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Our Favorite Homemade Sushi Maki Rolls

Our Favorite Homemade Sushi Maki Rolls
Sushi is a huge "category." It can (and is most commonly thought to) include exquisitely fresh exotic fish and seafood on top of or in the middle of vinegared rice. But sushi can also be deliciously wacky "modern" combinations that occasionally feature downright questionable ingredients: like the corned beef sushi, chicken nugget sushi and grilled hamburger sushi that Rick Bayless' family got in Tokyo, delivered to their table by a conveyor belt that snaked through a very modern restaurant. Bottom line: Sushi basically includes sticky, vinegary rice with fillings or toppings.

Maki rolls (as opposed to nigiri sushi) are rice-and-filling wrapped in nori (the special ground-up seaweed that is dried into crispy sheets; roasted is Rick's favorite). Really good grocery stores often have the very fresh "sushi-quality" tuna (or other fish) that you can cut into long French-fry shapes and use as a raw filling, but the fillings listed below (no raw fish) are great, especially when you are serving people who are raw-fish challenged.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups short-grain rice (sometimes called sushi rice; Botan Calrose
      Rice is a common brand)
  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1/2 seedless (hothouse) cucumber or 1 Japanese cucumber
  • 1/4-inch-thick slice of ham (6 to 8 ounces)
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1 package (2 ounces) radish sprouts (aka kaiware) or pea shoots
  • About 1 cup cooked, shelled crabmeat (optional)
  • 6 pieces (each 8 by 7 inches) sushi nori (see note above)
  • Soy sauce, pink pickled ginger, wasabi and/or sesame seeds for serving

Directions:

Cook, season and cool the rice
Measure 2 1/2 cups water into a 2-quart saucepan. Add the rice. Set over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and cook for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the vinegar, sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. When the rice is done, scoop it into a large bowl. Sprinkle evenly with about one-third of the vinegar mixture. Use a sushi paddle or wooden spatula to stir the rice up from the bottom, gently mixing and tossing to cool the rice and evenly distribute the vinegar. (All through the sprinkling and mixing, you can fan the rice with a piece of paper to cool it quickly.) Never press the rice down. Sprinkle on half of the remaining vinegar mixture and repeat the mixing. Sprinkle on the remaining vinegar mixture and mix a final time.

Prepare the fillings
Peel the cucumber and cut it lengthwise into 4 slices (it is easiest to slice a little off one side first, then roll onto the cut side to make the cucumber stable for slicing). Cut the slices in half across the middle. Cut these half slices into 1/4-inch-thick strips. (They will look like French fries.) Place on a large platter (the start of the fillings platter). Slice the ham into 1/4-inch-thick strips and add to the platter.

Cut the avocado in half. Start at the pointy stem end (the top) and circle around the pit. Twist the sides in opposite directions and pull apart. With a large spoon, scoop out the pit and discard. Scoop the avocado flesh from the skin in a single half. Discard the skin and slice each half into 8 strips. Add to the fillings platter. Add the radish sprouts and crabmeat to the platter.

Form the maki rolls
Have a small bowl of water on hand to wet your fingers. Lay a sushi mat on the counter, flat side up and lines running side to side. Lay 1 piece of the nori on the mat, rough side up. Line up a long side (8-inch side) of the nori with the edge of the mat closest to you. Scoop 1 cup of the rice onto the nori. Wet your hands and use your fingertips to gently spread out the rice to cover the nori, leaving 1 inch uncovered at the front, 1/2 inch on either side and about 1/3 of the sheet of nori uncovered at the back. (The rice should look fluffy; you will see the nori peaking through.)

Use the dampened side of your hand to press a shallow trench for the filling from side to side about one-third of the way back. Use a finger to smear a little wasabi if you like it spicy (beware: too much makes your nose burn) down the trench. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Choose 2 or 3 filling ingredients to lay in the trench. (It does not take much of any one, but be careful to distribute it from side to side.) Spread the fingertips of both your hands (like claws) and use to hold the filling in place. Scoop your thumbs under the mat to lift it and hold the mat and nori together with your thumbs and index fingers. Begin rolling the mat, nori and rice up over the filling, pressing the filling with your fingertips. It is important to keep the filling in the middle as you begin rolling. When the mat comes over the top, pull out your fingertips and continue rolling until the mat touches the other side. Peel back the mat and continue rolling the nori until it completely wraps the roll. Now, grip the mat firmly around the roll to compact it and make it round.

Remove the mat, wrap the roll in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. Continue making the other 5 rolls.

Serve the sushi
One at a time, unwrap the rolls from the plastic wrap. Using a sharp, dampened knife, cut each roll into 6 or 8 slices, dampening the knife between cuts. (Use the sushi mat, rolled firmly around the roll, as a cutting guide.) Arrange on a platter, rice side up.

Pour a little soy sauce into small dishes for each person to dip his or her sushi into. Scoop pickled ginger and sesame seeds into small serving bowls. Scoop or squeeze out wasabi into a small dish. Set all out on a table. Serve sushi, passing wasabi, sesame seeds and ginger for those who want it. Makes 6 maki rolls (each cut into 6 to 8 pieces), enough to serve 4 as a light meal or 8 to 10 as an appetizer.

Adapted from Rick & Lanie's Excellent Kitchen Adventures, by Rick Bayless & Lanie Bayless, with Deann Groen Bayless (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2004).