I’ll be the first to admit, I have not always been a lover of sushi. In fact, I used to be a sushi-hater. I decided, in my hypocritical way, that people who liked sushi were merely faking it to seem ultra hip. Getting sushi always seemed like the ultimate douche move from someone who probably just wanted a cheeseburger, but was desperately trying to appear cool and new-agey. This is ridiculous, I realize that. And also, sushi is delicious. Granted, it took me a while to work past the whole notion of chewing, swallowing, and digesting raw fish, but I’m getting there.
My friends and I are generally addicted to sites like Groupon and the Dealist which offer you excellent deals on food and activities you never would have thought of purchasing. This can be good and bad. Good because you get to try new things at a fantastically reduced price. Bad because you generally end up buying lots of boat rides and meals at random restaurants that you weren’t actually in the market for in the first place. It’s a double-edged sword at a bargain price. The latest deal to be purchased was half off a sushi making class at a tiny, wood-paneled restaurant called Satsko in the East Village.
‘Class’ is certainly a strong word for the scenario that unfolded. It was more of a demonstration. Basically, a tiny, quiet woman showed us how to make a roll. Once. Then we were on our own. Fortunately, the lesson was set up at communal tables, so we got to commiserate with our neighbors over how sticky the rice was and the sloppiness of our seaweed-rolling skills. Of course the ‘instructor’ expertly crafted her roll at record speed, while most of us took our sweet time so as to avoid making a giant sushi hot dog. Our small table was loaded up with heaping plates of white rice and seafood that we pounced on to create our edible masterpieces.
You start by forming a palm-sized ‘football’ of rice with your bare hands (a quick dip in a shared bowl of water makes the starchy grains less likely to stick to your hands. Although, prepare to be completely covered in rice. You might even find a few grains in your purse later on…) and spreading it carefully over the piece of seaweed. Then it’s like standing at the topping bar of a yogurt shop because you can fill your roll with anything you like — plump bits of fresh fish, slivers of cucumber, chunks of ripe avocado, and skinny strands of radishes and carrots. Once filled with your favorite ingredients, you ever so gently roll them up using a mat that might be a close cousin of the Venetian blind. It takes a flick of the wrist and some fancy maneuvering of the fingers, but ideally you get a nice, tight roll that can be easily sliced into swirly nuggets of freshness. I lucked out on the first try…
Surprisingly, the inverted “inside-out” roll was a lot easier to make than the typical seaweed on the outside roll. The first time I flipped over the delicate piece of seaweed that had been encased in sticky rice I thought it was going to tear in half for sure. But alas! A successful flip! We later figured out that this is because with the bulky rice on the outside of the wrap, the roll is much more likely to seal tightly when pressed with the mat. This makes sense. Those sushi guys know what they’re talking about.
While my first roll was a grand accomplishment and I wowed my tablemates into thinking I was a sushi prodigy, I eventually succumbed to my grandiose ambitions. Each roll kept getting packed with more rice and seafood to see what creations I could concoct. They were most definitely delicious, but not as uniform and graceful as one would expect from the sushi masters at restaurants and delis throughout the city. I’ve certainly gained a great deal of respect for those guys who can crank out California rolls with their eyes closed. At the end of the evening, our bellies full of our own handiwork and our hands sufficiently encrusted in starchy residue, I felt a sense of accomplishment. Not only had I tackled a new food medium and found a different way to channel my love of cooking (not a cupcake in sight), but I got to meet new people and, best of all, play with my food!