On a Roll

Getting Back to Basics with Sushi 101

The Sushi Club of Houston's founder teaches us how (and how not) to do sushi.

By Ross Livingston June 30, 2016

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Hey, it's a start.

Image: Ross Livingston 

Carl Rosa founded the Sushi Club of Houston in 2006 after moving to Houston from New Orleans. He now recalls being shocked at what some sushi chefs were trying to pass off as sushi in the city. Today, with more than 17,000 members, the club is the largest of its kind in the country. Through the club and his Sushi 101 classes, it is Rosa’s goal to educate as many people as he can—with the hope that with smarter consumers, Houston sushi chefs won’t dare put out inferior product.

But the word has gotten out beyond Houston—Rosa now travels the country putting on classes, preaching the sushi gospel. We thought we knew a fair amount on the subject before attending the Sushi 101 class last Saturday evening and expected just to learn how to prepare some basic rolls at home. Turns out Rosa is teaching so much more.

Yes, we did make our first attempts with a bamboo mat. For now, we don't think any sushi chefs around town need to worry about us taking their jobs.

But it was the lessons beyond maki making that left us the most satisfied. Rosa taught basic etiquette while eating at the sushi bar. Most of us have now heard that it's gauche to whip up a wasabi/soy dipping sauce mixture. If you haven’t, please stop doing that. Just stop. The friend that taught us the "trick" years ago did us a disservice. Did you know that you’ll elicit the same disapproving look from the sushi chef if you’re one of those who tries to start a fire by furiously rubbing your chopsticks together? And really, why are you using chopsticks anyway if you’re eating nigiri? Nigiri literally means “grab.” So eat with your hands, it’s more fun anyway.

The lesson continued with the rice. Quality sushi is all about quality rice, Rosa stated. We learned what to look for when judging the quality of a sushi restaurant. Is the rice cold? It’s not good sushi. Making the rice at home? Use sushi seasoning instead of rice wine vinegar and for the love of all things sushi do not mix the rice using a metal instrument. When a metal comes in to contact with a vinegar it causes a chemical reaction that will turn the rice's flavor to something that resembles aluminum foil. Yummy.

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Chef Horiuchi need not worry.

Rosa also taught how to avoid some wallet-emptying pitfalls when looking over the menu at a sushi restaurant. That Galleria Geisha roll you’re eyeing? Check out the ingredients. It’s nothing but a California Roll with some spicy mayo on top with an eye-catching adjective like “crunchy” in the description (if you just have to have some spicy mayo, Rosa taught us how to make that too). Of course restaurants need to make a profit, but it doesn’t mean you need to throw your money out the window because you like the name of the roll.

Rosa unabashedly claimed he wants his students to go forth and scare sushi chefs with the knowledge they gain. And now, we feel confident doing just that.

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