Sushi with Samurai precision

| Updated on: Apr 19, 2012
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There are stages in falling in love with sushi. The first - apprehension. You wonder if raw fish, wrapped in sticky rice, is the kind of thing you ever want to sink your teeth into. The second - experimentation. You visit that nice, upscale restaurant in town, a place where you are more or less assured that the sushi being served is the best your money can buy. The third, a stage only a few might get to experience, is trying your hand at making the Japanese delicacy.

No wonder I could hardly suppress a wide, expectant grin while walking one afternoon into Hip Asia, Vivanta by Taj - Connemara's Asian speciality restaurant in Chennai. I was ready to conquer ‘Stage Three'.

Chef Juancho Miday was undertaking the tricky task of getting me to craft a perfect sushi roll. The fact that yours truly is a true disaster in the kitchen was not going to help the cause, but little did Chef know it!

A delicate, hand-painted makisu is laid out on my table. The pretty sushi mat is made of thin bamboo strips held together with cotton strings, the kind you wouldn't want to spoil by putting to its real use. By the side, in a neatly demarcated, white ceramic plate are my ingredients for the day — sticky rice, crushed tempura, chopped spring onions and fresh tuna in a spicy marinade.

The Chef dips his hands into a bowl of water and indicates that I do the same. A little wary of getting my neatly laid-out table messy, I gingerly wet them and get to work. The wetness is meant to ensure the rice does not stick to your palms as you roll it into a ball. Unfailingly it does, much to the amusement of the Chef, who already has his neat rice ball waiting on the mat.

Lying on my makisu is a crisp sheet of dark-green nori . A modern addition to sushi-making, this seaweed growing amongst sea rocks is gathered, washed and sundried to remove any slime or mould present on it. The drying usually takes from a week to a month, leaving the seaweed crisp and appetising enough.

To make the sticky rice, raw rice is cooked on a slow fire for 15-20 minutes and kept aside for 4-5 minutes to retain moisture. The boiled vinegar used to make sticky rice is pre-mixed with salt and sugar, thereby imparting it with three tantalising flavours. A circle, square or triangle — how you want your sushi depends on how deftly you can work your fingers with the rolling mat. I'm going with the easiest first, the circle. Flattening the rice across the rectangular nori , I lay out slivers of sliced tuna and sprinkle some crushed tempura on top. As the Chef deftly rolls the mat inwards, I try and do the same, but with much less grace. With a little press here and a little tuck there, my sushi roll is ready to be sliced and popped right in!

The wasabi and white ginger on the side are almost redundant, considering how flavourful the sushi has turned out to be. The envelope of the tangy rice, layers of raw fish and the crunch of the seaweed and tempura come together beautifully with every mouthful.

While I wait to devour the rest of my meal, I watch the Chef prepare plate after delicious-looking plate of sashimi and maki , with speed and near-scientific precision. “You should be able to make this in just about five seconds. You hold the raw fish for any longer and you are compromising on the taste,” he says, giving me some food for thought on the sidelines of my delectable meal.

Hip Asia is celebrating its 8th anniversary all through this month with sushi rolling followed by a three–course meal for Rs 2,000 (for a group of eight or more).

Published on April 19, 2012

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