Monday, January 11, 2010

Sushi party

Last week was my son-in-law's birthday. As is our tradition, we have a family birthday party, usually on a Sunday; and, we pick something favored by the birthday guest of honor. For his birthday dinner, we decided to have a Sushi party. This is something we've done, at least, two times before. So, while we're certainly no experts, but we have developed a good idea of what we like.

Many people equate sushi with raw fish; but, you do not have to use raw fish if you don't want to. You can use cooked shrimp or fish, or even make vegetarian sushi rolls.

Disclaimer: I am going to describe how we do a sushi party - in no way am I suggesting that this is how Sushi parties should be done, nor am I claiming that the sushi we create is in any way authentic.

There is a reason that sushi is expensive - it is very labor intensive, there is a lot involved in making it. However, that is also what makes it a good party theme where guests can each take a turn making their own sushi creation.


There are also a lot of ingredients involved; although, if you do any amount of asian cooking then you very well may have a lot of these already on hand. Only a couple of these are essential, the rest being optional, depending upon the type of sushi you want to make. This is what we had on hand for our sushi party.

  1. Sushi rice. This is absolutely essential - you can't have sushi without sushi rice.
  2. Crab sticks. I use imitation crab - which, truth be told, is what many sushi restaurants also use.
  3. Sushi grade fish. For this sushi party we opted for the (cooked) eel; although, we've used raw salmon and tuna in previous parties.
  4. Shrimp. I prefer the 16-20/pound size. Buy it raw, but it will be cooked before you use it.
  5. Nori. This is another essential - it is the seaweed wrapper.
  6. Carrots
  7. Cucumber
  8. Avocado
  9. Sesame seeds
  10. Wasabi powder
  11. Mirin
  12. Sriracha sauce
  13. Chili garlic sauce
  14. Lite soy sauce
  15. Heavy soy sauce
  16. Panko bread crumbs
  17. Rice vinegar. Also called rice wine vinegar. I also comes in regular and sweet, I prefer the regular
  18. Cream cheese
Not shown
  • Mayonnaise
  • Pickled ginger slices
  • Sugar
  • Sesame oil
Other possible ingredients
  • Tofu (extra firm)
  • Scallions (spring onions)
  • Mushrooms
  • Snow peas
  • Asparagus (lightly steamed)
  • Daikon radish
  • If you have a store that sells bulk items, check there first as it can be a lot cheaper. For example, those bags of sesame seeds and wasibe powder were each only about 50¢. Buying those prepackaged would each cost about $2, $3, or even $4.
  • If you have a store that has a good fish counter then check with them. Our local Central Market carries frozen sushi grade fish: Salmon, tuna, and eel in 8 ounce packages. The salmon and tuna are raw, the eel is cooked.
  • The wasabi we get in the US is not true wasabi - it is green tinted horseradish. You can get it premixed; but, it is cheaper to buy the powder and mix it yourself.
  • Mirin is essentially cooking sake, not unlike other cooking wines. The kind I buy has a bit of salt (to avoid being sold as alcohol) and contains less than 1% alcohol. You should be able to find it in any large supermarket that has a good asian food section.
  • The Sriracha sauce is sometimes referred to as "rooster sauce" because of the picture of the rooster on the bottle. Available in most large supermakets that have a good asian food section.
  • The use of either lite or heavy soy sauce is a personal choice. It's good to have both on hand.
  • Panko bread crumbs are made from bread without crusts and has a crisper, airier texture than other bread crumbs. Many large supermarkets now carry it. Although, it may or may not be in the asian food section - it may be in the baking goods section where other types of bread crumbs are sold.


There is also some equipment you will need.

  1. Chopsticks
  2. Small bowls. These are for holding dips, sauces, wasibi, or whatever else.
  3. Nigiri Sushi Mold. - this is highly optional and is just fun to have
  4. Plastic wrap
  5. Cutting board
  6. Sharp knife
  7. Sushi mat. These are inexpensive, so get a couple so that more than one person can be making sushi at a time
Not shown
  • Squirt bottles (the kind used for ketchup and mustard at picnics)
  • Bowls of various and sundry sizes for preparation
  • Serving plates
  • Eating plates
  • Nigirizushi is a hand-formed sushi consisting of an oblong glob of sushi rice usually topped with a bit of wasabi and fish such as raw salmon or tuna


Some preparation steps can be done ahead of time. I don't recommend doing it too far in advance; but, doing it the morning of the sushi party is fine.

Prepare the sushi rice

First off, be sure to use real sushi rice which is a short grain sticky rice - the long grain variety that is common in the US will not work. Although, sushi rice should be available in any large supermarket that has a decent asian food section. If you have a store that sells items in bulk then check there first as it will likely be cheaper.

Properly prepared sushi rice is essential for making good sushi. If it's too dry or wet then making the sushi will be all the more difficult. Real sushi chef's will tell you that it takes years to perfect making sushi rice; so, as amateurs ours will not be perfect - but we do the best we can.

I'm not going to go into the process for making sushi rice as that would be a blog post all by itself. I don't mean to make this sound intimidating as it really isn't that difficult. Essentially, you cook the sushi rice according to the directions on the package and then, while still warm, gently fold in a mixture of rice wine vinegar and sugar.

The process is well documented on the internet. You can even search YouTube for video's showing how to make it. A good site to check out is:

Make My Sushi

Prepare the shrimp

As I indicated in the ingredients list, I prefer the 16-20/pound size, although any size will work. It's just that the larger ones are easier to work with.

A problem with shrimp is that it curls up tight when cooked. What we want is straight shrimp that can be easily put into a sushi roll. To accomplish this, I stick skewers into the raw shrimp to straighten it out.

