Review: Complete Idiot’s Guide to Sushi & Sashimi

November 7, 2008 at 1:40 am

Origianally posted on Paper Palate on October 29, 2008.

The year was 1992 and sushi’s status as a fad was just beginning to ebb when a co-worker invited me to join her for dinner at Samurai in Nashville’s trendy Elliston Place neighborhood. My date had worked with Samurai’s chef/proprietor, Yun Choo at the Japanese steak house just off Music Row. His sashimi creations were part of the appeal there and soon he was taking his stardom to his own digs on the street nicknamed the Rock Block because of the preponderance of rock clubs found there. I recall well the excitement of that night as I tasted my first sip of sake, my first palate singeing sting of wasabi, and to this day I will remember that first taste of unagi (eel).

Nearly two decades have passed and even if sushi is no longer considered cutting edge it has not lost its exoticism. Even though sashimi related illnesses are rare there is still an air of danger when eating raw fish, after all that is what separates from other animals, our ability to control fire. I have 20+ years in the restaurant industry and have tackled a number of international cuisines but I have never wielded a bamboo mat in the pursuit of the perfect roll. When it comes to sushi, I’m a complete idiot.

Luckily Alpha Books (A Penguin Group member) has an entire series of books for complete idiots. In my case they have employed award-winning food and travel writer James O. Fraioli (The Best Recipes from America’s Food Festivals) and Kaz Sato (owner and executive chef of Kai Sushi in Santa Barbara, CA) to take me from sashimi simpleton to sushi specialist in just 177 pages.

The aptly named Complete Idiot’s Guide to Sushi & Sashimi is packed with how-to information and beautiful color images. There is a lot of information on the vast array of ingredients in blocks called Food Corner and helpful pointers in cells called From the Kitchen. But mostly there are step-by-step instructions on how to prepare everything from abalone to zucchini including five recipes with my beloved unagi like . . .

The Tokyo Roll:

½ sheet (pink) Mamenori, Soybean Paper, approximately 4 X 7 inches.

¼ cup prepared sushi rice

Sesame seeds, as needed

1 piece tempura banana, approximately 1 inch wide and 4 inches long

1 or 2 thin slices of avocado

2 pieces roasted fresh water eel (unagi)

Eel sauce, to taste

  1. Place soybean paper in front of you in a vertical position.
  2. Spoon rice onto paper. Using your fingers, spread rice across sheet, covering edges and removing clumps. Leave a 1-inch space with no rice on top of sheet.
  3. Sprinkle rice with sesame seeds.
  4. Make tempura banana by dusting banana with flour and shaking off excess. Roll banana in tempura batter (prepare according to package directions), and deep fry in hot oil until golden brown. Remove banana from oil.
  5. Place banana on lower half of rice (side closer to you). Add avocado slices.
  6. Roast eel by placing prepackaged unagi approximately 1-inch wide by 3-inches long on a baking sheet lined with foil. Do not remove skin. Roast in a toaster oven or under the broiler until hot and slightly charred. Remove eel, and place beside avocado.
  7. Starting with side closer to you, tightly roll with your fingers.
  8. Using a sharp, damp knife, slice roll into 8 pieces, each approximately 1-inch thick.
  9. Top each slice with drizzle of eel sauce and sprinkle of sesame seeds.
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Stuart Reb Donald

Stuart is a celebrity chef and award winning food writer. Donald performs live cooking demonstrations and penned the cookbook Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor."

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