Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Sushi Incident

So... long ago and in a lifetime far, far away I was taking a college course through my job. Yeah, back when I had one...I know...Anyway, we had this project assigned, to write a paper ab0ut a goal. Shocking, I know, expected to write a paper in a college course. And of course, since this was being sponsored by my employer the assumption was made that I would use this opportunity to write about a, ya-know, WORK goal. Hi, have we met??? So let's let it go without saying that good ol', "out of the box" me chose a NON-work related goal. Sushi. Specifically the making of. I wanted to learn how to make sushi by Valentine's Day. Because that will help speed the processing time of merchants globally right? OK. Fine. Have it my way.

Being the gigantic DORK that I am, I wrote not one but two papers for this. I did one that was all formal and proper sounding...and I did another that was how I actually think and I am a neurotic stand-up comedian, and you are sitting at a dimly lit table with a watered down cocktail laughing and hooting at my humor and wit. I handed them both in...I am pretty sure that my professor thought that I was unhinged...but she enjoyed them both...or was so afraid that I might repeat her course that she gave me an A. Funny thing, I got laid off a week before the final. Further proof that she was afraid I would find a way to repeat? she allowed me to take the final via e-mail.

Anyway, I actually did follow through on this goal and did successfully make sushi for my husband on Valentine's Day. For raw fish, it takes alot more effort that you might think.

I consider myself pretty handy in the kitchen...I'm no Martha Stewart - though I do long to be, oh the longing...sorry...and I'm smart, right? So I should be able to do this.

I wisely got a kit, complete with bamboo rolling mat and cookbook so that I could become a sushi wizard. I read the instructions eagerly (young grasshopper) and then proceeded to do with it what I do with all recipes when I see them for the first time...mentally made minor modifications and substitutions based upon what I already have on hand. Because that's how I roll.

Given the precise and exotic sounding nature of the ingredients, I left those intact, but when it came to the utensils? Yeah, I basically pooh-poohed the admonishments about needing this implement or that, chalking it up to some giant conspiracy with Williams-Sonoma to bleed me of my severance. More on that below though...

Anyway, fast forward though my arrogance and we are at V-day. According to my sushi almanac, the most important ingredient in sushi is the rice. The fine print at the bottom of the page should have told me something, but I thought it was "amusing". "It may take a year to perfect your sushi rice, but it is only good for one day. Never attempt to use sushi rice beyond that". OK, fine, if you say so, but hey, I why would I save it, I could always make more...silly I begin my foray into the unknown and exciting realm of sushi preparation.

Step one, put sushi rice in a bowl and fill the bowl with cold water. Mush around (technical - eh?) until water gets cloudy, rinse and repeat. And repeat. And repeat. And...the water needs to run clear. Argh.

OK, 20 minutes of molesting the soggy rice and we are at step 2. Drain rice in the strainer and leave it there for 30-60 minutes. OK, drain rice in the...wait a minute, strainer? Don't have one of those...I mean, I have several colanders, but no strainers. Never really saw a need for one. I remember my mother ALWAYS having one. I remember that strainer playing a rather flashy role in a drunken chorus line number I once put on in my kitchen when I was in high school ( hi mom), but other than using it to drain small amounts of something, I never saw any huge importance to having such a tool in my kitchen...especially since my children have sharply curtailed the drunken performances. Anyway, so here I am at step 2, with no strainer. I did what any good boyscout would do, I improvised. (And yes, I meant boyscout. Story for another day...) I used a paper towel in the colander and silently made a mental note to myself that it might be worthwhile to pick up a strainer after all. When I finally had to empty the rice off of the paper towel I made a much less quiet mental note about it...

Next, put the rice in 3 cups of water plus 3 teaspoons (really, 3 teaspoons? Will they make a difference?? OK, I'll humor you) in a medium sized, heavy pot, with a tight fitting lid. Hmmm...I have medium sized pots and I have lids...would I call any of them heavy or tightly fitting? Well, not any more I wouldn't...Cover. Wave it bye-bye when you cover it, because you will not be allowed to see it again until it is of legal age to other words DON'T OPEN THE LID. EVER.

Place pot on medium-high heat, until it boils.'s covered, how will I know that it is boiling? Apparently the lid will jiggle and a white foam will attempt to escape (slightly gross)..slightly less apparently, if the lid is not as tightly fitting as you thought it was, it won't jiggle. It will just start boiling in secret with you none the wiser.

