The first step in making sushi is preparing the rice. The rice itself can be any white medium or short grain rice, but Asian food markets sell rice that is labeled "sushi rice."
The rice must be rinsed until the water runs almost clear from the rice. Do this carefully to avoid mashing or breaking the rice. A strainer can be too rough, but gently swirling water around the rice in a pot works well. The rice should then be soaked in cold water for half an hour, then drained.
You can add a little sake (Japanese rice wine) and a piece of dashi konbu, dark green dried kelp, to the rice before cooking. Bring the rice to a boil and cook it on medium heat with the lid on the pot for 15 minutes, then simmer for another 20 minutes or so over low heat. When the rice is done, turn the heat to up to high for a few seconds. Once the heat is off, let the rice sit for 15 minutes.
While the rice is soaking and cooking, you can prepare the vinegar. Asian markets sell bottles of pre-made sushi vinegar, but making it yourself is easy. You start with rice vinegar -- no other kind will work. Then add sugar and salt. In their book "Sushi for Dummies," authors Judi Strada and Mineko Takane Moreno recommend ¼ cup of vinegar, 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1½ teaspoons of salt for five cups of rice. These ingredients should be stirred until the mixture is clear, and can be refrigerated. However, it should be room temperature when added to the rice.
Mixing the rice and the vinegar is a slightly more complicated process than simply dumping it in and stirring. First, the rice must be "turned out" into a bowl. Traditionally a flat wooden bowl is used, but any glass or plastic bowl will work (metal would react with the vinegar). A low profile bowl will allow the rice to cool evenly. "Pry" the rice out of the pot with a spatula or a wooden sushi paddle that has been moistened in the vinegar, tipping the pot upside down and slipping the rice into the bowl. Don't forget to take out the dashi konbu. Then hold the paddle over the rice and slowly pour the vinegar over it. Move the paddle around over the rice so the vinegar is evenly distributed. Stir the rice by gently dividing it with the paddle and turning it over. At the same time, wave a fan briskly over the rice to help it cool quickly. When the rice stops steaming, you can stop turning and fanning. Cover the rice with a moist towel until it is served, and keep it at room temperature.
Next, we'll show you how to turn your rice and other ingredients into various kinds of sushi.