The process of making sushi rolls always seemed mysterious to me. For someone who has a difficult time hanging a picture straight, how the hell was I going to put together a nice tight sushi roll? Like the little dude from Karate Kid, the true mastery of this skill eluded me for some time.
Naturally being curious about the piscine art form of sushi, a few years ago, I along with a friend, signed up for a Japanese cooking class. Around this time, Jiro Dreams of Sushi had just come out and the class rather predictably tied itself to this film. First we were going to cook then watch the documentary together and discuss it. Of course, since the class was linked to a movie about the art of sushi making, we believed that we would learn about sashimi, fish and the general culture and philosophy of Japanese food. Unfortunately, it was anything but.
There we were – a bunch of expats in Beijing in a tiny hutong kitchen, learning about all the things we could do with rice from an American lady who spent a year in high school on a cultural exchange in Japan. We cut no fish, the mitarashi dango (Glutinous Rice Ball Skewers) were dry and undercooked and I spent the majority of the time cringe watching a drunk guy try to cook but mostly just goof off with his good sport of a date.
However, not all was lost in this disaster of a class. I did learn about how to ‘dry blanch’ spinach in the wok and how to properly make vegetable sushi rolls. I even felt good about myself because: 1. unlike some other people in the class, I was careful NOT tangle the makisu (bamboo mat used to help roll up sushi) into my roll as I wrapped it up and 2. after some practice I didn’t even need the bamboo mat anymore leaving me free to give it to the drunk guy because in between downing beers in class, he was getting hungry.
After the class, I started practicing my new skills. I made some of my favorite types of Korean gimbap and even bought some sushi grade fish to roll up. I started to think, ‘What else could I put into these sushi rice rolls?’ Then, one day while rooting in my fridge, I looked down at all of the cut up prepped food that I had left over and it dawned on me-BLT sushi rolls with wasabe mayo. That was it. I was in love.
Don’t get wrong-Japanese food is some of the best food in the world and sushi making is an art form. What I am doing is probably an abomination to more than one sacred tradition but I can’t help it. Salty bacon, crisp lettuce, fresh tomato, the tang of sushi rice, and spice of wasabe mayo is good enough for me to be justly punished for my crimes. I plead guilty. Ostracize me from the sushi making community. I don’t care. BUT please, please, let me keep this one thing.
cooked bacon (as much or as little as you like)
6-8 medium sized lettuce leaves
1 cup cooked short grain rice
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sugar
2-3 sheets of sushi nori
1/2 tsp-1 tsp wasabe paste
3 tbsp mayonnaise
1. Mix together vinegar, sugar and salt in a small mixing bowl and add to cooled rice. Mix well.
2. Prepare fillings:
Cut cooked bacon into long strips.
Cut open tomato, scoop out the pulp inside and cut into strips as best as you can.
Wash and dry lettuce leaves.
In a small bowl, mix together mayonnaise and wasabe. Add just enough wasabe to your liking. I start out with 1/4 tsp of wasabe paste and go from there.
Prepare a small bowl of water with a tsp of vinegar mixed in. Keep nearby. (this is for dipping your fingers in when moistening the nori sheet and spreading rice)
3. Lay out nori seaweed with the smooth side down and the textured part up on either a cutting board or sushi mat. The stripes in the nori sheet should be horizontal facing.
4. Dip your fingers into the water/vinegar mixture and lightly dab the sheet of nori, slightly moistening it but not drenching it with water.
5. Wet your fingers, pick up rice and starting from the bottom edge lightly spread it over 2/3 of the nori sheet. Flatten it out with your fingers to make it into an even layer of rice. If rice is sticking to your fingers, simply dip them in the vinegar water bowl.
6. In the middle of the rice, add a line of wasabe mayo, followed by strips of bacon and tomato on top. Roll up lettuce leaves as tightly as you can and place it alongside the bacon and tomato.
7. Starting from the bottom, roll up the nori sheet as tightly and as evenly as you can, applying a little pressure to it as you roll it up. Once you get to the opposite end where the nori sheet is uncovered by rice, slightly moisten it with your fingers and continue rolling. The moistened seaweed will help ‘seal’ the sushi roll up.
8. Using a sharp knife, moisten it with a little water and cut the roll into individual bite size pieces and serve with a fashionable smear of wasabe mayo for extra dipping.
1. Good rice is essential for good sushi rolls. Remember to rinse the rice until the water runs clear, cook it in a 1:1 ratio of water to rice (1 cup rice, 1 cup water) and finally let it rest until it is cool to the touch. DO NOT MAKE sushi rolls with warm or hot rice. Always allow it to cool.
2. You might be tempted to put a little extra bacon in there and you are always welcome to but be careful not to overstuff with fillings as it can be difficult to roll it up tightly and evenly. Start out with a little and then build from there. As your skill improves, start adding more and more fillings to the middle.
3. If you aren’t very confident in your rolling skills, invest in a sushi bamboo rolling mat. Just be sure not to roll your mat in with everything else.