Anyway, in a perfect world...once it boils, you are to raise the heat to HIGH for 2 minutes...then lower it to medium for 5 minutes, until you hear the rice crackle. (What about snap and pop???) Once it crackles, you need to remove it from the heat and let it cool COVERED for 15 minutes...then remove the lid, wrap in a cloth and cover again for another 15 minutes.

Sidebar...while you are watching the lid jiggle and listening to the dulcet tones of crackling rice you are also supposed to be cooking up this mixture of sake and sugar and rice vinegar and salt...which I obediently did...heat it until the sugar dissolves, then allow it to cool. Cool.

In bizarro world, where I actually reside, what happens is I frantically pull the rice after oh, eleventy minutes too long on medium high, open the lid, (which apparently really is tantamount to seeing the bride in her wedding dress on say, the Tuesday BEFORE the ceremony.) shriek obscenities and throw out the burned mass that is mocking you from the bottom of the now DESTROYED pot. Or at least attempt to throw it out. But it has become very attached to the pot. Like long term commitment attached. Like, "while you weren't looking (because we told you not too) we got hitched attached". Like "me and the pot are going to have lots of metallic, ricey children" attached. Perfect.

I now scan furtively around my kitchen for a pot with a tight fitting CLEAR lid. I want to watch. I want to be a peeping tom...I am the voyeur of sushi rice dammit, and I am not afraid to admit it. I am however cursing the fact that I have to start all. over. again. This is like getting sent back to Plumpy and his gingerbread plums from Queen Frostine!!! Sooo close.... (If you don't get this reference then please come to my house immediately, so that my children can school you in the wonder that is Candy Land, you poor lost soul...or just come to my house and take me with you, your pick. Aren't I a sport?)

So, after rice, round two, I need to dump the rice into a wooden bowl and poke at it with a wooden spatula, to separate the grains or some such nonsense. A wooden bowl??? How archaic. Haven't I read a million times that wooden cooking tools=salmonella or anthrax or leprosy or something? Doesn't the CDC tsk-tsk every time I break out the wooden cutting board? Screw that, I am using a ceramic much difference can it make. I dump, I poke, I feel vindicated. Hmph, big deal. Now I need to pour the concoction from before slowly into the gelatinous mess that is the rice and mix it around. Which I obediently do. It works this small wonder and separates the grains from one another will still leaving them the inherent ability to bond to one another like 5th cousins on the Family Feud. At this point I stupidly think I have this problem. Next step, take a hand fan and fan the rice to room temperature. Oh. Come. On. Do I need to peel it a grape next? I don't have a hand fan, so I grab some random object and begin fanning my rice...and fanning...and fanning...and did you know that ceramic bowls retain heat ALOT better than wooden ones? Apparently the wisdom of having a wooden bowl is that the rice will cool down sometime THIS month...

Right around this time my husband comes strolling in. (What I have failed to mention is that I have simultaneously made the kids an alternative meal and fed it to them...don't hate me, I am superwoman.) (OK, so it was hotdogs and easy-mac heated up in the microwave but still. It was food.) (Tell me I'm fabulous again...please???) Anyway, the silly, unsuspecting man walks in, looks at me and says "What's wrong with you?" I sob "This is harder than I thought." He says "Eh, I'm not really hungry anyway." I say "You effing pig. Go rot." No, not really. But I thought it. was now time to make the rolls. Which was surprisingly uneventful. Until the cutting incident. The book said that a good knife is very important. OK, sure it is. I mean, a knife is a knife - right??? And I have a gigantic set of them already (thanks Garry!!!) that I have to dust, oh once a week at least because I only use the steak knives. And sometimes the paring knife. In a really "devil may care" moment, I might even break out the utility knife (whoo). Oh, and the shears. Love them shears. Other than that? Dust collectors all. They sort of scare me to be honest. But then I have the scars to prove that they really, truly are vicious little monsters that are trying to steal custody of my fingers. (I want more than visitation with my digits dammit!!!) Anyway, I got cocky and assumed that my meager, "non-Japanese blade of death" would be plenty sufficient. I assembled the other accessories that the book deemed requirements - a wet, folded dishtowel and a bowl of rice vinegar, for wiping and dipping my knife in, between each. and. every. cut. - after all, I didn't want my knife to get jealous and think it wasn't as cool as all the harajuku knives...anyway. Long story short - ok, shorter? - my knife? Didn't cut it...well I mean it *cut* it, but not in a nice, uniform, aesthetically pleasing sort of way. It more like ripped through the roll and left jagged edged tears between sections.

But was edible. It was tasty even. And now I need to go shopping.

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