Japanese short-grain rice, when prepared for sushi, is known for its ability to stick together while maintaining the integrity of each individual grain of rice. Sushi chefs know that the rice, mixed with a small amount of vinegar and sugar, sticks to itself, to the deep-green nori sheets used to make sushi rolls and to your cutting board, your knife, your fingers and just about anything else it comes in contact with.
"Don't touch the rice with your bare hands," chef Tyler West instructs. He's wearing blue food-service gloves as he forms his warm rice into different sized balls, showing sushi class attendees how to press the balls down onto the nori in a thin sheet using a paddle or chopsticks. But West isn't really wearing the gloves for hygienic reasons; after all, he's live-streaming the class from miles away from most of his students in his Denver Sushi House kitchen, part of a new pick-up-and-delivery program launched by Colorado Sake Co. to reach new customers during April's statewide stay-at-home period.
West and the Colorado Sake Co. team are sending home sushi and sake kits to customers nearly every night of the week for the classes, which they try to limit to about ten orders a night so that the online sessions feel intimate and the Zoom feed doesn't get overwhelmed. The kits include enough seafood, rice, nori and veggies to make six rolls (two each of three different styles), plus a rolling mat, chopsticks, wasabi, soy sauce and pickled ginger. Oh and the most important part: two 350-milliliter bottles of Colorado Sake Co. sake: the American Standard (a junmai ginjo, if you're into details) and one flavored sake, such as raspberry-lavender. The sake brewery makes twelve different flavors, so check to see what they're sending out with your kit; if you're nice, they might swap in something you request.
During the class, West shows how to make surimi (imitation crab) hand rolls, which come out shaped lie a miniature flower bouquet if you follow his instructions closely; tuna rolls filled with your choice of veggies (the kit comes with asparagus, bell pepper, scallion, cucumber, shredded carrot and microgreens); and uramaki, salmon rolls with the rice on the outside.
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West paces the class well and pauses frequently for participants to catch up and ask questions, and there's usually a member of the Colorado Sake Co. team off-camera to answer any questions about the sake. The kits ring in at $80 and are built for two, and you can add more bottles of sake for $10 each. At 15 to 16 percent ABV, the sake is a little stronger than most wines, so pace yourself by using a small cup or glass. Keep them chilled while class is in session, and make sure you save some of the American Standard to sip with your finished dish, since it has a natural affinity for the delicate flavors of sushi.
To participate, you'll just need a cutting board, a sharp knife and a computer with a video camera. You and your sushi-rolling partner can be on screen if you want so that you can interact with your classmates; it would probably be fun to have your friends in other parts of town sign up on the same night for a social-distancing sushi party.
Sign up for the Denver Sushi House classes on the Colorado Sake Co. Facebook page (clicking "Get Tickets" will take you to an Eventbrite page for online payment). The classes are currently offered every Wednesday through Sunday, with two sessions on Friday and Saturday nights. Once you pay, you'll receive a Zoom meeting link shortly before the class begins. Colorado Sake Co., at 3559 Larimer Street, is also selling sake without the sushi kits for pick-up or delivery from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Call 720-449-6963 to order.