Growing up, I could never understand why my mother scoffed at going to Japanese restaurants. You’d think she’d jump at the chance since it would be like a “slice of home” away from home. However, whenever it would come up, she’d look at the menu, unimpressed, and then balk at the prices. Needless to say, I can only remember going to a Japanese restaurant in America once (and it was like going with the food critic of The New York Times).
You know how they say that as you grow older, you realize that you’re just like your mother? Well, hello, mom! I do the exact same thing – I look at the menu and proceed to go on about how I could make it all at home at a fraction of the cost. At least mom went once, whereas we’ve yet to go. It’s odd, really, because I don’t throw the same kind of fuss over American restaurants, even though I can cook that as well. Still, it’s reassuring when your hubby tells you that he doesn’t mind since he thinks your sushi is tops!
This third take on the bento features sushi. No, not the fishy kind.
Making futomaki sushi (a type of makisushi that feature the seaweed wrapper) is actually really easy, as long as you have the ingredients and equipment. In fact, a lot of Japanese cooking is relatively easy and it’s only obtaining the supplies that can be a bit tricky.
Futomaki sushi shouldn’t be confused with the typical “raw fish” sushi (or sashimi), or “California rolls” (even if they do share a slight resemblance to the latter). Futomaki sushi are often vegetarian and include cucumber, spinach (optional), egg, shitake, and kampyo (dried gourd).
You can make the seasoned shitake and kampyo days before, and you can even freeze them for a handy supply for emergency sushi rolls or loose sushi rice (chirashizushi). I often cook up a big batch and then freeze them in separate packets with no harm (just remember to defrost them and microwave until warm, but not overly hot, before making the sushi).
The English cucumber is simply cut into 4-5 inch long, thin rectangles and the egg is simply scrambled, cooked like a big pancake in a pan, cooled and sliced into long strips. Nothing fancy or tricky. It’s all very simple and the beauty of sushi is that you don’t have to be perfect! It’s rolled and cut up anyways, so no one’s the wiser.
Rolling the sushi can be slightly tricky, if you don’t follow a few key tips.
- Dip your fingers into a bit of rice vinegar to help spread the prepared sushi rice (which is just rice vinegar and sugar to taste) over the nori (seaweed wrapper). If you don’t, you’ll have sticky fingers and no luck.
- Spread the rice more thinly at the edges – especially at the opposite end from where the ingredients are placed.
- Place your ingredients in rows with equal spacing at one end of the roll nearest to you. If you lump it all together or spread it all over the roll like a cinnamon bun, it won’t roll correctly and you’ll have problems lining everything up.
- Roll from the end where the ingredients are closer to the edge. This way you can “tuck” the ingredients into the middle of the roll.
- After you’ve rolled the sushi, gently but firmly squeeze the roll with the mat still around it so that it stays together.
- This isn’t really important, but if aesthetics is your thing, place the shiny side of the nori face-down onto your mat for a prettier roll.
I find that futomaki sushi lasts a day or two at room temperature as long as it’s in a sealed container, but do be aware that if you fridge it, the rice will harden a bit. I have yet to experience any problems with sushi in bento without being chilled, but I wouldn’t want to advocate it in case there’s some issues with bacteria. If it scares you, then go ahead and fridge it.
Shitake and Kampyo for Sushi
- 8-10 dried shitake
- 1 pkg kampyo (see how to prep below)
- 4 tbsp Soy sauce
- 4 tbsp Mirin
- 4 tbsp Sugar (or 2 packets splenda)
- 1 1/2 cups dashi stock (1 1/2 cups water + 1 stick of dashi powder)
- Prepare the kampyo by washing it in water and then vigorously rubbing salt all over. Rinse and place kampyo into warm water for at least 30 min to reconstitute – the kampyo is done soaking when it has expanded. I generally soak my kampyo and shitake together in the same bowl.
- Place kampyo, shitake and the other ingredients into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until liquid is reduced to about a 1/4.
- Take off heat, let cool, then slice the shitake into about ¼ inch strips and the kampyo into about 12 inch strips (long enough to fit the length of the nori).
- Store in the fridge or the freezer for future uses.