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Owner of Sushi Kosho gives tips for making your own sushi

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You don’t have to be Jiro Ono, the sushi master in the 2011 documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” to turn out a maki roll with your own two hands.

You don’t even need to order raw fish from a fishmonger, such as the famous Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo.

But if you love to wrap and roll, sushi is bound to be delicious fun, even without all those hard-to-pronounce Japanese fish names. Simply slice up a few easy ingredients — vegetables like carrots and cukes, seafood like smoked salmon and cooked shrimp — and make a big pot of sushi rice. Then invite some friends over for a roll-your-own party, complete with bamboo mats, pickled ginger and sake.

“You can make a delicious sushi with vegetables, and it takes the worry out of it,” said Jake Rand, chef/owner of Sushi Kosho, the modern Japanese and sushi restaurant that reopened last July in The Barlow in Sebastopol after suffering damage from last February’s flooding.

“People don’t know how to slice the fish and where to find it,” he added. “You can use smoked salmon and cooked shrimp instead of raw fish.”

Rand, who has visited Tokyo’s renowned Tsukiji Market and now gets his seafood from its new location at Toyosu, also in Tokyo, has always been drawn to the simplicity of sushi, from his first job at a sushi restaurant in Durango, Colorado, to a gig at the acclaimed Sushi Den in Denver. That led him to enroll in the Japanese studies program at the University of Colorado and to travel extensively throughout Japan.

“I’ve done it for a long time, and it’s timeless,” he said of the art of sushi. “I really like the transfer of knowledge from one chef to the other. There’s no sushi academy. Why do you wash the rice five times? You learn from a master, and that’s how you master it.”

The chef moved to California in 2011 and worked at several well-known restaurants, including Eiko’s in Napa, Sushi Ran in Sausalito and Two Birds/One Stone in St. Helena.

Although you can go to Rand’s redesigned restaurant and order all kinds of nigiri, sashimi and rolls — plus classic starters like Seaweed Salad, sushi appetizers and veggies and meats cooked on his new, infrared grill — Rand likes the idea of home cooks demystifying the ancient ritual by throwing a veggie-centric sushi party.

“You can put together a dinner party for eight people for just $150 bucks,” he said. “I think it’s fun. You do the mise en place, give everyone a mat and set out the vegetables and seafood.”

Although you may need to guide them on the rolling technique — keep the mat tight as you shape the sushi rice inside the nori — Rand suggested giving guests total creative control with the ingredients.

“Sushi is never going to be bad,” Rand said. “So create a fun atmosphere by letting people try different combinations.”

The most crucial ingredient is the sushi rice — it must be cooked correctly, then marinated in a combination of rice vinegar, sugar and salt, and then cooled so it is glossy and tender, but not sticky or overcooked. However, it’s not difficult to master.

Rand’s tips: Wash and rinse the short-grain sushi rice a few times before cooking, then , warm the rice vinegar, sugar, salt, mirin and kombu on the stove. After the rice is done, add in the rice vinegar mixture, then spread the rice out on a baking sheet to allow it to cool quickly, so it doesn’t cook too long.

“You can let it air dry or use a fan,” he said. A blow dryer on low setting also works to cool down the rice.

For veggie lovers, Rand suggests preparing thin strips of raw cucumber, avocado, carrots and daikon radish. Sauté spinach and mushrooms lightly, and cook the shrimp in boiling water, then let cool. You could also sauté some eggplant and peppers.

When all the guests arrive, serve them warm bowls of Country Miso Soup from Sushi Kosho, featuring mushrooms and seaweed floating in an umami-rich broth of homemade dashi (recipe below).

For dessert, Rand suggests baking individual Matcha Butter Cakes, baked in muffin tins with Japanese green tea powder, vanilla and equal parts sugar, butter and flour, similar to a Basque-style cake.

Along with a ponzu sauce for dipping the sushi, don’t forget to pick up some Japanese beer and sake to slake your guests’ thirst.

“I prefer the cold sake, but sakes can be served at any temperature,” Rand said. “Just put the bottle in a pan with water.”

At Kosho, Rand’s goal is to expand the paradigm of Japanese food from the ’80s and ’90s, when the menus were confined to sushi, grilled shrimp, udon soup, tempura and bento boxes. To reflect his restaurant’s provenance, he likes to incorporate more modern elements like California produce and Wagyu beef, along with other savory, Japanese street foods.

