Matt McClelland, Activities Manager, National Parks Association of NSW
From time to time, okay quite often, I get accused of getting carried away with food on bushwalks. It started with making cheese cakes, progressed to pizza then muffins. On the latests few walks I has started tormenting the great Japanese tradition of Nori (sushi) Rolls.
When my family started planning to walk the Overland Track my kids suggested Sushi Rolls would make a great lunch! Challenge accepted. I was shocked when I googled it, I could not find any instructions on making sushi on a bushwalk. I started experimenting, how hard could it be?
If you have made Sushi at home you know it is messy, you need to cook rice, make it very sticky and let it cool. Sushi presents a few issues on a walk that I needed to solve: preparation time, fuel, cleaning, keeping the seaweed protected, and having yummy fillings. I got it down to about 100g per person for a lunch. So here is how I did it.
This turned out to be easy. For shorter walks you can use a small can or pouch of flavoured tuna or chicken. Lots of choices of flavours and you can also add fresh vegies like carrot, beans etc.
For longer walks where weight becomes a bigger issue I started drying fillings. Basically I opened a tin of tuna in brine (not oil), broke it into small pieces and dried it in a few hours in my dehydrator. The only trick is this can be a bit stinky, so I suggest drying in a space well ventilated to outside air. I also cooked up chicken mince in teriyaki sauce – this dried in the dehydrator very quickly and was a real treat on track. Adding dehydrated veggies also works – I tend to not fully hydrate the vegies to keep a bit more texture.
About 30 minutes before you want to start making your sushi, add hot water (about equal weight) to your dried tuna, chicken and vegies to get them hydrating. I do this in either snaplock or freezer bags. About 60g of hydrated filling is enough for a long (two standard) nori rolls.
I first tried making the rice as per normal instructions on track, cook short grain rice for 12 minutes, add a splash of vinegar and sugar. With hotter stoves it is fiddly to stop the rice burning to the billy. Even with a cool stove it requires attention and creates a mess.
To make it easier on track I cooked the rice at home and dehydrated it, so I can just add hot water on the track. This was much better, but… there is always a but. When you dehydrate sticky rice it dries very sharp, so sharp it will rip through any bag I try to store it in, even after grinding the rice for a while. So I needed a quick way to make the rice on track without adding hundreds of micro-daggers to my pack.
The best solution I have found is to cook the rice at home, rinse off the excess starch and dry this rice in the dehydrator. Then add a spoon of corn starch (replacing the starch I washed off), a spoon of sugar and a small spoon of powdered vinegar. Then on track you just have to add hot water to a bag of dehydrated rice and the dry ingredients and let it hydrate, it takes about 15 minutes.
Once your rice and fillings are hydrated you can leave them in a well sealed bag and place it in a flowing creek to cool them down quickly.
I found a long roll (two standard rolls) needs 75g of dried rice, a teaspoon of cornstarch, a teaspoon of caster sugar and half a teaspoon of powdered vinegar. This was enough for my lunch.
The standard sheets of seaweed for sushi you buy from the supermarket are perfect. They tend to come in packs of ten and in a resealable bag. They are surprisingly hardy, I kept the seaweed in the back and packed it flat inside my pack, a piece of closed cell foam can provide extra protection. One sheet of seaweed makes one long (two standard) sushi rolls.
Keep the bag sealed after opening, humidity quicky makes the seaweed stale.
I have made sushi for lunches for my family mostly. It is a fiddly lunch, probably better as a main evening meal, but great for lunch on a lazy day.
Hydrate and cool down your rice and fillings.
Find a nice spot to sit and place the shiny side of a piece of seaweed down on a large snaplock bag. Spread enough rice to cover about ¾ of seaweed. Spread the filling and start rolling the seaweed up towards the empty ¼ section. About half way through the rolling use the plastic bag to squeeze the roll firmly and evenly then splash a small amount of water on empty quarter of seaweed to make it stick closed when you finish rolling. Once the rolling is completed use the plastic bag again to firmly squeeze the roll into shape. Now use a knife to either cut it into two standard rolls or into a series of 1cm wide bite size rolls, great for creating a platter to share with others.
Health and Hygiene
With all hands on meal prep I encourage people to use alcohol based hand wash gel to wash hands to minimise the risk of gastro and other illness.
Most of the fillings need to be consumed within a few hours of opening or hydrating in normal conditions.
Rice presents a surprising risk. There is a bacteria (Bacillus cereus) whose spores not only live in dry rice but also remain viable during the cooking process. As the rice cools the bacteria starts to grow and reproduce creating toxins. This will not cause most people any trouble if you eat the rice within a few hours of preparing. So prepare and eat the sushi as you need it, don’t keep it as leftovers.
For more (standard) food ideas for overnight walks please checkout Bushwalking 101.