Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Sushi: An Introduction...
Sushi - People either love it or hate it. Some people are afraid of it. Some people don’t understand it. Some people are misinformed about it. They hear the word sushi and the first thing to pop into their head is this image of some pale, slimy, and quivering, raw fish flesh. Not very appetizing to most people I’m sure, but there’s a whole world of sushi out there! Far to often we don’t realize that there is and can be so much more to a thing then just the stereotype with which we are most familiar with. Sushi is a great example of this.
The history of Sushi is actually quite interesting. I mean did you know that the word sushi actually means ‘sour-tasting’? This meaning is a reflection of it’s historical fermented roots. As the oldest type of sushi was originally made by fermenting fish in sour fermenting rice. This caused the fish proteins to break down into it’s constituent amino acids resulting in a sour taste, one of the five basic tastes called umami in Japanese. Also very interesting is that once this process was completed it was only the fermented fish that was consumed, while the fermented rice was discarded.
Of course the contemporary sushi that we know - and love - today bears little resemblances to this dish of the past. In fact the sort of sushi with which we are acquainted today was created by Hanaya Yohei in Tokyo sometime in the 1800's. It’s intention was as an early form of fast food. Fresh fish was used instead of fermented which decreased the preparation time, and the small rolls were something that people could eat quickly and easily with their hands on the go, in a theater or at a roadside food stall. Strangely - or perhaps not so strangely considering the common humans aversion to all that is perceived as being different - Sushi did not make it’s way to the West until the 1950's and didn’t really catch on until the end of the 20th century.
Now when it comes to sushi you are probably imagining a tight roll with a one inch diameter with either seaweed or rice on the outside and a filling on the inside, but there is a vast array of sushi types out there. They come in different shapes, sizes, styles, with different fillings and seasonings, different preparation and presentations but the one thing they all have in common is that they all include rice, which has usually been seasoned with rice vinegar and sometimes sugar. Everything else however is up to the discretion of the chef.
Here is a quick guide to the most common types of sushi.
Makizushi - Also known as Norimaki, Makimono, or simply Maki meaning ‘roll’ or ‘Rolled Sushi’ Is the most common variety of sushi you are likely to find at least in the West. It is also my favorite to make. It is a cylindrical piece formed with the help of a bamboo mat, and cut into six or eight pieces. It is generally wrapped in Nori seaweed, and contains rice and whatever your desired fillings are. Within this category there are several different types of Maki.
Futomaki are a popular type of Maki that are larger and thicker then your average Maki. They are traditionally vegetarian and can be vegan if they do not include egg. Generally three or four fillings are picked to fill the Futomaki for their complimentary color and taste.
Hosomaki is another type of Maki that are very thin and only contain one filling. Usually cucumber, avocado, pickle or tuna. Interestingly Cucumber Maki known as Kappa Maki is named after a legendary Japanese water Imp called the Kappa said to be fond of cucumbers.
Temaki is a hand roll not cylindrical but cone shaped stuffed with various ingredients spilling out of the wide end. These too are very delicious and I enjoy them, though I’m not so skilled in making them myself.
Uramaki also known as an ‘inside out roll’ because in this case though it’s still a cylindrical roll like many other maki, the seaweed is on the inside while the rice is on the outside. They can be filled with any kind of filling you prefer and are usually coated with something on the outside. Sometimes it’s fish roe or avocado but more often it’s sesame seeds. Interestingly enough the Uramaki isn’t that popular in Japan, but in the West it is the most popular kind of maki, mainly because Westerners are adverse to eating seaweed. So having the seaweed rolled on the inside makes it more appealing to the average Westerner. I admit I love inside-out rolls too but not because I dislike seaweed. I like them for their presentation! And by the way if you fall into the category of ‘not liking seaweed’ get over it! It’s SO good for you! It’s loaded with vital nutrients and is so beneficial to ones health.
