Sushi for Gringos: Even in Vail |

Sushi for Gringos: Even in Vail

Wren Wertin
Vail CO, Colorado
Preston Utley/Vail DailyEven hand rolls aren't out of reach for beginner sushi rollers.

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Riley Romanin grew up land-locked in Eagle County. At age 19 he sat down at the sushi bar in front of Masato in Avon and had his first taste of sushi. With those first few bites, his mind was sufficiently blown. He decided to get in the kitchen, ASAP, and learn how to prepare it. After graduating from culinary school and apprenticing with various chefs on the sushi bar, he’s now the executive chef at Foxnut in Beaver Creek, a sushi bar/fusion restaurant.

Traditionally, sushi chefs apprentice for many years before they can be called a master. When eating at a sushi restaurant the chef’s skill is immediately apparent, from the quality of the fish to his deft finger work. No question about it, becoming a master takes commitment. But those who just want to kick back and have a little fun with fish at home shouldn’t be intimidated. As long as everyone has a sense of humor, there’s no need to get uptight about doing things perfectly. Instead of starting with a whole fish, buy them pre-filleted. Use a rice cooker to steam the rice, and slice and dice whatever sounds good for fillings.

Champagne is a party drink. The cork doesn’t fit back in the bottle for a reason: It should be consumed immediately. So, too, are hand rolls party food. Once made, they shouldn’t be put down. Chomp, chomp, chomp ” done. Plus, they’re easy to customize. Extra spicy? Sure. Vegetarian? No problem. And no plates are required. Just wander around the room, munching and chatting. Then throw back an Asahi or two. Presto ” it’s a party.

Fancy equipment is unnecessary. A sharp knife, a cutting board and a pot are all that’s required. Sure, it’s more fun if you have little bowls of this and that for aesthetic purposes, but work with what you’ve got. 

Building block

No question about it, if you’re going to make nigiri sushi or rolls, rice is a must. Not all rice is created equal. You need sushi rice, a short-grained variety. After it’s steamed to perfection, mix it with seasoned rice vinegar (3 tablespoons to every 1 cup uncooked rice). Spread out the rice in a large bowl, and allow it to cool as it soaks up the seasoning. The mixture, called sushi meshi, will become nice and shiny. As soon as it’s cooled, cover the rice so it doesn’t dry out.

The long burn

Wasabi is Japanese horseradish. You can buy it already prepared in a paste, or as a powder. If you go for the powder, just add water. You want it to be thick but spreadable, like rough peanut butter.


Ponzu is a citrus-infused soy sauce that works well in place of the traditional wasabi-soy blend, which can sometimes mask the flavor of the fish. Ponzu is a little sweeter and more delicate. It’s easy to make with a 3-2-1 recipe. Combine three parts soy sauce with two parts seasoned rice vinegar and one part citrus juice. Orange, grapefruit and lemon juices all work beautifully.

Spice of life

Togar shi is a spice blend with seven key elements: red pepper, poppyseeds, black and white sesame seeds, orange peel, laver seaweed and hemp seeds. It’s a workhorse blend, infusing ingredients with a distinctively Japanese flavor. Sprinkle it in with cubed sushi-grade tuna and you’ve got spicy tuna tartare. Add it to mayo and make your own dynamite sauce.

Little zip

You can buy seasoned rice vinegar, but it’s best to doctor it up before using it. To one cup of store-bought seasoned rice vinegar, add 1/2 cup mirin, 1/4 cup salt and 1/2 cup sugar. Heat to dissolve the sugar and salt. Store at room temperature forever.

Where to stock up

It’s a small world these days, and it’s not difficult to find sushi-making supplies. Local supermarkets all carry nori, rice, rice vinegar and wasabi. Freshie’s, an organic market in Edwards, has the basics plus a nice selection of wild-caught fish. They also have maki mats, (used for regular rolls) and a variety of Asian sauces.

Word play

Nigiri sushi includes thin slices of raw fish with a dab of wasabi, placed atop a two-bite ball of rice flavored with sweetened rice vinegar. Sashimi is sliced raw fish served with condiments only ” no rice. Nothing should stand between the fish’s flavor and you, so it shouldn’t be heavily seasoned.

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