Sunday, November 29, 1998
THE MIAMI HERALD
THE BANZAI CHEF
DAVE BARRY, Herald Columnist
Culinary Topic Is: How To Make Sushi
to be an expert on this topic because I recently put in a
stint as a chef at an actual sushi restaurant. (One of the
first things you learn, as a sushi chef, is how to put in
Before I give you the details,
I should explain, for the benefit of those of you who live
in remote wilderness regions such as Iowa, what sushi is.
Basically, it is a type of cuisine developed by the Japanese
as part of an ancient tradition of seeing what is the scariest
thing they can get you to eat raw.
The way they do this is, they start out by serving you a nice,
non-threatening piece of fish, from which all the identifying
fish parts have been removed. This fish is safe to eat and
tasty. But the trick is that it's served with a green condiment
called "wasabi, " which is the Japanese word for
"nuclear horseradish." This is an extremely spicy
substance, the formula for which must never be allowed to
fall into the hands of Saddam Hussein. If you put more than
two wasabi molecules on your sushi and eat it, your hair will
burst into flames.
So after consuming some wasabi, you naturally order a cool
refreshing Japanese beer to pour on your head and perhaps,
since you have the bottle in your hand anyway, wet your whistle
with. The result is that your judgment becomes impaired, which
is when they start trying to get you to eat prank food, such
as sea-urchin eggs. Sea urchins are vicious, golf-ball shaped,
poison-spined sea creatures whose sole ecological purpose
is to ruin your tropical vacation by deliberately not getting
out of your way when you are wading barefoot. If you eat the
eggs of this animal, and fail to chew them thoroughly, you
could develop an alarming medical condition that doctors call
"baby sea urchins walking around inside your body poking
holes in your spleen."
Other prank foods that they will try to get you to eat at
sushi bars include eels, clam parts, jellyfish, tentacles
with flagrant suckers, and shrimps with their eyeballs still
waving around on stalks. If you eat those, the waiter will
become brazen and start bringing out chunks of coral and live
electric eels. My point is that, in a sushi restaurant, you
must watch carefully what you eat (this is exactly what The
Star-Spangled Banner is referring to when it says "o'er
the clam parts we watched").
Despite this, I happen to be a big fan of non-prank sushi.
And so when Bok An, the proprietor of Sakura, my local sushi
restaurant in Coral Gables, Fla., invited me to be a guest
sushi chef, I enthusiastically answered: "No!" I
was afraid that I'd have to touch an eel. I am 51 years old,
and I did not get this far by touching eels.
But Bok assured me that we would stick to basic fish species
such as tuna, salmon and cucumber. And thus I found myself
one Tuesday night, wearing a samurai-style headband and standing
behind the sushi bar, blending in perfectly with the other
sushi chefs, except that my headband was actually the belt
of my bathrobe.
Bok stood next to me and prepared various sushi items, and
I attempted to imitate him. Here's the recipe: You start with
a little rectangle made of dried seaweed (I asked Bok where
the seaweed comes from, thinking he would name some ancient
Japanese seaside village, and he said, "a distributor").
Then you pick up a glob of special sticky rice and spread
it evenly on the seaweed. At least Bok did. The majority of
my rice remained firmly stuck to my hands and started migrating
to other parts of my body. I may have to have it removed surgically.
Next, you cut up your ingredients, using a lethal-looking,
extremely sharp sushi knife that causes professional sushi
chefs to become very nervous when it is being wielded by a
professional humor columnist. Then you put these ingredients
on the rice and execute the secret sushi-rolling technique,
which is difficult to describe in English words, as we can
see by this actual transcript of Bok explaining it to me:
"OK, you go like this, Boom! Then you go, Boom! Boom!
The thing was, when Bok went boom, he produced this attractive,
appetizing cylinder of sushi. Whereas when I went boom, I
produced this mutant food unit leaking random seafood parts.
I also had a problem with my sizing: Sushi rolls are supposed
to be small, bite-size morsels; mine were more along the lines
of seaweed-covered hams.
But I kept trying. Remember the movie Karate Kid, where
the mean bully beats up Ralph Macchio, but then Ralph studies
karate under Mr. Miyagi, and then finally, in the big tournament,
with everybody watching, Ralph stuns the bully by rolling
a reasonably tight cucumber roll? Well, that's what I did.
In fact, I may have a knack for it. So if one day you walk
into a Japanese restaurant, and you see, standing behind the
sushi bar, what appears to be a man-size blob of rice wearing
a blue bathrobe belt on its head, feel free to say hi. But
keep your distance if I'm holding a knife.
© 1998 Dave Barry/The Miami Herald.
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