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Sushi 101

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Sushi 101

Expensive to eat out, but dirt cheap to make your own!
I actually took a sushi class with the daughter of a good friend of mine. We had a blast, learned a lot and brought home a boat load of sushi, all for about $50 bucks! Alas, perhaps you don't live in the cultural mecca of San Francisco, then you better read on!
Tuna, Unagi, hamachi + shrimp cocktail


Tuna, Unagi, hamachi + shrimp cocktail

 

How impressive would serving a platter of beautifully rolled sushi to your guests that appreciate seafood?! I put together the platter to the left in under 2 hours. With the right prep work you can minimize that time! There are four essential steps to making sushi at home. Mind you the way the Japanese make their rice will differ from me, because I gave up on their method when I failed 4 times in a row (and I went to class remember!) So obviously cooking the correct kind of rice, in addition to the method used, will effect your final product.

Get your ingrediants prepped!
Get your ingrediants prepped!

 

A search of sushi rice types give me the impression that "Nishiki" brand rice is one of the better brands. Having a package of good nori wraps is essential. I just recently learned a fast technique that helps ensure a crisp nori skin for your sushi! Toast it again before you roll it! Just use a hot fry pan and toss the sheet in, one at a time, and flip after a few seconds, then remove. Also having a mixture of rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt all dissolved and ready to go over your finished sushi rice is key. And with that being said, having the freshest piece of fish or whatever it is you are rolling up into sushi is required! Otherwise just fry the fish and don't waste it for sushi! Lets recap: Fresh fish, toasted nori, Nishiki rice, prepped ingredients... yup that's sushi!

You can see from the picture to your right, that you need to be organized, otherwise you will be rolling up your sushi and then suddenly you remembered you wanted to have a dab of wasabi inside the roll but it wasn't out on your counter to remind you! In the back from right to left you see: White sesame seeds, Nori, Curry Croquettes, Kerage Chicken (on the cutting board) Tempura shrimp, Tuna, Cucumber slices, Unagi and a sharp knife.

One of my favorite sushi rolls is the Dragon Roll. Inside is tempura shrimp and cucumber, outside is unagi and tuna. Although my attempt looks, probably, less appealing then a sushi pro, I can guarantee you that my version still tastes like a pro!

Bamboo rolling mat with plastic wrap
Bamboo rolling mat with plastic wrap

 

Because sushi rice is so sticky, due to the nature of the rice itself and to the mix of sugar salt and rice wine vinegar that's mixed in, it will allow us to adhere the rice on the nori and flip the nori upside down also allowing us to fill the middle and have a finished roll with rice on the outside! Leaving a small edge without sushi, lightly press your rice to a thickness of about ½ inch high. Sprinkle evenly with sesame seeds. Gingerly, flip the nori sheet around so the rice is now touching the bamboo rolling mat, add a thin line of wasabi paste if you like, place the cucumber and tempura shrimp on the roll and roll it up using the bamboo mat at the bottom to start your rolling process.

Key is to line up the nori at the very bottom of the bamboo mat and when you finish the roll to "tuck in" the edge of the mat then pull it out to seal the nori. Also you may need/want to shape the roll a bit using the bamboo mat by firmly tucking the mat around the sushi and pressing down or around the sides to make it either a circle or square. When you have a finished roll and are ready to cut it, make sure your knife is sharp, the blade itself is straight edged (not serrated or scalloped) and wet the blade before cutting. Do not saw at it, cut it in one swift slicing motion. I make it through half the roll before I need to re-wet my blade. But that's me! This is a $30+ dinner at any sushi place.

Sushi rice on the nori with sesame seeds
Sushi rice on the nori with sesame seeds

 

While I have spare ingredients to make more, it only cost me about $15 a batch, yes initially you have to shell the cash out for the bamboo mat ($3), can of wasabi powder($3), package of nori($3) and bag of rice($6). But all these last longer then one batch! Chop sticks extra~

One (ugly) yet delicious Dragon Roll
One (ugly) yet delicious Dragon Roll

 

The finished dish
The finished dish

 

Making Bacon

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Makin' Bacon

Mmmm bacon... drool-drool-drool
There's a reason the smell of bacon can awaken a sleeping stomach from 200 yards, the cured pork sliced thin and fried or baked crisp is the Pièce de résistance of many a meal. From Breakfast, bacon and eggs, to lunch, a B.L.T. and soup, to dinner, a bacon wrapped filet mignon!

Pork belly, being divided into thirds
Pork belly being divided into thirds

If you find the taste and smell of bacon intoxicating and delicious, and have the drive to git to makin bacon, then you will never buy mass-produced store bacon again! The beginners finished product is so superior to the store bacon, it's like comparing the tortoise to the hare: NO CONTEST.

I started with 13.5 lb slab of pork belly with rib meat attached. (When I do this again, I will probably trim the rib meat) I divided it into three sections, each section weighed in at 4+ lbs.

Honey and Molasas Bacon
Honey and Molasas Bacon before being sealed

After coating it in special curing salt and spices, (I made 3 different cures), see the image above where I add the marinade to the top of the meat and work it around the meat the best I can before it was packed and sealed and left in my fridge for about 9 days. I turned the packages over twice a day to ensure they cured evenly.

 

All 3 flavors, seal-a-mealed up
All 3 flavors, seal-a-mealed up

I decided on a 'honey and molassas', a 'pepper and garlic' and a 'pepper, bay and thyme' trifecta! I also used seal-a-meal bags (god I love that machine!).

