Cooking classes are a great way to learn more about a particular cuisine, to understand about the ingredients, and of course learn the techniques to produce certain dishes. The Westin Beijing Chaoyang recently launched a new sushi cooking class, at their fine dining Japanese restaurant Mai. The aim of the class is to enable participants to make basic sushi at home. For those unfamiliar with the sheer delight that is sushi, it is a Japanese food consisting of cooked vinegared rice, combined with other ingredients such as seafood, vegetables, and sometimes meats. There are three key elements that define great sushi – fresh ingredients, how you cook the rice, and how you roll.
Cooking sushi rice is a time consuming process, so we were pleased that all of our ingredients had been expertly prepared for us. The chef began the class by explaining how to cook perfect sushi rice. The process involves washing the rice six to seven times, soaking the rice in cold water, drying it out, and then sitting the rice in water again, before you start cooking. It is also important that you leave the rice in the pot once it’s cooked, without removing the lid, for about 10 minutes. Doing this stage properly, will make a big difference to how good your sushi rolls will be. Today we would be making makizushi (rolled sushi), specifically norimaki (nori roll). Cylindrical and formed with the help of a bamboo mat known as a makisu. Makizushi is generally wrapped in nori (seaweed), but is occasionally wrapped in a thin omelet, soy paper, or cucumber.
We began with a cucumber nori roll, so we could practice our rolling technique. The chef explained that sushi is 60 per cent visual. From the beginning, you need to keep it as unprocessed as possible. The more you touch the ingredients, the more you alter the natural appearance and flavor of the sushi. There is a very exact tradition of spreading the rice on the nori, and sushi masters study for years to learn the proper technique. An example of the proper way is to lay the rice on the nori in only six movements. I’ll be honest and tell you it took me a lot more than six movements. The idea is to spread a tennis ball size amount of sushi rice on the nori, without pressing enough to squish the rice. When looking at the rolls, you should see the individual rice grains, not a pressed block of rice around your roll.
Once our rice had been spread, we added a long strip of cucumber as our filling, and began to roll. After you have rolled up the rice, nori, and ingredients, you place one end of the mat back over the roll and press lightly. When you press on the sushi mat, the chef explained you must do so evenly and gently. The idea is to lightly press the sushi roll into a square shape. Everyone in the group did really well, with pretty consistent results. Next up was a larger nori roll, which we filled with cucumber, omelet strips, mushrooms, and crab mixed with mayonnaise. This roll was more tricky, and I had one end with contents spilling, the other end with not enough ingredients. Chef advised that it’s better to have overfilled ends, as you can tap the filling back in quite easily.
Our final roll was uramaki inside-out roll. This medium-sized cylindrical piece, with several fillings, was innovated as a result of the creation of the California Roll, a method originally meant to hide the nori. Uramaki differs from other maki because the filling is in the center surrounded by nori, then a layer of rice, and optionally an outer coating of roe or toasted sesame seeds. Once we had spread the rice, we laid the nori over the top, gently pressed down and then flipped the whole thing over. Whilst holding our breath. Thankfully mine stayed in one piece, and it was time to add the ingredients across the middle. Once we’d rolled, we topped it off with roe and gently used the mat to press the roe down.
To finish the session, chef deftly made a temaki hand roll, a large cone-shaped piece of nori on the outside with the ingredients spilling out the wide end. It was like a beautiful sushi bouquet. Our sushi rolls were cut, and the contrasting colors of the ingredients looked impressive. Mine weren’t perfect, but they were pretty good for a first attempt. It was a fun and informative cooking class, and I know enough of the basics now to give it a go at home. The cooking classes at Mai are held on the first Saturday of every month from 3-5pm. RMB 380 per person includes a set menu dinner, Japanese tea, cooking ingredients and materials, and the chance to interact with the chef. Half price for kids aged 4-12 years, free for kids under 4 years. All prices are subject to 15% surcharge. To reserve a place, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 5922 8880.
Mai Japanese Restaurant
Open Mon-Fri 11.30am-2.30pm; Daily 5.30-10.30pm
Level 2, The Westin Beijing Chaoyang, 7 North Dongsanhuan Road, Chaoyang District
beijingkids Shunyi Correspondent Sally Wilson moved to Beijing in 2010 from the UK with her husband and son. Her daughter was born here in 2011 and both her kids keep her happily busy. In her spare time, Sally loves to stroll through Beijing’s hutongs and parks. She is a (most of the time) keen runner and loves reading: books, magazines, news, and celeb websites – anything really. Sally is also a bit of a foodie and loves trying out new restaurants.
Photos: courtesy of The Westin Beijing Chaoyang