Claire Sawers ups her dinner host credentials by taking a lesson in sushi making
Sushi is like a chocolate box selection for grown-ups, says Kumiko Hatori, a Japanese chef, and my teacher for the day. ‘It should be full of pretty shapes and bright colours that tempt you to dip in.’ We’re in the kitchen of Hatori’s home in Glasgow, a serene Zen minimalist bubble, with only the odd purple orchid or Japanese print to break up the white-washed walls. She’s been teaching sushi making here since 2001, after learning the ropes at her parents’ restaurant in Tokyo, and I’ve come to try out her three-hour crash course.
Pouring me a green tea, Hatori gives me some background on the Japanese delicacy, which she reckons works just as well as a low-fat breakfast, fancy packed lunch or exotic finger buffet. Although I’m not 100% sold on the idea of raw tuna and wasabi first thing in the morning, she also points out sushi is low-fat, nutritionally rich and, because it’s so precise and dainty, very therapeutic to prepare. Handing me a paper fan, she tips some sticky rice from the bamboo steamer into a wooden bowl. While I fan it to cool it down, she mixes up the vinaigrette - her special blend of organic brown rice vinegar, caster sugar and Maldon sea salt. After stirring it through the rice, we get hands on.
My first attempt is a tuna nigiri - from the Japanese for squeeze, as that’s what it takes to make perfect egg-shaped rice balls. I’ve not slathered enough vinegar on my hands beforehand so end up with rice glued all round my fingers, but Hatori seems happy enough with my efforts and hands me a slice of raw red tuna. Sticking it in place with a mini-dollop of wasabi and tying it with a seaweed ribbon, I feel quite proud of my first bite-sized work of art, even if it is lop-sided.
After adding salmon and tiger prawn nigiri to my growing sushi platter, we shift up a gear to maki; rolled-up sushi. The basic version needs a sheet of seaweed with rice and a stick of fish, omelette or vegetable in the middle, garnished with fish eggs, sesame seeds or thin-sliced spring onion. Hatori teaches me the knack of rolling, telling me to keep my pinkies flat on the bamboo while I grip the wrap. Once I’ve mastered a tuna and cucumber maki, she shows me ‘the big, fat, greedy roll’, basically a slice of everything on the table, wrapped into an extra chunky, technicoloured tube.
After three hours, I leave with a Tupperware container and enough sushi to fill myself and three friends for dinner. Hatori adds a giant blob of wasabi and some slippery pickled ginger on the side. Armed with my new skills, I head to the off-license to find a bottle of sake before I try and fool my friends into believing I’m a geisha-like domestic goddess.
What you need A pan or rice steamer, bowl, fan and bamboo sheet, plus sushi rice, vinaigrette, nori seaweed with raw fish, tofu or vegetables.
Origins Sushi was originally developed in ancient China and southeast Asia to preserve fish, as fermenting rice keeps fish edible for several months. Sushi was introduced to Japan in the seventh century, where they turned it from a preservation technique into a type of cuisine, and invented sushi rolls. Sushi restaurants with conveyer belts began appearing in the States in the 70s, and grew into a multi-billion pound industry, with sushi bars and takeaway outlets now popular across the world.
Kumiko runs three-hour sushi lessons in her home on Saturdays, for groups of up to four. All tools and ingredients are supplied. Classes cost £45. For more information, call 0141 332 5707 or go to www.learnsushi.co.uk. Sushi making utensils and ingredients, including bamboo mats, sushi rice and wasabi powder are available at Hob, Queen Street, Glasgow. 0141 221 6995, www.hobstore.co.uk