Pepper and garlic slab being dusted
Pepper and garlic slab being dusted

After removing and rinsing the bacon of its curing salts and drying it off, I really wanted an authentic "slab-o-bacon" so I decided to rig my oven into a smoker! Granted I did not get as much smoke to penetrate the flavor of the meat, but apparently I got just enough to hint at smoke and it had a great flavor!

Slabs about to be smoked
Slabs about to be smoked

Luckily my oven had a removable shelf floor between the oven and the broiler below. I removed that panel and put the canister of wood shavings on top of the broiler element, on the mid shelf I had a steel bowl of ice water to keep the bacon from reaching the max smoking temperature for as long as possible and that happened to be 3 hours. I read it should be closer to 10 hours, but hey, you make the best with what you have. On the top rack is the three slabs of bacon with my digital thermometer in one.

The finished product! I gifted some out, and regret it! Mine mine all mine! mwa ha ha... err nevermind.

Bacon belly, split in thirds
Molassass bacon slab after smoking

Bacon belly, split in thirds
A slice of the smoked bacon

Making Vegetables Delicious

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Making Vegetables taste not only good, but great!

I don't eat broccoli, I don't eat tomatoes, I hate zucchini and don't get me started on brussel sprouts!
These are just a few of the words I used to say about vegetables which should be, according to the latest dietary guidelines "five to thirteen servings of fruits and vegetables a day" (2½ to 6½ cups per day). As far as I was concerned that was 2 cups too many. How can I enjoy vegetables without using an enormous amount of butter and cheese? Enter spices.

Garam Masala Spices
Garam Masala Spices - From left to right, clockwise: Bay Leaf, Green Cardamom, Black and Schezuan Peppercorns, Cloves, Black Cardamom and a cinnamon stick. Garam Masala means 'Hot Mixture' but hot in way that makes heat in the body, not necessarily spicy hot.

A restaurant I regularly dined at and enjoyed many vegetable dishes was of Indian/Pakistani influences. Their flavors seemed complex, their spices bold, spicy, sour, bitter and sweet. I never thought I would be able to cook their dishes and have them come out to equal the flavor, let alone supersede the flavor.

My two favorite vegetable dishes from this particular restaurant were Vegetable Biryani and Aloo Gobi. Vegetable Biryani to me is akin to Italy's Risotto or Spain's Paella or the Arabic dish Makloubah. Every region in the world has their version of a succulent rice dish.

Aloo Gobi is a mixture of cauliflower and potatoes with a classic sweet n' sour combo going on through the use of Methi Leaves (Fenugreek) and Amchour (Mango Powder). Both dishes use a classic mixture of garlic and ginger paste to start building flavors, while the Aloo Gobi dish has fewer ingredients and is faster to prepare, the amount of spices and the time required to prep the dish are much longer, the result can be stunning. No vegetable should taste this good!

Coating the vegetables in the spices and oil
Coating the vegetables in the spices and oil.

There is a commitment to spicing up your food that many home cooks just don't get. A visit to my friends house revealed much about her spicing habits; Salt, Pepper, Cayenne Pepper, Lawry's Seasoning Salt, Italian Seasoning, Granulated Garlic, Parsley Flakes and Paprika. Sounds fairly typical.

But alas, I have 3 kinds of Paprika, a Spanish, a smoked and a hot Hungarian version. Why does one need more then one paprika? Easy to answer that because Paprika can range from mild to hot and can be altered by smoking it, even some spice companies add cayenne to heat up Hungarian paprika. I use the smoked version in my BBQ Sauce, I use the Spanish version for my deviled eggs presentation. Do you really need cumin powder and cumin seeds? Well since this is a blog about spices, yes, yes you do need both versions especially as in this dish, you want to retain the integrity of the whole spice. Unlike the cloves, bay leaf cardamom pods and cinnamon stick. you want to consume the cumin seeds as is for this layered spice profile.

Vegetables beginning to cook
Vegetables beginning to cook.

In my Vegetable Biryani recipe, I use close to 19 spice varieties, with only a few that are needed to be acquired through a specialty store. If you make this recipe with all of the spices I used, you will start your journey down the unknown spice path and get a feel for the taste properties and pairings of some regular spices like cumin, coriander and chili powder, while getting a lot of new flavors I am sure you'll be excited to use in future kitchen experiments. Spice like Mace (the outer net-like coating of the nutmeg seed) and cardamom (yes, two kinds of cardamom!). The more you make this dish the more you can tweak the amount of each spice involved.

For instance, I really wanted to learn Mace, so I put in double the amount the recipes called for and kept everything else the same. Lets just say, I won't do that again, but I do now know where the balance is for Mace in this dish. I also did the same for the cumin seeds at the beginning of the recipe, which calls for them to be toasted in the oil first. I doubled the amount and left the rest of the recipe as is. Now I know where my range is for deliciousness.

Don't be intimidated by the sheer volume of spices. Don't be afraid that you will never use them all up (I guarantee you will make Biryani so much you'll need more of something!). Be brave in the new, yet ancient and ever expanding world of spices.

Time to eat!
Time to eat!.

For more great Indian Cuisine please visit my favorite Indian Chef Sanjay Thumma over at Vahreyvah.com or see him on his YouTube channel.

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