Roll playing: Get creative with sushi (raw fish not required)

Danielle Hatch

With recipes (see related content)

When Cherie Moery-Metzka makes sushi at home, a sharp knife is a must. Raw fish, however, is not.

Moery-Metzka creates rolls out of anything she happens to have in the kitchen. She likes avocado with carrot shavings and cucumber, or asparagus with egg omelet, salmon and red pepper. Lobster salad with cucumber and scallion is a fresh combination, and sometimes she's in the mood for teriyaki chicken, mushrooms and snow peas.

"In a way, sushi is like pizza," she said. "It's whatever you want to put in it."

Moery-Metzka learned to roll sushi years ago, while working with Chef Francis Hughes to cater events at Jim's Steakhouse and the Contemporary Art Center. It took awhile to get the hang of making the rolls nice and tight. The rice is always a bit messy to deal with, and the nori - the seaweed wraps that hold all of the ingredients in – is fragile; if you get it wet it has a tendency to fall apart.

Moery-Metzka still experiments with different kinds of nori, as some are less flimsy than others. But the finished product is always fun to eat, and Moery-Metzka has been known to throw sushi parties for up to 25 people at the East Peoria home she shares with her husband, musician Joe Metzka.

"It's fun to engage people," she said, and many are a little squeamish about eating raw fish. Also, rolls made without raw fish will last a couple of days in the refrigerator, and eating raw vegetables is the best way to get the most nutrients out of your food, she said.

Sometimes Moery-Metzka incorporates a Korean flair by using marinated meats and vegetables, a nod to her mother-in-law Sun Cha Metzka's culinary customs. And the spicier the better, she says.

Moery-Metzka, who works as a mortgage abstractor and also makes jewelry, said she can find most of the basic ingredients at grocery stores in the Peoria area. Her mother-in-law makes occasional trips to Asian grocers in the Chicago area to bring back more exotic ingredients.

For sushi rolling parties, Moery-Metzka will chop up whatever vegetables she has, and she'll have ingredients like imitation crab and tofu on hand. She'll serve the rolls with an Asian slaw or steamed edamame with sea salt, and of course there is picked ginger, soy sauce and wasabi.

But don't blend the wasabi with the soy sauce, she warns.

"The Asian culture laughs at people who mix their wasabi in their soy sauce," she said. "You're just supposed to spread the wasabi on the sushi and dip it into the soy sauce."

Sometimes Moery-Metzka will break out the Kimchee - a spiced, fermented cabbage - and set out an assortment of wines, Japanese beers and saki.

The guests graze, and it's more elegant and less formal than a sit-down dinner.

"To me, saki with sushi is like sorbet after a fine meal," Moery-Metzka said. "It just sort of cleanses your palate after you take a sip of it."

There are a few things you'll need before throwing a sushi party. Sharp knives will make it easier to slice through the nori. Bamboo mats - Moery-Metzka purchased hers at Pier 1 - are essential for tight rolls, and covering the mats in plastic wrap makes cleanup easier.

"I don't have the patience to dig rice out of bamboo," she said.

Make the rice as directed, and don't try to get too creative with it. Keep a small dish of water nearby to wash the rice mixture from your hands as you're working.

Moery-Metzka said you can get creative and make patterns in the sushi, but that might result in a bulging roll that is hard to handle.

"Roll it really tight or else it crumbles," she said. "And make sure your knife stays clean as you're cutting - especially if you are using fresh fish - you want to have a sharp knife because you need to slice it really thin and at an angle."

Peoria chef Kevin Roecker, a friend of Moery-Metzka, helped her sharpen her knife skills. She said the process is not finished once you have the rolls sliced. Moery-Metzka said sushi should not only taste delicious, but look interesting, too. Feel free to get creative with garnishes.

"It's definitely about the presentation," Metzka said. "Most sushi chefs have fabulous knife skills so they can create flowers and animals out of anything."

Peoria Journal Star