The Evolution of American Sushi
This month marks the 59th anniversary of the introduction Sushi to America. According to the September 11th, 1953 edition of the Milwaukee Journal, Crown Prince Akihito of Japan introduced U.S. officials to Yakitori, Sukiyaki, and Sushi (described as “Japanese rice balls wrapped in seaweed”), at a private party in Washington. For the guests, it was a novelty, but not necessarily the start of a trend. Keep in mind that this was the decade of the Jello fish mold (aka. Grandma’s shrimp aspic).
The rice and fish combination originated in Southeast Asia around 500 B.C.E. as a way to store fish in fermented rice. It smelled disgusting, like a half-rotten blue cheese fish sandwich. However, in 1824, a street-food vendor in Tokyo (then Edo) invented the nigiri-sushi we know today, using fresh rice with vinegar and even fresher fish (this smelled much better). However, even after sushi reached 1950’s America, sushi wasn’t even on the radar unless you were Japanese.
Until the California roll.
Ten years after Akihito’s Washington soiree, in the winter of 1963, a sushi chef in Los Angeles named Ichiro Mashita had a problem. The Bluefin tuna his customers loved only swam the LA waters in summertime, and diners weren’t buying chicken or beef. Avocado, however, grows nearly year-round in coastal southern California, so he tried slicing it thin and laying it over rice. Apparently seeing all that green on their plates turned off his customers, so ever the problem-solver, Mashita curled the avocado and rice into a roll of seaweed with crab meat and mayonnaise (the ubiquitous mid-century American condiment).
For white-bread America, the California Roll bridged the gap for those uninitiated to uncooked fish, and sushi quickly became the trend for cosmopolitan Hollywood. Every city and every chef put their stamp on it, resulting in all manner of adulteration. The Philidelphia Roll, the Alaskan Roll, the Boston Roll, the Texas Roll (beef, cucumber, spinach), and my favorite, The Bath Street Roll from my home town of Santa Barbara: Crab, octopus, cream cheese, smelt egg, avocado, and cucumber.
In honor of the introduction of sushi to America, with all of its variations, I bring you:
The Gluten-Free Vegan Brown Rice and Avocado Roll
Original recipe from Epicurious
Makes 1 Serving
Active time: 25 min Start to finish: 1 1/4 hr
- 2/3 cup short-grain brown rice
- 1 cup plus 1 teaspoon water
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar (or, for a twist, apple vinegar)
- 2 (8 1/4- by 7 1/4-inch) sheets roasted nori
- 1/2 Kirby cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/16-inch-thick matchsticks
- 1/2 carrot, cut into 1/16-inch-thick matchsticks
- 1/2 firm-ripe small California avocado
- 3/4 oz radish sprouts, roots trimmed
- Black sesame seeds (optional)
- Special equipment: a bamboo sushi mat
Accompaniments: soy sauce for dipping; pickled ginger, wasabi
Rinse rice well and bring to a boil with 1 cup water and 1 teaspoon soy sauce in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan, then reduce heat to very low and simmer, tightly covered, until water is absorbed, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let rice stand, covered, 10 minutes.
While rice is standing, stir together vinegar and remaining teaspoon soy sauce.
Transfer rice to a wide nonmetal bowl (preferably wood, ceramic, or glass) and sprinkle with vinegar mixture, tossing gently with a large spoon to combine. Add black sesame seeds, just enough to give some color and interest. Cool rice, tossing occasionally, about 15 minutes.
Place sushi mat on a work surface with slats running crosswise. Arrange 1 sheet nori, shiny side down, on mat, lining up a long edge of sheet with edge of mat nearest you. Using damp fingers, gently press half of rice (about 3/4 cup) onto nori in 1 layer, leaving a 1 3/4-inch border on side farthest from you.
Arrange half of cucumber in an even strip horizontally across rice, starting 1 inch from side nearest you. (You may need to cut pieces to fit from side to side.) Arrange half of carrot just above cucumber in same manner. Peel avocado half and cut lengthwise into thin slices, then arrange half of slices just above carrot in same manner. Repeat with radish sprouts, letting some sprout tops extend beyond edge.
Beginning with edge nearest you, lift mat up with your thumbs, holding filling in place with your fingers, and fold mat over filling so that upper and lower edges of rice meet, then squeeze gently but firmly along length of roll, tugging edge of mat farthest from you to tighten. (Nori border will still be flat on mat.) Open mat and roll log forward to seal with nori border. (Moisture from rice will seal roll.) Transfer roll, seam side down, to a cutting board. Make second log in same manner, then cut each log crosswise into 6 pieces with a wet thin-bladed knife. Serve with wasabi paste, soy sauce, and ginger.Add a comment