Journey into Japan
“This is the best day of my life!” Adelynn squealed. “Because I had something fun today.”
Adelynn was having a great day because she was learning to make sushi with her classmates at Way Cool Cooking School. “I love sushi, and I love cooking!” she said.
But a recipe was not all that Journey into Japan students learned. Chef and cooking teacher Mary interspersed culinary tidbits, cultural history, and lots of comedy in her presentation.
On the menu was California sushi rolls with “fancy Asian sauce,” as well as candy sushi for dessert. Students sat around large prep tables with the ingredients for their rolls spread out around them. There was nori (seaweed pressed into a paper-like sheet), sushi rice, avocado, imitation crab meat, and cucumber.
“Making sushi is 90% prep,” said Mary. She started her instruction by asking students where sushi originated. When they all yelled out, “Japan!” she countered: “China!”
Like many culinary practices, sushi developed out of the necessity to preserve food. Chinese fishermen as far back as the fourth century knew rice to be absorbent and used it to preserve fresh fish.
Later in Japan, cooks began seasoning the rice with vinegar to add flavor. In the centuries following, sushi making has become a highly valued art form that Japanese chefs spend years mastering.
Until this week, Carys had never tried sushi. “The first time I had it was at Sakura yesterday,” she said. The class took a field trip to the Japanese restaurant for lunch. “We had chicken teriyaki, broccoli, and breaded pork,” Carys explained. “My favorite was the chicken teriyaki.”
Graham also enjoyed the Sakura lunch. “Next time I go to Sakura, I’m going to get the bento box, like we had,” he said.
On the menu today were uramaki rolls. Uramaki means “inside out”, which is appropriate, since the rice on this type of sushi is on the outside.
Mary and her assistant, Chef Lynn, walked students through the first steps. Cook rice, and press it onto a cookie sheet. The rice then gets “lightly pickled” with a mixture of salt, rice vinegar, sugar and warm water.
Students placed their nori on the sushi rolling mat “velcro side up” and were served the seasoned rice in a slab. “Don’t roll it up yet,” Mary said. “We’re going to play with our rice.”
Yara laughed: “But they always say ‘don’t play with your food!'” Yara was excited to make her own sushi, since she had tried it before. “I don’t like it with raw fish,” she said, “but with crab it’s pretty good.”
Next, students made the “fancy Asian sauce” by mixing together mayonnaise, ground ginger, soy sauce, honey, dijon mustard, and sriracha.
Lincoln dipped his finger in the sauce and made squished up his face. “I don’t know if I like it or not,” he said diplomatically. “It was okay, but I have my doubts it’ll taste good on the sushi.” In the end, he chose not to use the sauce in his roll.
The next steps were to spread the sauce and then layer cucumber slices, crab meat, and avocado on the nori. “Smoosh and smash the avocado on to the roll,” Mary instructed.
“We’re going to get squishy hands!” Zoe told her group. “Yea!!!!” was the response.
Graham did as he was told and then held up his fingers, dripping with “smooshed and smashed” green avocado. “It looks like I killed an alien!” he laughed.
Rolling the urimaki took finesse. Kaira slid her fingers underneath the nori on her mat and started to roll it forward. Suddenly she stopped. “It’s breaking!” she said as the nori collapsed under her fingers.
“Hers went kapooey!” said Mikkayla.
Mary – who was already acting as chef, teacher, historian, and comedienne – slipped into a new role: rice surgeon. “I have to perform rice surgery!” she said, slipping a fresh nori sheet under Kaira’s rice. “We just did a nori transplant.”
“The surgery was successful!” said Zoe.
The delicious lunch of handmade California rolls was followed by dessert. Using the same procedures they learned for layering and rolling, students created “candy sushi” with fruit roll ups, rice crispy treats, gummy worms, and Swedish fish. A colorful and tasty end to their culinary feast!