My wife Jan has her college friends staying over the weekend. Her friends come with a long list of food restrictions—no wheat, rye, barley, tomatoes, citrus, or lactose—so it is quite the challenge. Japanese cuisine tends to have few of the ingredients I needed to avoid. I decided I would make miso soup, sushi, and a selection of Japanese pickles—cabbage and mixed vegetables.
The simplest makizushi to make are hosomaki (細巻, “thin rolls”). These maki are small rolls of sushi rice and a single filling—which can be fish, egg, or vegetables—wrapped in nori. Futomaki (太巻) are large rolls with two or more ingredients selected for their complimentary taste and colors. What ingredients you choose is up to your own imagination. Today, I decided to create my own futomaki with ahi, avocado, and the green parts of some green onions.
Sushi rice (Sushi-meshi 鮨飯) is made with short-grained, Japanese rice mixed dressed with a mixture of rice vinegar, sugar, salt—sushi su. Depending on the cook, there may also be other additions. My own twist is to add some of the sweet pickling liquid that gari—Japanese pickled ginger—is packed in.
In Japan, the tradition method for mixing the rice and sauce involves a special wooden tub—a hangiri—a wooden paddle—a shamoji— and a fan—to dry off the rice quickly as you gently mix them together. The real tricks to making sushi rice is to: 1) let it cool before adding the sushi su; 2) do use too much sauce for the amount of rice you have; 3) and do not mash or break the grains of rice as you mix in the sushi su.
Note: If you add sushi su to how rice the starch in the rice will rapidly and unevenly absorb the sauce. You want the sauce coating the outsides of the grains. If you add too much sushi su you will end up with soggy, not sticky rice. Ideally you want to end up with whole individual grains of slightly sticky and glossy rice.
Nori is basically a paper made our of red algae. It has a standard size (19×21 cm) and usually has 6 scores to guide you in cutting up the role—although you may cut them where ever it pleases you. You usually toast the nori before using—this give it a better flavor and softens it slightly making it less likely to crack while you are rolling. If you are just starting out, you can look for pre-roasted nori. Nori also has a smooth and a rough side. When using nori to make maki you want to lay the sheet down with the rough side up—when you are finished rolling the rough side sticks better when you moisten it.
Karl’s Ahi, Avocado, and Green Onion Futomaki
1½ cups Japanese short grained rice (=about 4 cups cooked rice )
½+ cup sushi su
¼ cup rice vinegar
2 Tbs. sugar
2 Tbs. mirin
1 Tbs. gari liquid
½ tsp. salt
4–8 oz. ahi, sashimi grade raw fish
1 ripe avocado
3-4 green onions, green parts only
5-6 sheets of nori seaweed
Other items needed:
a hangiri: I use a shallow 9-12 inch ceramic casserole
a makisu: a mat woven of bamboo sticks and cotton string
a shamoji: a flat wooden paddle
a small bowl half filled with water
and a very sharp knife
1. Cook your rice by your preferred method.
Tip: I strongly recommend a rice steamer.
Note: You want to use slightly less water than you might usually do—by a tablespoon or two— overcooked rice makes for very bad sushi. You do not want your rice to be hard in the center, but you also do not want it soft and mushy.
2. Turn the rice out onto a wide lipped surface.
Tip: I use a shallow 9-12 inch ceramic casserole as my hangiri. Do not put oil on the pan!
Note: You may break up any large clumps of rice to help it cool more quickly, but the hot rice will break easily, so be very gentle.
3. While the rice is cooking put all of the sushi su ingredients into a measuring cup and microwave it for one minute.
Tip: You are not trying to cook the sauce, you only want the liquid warm enough so that the sugar dissolves completely. Cool the sauce completely before using.
Note: I tend to use less salt than many recipes I have read. Some recipes call for as much as a tablespoon of salt for this much rice.
4. Sprinkle the sushi su over the rice and gently “fluff” and “feather” it with a wooden spoon or spatula.
Tip: The cold moistened rice will come separate easily into individual grains—Fluffing means to “Lift and separate.” Feathering is a light cutting motion to separate individual grains of rice. Do not use any mashing or hard stirring motions.
5. Slice the tuna into bars.
Tip: Guesstimate about how many rolls of futomaki you will make and how much tuna you have for each roll. Lots of tuna—thick bars—not so much tuna—thin bars.
Note: You will be cutting the tuna up—across the grain of the flakes—into bars. Depending on the shape and length of your piece of fish, it will take between 1 and 2 bars of sashimi to reach all the way across the width of the nori.
6. Cut the avocado in half top to bottom and remove the pit.
7. Peel each half and slice—again top to bottom—into ¼ inch slices.
8. Remove the green leaves of the onions and keep them intact.
Note: I put the white parts and any remaining green onion into my miso soup.
9. Toast your nori.
10. When you have all of your ingredients ready, arrange your rolling station.
Tip: On the left side place your bowl of sushi rice. In the center have a clean flat surface for your rolling mat. Above the mat, place a bow of water and a plate with your toasted nori. on the right hand side place your filling(s)—in this case just your tuna. Also, have a very sharp knife ready to hand.
11. Place a sheet of nori on the rolling mat.
Tip: You want the rough side up and the wider edge toward you.
12. Wet your fingers and place about ¾ of a cup of rice on the lower half of the nori.
13. Work the rice across the lower ⅝ of the sheet of nori.
Tip: You want the rice to cover the seaweed all the way to the lower and side edges and be in a fairly even layer.
Note: Sushi rice is very sticky and you will need to re-wet your fingers frequently.
14. Lay a bar of tuna across the center of you rice and slices of avocado, and one leaf of green onion.
Tip: You may need to trim and add pieces of each ingredient to reach all the way across.
Note: Again, you want the ingredients to reach from edge to edge all the way across the rice.
15. Using the bamboo mat to support the rice and nori, fold the rice over the fillings and seal it in with the rice on the other side.
Tip: If necessary roll up the nori a bit more so that you only have bare nori showing on the side away from you.
Note: With only a single solid filling this is a very easy maneuver. When you start adding more ingredients or loose ingredients—like shredded carrots—it becomes more of a challenge. Use your fingers to keep the fillings from slipping out of the roll, as you bring the rice and seaweed over them.
15. Gently squeeze the roll to pack the rice together and to make the roll into and evenly round cylinder.
16. Wet your fingers and dampen about an inch all along the far edge of the nori.
Tip: You want it moist, not soggy.
17. Firmly roll up the remaining nori and place the roll seam side down on a plate.
Tip: The damp rough edge of the nori will quickly seal your roll shut and it will not come undone as you handle the roll further.
18. Continue rolling your futomaki until you run out of ingredients.
Note: If you look closely at my photo, you will note that I ran out of tuna before I ran out of rice.
19. Taking one roll at a time, carefully slice the long rolls half with a very sharp knife.
Tip: Wet the blade of your knife before cutting, bits of sushi rice will stick firmly to any dry surface.
Note: Even with a wet knife your blade will eventually “gum up” with rice paste. You may need to wash your knife several times before you are finished cutting.
20. Lay the two halves of the roll side by side and make one or two more cuts.
Tip: Most makizushi are about an inch high—when laid cut side up.
Note: I usually cut my rolls into six pieces. There are those who discard the “ugly” end pieces—the very ends of the rolls, where there may be little filling and a raggedy amount of rice. If you remember that I mentioned that the sheets of nori had six scores on them—the intention there is to make five perfect sushi and two half bits at the ends that you throw away.
21. Lay your futomaki cut side up on plate and serve with soy sauce and wasabi.
Tip: Instead of discarding my end pieces, I lay them ragged side down on the plate.