Whilst Sushi is internationally recognised all over the world as one of the key elements of Japanese cuisine, few people know how to make fun, simple versions to enjoy and prepare en famille at home. I was immediately struck by the value of this collective food preparation concept in a world where we increasingly live disconnected from each other, yet under the same roof. In the same way that all national dishes are subject to regional and even personal interpretations that vary from family to family, Lucia Shimizu and Nobuko Crook gave us a unique glimpse into their own tweaks on Japanese family favourites. Lucia grew up as part of the Japanese community in Sao Paulo, Brazil whereas Nobuko hails from the port of Yokohama on Tokyo Bay. Both of our hosts come from families of keen gastronomes where recipes have been handed down for generations.
First up was the all-important sushi rice mixed with Japanese vinegar, salt and sugar while the salmon sizzled under the grill. Lucia stressed the importance of adding the miso paste to the soup without letting it boil and thus eradicating the natural nutrients. Nobuko then deftly laid out a number of cooked ingredients such as smoked salmon, shredded green beans, carrot flower shapes, and coriander on top of the rice for the pressed, weighted down Oshi Sushi dish. We were also shown how to make stunning mini decorated sushi balls with prawns which we agreed would appeal immensely to children. Sushi balls are stuffed with whatever ingredients you have to hand and then wrapped in cling film to maintain their circular shape. Japanese mothers will typically pop a few into their kids’ lunchboxes with homemade faces on them as an affectionate maternal gesture which certainly beats the ubiquitous packet of potato crisps and a squashed banana. I can imagine squeezing a little note inside my kids’ sushi balls “Try handing in your homework on time for a change”.
Finally Lucia shared her technique for cooking a Japanese style omelette which is similar to a giant conical French crêpe that is then rolled in the pan and layered up bit by bit by the addition of more beaten egg until it forms a rolled egg log similar in size to a swiss roll or yule log! Quite an art and Lucia admitted that in some households they were apt to resort to western style scrambled eggs which are a lot faster to cook. Although there are still plenty of mothers rising before dawn to lovingly cook an egg roll which would await the rest of the family in all its golden glory when they finally appeared at the breakfast table…
Both Lucia and Nobuko hinted at the diplomacy required when a new wife is cooking for her husband as she may be tempted to cook some dishes according to her own family’s traditions whereas her new spouse will expect her use his family’s style. Personally I’m a great advocate of “you eat what you’re given mate or else you can go and cook it yourself…”
My poor husband has lost most of the sensation from his palate and has had toxic smoke emissions emanating from his ears from the moment we met as I do rather enjoy my spices. Yet, so far, he still hasn’t opted for the “cook it yourself” route.
Anyway, back to our sushi lesson as by now our dining table was a feast for the eyes as well as for the palate and much merriment was had as we concocted our own Temaki sushi cones with a square sheet of Nori (Japanese seaweed). I particularly enjoyed Lucia’s ingenious tip on using a piece of sticky sushi rice to fasten down the two sides of the seaweed sheet to maintain the perfect cone shape. It’s tempting to see if sticky rice will glue people’s lips together too…just imagine no whining kids at the table………..although they could probably still grunt.
Thank you Lucia and Nobuko for demystifying sushi preparation at home and for all your fascinating anecdotes that illustrated authentic Japanese culture. We all benefitted from your pearls of gastronomic wisdom and can now pass on your culinary skills so that our families and friends will be all the richer for the bonding experience of preparing our own sushi together.