit of it is challenging.

But you know what? It's fun.

And think back on other things that you never tried before. My first pancakes stunk. My first omlette was a disaster. But those experiences were all fun and I'm much better now.

Alton Brown did a pretty good Good Eats episode on making sushi. Certainly no worse than how I learned.
posted by plinth at 5:19 PM on February 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

"Cheater's Sushi."

This way of eating sushi at home is actually incredibly common in Japanese households. It's even got a name, temaki, literally meaning "hand roll." ...And now I'm craving some.
posted by misozaki at 3:31 AM on February 23, 2011

i totally appreciate your honesty about the challenge/what my expectations should be, CunningLinguist - i think it's the thrill/fun of making it (whether fall apart rolls or "cheater's sushi) that gets me. thanks for all the info so far, everyone!
posted by anya32 at 6:58 AM on February 23, 2011

Just wanted to alert you, not stop you from trying! Also, thanks to your kimchee question, I have a fridge full of awesome fermenting radishes and cukes.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:41 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

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