We haven’t had a food post on Mr. Tako Escapes in awhile, so we’re long past due. No, that post about grilling doesn’t count!
Today, we’re going to talk about Sushi.
Sushi is one of those extremely polarizing foods. Either you love it, or you hate it. Well, the Tako family loves sushi! We also like having our financial independence, so keeping food costs under control while eating this fantastic food is key.
Can we have mind-blowingly good sushi dinners without busting out the benjamins? Why yes, yes we can!
You can make a fancy sushi dinner at home for half the cost of what you’d pay in a restaurant. After a little practice, you’ll find your homemade sushi will better than 95% of the sushi restaurants in the United States. Seriously!
Sushi At Home
Normally, people go out-to-eat for sushi. At our house, that doesn’t happen very often. We make sushi at home.
This Memorial Day weekend we found some awesome tuna, and decided to have a sushi dinner “on the cheap”. How cheap? Keep reading to find out!
For some reason, sushi is nearly synonymous with “eating out”. Maybe it’s all that ‘high class’ mystique cultivated by expensive sushi restaurants. Maybe everyone’s just too tired from working so much. Whatever the case, making sushi at home is exceedingly rare in my experience.
There is absolutely no reason for this. Sushi isn’t hard to make. You can make sushi at a lower cost, using exactly the same ingredients as those expensive (fake) Japanese sushi shops down the road. I’d argue that you can even do it better than those places!
It’s Food, Not Rocket Science
Have you ever noticed there’s a lot of fuss surrounding sushi? Sushi chefs would have you believe that making sushi is a special skill that only masters can perform. According to documentaries like Jiro Dreams Of Sushi, learning to make sushi takes a lifetime.
While it makes for a interesting documentary, I’ve got news for you: Amateurs can make great sushi too.
I could care less about sushi as an art form. All those ancient traditions surrounding the preparation of sushi are unnecessary in the context of making sushi at home. It doesn’t have to be art! Sushi can just be food!
The rest of this post is about making sushi simple and cheap. It’s easier than you could possibly believe!
If you’re a sushi-snob and believe sushi has to be art, and has to follow ancient sushi making traditions, then this article is NOT for you. You won’t like what I have to say.
However, if you want fantastic tasting sushi in your mouth (at an affordable price), then please keep reading!
Making It Yourself
Sushi can take dozens of different forms: Nigiri, maki (rolls), temaki (hand rolls), chirashi, pressed sushi (sometimes called box-sushi), and many more that I’ve neglected to mention.
You’ll need to decide which kind of sushi you want to make before you begin. Some forms of sushi are going to be easier to make than others. Some types require special equipment.
At the Tako household, we try to avoid any special equipment when making sushi at home. We do things the easy way. This means making temaki and sashimi, due to low costs and ease of construction.
Making sushi does require a few special ingredients. Thankfully, most of these ingredients are not expensive (other than fish). If you’re not the sort of person that usually makes asian food at home, you’ll probably need to head to your local asian market to find most of them.
1. Japanese Rice. Japanese rice is a short grain rice. What’s found in the store won’t be from Japan, but is a close approximation in the form of Japonica rice cultivars. There are a number of varieties available outside Japan.
The most common types of Japanese rice you’ll see in asian markets will be Koshihikari and Calrose rice. Most people won’t be able to tell the difference. Calrose rice is usually cheapest, so that’s what we use. As you can see, we go extra fancy.
2. Rice Vinegar. Rice vinegar is made from fermented rice. It’s most frequently used in the making of sushi rice, and gives it that distinct flavor. You don’t want to use other forms of vinegar — they won’t taste quite right.
3. Nori. Nori is the dark-colored seaweed paper that wraps most sushi rolls. If you intend to make temaki or any form of sushi roll, you’ll need to pick up some nori. Look for the non-flavored sheets, about 8 inches square. Usually one sheet is cut into 4 sheets for temaki.
4. Konbu. Konbu is a form of seaweed frequently used in Japanese cooking, often to impart flavor. Most asian grocery stores will have it. If you can’t find it locally, Amazon can hook you up. In the case of sushi, konbu is used to flavor the sushi rice.
5. Wasabi. If you’ve been to a sushi restaurant before, you’ve seen the green paste before. That’s fake wasabi. It’s a horseradish sauce, colored green. What’s found in the United States isn’t real wasabi. Jiro would turn his nose up at it. Outside of Japan, real wasabi is practically impossible to find. You know what? That’s OK – most people won’t even know the difference!
6. Soy Sauce. You know what soy sauce is! It can be found in nearly every grocery store on the planet. It’s also great for dipping sushi in. Pick some up. Enough said!
7. Fish. OK, technically there’s also non-fish sushi…if that’s the way you roll. For most preparations, fish is a important ingredient for sushi. It’s also going to be the most expensive part of your sushi meal. Freshness is going to be a big factor, so get the freshest fish you can find. Frozen is OK if you can’t find fresh. Even fancy sushi restaurants like Nobu use frozen when they can’t find fresh.
