But then I went to college. At Ohio State, our dining choices were pretty varied. Our meal plan consisted of the normal cafeteria foods, made-to-order subs, Starbucks, health food, smoothies, a la carte selections, two sit down restaurants, an open 'til 2am burrito place, and sushi. Yes, sushi.
I tried my first bites of sushi halfway through my freshman year at a local restaurant after my friend and her mom wanted to take me out for dinner. We went to a local Japanese place that way a little more pricey than I expected. The cheapest thing on the menu was an $18 sampler plate of sushi so that's what I ordered. I'd wanted to give sushi a try, as I was becoming a more adventurous eater, but this was kind of a sink or swim moment. I didn't want to hate it and seem ungrateful (and why would someone order sushi on someone else's dime without knowing beforehand if they liked it?) but I figured I'd tough through it at the worst. Turns out, it wasn't terrible. Some of it was pretty good!
I soon discovered the sushi trays at the various dining facilities around campus were pretty good. I really enjoyed the "buckeye roll" (eel with a sweet sauce) and spicy tuna rolls, and would regularly eat a tray for lunch.
I've now grown to love sushi and regularly crave it! I'm not a big fan of octopus or shrimp sushi (which is strange because I ordinarily love shrimp), but I'll eat pretty much anything else.
The only downside to my love of sushi is the price. I can eat several rolls myself, as can my hubby, so eating out at sushi restaurants (at least ones you'd trust to handle raw fish) can get very expensive very quickly. So, as I tend to do, I've learned how to make sushi rolls at home!
First, I found a local grocery store that sells sushi grade fish (I get yellow fin tuna). This is super important because for the fish to be sushi grade, I believe it has to be flash-frozen on the ship and then kept frozen until it is thawed for the buyer. This type of handling can lead to a steep price tag with Whole Foods type places selling their fish for ~$20 a pound! We have a local grocery store called Penn-Dutch that is known for their meats and seafood (they have frog legs!). A few times a year the put their sushi grade tuna on sale for $6.99-$9.99/lb. I get one large fillet (about .75 – 1 lb.) and I'm ready to go! If you want to use imitation crab, shrimp, or other less expensive fish, that will work too.
Rice is also extremely important to make good sushi. Regular, long grain rice is not the type of rice that will work for sushi. For sushi rolls, you need sticky, short grain rice, otherwise known as pearl grain rice. You can buy sushi rice at specialty grocery stores for a few bucks, but you can also get a bag of pearl grain rice (goya brand or something like that) for under a buck at the grocery store.
As for the seaweed wraps, or nori, I've been able to find packages at my local grocery store near the store-made sushi. The nori at the grocery store, while convenient, is a little pricey. If you have an Asian market nearby, stop in and find it there. It is usually much cheaper at the Asian grocer!
For other fillings, I usually get an avocado or two, cucumber, and grated carrots. This blend adds some color and nice texture (especially the cucumber). But you can add whatever you want, or just go with the straight fish.
Wasabi is also an important part of sushi in my opinion! I love the hot bite it adds. I have bought my wasabi at Whole Foods, but that stuff was nuclear! I've also found tubes of wasabi at my grocery store, again near the store-made sushi section. It's pretty cheap and a little goes a long way!
If you enjoy spicy tuna rolls, you gotta have spicy mayo! Spicy mayo sauce is super easy to make… just mix a cup or so of mayo with a few tablespoons of sriracha (rooster sauce), depending on how spicy you want it.
Now, how to make and assemble!
1 bag (~2 cups) pearl grain rice
½ cup mirin (seasoned rice vinegar)
Salt & pepper
Sushi grade tuna (about 1 lb)
Nori (10 sheets)
Bowl of ice water
Sushi Mat (optional)
Sushi plate set with chopsticks (optional but super cute)
First, rinse the rice until the water is clear. Then, cook the rice according to the package instructions (usually 4 cups of boiling water to 2 cups of rice, cook on low for 20 minutes). After, let the rice sit for 15 minutes with the lid on, add the mirin, sugar, and salt and pepper. Stir together until it gets nice and sticky. Let it cool with the lid off. Meanwhile, prep the rest of your ingredients.
Slice the cucumber, remove the seeds, and cut it into thick matchsticks. Grate 2 carrots, mash the avocados, and cut the fish into ½ in by ½ in matchsticks.
Now, importantly, prep your assembly space. Make sure you have a decent space of countertop that is clean and dry. On the side, place a medium bowl of ice water with a clean sponge. Also prep a sharp knife and a cutting board. If you have one, get out a bamboo mat (for rolling) or a piece of parchment. If you don't have these things, not a problem… you can roll the sushi without them.
Place a piece of nori on the countertop (on the mat or parchment) and then wet your hands in the cold water. Take about ½ cup of the rice and place it on the nori and spread it thinly around. Spread it down to the bottom on the nori about an inch from the bottom up to about 2 inches from the top. Smooth on some avocado, some carrot, add two slices of cucumber, then add the fish. Don't overdo it on the fillings because it will become hard to roll. Now, tightly roll up the sushi and use a finger to dab water on the top inch of the nori. Finish the roll and seal the damp end to the rest of the roll.
Move the roll onto your cutting board and wet your knife with the cold water. Slice the roll down the middle, then lay the two halves next to each other. Clean off your knife in the cold water with the sponge. This will allow your blade to cut through the sushi more easily. Again, slice the two roll pieces in half. Clean the knife, and repeat the cuts until you get 8 pieces from the roll. Place onto a serving platter.
Repeat the whole process of assembly until you use up all your ingredients. I can usually get between 8 and 10 rolls from my rice and fish. Top the rolls with the mayo and enjoy with your wasabi and soy sauce! Yum Yum!!!
This is a huge dinner for 2 people, but could easily serve 3 or 4 people with a side or two!
Making sushi takes patience (about 2 hours start to finish) and practice (you may have a roll or two fall apart the first time), but totally worth it. All of the supplies probably cost under $20, whereas 8 rolls like these would cost at least $50 at a restaurant.
I hope you feel inspired to try to make your own sushi, or at least explore your neighborhood sushi restaurant. Its not as scary as it looks!
Fancy sushi plates are optional