Last night I indulged in sushi. I went to my favorite local sushi joint, Sushi Corner in Melrose MA. It's a pretty basic place, but they have very good fish, well prepared and nicely presented. More importantly, they have excellent rice.
The more sushi I eat the more I think it's about the rice. The fish, as you undoubtedly know, must be fresh, well chosen and well cut. The fish matters tremendously. Most people who are unsure of sushi are hung up on the raw fish aspect; I'm not going to try to convert you, but trust me, it can be wonderful.
But the rice is the foundation of sushi. The word sushi refers to the seasoned rice, not to the rice and fish in combination (nigiri and maki refer to rice with stuff in different formations). If the rice isn't well cooked, well seasoned and well shaped, the whole thing just falls apart. Here's a quick look at each aspect and why I was so happy last night.
Cooking. Let's face it, undercooked rice is crunchy and annoying. Overcooked rice is mushy and gross. And I have trouble cooking sticky rice just right. Last night it was firm, resistant to the teeth but not mushy, each grain was detectable. The rice patties held together when lightly dipped in soy and it wasn't so sticky that I made a mess of my chopsticks or fingers.
Seasoning. Sushi rice is seasoned with a mixture of rice wine vinegar and sugar. If the mixture is off it can be overwhelming, too little and it's bland. It should complement the fish. I would have eaten this rice plain, it was delicious.
Shaping. The rice patties weren't too big (I could eat it in two bites) nor too small (the fish wasn't overwhelming it). They held together so they had been formed with care.
All of this makes me want to try cooking sticky rice again. It was a lovely experience, subtle in the mouth, prepared with care and attention. And I was amused by the sushi master's amusement at my obvious enjoyment, yummy noises and all.
If you have a chance, go there. It's worth the trip.
(c) 2008 Laura S. Packer