Peel and devein the shrimp, trying to leave the tail piece on. Next push a thin skewer through the length of the shrimp to straighten.

To cook the shrimp I simply boil it; although, to increase flavor, I boil it with the shells I removed (there is a lot of flavor in the shells). I also add a bit of seaweed (for a hint of the sea). I add just enough water to cover the shimp, bring it to a boil and then turn it off as soon as it boils and let it cool in the water (to enhance the flavor). To prevent the shrimp from overcooking, I added a few ice cubes and then placed the pan into a larger pan filled with cold water to cool it enough to stop the cooking process.

Leave the skewers in the shrimp until completely cooled, otherwise they will curl if still warm. Remove the skewer by twisting it out. Then put it in a ziplock bag along with a tablespoon (or so) of Mirin. Massage the bag to make sure all of the shrimp is coated with the Mirin and then refrigerate until ready to use.

Slice the vegetables

Peel the cucumber, cut it in half lengthwise, and scrape out all of the seeds. Peel the carrots. You'll want to slice the vegetables into long strips. They should be as long as the width of the Nori. I used a pampered chef mandolin which has a julianne attachment; but, cutting them by hand wouldn't be that hard. Alternatively you could julianne cut them into matchstick size pieces.

You may want to parboil the carrots just a bit to soften them, be careful not to cook them completely as you still want to have a bit of crunch. You may need to run them under cold water after parboiling to stop the cooking process.

Slice the cream cheese

Slice the cream cheese into long slices about 1/2" wide X 1/4" thick and the length of the cream cheese block. It helps to stick it in the freezer a bit to firm it up. Just be sure to not keep it in the freezer too long as if it freezes it will change the consistency of the cream cheese.

Toast the sesame seeds and panko bread crumbs

You can toast them in an oven; however, I have a tendency to burn them. I prefer toasting them in a frying pan (no oil). That way I can watch them and toast them to a light golden color.

Put the sesame seeds and panko bread crumbs each into a shallow wide bowl large enough so that the sushi rolls can be rolled.

Wrap the sushi mat in plastic wrap

This is just to make cleanup easier at the end. Don't skimp on the plastic wrap, I wrap it around 2 or 3 times.

Prepare the wasibe

Start by mixing together equal parts of wasabi powder and water until it is the desired consistency. If you feel energetic, you can make it a bit thicker and then mold it into small shapes. I made mine into marble sized balls.

Prepare the nori

You can use the full sheets of nori to make sushi; however, experience has shown that doing so makes sushi that is too large to eat as a single bite. The nori sheets are perforated with 6 sections. We've found that carefully folding it on the 4th perforation and then tearing it makes the perfect size.

Unfortunately, cutting it in half (along the 3rd perforation) is a bit too small; so, you do end up with the remaining 2 sections as wasted pieces of nori. You could add one or two of these waste pieces to the water when boiling the shrimp. You could also cut the waste pieces into thin strips and add them to miso soup. Or, you could just discard them.

Prepare sauces

There are a number of sauces that can be used either inside the sushi or squirt on top after cutting the sushi

Kabayaki (eel) Sauce
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup mirin (sweet rice wine)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  1. Pour all ingredients in a pan and then stir the mixture well. Put the pan on low heat and simmer for a few minutes.
  2. Remove from the heat and cool the mixture. Store the sauce in a clean squirt bottle in the refrigerator or let cool to room temperature before serving.
Spicy Mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tbsp Sriracha chilli sauce
  • 1 tbsp hot sesame oil
  1. Mix together and store the sauce in a clean squirt bottle
Wasabi Mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tbsp wasabi powder
  1. Mix together and store the sauce in a clean squirt bottle

Starting in the lower left corner and going clockwise

Boiled shrimp
Julianne cut carrots and cucumber
toasted panko bread crumbs
wasabi paste
wasabi balls
toasted sesame seeds


You'll need to setup a work area to make the sushi with all of the ingredients laid out. Include a bowl of water large enough to dip the knife into as this will make slicing the sushi easier. You'll probably also want dishtowels to wipe and clean the hands as they tend to get sticky after working with the sushi rice.

Cut the avocado in half, remove the seed, carefully remove the peel while keeping the avocado halves intact, then slice it thinly. This is something that can't be done ahead of time because the avocado will brown.

If using eel then broil it according to package directions.

Place a sheet of Nori onto the sushi mat, put some sushi rice on top and spread it out into a thin layer across the entire sheet. Dip your fingers in the water frequently to keep the rice from sticking. Be sure to shake off excess water from your fingers so as to not make the sushi rice too wet.

You can then start placing the ingredients on the rice side, or you can make an inside-out sushi roll (as shown) by flipping it over and placing the ingredients on the nori side. Just be careful not to put too much as it will make it difficult to roll. The sushi roll shown has broiled eel (cut into thin strips), cream cheese strip, and avacado slices. You can add a bit of sauces on the inside before rolling. Just be creative.

Then just roll it up using the mat, trying to keep it as round as possible.

If making an inside-out roll then you can roll it in the toasted panko bread crumbs or sesame seeds before slicing. Doing so doesn't work as well if the nori is on the outside as it won't stick to the nori. You can also place avacado slices or fish slices on top and then press it into the roll before removing it from the sushi mat.

Sushi rolls are typically cut into 8 pieces - cut the roll in half, then cut each half in half, finally cut each quarter in half. You can leave the rolls on end and put sauces on the top. Or you can lay them out and put sauces on each piece.

Here are just a few of the sushi rolls we made. They don't look as pretty as those you get in sushi restaurants, but they sure were tasty!