When you make a lot of stuff from scratch, you always accept that what is handmade is not going to look exactly like that which is mass produced. There are lumps and bumps and, very often, some cursing involved in trying to learn a new skill. But for those of us who love to make, you always have to challenge yourself to new levels of craft.
Recently I made sushi all by myself from scratch. The inspiration came while high-altitude lake kayaking, as I suddenly had a hankering for both sushi and baklava. Sushi is a much more achievable a task than dozens of layers of phyllo dough, so I decided to strive for that craving. Sushi has an aura of complexity, yet it is a very simple food that requires simple techniques and good ingredients. As a devoted non-perfectionist, I wasn’t very intimidated for I knew that even if my rolls looked a little askew, they would at least taste good. Or, I could just pretend that I was going for a whole deconstructed roll sort of aesthetic when they fell apart. I started with cooking the sushi rice (adding a tablespoon of rice wine vinegar to the cooking liquid to make it sticky). The center of my rolls was a super combination of smoked salmon, cream cheese, cucumber and avocado. Once the rice cooled, it was spread one grain thick onto the nori, topped with a thin smear of cream cheese, slices of smoked salmon, and thin pieces of cucumber and avocado. I think the toughest part of all the construction was the meticulous little slices of fillings. I rolled without a bamboo mat and cut the rolls with a simple chef’s knife. (Important note: when cutting rolls, clean the knife with a wet rag after each slice.) While slicing the rolls, my end pieces were not awesome, yet they offered up tasty samples for the sushi chef and her sweetheart. The taste was quite splendid: the combination of the smoked salmon and cream cheese very New York, the cucumber and avocado very simple and fresh. In my humble opinion, pretty darn good taste for a non-traditionalist like myself.
As always, my rendition of the real thing came out costing a lot less than even the packaged sushi at our grocery and included leftover ingredients for future meals — smoked salmon, cream cheese and caper sandwiches on homemade bread for dinner, perhaps. My rolls were far from perfect and, during the creation of said rolls, I wasn’t quite as zen as your (obviously stereotypical) image of a sushi chef. All told, it was a fun dinner and not too much work. Paired with a mug of miso soup, our house was transformed into a more cozy sushi bar for an evening.