Finally, here’s my last post of milking my 40th birthday.
I gave it away in the title, but my gift from Michelle at the end of the secret girls’ weekend birthday outing was a sushi making class.
Monday night, after all that walking we’d already done, we trekked over near Columbia University to the apartment of Misako “Misa” Sassa, a Japanese cooking instructor who does individual and group classes for both adults and children. Check out her website here.
Her apartment was a super-cool pre-war, with high ceilings, big windows, hardwood floors and this strange connecting hallway between the main hall and the kitchen that she turned into the most excellent pantry I’ve ever seen and which I covet greatly.
Misa was down-to-earth, funny, and a really good cook, in addition to being a great teacher. She also has a son who struck me as being a somewhat quieter version of my #5.
This is his artwork:
If there is a unifying theme to making sushi, it is to always begin with exactly the right ingredients.
The first thing Misa taught us is that sushi is all about the rice. People think it’s about the fish, but really it’s the rice– rice and presentation.
You have to start with the right kind of rice, and then there’s a lot of work involved– not in the actual cooking part, but the before and after part.
I already knew that this was going to be way beyond me to recreate at home.
Misa demonstrated how she doesn’t need to go to the gym because she works out with the rice. She polished it first, which is basically scrubbing the crap out of it in a giant pan with all your might, rinsing, and repeating, over and over.
My sister (the nurse) asked, “Don’t you lose a lot of the nutritional value of the rice by doing that?”
Misa looked her in the eye, said, “Yes,” and kept on polishing.
When the rice is prepped, it goes in the rice cooker. It doesn’t take up a burner and it never screws up the rice. Once it’s in, you don’t have to think about it.
While the rice was cooking, she prepped some fish. In line with our theme, she told us the most important thing about the fish is to get the freshest possible sushi grade fish you can. The guys at her fish market know her now and are a little bit afraid of her.
“This is good,” she said. “Now they see me coming and just run to the back to get the freshest piece of salmon they have. I don’t have to threaten them anymore. Saves time.”
She pointed out something that I’d heard but never really integrated: truly fresh fish has no odor. It doesn’t smell fishy. I practically buried my nose in the salmon she had and didn’t smell a thing.
When we made Ebi (shrimp) I learned two things: stick it on a skewer before cooking to keep it straight, and remove the mud vein after cooking, not before.
Isn’t she beautiful?
We made Unagi (eel), one of my favorites.
Misa buys it pre-prepped and heats it in her eel oven:
I love that her toaster oven is the eel oven. It’s the only thing she uses it for.
Prepped eel is super, super sticky from the sauce that comes on it.
The last dish Misa demonstrated in the kitchen was Tamago (egg). I used to order it when I went out for sushi but it’s cold, often oversweet and rubbery. I never order it anymore. Misa said in Japan, Tamago is truly the measure of a sushi restaurant. If you order it here in the US, pretty much always the restaurant is buying it from a distributer and not making it themselves which is why the quality is so low.
This Tamago is something else entirely.
There’s a special Tamago pan. The mixture is egg with a bit of sugar and salt and whatever subtle secrets the chef wants to include, and it is cooked in layers. One thin layer of egg goes in, bubbles, cooks and then is rolled to one side. Another layer goes in and cooks the same way. Then the layers are rolled together. Another layer goes in. It takes a while.
We ate this Tamago right away and it was like nothing I’ve ever had. Maybe a combination of crepes, omelettes, popovers, and unicorns.
If I could get Tamago like that, I would order it every time I went for sushi.
The rice came out of the cooker and was seasoned with a blend of sake, sugar and vinegar. Then the fanning began– the other reason Misa doesn’t need to go to the gym.
Even though I do go to the gym, I did not fan well. I was relieved of my responsibilities in short order.
We went to the table to assemble our creations.
Here’s another one of the coolest things ever that we did.
We made a roll that Misa said in Japan is the palate cleansing roll. I’ve never seen it on the menu here, although it is possible that I’ve missed it.
Rice, a flat Japanese basil, radish sprouts, and a pickled plum in bits.
I had never had any of those things before. Well, except the rice.
Misa helped us make spicy tuna hand rolls and instructed us on how to assemble our sushi. Then she disappeared into the kitchen and whipped up a few other dishes for us while we were making this:
There was dessert:
When Misa learned it was my birthday, she gave me a gift:
It was most definitely a multi-win night.
Michelle has taught me that the greatest gifts are experiences. I highly recommend Misa’s cooking class. Too often we think, “Oh, I’d love to do that,” and then never make it a priority. Time passes and we carry on, not trying that thing we’d love to do. Is there something you’ve always wanted to try? I just read an article about a woman who took a trapeze class. That sounds awesome, and terrifying. I wonder what Michelle would do if I got her that for her birthday.