|The Banquet of Life
If They Could Sashimi Now
By Dave Stinton
May 28, 2008
It was day two of a four-day weekend, and I felt depression creeping up on me.
But the Lawrence Fish Market is mere blocks from my apartment. It supplies fish to many sushi restaurants in Chicago. The day after my sushi binge, it occurred to me that they might just sell me some slabs of raw fish and send me off to experiment on my digestive system.
I stepped into the tiny storefront. The people in the small seating area looked me over while the people behind the counter ignored me. I carried my self-consciousness like a sack of edamame in my stomach and pretended to be intrigued by the contents of the refrigerator. After a while, I realized I was no longer pretending. They had unagi here! Smoked, cooked freshwater eel that’s a great introduction for people who might be freaked out by the prospect of eating raw fish (provided they’re not freaked out by the prospect of eating eel).
In the train on the way, I skimmed the sushi cookbook. Under “Tuna rolls (Tekkamaki),” it read:
In the old days, tekka were gambling dens where gangsters played traditional card games. When they got take-out sushi, the rice stuck to their fingers and the cards and made it easy to mark cards and cheat! So they suggested wrapping nori seaweed around the sushi rice so they could eat it without sticky fingers.
It turns out that card games are the engine of food innovation. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Twinkies were invented because kids didn’t like getting crème filling on their Old Maid cards.
The new sheets of nori (a food which, by the way, contains zero percent of your recommended daily allowance of anything) had the exact same taste and texture as the ones I’d discarded. It was just as well – fresh nori would make the real toxin easier to trace in my autopsy.
I boiled the rice, poured myself some sake, and set to work. Once I mixed the rice with the sushi vinegar, the kitchen was filled with a warm, briny sweetness, the subtle scent of sushi. Half a sheet of nori lay before me on the bamboo rolling mat, and strips of tuna and stalks of sliced cucumber waited within reach.
But no matter how often I re-read “step 4,” it didn’t quite make sense to me:
“Lift rolling mat over slowly until it covers rice and near side and far sides of rice join at ridge, but you still have a 3/4-inch (2-cm) strip of nori rice-free.”
Reading it now, it finally makes sense. But the sake, reminiscent of plum-flavored rubbing alcohol, may have sabotaged me. Words sitting side-by-side didn’t seem to recognize each other, so they took off swimming in search of someone they knew.
I didn’t remember ever drinking sake before. It was oddly refreshing, and it rushed to my head like a geyser.
I decided to go by the pictures in the book instead of the words, so I spread a dollop of rice on the nori, followed by the tuna and cucumber, and just rolled. I don’t think I used more filling than the guy in the photos (who, disturbingly, seemed to have a Band-Aid on his hand), but it spilled out of the nori onto the mat. I brought in reinforcements in the form of a second half-sheet and rolled as tightly as I could.
It was good. A little loosely packed, and a little bland, but fresh and tender. Once I get better at rolling, and once I add some sesame seeds and maybe a bit of that bright orange spicy mayo, I’ll be in business.
I had plenty of leftover ingredients, but no patience to create another roll. So I dropped the tuna, the cucumber, and a few splashes of wasabi-infused soy sauce into the rice and just ate it directly from the mixing bowl. I ate the leftover nori sheets like Seaweed Roll-Ups. This may be the Japanese equivalent of eating unbaked cookie dough.
Centuries of tradition and artistry? Screw it.
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