Chef Brendan McCue of Foxnut shows how to make rolls like a pro.
By Melanie Wong
At Foxnut sushi, located just steps from the base of Centennial Lift at Beaver Creek, making sushi is akin to an art. Not only do the rolls and fish come off the counter looking as delicious as they taste, they’re made with speed and precision by Executive Sushi Chef Brendan McCue and his staff. In fact, McCue’s sushi chefs can construct a roll in 20 seconds.
While those of us who are better at consuming sushi than making it might only aspire for such skills, certainly making your own rolls is not out of reach. McCue gave SneakPEAK an expert tutorial on how to try your hand at homemade sushi. Of course, practice makes perfect.
“We have ‘roll-offs’ with some of the new chefs. We take a look at why it looks like a sushi grenade just went off,” McCue says. “But when the fish is fresh and the knife is sharp, that’s the best day.”
1) The rice
Make it sticky: This is the ingredient that will hold the entire roll together, so making it just right is key. Any type of white rice will do, although Foxnut uses Japanese Nishiki rice. “Sticky rice” is a quality achieved by washing all the starch off the raw rice.
“At first the water will look milky. Wash and drain it several times until the water is clear,” McCue says. “It will help it get sticky. You can also soak it in water for a bit till the rice becomes an opaque white.”
Season it: Cook the rice according to the directions (in a rice cooker or on the stove), then put the rice on a cutting board or bowl for seasoning. Sprinkle with sushi rice vinegar, sugar and salt.Carefully spread and fold the rice to coat it evenly and get out any lumps, without smashing or breaking the grains. You want the seasoning to be just enough to give the rice a sheen, but not so much that it’s soggy.
“The trick is moisture,” says McCue. “Too much is bad, and too little and it will be like Styrofoam. It’s a science and might take a few times to get it right, but it’s not rocket science.”
When finished, let the rice cool to room temperature.
2) The fish
Living in the mountains, fresh fish can be hard to come by. McCue ships his fish in every couple days straight from Hawaii, a luxury most of us don’t have. For sashimi-grade fish, McCue recommends Cut, an artisan meat and seafood store in Edwards. Albacore, salmon and tuna are the easiest to work with, he says.
“If you touch any fish and it’s sticky, or if it smells like fish, it’s not fresh,” he says.
Tell the store what you’re making and they’ll find the right cut. (The meat closer to the skin is good for the mashed-up mixture that goes inside rolls.) Season the fish with spices and sauces for filling (see sidebar for Spicy Tuna Roll recipe).
Vegetables: Have your vegetables cut and ready before you make the roll. Cut avocado into thin slices, and cut cucumber, carrots and any other vegetables into matchsticks. Rinse with water for crispiness.
3) Making the roll
Choose your weapons: For cutting sushi, use a sharp, single-beveled knife. Keep a moist rag handy to wipe off the knife after every cut.
“I dip the knife into water before starting and watch the water bead down the blade (to make sure it’s covered),” says McCue. “Make sure to wipe it after every cut, or else the rice just turns into concrete so fast, and then you’re just destroying the roll.”
You’ll also need a bamboo mat (both found in Asian markets or online) for rolling and sushi (seaweed) paper.
Roll away: Moisten your hands with a damp rag before handling the roll. Pat down the desired amount of rice on the sushi paper, leaving about an inch on the long ends to seal the roll. (photo 1)
Flip the sheet over so the rice is face-down on the mat. Leave 1 to 1 1/4- inch on either side of the mat. (photo 2)
Place the roll contents along the middle, starting with the avocado, then layer the cucumber and other vegetables. Last, place the fish along the center. (photo 3)
Using the mat, begin rolling both the mat and sushi into a roll. (photo 4) Use the mat to tuck and push firmly as you roll, creating a tight, neat roll with a slightly flattened bottom. (photo 5) Remove the mat and cut using the damp knife. (photo 6) Sprinkle with sesame seeds to serve.
Spicy Tuna Roll Filling
-Scrape tuna meat off the skin with a spoon, or chop up the meat roughly to create a “tuna mash.”
-Season the tuna to taste with Sambal or Sriracha sauce (a chili sauce in the Asian section of most markets). Mix in sesame oil, finely chopped green onion and a dash of mayonnaise.
Kappa Maki roll
Not a fan of fish? Try this vegetarian roll wrapped in cucumber.
-Cut baked Portobello mushroom, asparagus, avocado and any other desired vegetables into thin slices or matchsticks.
-Thinly skin a peeled cucumber to make the “sushi paper” for your roll.
-Place rice and vegetables inside the peeled cucumber and roll.
-Recipes courtesy of Brendan McCue