There’s 3 parts to Nigiri:
- The fish, obviously but unless you’re a fisherman or know a supplier most of us are stuck with whatever sushi grade fish is at the supermarket so this part will be only briefly touched on.
- The rice, I’m going to attempt to emulate Chef Nozawa’s technique here.
- The vinegar, a closely guarded secret by any sushi chef. My recipe is based off of the one given in Chef Nobu’s cookbook. If you can find a physical English copy of that cookbook it’s probably worth more than $100 right now.
- Rice: 3 cups (720 ml)
- Water: 3 cups (720 ml)
- Seasoned Vinegar
- Red Rice Vinegar: 2/3rds cup (160 ml)
- Coarse Sea Salt: 4 teaspoons
- Sugar: 1/2 cup (100 grams), granulated, highly refined
- Hon Mirin: 1 scant tablespoon
- Kombu: 2 sq. inch (5 sq. cm) sheet
- Sushi Grade Fish
Small Batch Vinegar Portions for One Cup of Rice:
- 3 tablespoons and 1.5 teaspoons Red Rice Vinegar (save 1 tablespoon for end)
- 1 and 1/3rd teaspoons salt
- 2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/3rd tablespoon mirin
- 1/2 sq. inch kombu sheet
Rice: Chef Nozawa says he sources his rice “from a Japanese company that grows their rice in the Sacramento Delta”. Not very surprising since California provides a lot of the sushi rice for the US. It’s pretty easy to narrow down that he’s likely talking about Koda Farms, a 3rd gen Japanese owned family operated rice farm in Dos Palos. They designate their medium grain Kokuho Rose table rice as “outstanding for sushi”. Just so you know, Chef Nobu prefers Koshihikari short grain rice from Japan.
Rice Vinegar: Chef Nobu specifies Red Rice Vinegar made from Sake Rice Lees for his recipe. The website Chef’s Wonderland has a featured article on akazu red vinegar and it’s obvious from the depth of said article that they know their stuff. They recommend a brand called Yokoi as used at three Michelin starred restaurant Sushi Saito and many others. Yokoi has three red vinegar varieties Shugyoku, Kohaku, Edo-tannen-su, described as traditional, distinct / sharp, and dark / umami. They also sell a “rice vinegar” but that still is typically used as part of a recipe. The only supplier I could find online that would ship to the United States is Kabuki Knives. In their description they describe the Shugyoku variety as a “traditional Edomae sushi tradition” and the Kohaku variety as “Yokoi’s most popular red vinegar standard in Edomae… the most used red vinegar in sushi restaurants that use red vinegar”. I’d probably go with the crowd on this one since I have no idea about making sushi the traditional Edomae way.
Hon Mirin: Hon Mirin is sweet sake so the real stuff is alcoholic and thus is sold in the liquor section, there are imitations that alter it to get around the liquor tax. The stuff is hard to find if there’s no Asian markets near where you live. The New York Times published a great article titled “Catching an Elusive Japanese Flavor” about it. One of the three brands mentioned in this article is Takara. Takara Sake in California is one of the largest producers of Sake in the US and they sell exactly one variety of their Mirin online.
Kombu: Chef Nobu also specifies sourcing Kombu from Rausu, JP. This specific variety is known to have a high glutamate content. The brand I use is called Kawashimaya, mainly because I like the product label and images, that may seem like a shallow decision but it looks far more professional and quality than the others online.
Sea Salt: I like to use Okunoto Agehama Salt inspired by a YouTube video from Great Big Story. The specific brand from that video isn’t available online but others from that region made with the technique are.
Section 1: Rice Prep
- Wash rice with cold water. Stir and rinse quickly. Strain and repeat until water is clear.
- Allow rice to soak in cold water for 25 minutes.
- Cook the rice with an electric rice cooker, use the sushi rice setting.
Interestingly enough Chef Nozowa notes…
The rice cookers that produce perfectly steamed rice are the same ones you can find in every Chinatown or big box store. The problem with that is they aren’t certified for use in restaurants. Which makes producing batches of rice in a large capacity kitchen either illegal or impossible.
Basically saying that his trouble is finding a rice cooker with restaurant grade certification that works as well as the small batch versions you find at home. He ended up designing his own restaurant grade rice cooker to fit his needs. Surely enough though, in his “Warm, Loosely Packed Rice” video, one of the rice cookers pictured seems to be a standard Zojirushi.
Section 2: Seasoned Vinegar
- Combine seasoned vinegar ingredients into saucepan save 3 tablespoons of vinegar.
- Bring to boil over high heat.
- Turn off heat after sugar dissolves.
- Remove kombu.
- Cool to room temperature.
- Add remaining 3 tablespoons of vinegar.
Section 3: Sushi Rice
- Pour seasoned vinegar over cooked rice in a handai.
- Quickly but gently fold the rice with a shamoji to mix all of the seasoned vinegar into the rice.*
- Spread rice into a thin even layer and smooth out the rice.
- Cover with a lid.
*Chef Nozawa mixes his rice with vinegar for exactly 200 seconds but that’s with a specialized machine so… not much help there.
Section 4: Cutting the Fish
You really don’t feel like a sushi chef unless you’re cutting the fish huh? Finding pre-cut sashimi pieces at the local supermarket seems like cheating to me but that method is mentioned as valid in Nobu’s cookbook. Just know that if you do decide to cut it yourself, you’ll have a bunch of bits leftover that aren’t nice rectangles. Maybe make a poke bowl with those bits but you’ll have to consume it the day of, don’t eat leftover fish raw.
According to Nobu, the ideal fish slice is 3 by 1 by 0.25 inches. Nozawa’s slice seems to be slightly shorter, wider, thicker, and definitely more rectangular. I’ll confirm exact measurements when I grab take out again instead of pulling out a ruler at the table. Angle the knife so that the cuts come out in this shape, at the head your knife should be more vertical, at the tail more angled. Cut the filet across the sinews, not parallel. In other words, your cut should form an X with the stripes, not run alongside them.
Section 5: Forming Nigiri
This is probably best taught on YouTube but I recommend reading Nobu’s cookbook for this. The basic idea is to place the fish on the fingers of your left hand and shape by using the fingers of your right hand and curling the left hand. The instructions are clear in the book with pictures for each of his 12 steps. That’s right, 12 steps. Including a wall of text here describing how to form Nigiri probably wouldn’t be much help so I defer you to the book or other sources with images.