Chirashizushi - Also known as 'scattered sushi' is a particular favorite of mine because it always looks so beautiful. It’s also quicker and easier to prepare then a traditional hand roll. Scattered sushi traditionally consists of rice, that is garnished with various things either raw or cooked, though generally raw. There is no set formula for the ingredients and is usually determined by the chef’s mood, or a request by the customer. Think of the sushi roll salads that are becoming more and popular here in the west - such as the one I posted about from Appetite for Reduction last year - this could technically be considered a scattered sushi, although in a much larger form.
Inarizushi - Is a pouch of fried tofu filled usually with just rice. Named after the Shinto God Inari for his supposed love of fried tofu. Not to be confused with Inarimaki which is fried tofu in a regular maki roll.
Nigirizushi - Also known as ‘hand formed sushi’ or ‘pressed sushi’ is an oblong mound or rice formed by pressing a rectangle of rice between the palms. It is then topped with a bit of wasabi (sometimes) and a topping that is draped over it. Sometimes these toppings are secured by a strip of Nori Seaweed but not always. These are also really fun and easy to make, and have an endless amount of possibility as far as taste and presentation go. I love them!
Gunkanmaki - also known as a‘Warship roll’ is another form of Nigirizushi that is an oval hand shaped clump of rice with a strip of Nori wrapped around it’s perimeter to form a vessel or boat that is then filled with loose, soft, or fine chopped ingredients. These are also quite tasty and very cute!
Temarizushi - Known as ‘ball sushi’ is another form of Nigirizushi that is formed by pressing rice and your desired filling into a ball shape using plastic wrap. Sometimes it is wrapped in Nori, sometimes it’s left plain, and sometimes it’s wrapped with just a strip of Nori. These can also come in other shapes beside a ball. A square or a triangle are also popular. These can be a lot of fun especially to make for other people. You display the rice balls on a plate, everyone grabs a few, they take a bite and are surprised by the filling hidden inside!
Oshizushi - Also known as ‘Pressed sushi’ or ‘Box sushi’ it is a pressed sushi in which a wooden mold is used to form it. Topping ingredients are scattered along the bottom of the mold and then the rice is placed over top. The top of the wooden mold is then secured and the sushi is pressed into a tight square or rectangle. Then the mold is removed and the sushi is cut into bite sized pieces.
Lastly there is Narezushi - which is a matured sushi that is left to ferment in a wooden barrel for six months. This always consists of fish and so Is not in any way appealing or desirable to me.
So you see there are many different types of sushi, many different ways to roll it, adorn it and serve it and it can literally be made with any ingredients under the sun. I’ve known so many people over the years who wouldn’t try sushi because they were disgusted by the idea of eating raw fish, or even warm fish - as sushi is often served at room temperature - They had no idea that sushi doesn’t automatically equate fish, and that many Maki Rolls are made vegetarian. Though I guess in honestly I wasn’t so quick to jump on the sushi bandwagon either. It wasn’t until I reached high school that I braved to try it. Interestingly even though at that time I ate many different kinds of sushi, vegetarian and non vegetarian alike, my favorites were always Asparagus Maki, Spinach Sesame Maki, Sweet Potato Maki or Yam Maki, Cucumber Maki, Avocado Maki, Vegetable Roll Maki, and Futomaki. I guess my mind, body, and spirit were even trying to tell me something way back then.
But I guess by now you’re wondering, "What the hell does this have to do with anything?" Well aside from it being a bit of interesting culinary history peppered with some fun facts, I tend to make a lot of sushi. Both my husband and I love it, it’s one of our favorite foods. Since I make it so often, especially lately it seems I would like to be able to share my sushi recipes with you, however I thought little lesson in sushi history would be nice first. Particularly for those of you who may not be so familiar with this delicious little food, or for those of you who may regard it with suspicion and distaste.
Tomorrow I hope to post my recipe for Sesame Asparagus Maki - Pictured below.