Ah, Japan, land of the rising sun.
Like Newfoundlanders, Japanese people are known for their friendliness, profound work ethic and unique culture. Being an island nation, they’re also proficient when it comes to fishing, with a substantial chunk of their nation’s economy fueled by seafood industries (and luckily for us, anime and video games).
Cooks know Japan as one of the culinary epicenters of the world, which gives rise to a delicious range of foods such as udon noodles, sushi, ramen and a score of other mouth-watering dishes.
These foods can range from two or three simple ingredients that end up tasting incredible on their own, to food – such as pufferfish – so complicated and dangerous one could die if it’s improperly prepared.
It’s been only three years I’ve been training myself to cook Japanese food, but I began around midnight on a cold Saturday night in November.
I was at a party in St. John’s that was just about burned out and people were getting hungry. Someone began lamenting dramatically about a local sushi place being closed for the night.
Our host piped up about having some seaweed wraps and a large amount of canned salmon if, me being a cook and all, I could figure out how to make us some sushi from scratch.
Let it be known that (experience or no experience) I’ve never turned down a culinary challenge in my life and this was no exception. The rush of the game took me over and I picked a couple of volunteers to help me.
We raided our host’s fridge for supplies and found we had everything we needed and more to make some great sushi, aside from the tatami mats used to roll them.
I noticed our host had a nice set of bamboo placemats on his downstairs table that would work perfectly as a bamboo mat, if he let me cut the ends off one or two.
With as much skill and blurry culinary school textbook recollection as I could muster, we prepared the following sushi recipe for the first time, which I now serve as the ultimate hors d’oeuvres (still the weirdest word ever) at parties and get togethers, a finger food dubbed:
4 cups glutinous white rice
5 cups water
2 (6oz) cans salmon, drained.
2 tsp chili powder
2 tbsp. mayo
8 sheets nori (seaweed wrap)
2 large carrots, shredded
3 tbsp. white vinegar
1 celery stick, finely diced
1 avocado, pitted and finely diced
– Bring rice, water and vinegar to a boil in a medium saucepan and reduce heat to a simmer while covered until rice is tender and liquid has been absorbed (about 25 minutes). It’s best not to stir, but a single stir to check for liquid absorption is encouraged for beginners. Remove from heat and let stand to cool.
– In a large bowl, combine salmon, chili powder, mayo and diced celery until coarsely but evenly mixed.
– Lay a sheet of plastic wrap over bamboo mat and pat a firm layer of the white rice evenly onto it.
– Place seaweed wrap (nori) evenly over rice and place a tablespoon of shredded carrot in a line along the bottom, followed by a line of avocado above that and finally, a line of salmon salad.
– Pick up the edge of the nori carefully and roll it up and forward until it closes over fillings.
– Gently roll forward into a cylinder and slowly tighten it by rolling back and forth while applying a gentle pressure.
– Next, wrap it in the bamboo mat and rice and roll it again to seal completely.
– Unwrap the bamboo and cut sushi cylinder into desired thickness with a sharp knife.
– Repeat rolling and cutting process until all ingredients are used.
– They’re ready right away but can benefit from an hour or two in the refrigerator before serving.
By the time the second batch was finished, the first had been long gobbled up. The fact we were making sushi with cooked and canned fish rather than raw seemed to win over the few partiers reluctant to try it.
This night stands out in my mind as the time I learned that when it comes to food, never having done something before is no excuse not to try – although I wouldn’t advice applying the same philosophy to pufferfish.