Hold A Roll-Your-Own Party... No Not That! Sushi!

There's more than one way to roll sushi. At a recent roll your own sushi party one woman suspiciously prodded a gleaming slice of raw tuna with a chopstick before filling her roll with sprouts. Her companion squinted in concentration as he arranged avocado slices on rice with mathematical precision. And one chivalrous guest assembled a giant roll for his loved one, deftly licking the edge of the seaweed to seal it up tight. Just think of it as a fish spliff!

Few party foods are more engaging than sushi, especially when the guests make their own maki (sushi rolls). But putting together a sushi dinner party is actually pretty simple once you have a few key pieces in place.

Whether you hang strings of Japanese paper lanterns and try your hand at ikebana floral arranging or go for simple flowers and a few candles, there are plenty of ways to create ambience. Set a low table with square plates and chopsticks, and provide pillows or cushions so guests can sit on the floor.

Green tea and warm or cold sake (Japanese rice wine) are traditional accompaniments to sushi, but you might want to start the evening off with Japanese beer or some sake cocktails like a saketini (gin or vodka and sake), a kabuki (sort of a sake margarita) or a haiku (sake and dry vermouth). Have bowls of rice crackers and edamame (boiled, salted soybean pods) to give guests something to snack on before the sushi.

Sushi rice is steamed short grain rice seasoned with a mixture of rice vinegar, sugar and salt. You'll need a wooden rice paddle or spoon, a large nonmetalic bowl, and a hand-held fan (a piece of paper or cardboard is fine) to cool the rice as you stir in the seasoning. Have a big batch of sushi rice ready when guests arrive, kept covered to prevent it drying out. Two cups of dry rice will make about 6 cups cooked: enough for 8 big sushi rolls or 24 small ones.   

Fish that is to be eaten raw should be the freshest, best quality fish you can find. Buy sashimi-grade fish from a reputable fish market. Fresh fish is shiny and firm to the touch, not slimy, and it should never smell "fishy." Use an impeccably clean knife and cutting board to cut the fish into thin slices for sashimi or strips for rolls, and keep it refrigerated until you're ready to start rolling.

Provide the ingredients for making traditional rolls like crab and avocado or tuna and green onion, or experiment with unusual fillings like watercress and papaya or cooked kabocha squash and pumpkin seeds. Offer a few different kinds of sashimi-grade raw fish, cut into strips; cooked prawns; fresh or canned crabmeat; and thin strips of assorted vegetables, and let guests create and name their own rolls.

You'll also need plenty of sheets of nori (dried seaweed), little bowls of soy sauce, and piles of pickled ginger and wasabi (Japanese horseradish).
   
Set up a table or counter with everything guests will need to make their own rolls, including bamboo rolling mats (one for every two or three guests), plates of precut fillings for the rolls, and bowls of vinegar-water for dipping hands to keep the rice from sticking. Also have plenty of napkins, a cutting board and a sharp knife.

Those reluctant to try rolling have a few other options. Chirashi sushi ("scattered" sushi) is a bowl of seasoned rice topped with pieces of fish, vegetables and shredded nori. The free-form cone shaped hand roll is a square sheet of nori filled with rice and fish or vegetables. And it's easy to make a meal of sashimi: pieces of raw fish eaten without the rice. When the party winds down and everyone has eaten their fill, hot green tea and homemade or purchased green tea ice cream make a light, festive finish.

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