You’ll want to look for a market with frequent turnover and high quality fish.
Tuna quality from Costco varies from day-to-day, so we only buy when it’s good. The quality was excellent this weekend, so we just had to buy some. Two pounds is more than enough for our family of four.
Making the Rice
Making sushi rice can be simple, or it can be complicated. It’s up to you! At the Tako household, we choose to go with easy. This is how we do it:
1. First, start by washing the rice. Usually stirring the rice by hand and rinsing 4-5 times is adequate.
2. Place the washed rice into your rice maker (or pot) for cooking, along with an adequate amount of water (this will vary depending upon the cooker).
3. Next, add the konbu. We usually add several strips, but I don’t think there’s any hard rule on this. You could probably skip the konbu too.
4. While the rice is cooking, we need to create the rice flavoring. Add 1/2 cup of rice vinegar and 1/4 cup of sugar into a moderately sized dish. Then mix in roughly 1 teaspoon of salt. You don’t need to heat it. Just mix well until sugar and salt are fully dissolved into the vinegar.
5. When the rice has finished cooking, remove the konbu and transfer to a large bowl. Begin adding the vinegar mixture. Add the mixture evenly and slowly throughout the rice. Taste as you go, to get the right amount. Gently “cut” through the rice to mix as it cools and dries. The idea here is to add the liquid as evenly as possible without turning the rice to mush.
If you have a hand-fan available, fan the rice to help the moisture evaporate faster. If you’ve done all the steps properly, the rice will be very sticky and shiny looking.
Cutting The Fish
Sushi chefs at high-end sushi restaurants would have you believe that cutting fish has to be done with special knives and years of training. Frankly, if your knife is sharp, you can cut slices of fish. I use a Shun 8-inch Chef’s knife. It’s the knife up on our Things We Like page. The knife works great, and nobody’s ever complained about how I cut the fish.
Depending upon the kind of sushi you’re preparing, you’ll want different cuts. Sometimes you’ll cut the fish with the grain. Sometimes against the grain. Sometimes at a bias. It’s really not that difficult. Just look up photos online and check the grain and thickness to learn how to cut it.
For this weekend’s sushi dinner, I prepared the fish in three ways: for sashimi (against the grain), for temaki (long strips, with the grain), and for spicy tuna (diced).
A favorite preparation in our house is spicy tuna. Not every tuna steak is going to be top grade, so spicy tuna is perfect for this. Typically we use the poorer ends of the tuna, and save the higher quality bits for sashimi. Here’s how we do it:
1. Poorer grades of tuna have more connective tissue, you’ll need to remove this. If you don’t remove the connective tissue, the tuna will end up very chewy and no-so-edible. This can be time consuming, but with a little practice it goes quickly.
2. Dice the tuna into small edible sized cubes about 1 centimeter in size.
3. Add finely diced green onions.
4. Add sesame seeds, sesame oil, and soy sauce to taste.
5. Add mayonnaise and Sriracha Sauce. Again, everything is to taste.
6. Mix thoroughly. Taste and adjust flavor to your liking.
OK, so now you’ve prepped the rice, sliced the fish, and prepared the toppings. It’s time to get eating! If you want to get fancy, you can buy those bamboo mats to wrap your sushi rolls. We don’t bother with that at home. Why? Once the sushi enters our mouths, all that hard work gets masticated away. Why bother?
We simply make temaki (hand rolls) that we roll on our plates. This is a very basic preparation that anyone can do. Mrs. Tako was kind enough to model the process for us:
The great part about temaki sushi is that you can add whatever toppings you like, and assemble as you see fit. Maybe you like more advocado, or onion…just customize the roll however you want! Be creative with toppings too! There is no rule that says you have to stick with standard toppings. We typically arrange it on a shared platter:
Fun For The Whole Family
Whoever said kids don’t like sushi was lying. I have two young kids that absolutely love sushi, and it always surprises me when I hear this from other parents. Frankly, I think many parents teach their children to dislike fish, instead of allowing them to enjoy the taste and texture.
Yes, I understand the concerns some parents have around in mercury in fish. Pollutants are everywhere, not just in fish. We simply don’t eat sushi frequently enough for this to be a problem — fish is too expensive to eat frequently. We have sushi maybe two or three times a year, so the worries around mercury buildup do not concern us.
The Total Cost
As you saw in the Costco tuna photo earlier, we paid $28.54 for the tuna. We already had the rice, nori, toppings, and sauces necessary to make everything, but those items would only amount to only a few dollars more. I’ll be generous and say those items cost $10 for what went into this meal. That gives us a total price for the meal at $38 for some really excellent sushi. More than we could possibly eat!
Don’t think that’s a bargain? I highly doubt you could find a sushi dinner of this quality (for 4 people) under $60 at a restaurant.
That’s why we make sushi at home. It really isn’t difficult, and everyone in our household ends up enjoying it.
So what if it isn’t pretty!