I love sushi. I am not a big fan of sashimi. There is a difference between the two! Big old chunks of raw fish just don’t get me juiced up. Smaller chunks of raw fish with rice I can handle. Cooked fish with rice and other goodies: bring it on. What I don’t love about sushi is the price. In the Beachwood, Ohio area, unless you get it from the grocery or Sumo (and I do not recommend eating at Sumo) you are going to pay through the nose to get some good sushi. Most days I don’t mind paying because it is an art form which takes years to master. That, and I love Pacific East in Eton and in Solon. The Manhattan and Westfield rolls I could eat three days a week. The Red Dragon and Super Crunch rolls at Wasabi are noteworthy as well. And if you ever get to Amelia Island in Florida, make sure you stop at Fancy Sushi. They have some really fancy sushi… go figure.
About two years ago I thought it would be fun to make my own sushi. I went to Sur la Table and picked up a sushi rolling mat, some chopsticks and other fun stuff. At Whole Foods I picked up some organic nori, long grain rice and all the goodies to stuff my roll with. In my mind, I figured that it couldn’t be all that hard. You take the sheet of seaweed, slap some rice on it, lay down some filling and roll. I was so confident that I took all my new gear, untested, to our friend’s house to make it there for dinner. It was marketed as the best tasting, least expensive sushi ever. What it should have been called is a huge, tasteless disaster. It was clear that I had no idea what I was doing. That has never stopped me before since I am really well suited to wing just about anything. My rice was hot and not sticking (even though I used less water making it, which made sense to me then for some reason) and I couldn’t even get one roll to hold its shape. It is a good thing they are good friends, otherwise I would have been ticked off at all the laughter at my expense.
The sushi workshop at the Western Reserve School of Cooking was the perfect venue for me to learn how to remedy my mistakes. I learned in the first hour that just about everything I did that night was incorrect. By the end of the third hour at the workshop, the sushi rolls flying off my table were good enough to eat and one of them was good enough to look at. With practice I’ll be able to turn out some pretty good rolls at some point. This workshop was really informative and a lot of fun.
The most important thing about sushi is getting the rice right. During my debacle I was using Carolina long grain rice. That won’t work and neither will Uncle Ben’s even though that rice is typically mushy and sticky. You need to use short grain sticky rice that has to be rinsed three or four times, then dried and then cooked. That’s right, sushi takes some advanced prep work. It also needs a rice cooker because of the high gluten content of the sushi rice. It’s messy to work with and will make a mess of whatever it is cooked in as well. There is a technique for cooling and seasoning the rice as well. All of this information would have been really helpful a couple years ago. Now I know better.
Making sushi is all about technique. This became very clear to me toward the end of the workshop. Once you figure out the rice, getting the rice to stick to the nori and how to roll it, you can really fill it with just about anything. Really once you know how to make it, the possibilities for different rolls increases exponentially. Since the class I have been thinking about a pan seared scallop with asparagus “inside out” roll. Slice the pan seared scallop thinly across the grain, layering it across the unrolled nori. Lay the blanched asparagus across the whole thing and roll it up. I bet the crunch of the asparagus with the scallop would be delicious. Or maybe some cold poached shrimp with a julienned Anaheim chili, Arugula micro greens, green tabasco sauce and panko. For some reason, I would call that roll the Slow Poke.
I’m on the prowl now for a rice cooking machine. Not quite sure where it will fit with all the other gadgets that hide in the shadows in cabinets around our house, all hoping to be used at some point soon. It’s going to be a little while until the purchase happens though, simply because I am working on so many other things now that sidelining to sushi just isn’t in the cards for the time being. The techniques learned in the workshop will still be in my head when the time comes, most likely in the Spring of 2011. I’ll accelerate the sushi practice if The Western Reserve School of Cooking makes a Level 2 Sushi workshop to learn some more advanced techniques. That would be pretty cool.
Next time I decide to make a sushi meal for my friends, I will be much more prepared. I’ll make a trip to the Asian markets and pick up some cool stuff to cook with. We’ll have an entire smörgåsbord of potential fillings and toppings. I can’t promise that they will be restaurant quality, but they’ll be pretty good and we will have fun making them too. By the end of 2011, hopefully my sushi platter will look as good as the one Catherine made in class. If you get the opportunity and are interested in making your own sushi, check out this workshop.