Taxed by the high price of T-bones? Sick of the sickly pallor of industrial chicken? Bored with your usual kitchen routine? Looking for a way to make healthy, inexpensive, summer-friendly food? Want to get creative with your cuisine, and share your discoveries with salivating friends?
The answer to all these questions is sushi!
In my filing cabinet of graphic inspiration I've kept a sushi menu for several years. It offers an explosion of sushi treats photographed in all their glory—a graphic orgy of shapes and colors! Finally, a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to draw a sushi cartoon. Making the cartoon enticed me to experience sushi on a deeper level: to make it myself.
I watched the Iron Chef sushi battle on YouTube. Predictably, it was exciting. My first stop in the real world was 17th Street Market, where I was amiably led to the sushi section, across from the fish counter. In true Manga form, my rice bag sported a cartoon rice grain character with a drugged-out smile and a headband. He, she or it claimed to be "Using New Milling Technology." In fact, all the sushi products have great packaging. I dig how nori (seaweed) comes in sheets of various shapes and shades; it's like picking out fancy watercolor paper, though far less expensive!
I borrowed a sushi rolling mat for my first attempt, and my rice was a bit off, but I soon bought my own mat and perfected the rice by fine-tuning the timing of all the steps: rinsing, drying, boiling, simmering, sitting, fluffing and sitting again. Eventually, I could smile back with confidence at my Manga rice grain cartoon pal, knowing that I finally conquered him, her or it.
After my first timid carrot-avocado-cucumber-radish rolls, I branched out into eel, shrimp, omelets, raw tuna, daikon, mackerel, pineapple, mango, roasted sesame seeds and a paste I made out of egg yolks, dijon mustard, worcestershire sauce and black pepper. I even boiled gourd shavings in soy sauce and water, watching them plump up into tapeworm-looking things.
I quickly became enamored with the whole concept of sushi. Beyond the visuals, it's one of those flexible cultural foods, like pizza or burritos. I mean, you can basically put anything on a pizza or in a burrito. They are formats that can be edited, amended and tweaked. Like all good art, sushi is variation on a theme.
I also loved the amount of time it takes to make sushi. It was meditative and calming. While doing the prep, I could pour a glass of wine and chill to some sweet tunes: Enigma, Red House Painters, The Dining Rooms ... even eating sushi—with chopsticks, of course—takes time. No wolfing down burgers here; rather, the act of selecting, admiring, dipping and eating one bite at a time. One regulates the wasabi, pickled ginger and sauce to her or his own taste buds, and is surprised and elated with each piece.
On Saturday, I had a sushi party. Starting at 6 a.m., I made about 200 pieces of sushi and had some neighbors and friends over. It was way better than a barbecue, and people were far less logy. Plus, the sushi itself makes a great conversation topic. A professional chef at the party stayed in the kitchen with me, looking over my shoulder and making me nervous at first. I politely mentioned the comforts of the living room and balcony, but he wouldn't leave the kitchen. Sushi relaxes people, though, and soon, I was teaching him my rolling technique, and he was teaching me the right way to hold a knife. I was slicing sashimi, and he was rolling futomaki, and all was right in the world.
Now, I'm doing a series of colored-pencil drawings of imaginary sushi which will no doubt provide me with weeks of further contemplation, peace and hopefully some money.
Is there anything sushi can't do?
Charles Harbutt, Departures and Arrivals continues through Sunday, Jan. 26. Visitors may examine unframed photographs chosen around… More