(I refer you to the robot ccokie monsters, and the terrifying snowman cookies, but two examples of how I've demonstrated just how hard it can be.)
John and I consulted a couple of sources before setting out to make the maki rolls. First, we used a book that came in a set of things his mom gave him a couple years ago, for making sushi at home: Simply Sushi, by Steven Pallett. This book came in super handy, and we used it to make the sushi rice - by far the most time consuming and impressive part of the meal. How can rice taste so good? It's amazing, and well worth the time. Pallett also gives a guide to all the products you need to make sushi, and where to find them. I used his book to make our shopping list.
Going to buy the ingredients was a whole other part of our sushi-cultural experience. We went to United Supermarket, aka, the happiest place on earth, our favorite Asian supermarket. Here's the thing: I've never bought sushi rice before. And they have probably 20 kinds of rice, with very little English in their labels. So when we went to find it, I was the confused white girl in the rice aisle, saying things like, "This is short grain white rice. But it's from Thailand? Should it say sushi on it?"
Yes, it should. We also took a while to find the nori sheets, since kombu (a different kind of seaweed product) was sold in a separate aisle. Yaki-nori sheets were the ones we needed, and we happily stumbled upon them.
John and I also watched the sushi episode of Good Eats, where Alton Brown gave step-by-step directions that matched Palletts perfectly (side note: you can find the whole episode, "Wake Up Little Sushi," on youtube). After that we relied solely on the book, since all the directions were so consistent.
Ok. On to the sushi!
We asked Matthew to come over for dinner, since we hadn't seen each other in a while, and because he seems to have finely honed culinary instincts. He had also been to a make-your-maki party before.
First, we layed a half sheet of nori on a rolling screen (which came with the book). John covered it in what turned out to be 100% too much rice.
He drew a line down the center with a tube of wasabi, also purchased at United Market.
He stuffed it with avocado, mango, and a (fried) sweet potato. I didn't fry the taters, so much as cook them in oil in a skillet, to save time. John rolled it, per instructions, tucking the fillings in with his fingers as he went.
In the end, it looked like a little sushi-burrito hybrid, with the filling bursting out. We quickly learned that less is more, if you want the roll to close. The picture below is of his first roll after we cut it. So instead of plating that one, we just ate it in pieces off the cutting board, and went on to the next attempt. And it turns out that falling-apart-sushi tastes just like regular, beautiful sushi!
John went about a second attempt, while Matthew tried for an inside-out roll, where the rice is on the outside. He figured this would allow for more fillings.
First, he covered a half sheet of nori with rice, as before, and sprinkled it with sesame seeds.
Then he flipped it over. Note: for inside out rolls, we put a sheet of plastic wrap on the rolling screen, and it worked perfectly.
With the nori-side up, he layered on mango and avocado.
Then he rolled it up, and it looked great! This one completely hung together, so we cut it and put it on a serving tray to eat when we had a couple of other successful rolls.
Naturally, I forgot to take pictures of everything once we started eating (the gin and tonics may have had something to do with that...and they might be the reason why so many of these pictures are a tad blurry). But I did snap a picture of the last roll I made: also just avocado and mango.
It was my most successful one.
Here's another shot of a moderately successful roll on the serving tray.
The biggest lesson we learned was to keep it simple. John and I tried to think of a bunch of fun veggie fillings, and we had too many. While the mango, avocado, sweet potato, and shiitakes were gone by the end of the evening, we didn't even touch the carrots or cucumber (but we ate them separately the next day). But keeping the shiittakes were the one thing about this dinner that we did absolutely right: I just gave them a quick sautee in some soy sauce with a little sugar, and they were so good. We got a big package of them at the market, and I would completely do that again. Shiitakes are very easy to over cook, so they probably only spent 2 minutes in the pan, max. The texture was perfect, and they went well with all the other ingredients.
I think that's Matthew's sushi face.
All in all, we were so happy with this meal! It turns out, sushi is hard to make, especially hard if you want it to look nice. But everything tasted fantastic. The three of us agreed that making it gave us a whole new respect for chefs in sushi bars who just crank out beautiful rolls all evening, in minutes. That's some real skill.
Now that we know how to make it and what to expect, I think we would definitely make this again. But we'll probably wait until we have an occasion to have a couple people over, since it's definitely a fun group activity.