We all know about raw fish in sushi. But cream cheese? Or sweet potato? And how about strawberries?
To Jordan Buckley, 28, who teaches others how to be Sushi Savvy in his Stansbury Park home, the fun part is experimenting with different ingredients.
The day he let the Transcript-Bulletin watch him make Japanese-style sushi rolls in his kitchen, he made a modified California roll, a jalapeño jelly-topped roll, a hand roll stuffed like an ice cream cone and a dessert roll. Although raw fish is the most famous ingredient, Buckley cautioned to not use raw fish at home.
“Most people don’t just have fish in the back fridge,” he said. “[Raw] salmon has a parasite you can have for life.”
At its most basic, a sushi roll starts with nigiri, a sticky ball of white rice mixed with warmed rice vinegar, sugar and salt. Most grocery stores tout special bags of short-grained sushi rice and that’s preferred, but Buckley said one can use any long-grain white rice. Wash it thoroughly until the water runs clear, cook it according to directions on the stovetop or in a rice cooker, and then mix it in the sushi vinegar.
Beside a glass baking pan of prepared rice, an array of vegetables and meats sat in piles on Buckley’s kitchen island. Trays held imitation crab, homemade crispy chicken tenders, baby shrimp, green onions, cucumber, avocado and green pepper, as well as tempura-style carrots and sweet potatoes.
For toppings, Buckley laid out jalapeño jelly, a bowl of sunflower seeds and a container of red tobiko, or flying fish eggs. Homemade pickled ginger cleansed the palate between sushi rolls. Dessert ingredients included thin slices of mango, plum, white peach and strawberry.
To shape a sushi roll, Buckley typically adds a drop or two of mayonnaise on plastic gloves, so the rice doesn’t stick to his hand as he forms the sushi balls. Then he sets them down on a plastic-wrapped bamboo mat.
His two daughters, 4-year-old Lindsey and 2-year-old Chloe, sat on benches in their white aprons with their own bamboo mats. Chloe eventually wandered off, but Lindsey stayed put, eating bite after bite of rolls covered with tobiko.
Buckley’s wife, Kylie, 26, said: “She loves to eat tobiko out of a bowl. They pop in your mouth.”
Although Kylie loves sushi as much as their daughters, she didn’t like it at first. On her third date with Jordan while attending Dixie State University in St. George, he treated her to sushi from Harmon’s.
“I didn’t want [sushi],” Kylie said. “The thought of eating something raw didn’t sound good.”
Once she tried it, however, she got hooked.
Their daughters have been sushi savvy practically from birth.
“We went out to Simply Sushi six weeks after Lindsey was born,” Kylie said. “She reached out past a small bowl of sticky rice and grabbed wasabi (a spicy sauce). She turned bright red, then grabbed some more.”
After their time in St. George, the family moved to Logan to attend Utah State University. So they could eat sushi regularly, Jordan sold plasma at the local blood bank. Nowadays, with a full-time job at a local restaurant, he doesn’t have to go through such drastic measures. That’s also because he’s learned that sushi doesn’t have to be expensive.
“For under $20, we once made a full tray of sushi that fed me, my wife, my kids and my mother-in-law,” he said.
Late last year, Jordan started Sushi Savvy to combine his passion for sushi with his love of teaching.
“I love making sushi,” he said. “I love eating it and I love teaching, so why not do all of it?”
Jordan said the point of the sushi class is to show how to make everyday sushi with the cheapest ingredients.
“That’s the fun thing about not doing things traditional,” he said. “Besides, if I was trying to be traditional, I wouldn’t have any women in the kitchen. Fortunately, this changed in the 1980s.”
While rolling sushi, Jordan shared the folktale of how sushi got started.
A seaside village in Japan was continually being raided and their food stolen. During one such raid, a woman took her burlap of food and found a tree to hide it in. After she went back to the village, nesting sea-birds left bits and pieces of fish in the hidden burlap. Upon the woman’s return, she discovered that the rice and fish had fermented in the sun. Thus was the birth of the first sushi roll.
Although he’s never been to Japan, Jordan said that is his dream someday. Meanwhile, he brings Japan to his kitchen.
To make a fat roll, he spread a half-inch layer of sticky rice on a square of nori, or dried seaweed, and then turned it over on a plastic-covered bamboo mat so that it was facing up. Then he put a trimmed green onion and a long piece of imitation crab on a soft strip of cream cheese. He wet the edge of the seaweed sheet, then rolled the sushi with the bamboo mat, forming one edge into a peak.
“The mat gives the sushi roll an even shape,” Jordan said. “The goal is to make every bite consistent.”
For dessert, he drizzled melted chocolate on fruit-stuffed sushi topped with strawberry slices.
In his kitchen, Jordan uses a special knife, a sashimi knife, that he keeps super-sharpened as tradition dictates. On his first day working at a sushi bar as a server, the chef cut his hand. Jordan remembered the chef saying, “Oh no, not again.”
Along with this knife, he uses a special cutting board. Thirty years ago, the roughly 2-square-foot wooden board was half of his dad’s desk. Jordan inherited more than his dad’s desk. His dad, who either owned or helped at a pizza parlor and bakery in California, also passed down his love of cooking.
“When I was 6 or 7, I made butter fudge out of butter, cocoa and powdered sugar,” he said.
Growing up in a large blended family of 18 (10 kids from a first marriage, and eight from the second) with tight finances, he learned “a hundred ways of making Top Ramen.” Today, he still relishes the challenge of opening the fridge and making something delicious out of any available ingredients.
With brothers who are artistic in some form or another, Jordan felt a little out of place.
“I’m horrible at art,” he said.
To him, making sushi is his form of artistic expression. Although he grew up eating rice often and has in-laws from other cultures, Jordan didn’t really get into making sushi until he started working at a Salt Lake sushi bar in 2009.
Jordan learned the basics on the job, such as rice and vegetable preparation, as well as how to make different kinds of sushi rolls. He now passes down that knowledge through private sushi-making lessons. Those interested can contact him on his website, besushisavvy.com.