“We try to be a really great restaurant, using simple, fresh ingredients and items off the grill,” said Rand, who owns the restaurant with his father and wife, Danielle. “I always aspired to be a great restaurateur.”

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“Prepare all ingredients and rice ahead of your guests’ arrival,” Rand said. “Set the table with sushi rolling mats, rice and prepared ingredients and suggest guests mix and match to create their own perfect roll. Serve the miso soup when everyone has arrived.”

Rand suggests shopping for ingredients at Asiana Market, 7665 Old Redwood Hwy., Cotati; or Asia Mart, 2481 Guerneville Road, Santa Rosa.

Interactive Sushi Party

Makes 8 to 10

1 English cucumber, seeds removed and cut into 6-inch pieces and sliced thin

3 avocados, sliced

1 pound baby spinach, sauteed, cooled and pressed dry

2 organic carrots, preferably heirloom varietal, peeled and sliced thinly

1 piece daikon radish, peeled and sliced thinly

1 pound shiitake mushroom, sliced thinly and sauteed

1 enoki mushroom, stem removed and pulled apart

1 pound smoked salmon

1 pound white shrimp, shell on, deveined

— Toasted white or black sesame seeds

1 bag nori seaweed (for rolls)

1 bamboo rolling mat per person

— Small bowls of water for each person to keep hands damp

For shrimp: Skewer shell-on shrimp with 4-inch bamboo skewer and drop into boiling water until the shrimp rise to the top. Immediately transfer cooked shrimp to ice water bath to cool. Remove skewer and shells. Add shrimp to reserved sushi rice vinegar (see recipe below) and let marinate for 20 minutes.

Sushi Rice

Makes 8 to 10 servings

4 cups short-grain sushi rice

For vinegar seasoning:

1 cup rice vinegar

6 tablespoons natural sugar

.45 ounce mirin (1 scant tablespoon)

1/2 inch piece kombu

1.12 ounces salt (2 generous tablespoons)

Rinse rice in medium bowl until water becomes clear, about five times. Transfer rice to strainer and let dry for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine all remaining ingredients in pot and bring to a low simmer, allowing sugar and salt to dissolve. Strain and reserve.

Add rice and 41/2 cups filtered water to heavy-bottom pan and bring to a boil. Cover and turn heat to low, cooking for 20 minutes. Transfer rice to large mixing bowl and slowly add 3/4 cup vinegar seasoning, mixing with a wooden spatula. Spread rice out onto a baking sheet to allow it to cool quickly and evenly. Serve at room temperature with sushi roll ingredients. Reserve remaining rice vinegar for shrimp in recipe above.

Sushi Kosho’s Country Miso Soup

Makes 8 to 10 servings

2 1/2 quarts filtered water

2 1/4 ounces kombu (Japanese kelp)

1.65 ounces katsuo bushi (bonito flakes) (scant 3 1/2 tablespoons)

1 ounce white miso paste (2 tablespoons)

1 ounce red miso paste ( 2 tablespoons)

1/2 cup soft tofu

1/4 cup green onion, sliced thinly

1 Shimeji (clamshell) mushroom, stem removed and pulled apart

1 Enoki mushroom, stem removed and pulled apart

1/2 teaspoon dried wakame seaweed

For the Dashi: Bring water and kombu to a low simmer and maintain heat (don’t boil) until the kombu sinks to the bottom of the pot, about one hour. Using a strainer or tongs, remove kombu from water and set aside. Add katsuo busyhi without stirring. Return to low simmer and remove from heat. Allow katsuo bushi to steep for one hour and strain through a fine mesh strainer. Discard katsuo bushi flake and reserve all liquid.

For the soup: Add both miso pastes to the cooled dashi broth and return to heat. Stir well until miso is fully incorporated. Meanwhile, divide mushrooms, tofu, green onions and dried wakame evenly into 8 to 10 soup bowls. Bring soup to a low simmer and remove from heat. Ladle warm soup into bowls and serve immediately.

Matcha Butter Cake

Makes 12 individual cakes in muffin trays

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups butter

1/2 vanilla bean pod, split and scraped

3 small eggs

1 1/4 cup flour

2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 teaspoon matcha powder

1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar on medium speed until thoroughly combined. Slowly add vanilla and eggs and continue blending on low speed until mixed.

Change mixer attachment to dough hook and mix all remaining dry ingredients into batter. Stir on medium until fully combined. Evenly divide batter into 12 silicone cupcake or greased muffin tins, filling each three-quarters of the way. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out dry.

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.

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