This Tuesday, I visited Inamo for the first time to take part in a sushi-making and sake-tasting masterclass.
I arrived just before 6:30, was offered a drink, and set to meeting and greeting around the bar. After a few minutes, half of us were led to the kitchen for the sushi-making class whilst the other half stayed behind to learn about sake. We gathered around Jon, the sushi chef, who began showing us the ingredients we’d be working with. First, we would be learning to make nigiri sushi using three types of fish – tuna (maguro), salmon (sake), and yellowtail (hamachi). Nigiri sushi (nigiri 握り means “hand-rolled”) consists of an oblong ball of rice, pressed into shape in the hand, and topped with one other ingredient. With some toppings it is traditional to wrap a thin strip of nori (dried seaweed) around the nigiri to hold it together, or for garnish. In Japan, sushi chefs often put a small amount of wasabi between the rice and topping; in most sushi places here, though, wasabi is served on the side and it is up to the customer to decide the amount of the spicy garnish they wish to use. (If you’re like my dad, you might save the whole ball of wasabi for use on the last piece of sushi.)
The topping is placed in your cupped hand (whichever hand is dominant – Jon happened to be left-handed) along the middle section of your fingers. After dipping your other hand in some water, you grab 8-10 grams of room-temperature sushi rice. (The water helps keep the rice from sticking to your skin, as it is very glutinous at this point. It will become even stickier as it is worked.)
You roll the rice into a ball and place it on the topping. Resting your thumb in the middle, you use the fingers of your other hand to work the rice into a more oblong shape, not quite reaching the ends of the topping. At this point you turn the sushi over and smooth the topping down onto the rice, further streamlining and shaping it. And voila! – you have made a beautiful nigiri sushi.
Now it was our turn to make nigiri. Wilkes was brave and went for putting quite a bit of wasabi straight onto his nigiri.
We expected the rice to be sticky, but it was a bit more difficult to work with than we originally imagined. When you’re watching a sushi chef, it all looks very easy.
Here are my beautiful baby nigiri-sushi, made without wasabi on them because I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to spice.
After we had all set aside our precious, handmade nigiri, we gathered around Jon again to learn how to make a maki sushi. Maki (巻 “rolled”) sushi is the typical sushi that most people think of, and there are a few different types of it. Hosomaki (細巻 “thin roll”) is a sushi roll with the nori on the outside of the rice; uramaki (裏巻 “inside-out roll”) is a nontraditional sushi roll with the rice on the outside.
To make a uramaki, you lay the nori on the bamboo mat and spread about a handful of the sushi rice into a rectangular shape on top of it. You then flip the nori and rice over so that the nori is facing up; then you add your fillings. For the class we had cucumber, salmon, avocado, and cream cheese. You use the bamboo mat to roll up the sushi – this keeps the rice from sticking to your hands and also gives the roll an even and round shape.
There is a special way of cutting the sushi as well. First, you wet the knife to make sure (as ever) that the rice won’t stick to it. When you make your cut, you use the index and middle fingers on your other hand as guides and to steady the roll. “It’s like when you play snooker,” said Jon.
A few slices later, you have a beautifully cross-sectioned sushi roll, ready to present.
I was a bit of a rebel and made a hosomaki. Or maybe it’s because I couldn’t get the rice to stop sticking to everything. I forget.
After we were all done with making our rolls, we were led back into the restaurant for a quick look at how the ordering system worked. The giant, white cylinders hovering over the tables aren’t just futuristic decoration – they’re for a futuristic restaurant experience as well.
Quite simply, you can do just about everything with this digital table that you could want to do in a restaurant. You can look at a visual menu (which I found quite helpful, especially for sushi, because you want to see exactly what is in the roll before you order it); order your food and drinks, and see the status of your order; change the “digital tablecloth” pattern being projected onto the table; play games, look up the weather, explore a local map, and call a taxi; you can even watch the chefs preparing your food on the “Chef Cam”.
Soon we were ushered into a side room for the sake tasting and presentation.
They brought out our sushi plates for us to eat whilst we listened to a presentation on the production and different styles of sake. Snigdha of Snig’s Kitchen won a little bottle of rosé sake for having the most well-made/prettiest plate of sushi.
I won’t ruin the class by posting tons on here, but it was very informative. You learn about the brewing process of sake, what they do to make different grades of sake, and the history of sake as a drink. After this comes the best part: tasting the sake. We tasted an Akashi-tai honjozo sake (the normal grade of sake) both hot and cold. Much like a wine, they teach you to look for certain notes on the nose and on the palate. Some of the words we came up with for the cold sake were “earthy” and “floral”. Then, unlike wine, you can heat it up and experience the sake in a completely different way. When warmed slightly, the sake becomes even smoother and a sweetness opens up in it that wasn’t previously there.
I am no expert on sake, but this was truly a pleasure to drink. It was very smooth and had no unpleasant “hit”. In the full masterclass, you go on to try a higher grade (ginjo or daiginjo) sake at both temperatures, so I can imagine that sake is even smoother and more delicious than this one.
After the presentation we were left to savour our sake and finish our sushi. The other group joined us when they finished their sushi-making, and we enjoyed chatting over glasses as I ate more than my fair share of wasabi peas. (And who can blame me? Those things are addictive.)
If you want to book yourself in for a sushi-making and sake-tasting masterclass at Inamo, check out the details here.