Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Sushi with Zach

When I first met Alex, I was obsessed with baking bread. With the ambitious goal of perfecting the baguette, I would make a loaf a day, experimenting with different recipes and techniques. Alex disapproved of my hobby, arguing that it was useless to spend so much time making a product that could be readily bought at local bakeries. Although these objections were usually made through a mouth stuffed with baguette, they did possess a certain degree of logic. These days I rarely make bread. Alex has long forgotten his disapproval, and wistfully recalls the early days of our relationship, when he thought he would enjoy homemade bread for the rest of his life.

Much to his disappointment, Alex’s cost-benefit cooking calculus has stuck with me, so when my brother Zach called to extol the glories of homemade sushi, I wasn’t convinced. The photographs of his sushi were beautiful, to be sure, and his enthusiasm was hard to resist, but I couldn’t help but question whether it was worth the effort when I could get delicious sushi delivered to my home in less than 30 minutes. So, when Zach suggested that we make sushi during my recent visit to Cleveland, I figured it was a great opportunity to see what all the fuss was about.

And, making sushi with Zach was a bit of a fuss. The project required trips to no fewer than three markets. We had to cook and season the rice, mix up the spicy mayonnaise, make the wasabi paste, cut the fish and vegetables, and finally assemble the rolls. Also, the tuna, salmon, crab and escolar were not cheap, so we probably didn’t save any money by making the sushi ourselves (this is only a consideration for future sushi-making, as Zach bore the entire tab for his freeloading sister). Our resulting sushi was impressive and quite delicious, but was it really worth the effort?

For me, the answer is yes. The problem with Alex’s cost-benefit cooking calculus is that it doesn’t take into account that preparing things like sushi and bread is a lot of fun. Going to all the stores with Zach and my adorable niece was a blast, and making the rolls was much more satisfying than ordering delivery. My one successful roll filled me with pride, and left me eager to make sushi again if for no other reason than to banish from memory my other awkward efforts.

Most of Zach’s sushi doesn’t require a recipe; you simply cut fish, avocado, cucumber, and whatever else your heart desires into strips, and then assemble the rolls using a traditional sushi mat (he recommends cutting a paper bag into a square and covering it with aluminum foil and saran wrap as an alternative). Place the fish in the center of a piece of nori, and then place enough sushi rice to cover the nori in the center and work it into an even layer. Be sure to keep a container of water and rice vinegar nearby, and regularly coat your hands and knife to prevent the rice from sticking.

Zach’s Sushi Rice:


1 cup, Nishiki rice
1 ¼ cups water
2 tbs rice vinegar


Place rice in a strainer and thoroughly wash until water runs clearly through the rice. Bring rice and water to a boil in a medium-sized pot. Once boiling, cover and simmer on low heat for 20 minutes. Remove rice from heat and let stand for another 10 minutes. (Do not remove lid!)

Place rice in a non-metallic bowl. Fold in vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Do not overwork the rice. Traditionally, a sushi chef will have one of his assistants fan the sushi for 15 minutes at this point. Zach fans it himself with a paper plate for a few minutes; I would probably make Alex do this. Cover the rice with the paper plate until you make the rolls.