Not a New Year’s Eve partier? Me either.
My ideal Dec. 31 is pretty basic. We invite another family to spend the night, freeing us up to get comfortable, play games, drink wine without worry and — most importantly — enjoy a leisurely dinner that we cook together. And the slower the better.
One year we grilled marinated thinly sliced beef and vegetables on tabletop hibachis. Another time we did fondue. Last year, we dragged out the raclette, a funky cooktop used at the table to melt cheese by the same name (the cheese and other toppings are served over roasted potatoes).
This year it will be a roll-your-own sushi party. Don’t be intimidated. It’s incredibly easy and tremendous fun.
Here’s what you need to know:
There are many varieties of sushi, but the most appropriate for a party like this is the maki roll (also the variety Americans are most familiar with) — sheets of nori seaweed wrapped around cooked sushi rice and a variety of fillings. These are easy to prepare and easy to personalize.
Start by preparing your rice. Be sure to use real sushi rice (widely available at mainstream grocers) and prepare it according to the recipe below. Rice used in sushi should be sweetly acidic (thanks to the addition of seasoned rice vinegar) and needs to be sticky, but not gummy.
My sushi rice recipe is simple and makes enough rice for four rolls (each roll can be cut into 6 to 8 pieces). Plan for at least 2 to 3 rolls per person. The rice recipe is easily doubled.
Next, assemble your fillings. There are no rules here, but one safeguard. The raw seafood used in sushi at restaurants is of the highest grade. I don’t recommend going raw unless you really know and trust your source on the seafood (Whole Foods Markets recently started selling frozen raw sushi-grade seafood, for example).
And don’t be afraid to mix it up. There’s nothing that says you can’t make a barbecue pulled pork sushi roll. Or one stuffed with cold peanut noodles.
Some of my favorite fillings include:
Thin strips of cucumber (seeds scraped out)
Smoked or seasoned tofu (cut into strips)
Cooked shrimp (shells and tails removed)
Tuna or other seafood salads
Marinated and roasted asparagus
Cooked crab meat
Strips of red and yellow bell pepper
Cooked chicken (barbecue tenders are especially good)
Roasted whole cloves of garlic
You’ll also need a few condiments. The three basics are soy sauce, wasabi (the spicy green stuff) and pickled ginger (all of which are available everywhere). The wasabi can be purchased as a paste, but the powder often is a better quality (mix it with water to form a paste).
Finally, you’ll need sheets of toasted nori. Most grocers that sell prepared sushi also sell supplies, including the nori. You use one sheet per sushi roll, but buy extra, as nori is delicate and mishaps are likely (especially if you are sipping sake).
The only special equipment you’ll need is a bamboo rolling mat (also sold by most grocers). These resemble placemats made from thin strips of wood. They help you roll and form the sushi. They are inexpensive, so plan to get two or three and guests can take turns.
To assemble a sushi roll, lay a sheet of nori on a bamboo rolling mat. Using wet fingers or the back of a spoon (dipped in water), carefully spread about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of cooked sushi rice over the nori. Leave about a 3/4-inch strip of nori bare on the edge farthest from you.
Arrange a thin line of fillings (thicker fillings are harder to roll) down the center of the nori sheet (running parallel to the edge closest to you. Using the mat to help lift the nori and rice, roll the sushi away from you, forming it into a tight log. Dunk your fingers in water to moisten the 3/4-inch strip of nori at the far side, then finish rolling and press the wet nori to seal the roll.
Run a serrated knife under water then, without drying or wiping the knife, cut the roll into six or so pieces.
Then eat, enjoy, roll a few more and make a toast to a wonderful new year.