Reverse-engineering sushi

I’ve gotten really addicted to sushi this year. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “god damn, Weasel. That’s really homosexual.” Well, no it isn’t, so shut up.

Actually, not so much sushi. California roll. It was invented for Americans who are too pussy to eat raw fish. California roll is made out of vegetables and cooked fish. Now, sushi is expensive because, if you’re going to eat raw fish, you want it to be reeeeally really fresh. California roll is expensive because it’s called sushi and they can get away with it. When I realized I was paying nearly a buck for a gobbet of rice with a cucumber stuck in it, I resolved to make my own.

I’ve got the mechanics right, I think. You start with sushi rice (aka sweet rice, aka glutenous rice, aka sticky rice). It’s a short-grained rice that is neither sweet nor glutenous, but it is sticky — which is why you can build stuff out of it. Twenty minutes simmering with the lid on, ten minutes resting, then you sprinkle it with a mixture of rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt…cutting it in with a bamboo paddle and fanning it to cool it off rapidly. This gives the rice a nice flavor and a glossy sheen. (No, this is not homosexual. Shut up!).

Okay, now you lay out a sheet of nori on a bamboo mat. The package says that nori is “a sea vegetable,” which is true if algae mashed up and dried like paper is your idea of a vegetable. They used to make it off stuff they scraped off the docks, no lie. It smells like they still do.

Spread a layer of rice on the nori, lay down a line of cut up veg and fish or whatever about an inch from the edge, grab the bamboo, roll it up into a long tube, cut it into sections, and voilà — you have a big fucked-up pile of rice and algae and crabmeat and avocado.

Okay, class, what do we do when we discover something we don’t understand? That’s right, Suzie — we kill it and cut it up. Meet an alien, have yourself an alien autopsy.


Here is some California roll I bought at the supermarket today. The one on the left is crabmeat, I think. The one on the right is called “inside out” sushi (uramaki) because the rice is on the outside. I like that kind best, because you aren’t laying a slab of that black glossy ocean fungus right on your tongue. Inside this one is…salmon nipples or diced whale penis or something. I don’t know.

Hm. Nothing much to be derived from this. My rice is about this thickness, I reckon. Incidentally, this is a pica ruler. The pica is (was) used by publication designers and typesetters. It’s an excellent unit of measurement for things that are small but not microscopic. There are six picas to an inch, and 12 points to a pica (yes, points as in type sizes). Once upon a time, in happier days, many professions used custom units of measurement well suited to their work, but this is no longer allowed. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of Europe-humping metric weenies.


Ahhhhh…now we’re getting somewhere. See this? Yes, yes…it looks like something vile from an actual autopsy, but check the measurements. The norimaki unrolled is about six inches, the uramaki about five (you need the extra length when the nori’s on the outside so it can wrap around and stick to itself). A sheet of nori from the store is eight inches square.

Well, that explains it. A whole sheet is three inches too much, half a sheet is one inch too little. I’m going to have to cut a few inches off each one and toss it. Bastards!

Once again, technology triumphs over little yellow people.

Yes, that does it. Not perfect, perhaps, but a respectable effort for a beginner. The blob of gup on the plate is wasabi (Japanese for, “I kick your ass, Johnny Roundeye!”), the shredded stuff is pickled ginger (for cleansing the palate between different flavors), the thing in the dish is soy sauce.


Okay, this right here is pretty homosexual.


  1. Posted January 11, 2007 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    That actually looks pretty good. And I’m just a kid who had nothing better to do.

  2. Posted January 12, 2007 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    We were all kids with nothing better to do once. But in our day, we had to go out back and poke ants with a stick when we got bored, because there were only four channels of television and they all sucked. Except Saturday morning, when it was cartoons on all three networks from dawn until noon. And Sunday night, which was Disney. Not the wimpy Disney you’re thinking of, but Daniel Boone and Scarecrow and stuff. Oh, and the afternoon movie was sometimes something good like Killer Shrews or Attack of the Giant Crab.

    PBS only had three programs: Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood, Wall Street Week and Masterpiece Theater. I once saw full frontal nudity on Masterpiece Theater (the Six Wives of Henry VIII, I think it was) so I watched it for the rest of my life. Sadly, I developed a stupid accent, but I didn’t see any more nudity.

    The military had already invented the Internet, but they wouldn’t let anybody play with it yet.

  3. geoff
    Posted January 12, 2007 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    A pica ruler? Puh-leeze. What you need now is one of these puppies. The smallest scale on that sucker uses 0.01″ increments. Pica indeed. I have about 5 of them running around my desk.

    Nice looking sushi. For gay sushi, I mean.

  4. Posted January 12, 2007 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Picas and points are the perfect units for dealing with publications design, where the biggest thing in the world is usually a two page spread at 8.5″ x 11″ and the smallest thing is the period at the end of this sentence. I started life doing paste-up, which basically involved spreading a thin layer of hot wax on the back of magazine galleys, cutting them up and sticking them onto illustration board…nice and straight until you end up with something that looks like a magazine. Most people hated doing paste-up, but I sneakingly enjoyed it.

    When I started, our typesetting system could print a page of accent marks, but couldn’t place them over or under letters. So for foreign language pubs, you’d have to surgically cut the accents onto the page. Best practice was to counter-sink them — cut out the accent, place it over the letter, cut around it again, remove the galley beneath, and sink it into the custom hole you’d just cut. This insured they didn’t move or fall off, but (more importantly) that they didn’t stick up too high. It was all photographic, remember, so something that stuck up might go out of focus. If you weren’t careful, the X-acto blade would pop and flip your accent mark into the ether, and you’d be all, like, “shit! Is there an accent ague in my hair?!?”

    Another profession kaput, finito, muerto. But I shall think in picas until I die. (Well, actually, I pretty much think in pixels now. But it’s picas for small objects in the real world).

  5. Posted January 12, 2007 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    All sushi is bad, both morally and for eating. Nasty stuff, even the California kind where they actually bother to cook the fish first. I saw sushi behind the school smoking cloves the other day. That’s how bad it is.

  6. Posted January 12, 2007 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Sushi is just an efficient Soy Sauce Delivery System.

    Anyhow, that’s silly. Everybody knows you snort cloves.

  7. Uncle Badger
    Posted January 12, 2007 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    Sushi is the work of the devil.

    And I should know!

  8. Posted January 13, 2007 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Picas are also strange cravings to eat things that ought not be food. Prevalent in the gay community, I’ve heard. ;)

  9. Posted January 13, 2007 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    And pregnant women, right? I’m pretty sure I’d rather be gay than pregnant.

    I had an old tomcat who had kidney cancer and got pica toward the end. When I caught him eating kitty litter, it was time for that last trip to the vet. Poor old bastard.

    Hm. I guess I’d rather be pregnant than have kidney cancer.

  10. Posted January 16, 2007 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Insisting something is not gay does not make it so.

  11. Posted January 16, 2007 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    Insisting something is not gay does not make it so.

    That saying is ghey

  12. Sarah D.
    Posted January 17, 2007 at 12:20 am | Permalink

    Somehow the whole raw fish thing seems like a big slap in the ridge bone to every neanderthal questing for fire, you know?

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