We are standing at the sushi bar. Toshi stepped forward and stood in front of the long cutting board.
First, wet your hands in this bowl of water. That’s very important because otherwise, your hands will be full of rice. If and when that happens, just wash your hands in the sink and start over.”
In the middle of the sushi bar was a sink with water continuously running so all the chefs could wash their hands quickly.
“Then grab some rice – about this size.” Toshi showed me a rice ball that was the size of a tennis ball. It looked big; more rice than I thought it would go into one California Roll. He placed it on the top left the corner. “Now, start spreading the rice using only left hand like this.”
Toshi started to press and spread the rice from left to the right. The rice moved as if it was like play-doh or some soft bread dough or something.
“At the same time, make “U” shape with your right hand to guide the rice so that you cover only the top half of the nori.”
His hands moved very quickly. I already felt like I couldn’t remember all the steps. It looked as if the rice was coming from his right hand.
“Your right hand is more important. I mean, both of your hands are important. In the beginning, many people think it’s the left hand that is doing all the work and forget to move the right hand, so you must remember to use both hands the same time. It’s a little bit like playing piano.
Only the top half of the nori was covered with sushi rice.
“From here, spread the rice on the top and cover the bottom half, starting from the right end, center and the left. Also, keep in mind to make the rice nice and fluffy. When you press the rice too hard, you lose the texture, and the rice gets mushy. That’s no good. The texture of the rice is one of the most important things in Sushi. When you are finished spreading the rice, sprinkle some sesame seeds and turn it over so that rice is down, Nori is up.”
I remembered that part because I have seen it enough times. Toshi continued.
“Place some crab mix right in the center. As a matter of fact, put it hair below the center. It’s easier to roll that way. Then some cucumber strips and avocado slices.”
Toshi put then all the ingredients neatly, all the way across the nori, horizontally.
“Now we are ready to roll it up.”
Toshi grabbed the bottom end of nori with both hands and started to curl up and tuck in the top end before sealing the roll first; then another ninety degrees turn, so the seam is facing Toshi, not to the customer side.
“Pick up the makisu/bamboo mat and place it over the roll.”
All the makisu had the plastic wrap to prevent rice from sticking to it. You may wonder what did they do before the plastic wrap in Japan? Well, they did not have to because traditional Japanese rolls are all Nori out, so rice would never touch the mat. Since California roll is an American invention and rice outside, we must cover makisu with plastic. Otherwise, it will be covered with rice.
“Just squeeze the roll gently over makisu a couple of times, as you slide your hands left and right.”
When Toshi removed the makisu, there was a beautiful long roll, sitting on the cutting board.
“Cutting is difficult. You can move the knife back and forth like a saw and cut through. An experienced chef can do this with a single stroke like this.”
He quickly moved the knife forward once, pull back, and the roll was cut into two.
“The wrong way is to force your knife down, which will smash the roll, like this. Make sure your knife is wet before you cut, so wipe with your towel, blade facing out, not toward your palm. Never place the knife into the bowl of water because that is dangerous. When you have your bowl of water, that is OK to do that, but because we are sharing the bowl, never dip your knife in the bowl because when we get busy, you may accidentally cut other’s hand.”