Marisa Baggett is an American sushi chef and the author of Sushi Secrets and Vegetarian Sushi Secrets. We recently sat down with Marisa to hear her thoughts on how to make delicious sushi at home.
Why did you decide to start a sushi blog?
Before I formally studied sushi, my introduction to making sushi was through books I found at my local library. No websites or videos were available. The methods were often hard to replicate, and the ingredients were challenging to find. After learning more about sushi preparation, I wanted to simplify the process for anyone who was interested in making their own sushi.
Some people may assume that since you grew up in the South, you would be an expert on Southern cuisine. How did you gravitate toward sushi instead of comfort food?
I have always been curious about other cultures, particularly the foods they eat. I was nearly 22 when I first experienced sushi. The neat little morsels were beautiful and intriguing. I was mesmerized. I guess you could say it was love at first bite. Something about sushi drew me in like nothing else; I was immediately hooked. There was no question that sushi would be my lifelong passion.
If someone said to you, “I tried to make sushi once, but it was way too difficult,” how might you respond?
I completely understand! The first time I tried to make sushi, it was an incredible mess. That happens because many books and sources teach methods that are intended for professional sushi chefs. Who can do that?! Try methods that are tailored specifically for home cooks. Not only will you have more fun, but you’ll be more successful.
What’s one thing about sushi that most Americans don’t know about?
Please put down the chopsticks. Sushi is the ultimate finger food. When eaten properly, the toppings – not the rice – should hit your tongue first. This is incredibly difficult to do if using chopsticks. Also, eating with your fingers can help keep splashes (and accidental slips!) at bay. Trust me, the sushi chef will know that you are a sushi insider if you skip the chopsticks. Just be sure to use them if eating sashimi – seafood without any rice.
Why have you chosen to focus much of your attention on vegetarian sushi?
When you think of sushi, vivid colors and jewel-toned studs of ingredients come to mind. And when you’re enjoying sushi, you want to know without a doubt that it has been created with the freshest ingredients available. The visual and fresh aspects of sushi can be achieved to a certain degree with seafood, but is more easily achieved by using in-season produce.
This is particularly true if you are making sushi at home. The freshest produce can be found practically anywhere. What better way to take advantage of the in-season items from your local farmers market?! And with a rising emphasis on plant-based diets, vegetarian sushi is highly in demand by both vegetarians and meat eaters.
Could you share with us one of your favorite sushi recipes that is also easy to make?
This recipe uses pickled okra – one of my favorite Southern-inspired ingredients. The pickled okra is stunning inside the rolls, but also delivers an unexpected flavor punch. You can enjoy these rolls with soy sauce; or for extra oomph, you can use sweet chili sauce.
What other types of Asian foods, dishes, or salads can be served with sushi?
I like to view sushi as part of a “small plates” experience. Eaten with several other small portions, sushi can make a complete and filling meal. A small bowl of Miso Soup with creamy tofu is a great side regardless of the season. A nice salad, whether it is a Ginger Dressing Salad or a crispy marinated Sesame Cucumber Salad, complements the tangy sushi rice. Gyoza, crispy bottomed dumplings with various fillings, are my personal favorite.
For budding sushi chefs, what are some key ingredients to have on hand in their kitchen at all times?
I think there are three basics that every sushi pantry should include – unseasoned rice vinegar, short grain sushi rice, and nori (sheets of dried sea vegetable). These ingredients are easy to find whether you’re in Mississippi or Manhattan. They each also have a long shelf life, so you can buy them in bulk. And perhaps best of all, you don’t have to reserve them just for sushi making. I use rice vinegar almost exclusively for salad dressings and marinades. Sushi rice is delicious as the base for almost any rice dish. And nori is tasty as a snack or crumbled into flakes to sprinkle on fries and popcorn.
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