Jim Arrigo creates make-at-home maki sushi
Jim Arrigo doesn't think long when asked to name his best culinary experience of the year so far.
It was "the sushi party," an event that actually straddled two years as a New Year's Eve party with friends at the Arrigos' Wheaton home.
From Jim's account, it was a challenging, hilarious, rollicking good time.
"It was a bunch of really good friends hanging around New Year's Eve, playing a running game of 'Deal or No Deal,'" sipping beverages and learning the ancient Japanese art of sushi making in one evening, he recalls.
While the women drank, encouraged and laughed, the men tried their hands making maki, traditional rice rolls typically filled with fish, vegetables and other assorted ingredients.
Jim supplied sushi-grade salmon, scallops, tuna, shrimp, eel and smoked salmon, plus sushi rice, seaweed sheets for rolling, vegetables like asparagus, daikon radishes and cucumber, cream cheese and traditional wasabi and pickled ginger.
"It was a hoot," says Jim, an attorney who is "on duty" in the kitchen every weekend and some week nights for family meals. "The first one people make is squished and funny looking; after that they get better."
Recipes? Not really.
"The recipe is whatever you like," he says. "I put out a ton of different ingredients on the table. We rolled and rolled and rolled until we had the equivalent of 30 maki."
Due to the volume of food and inexperience of the chefs the group finally sat down at 11:15 p.m., paused halfway through the feast to toast the New Year, and then proceeded with the feeding frenzy.
An adventurous cook, Jim doesn't blanch at new techniques and long ingredient lists when cooking for his family of four or for company. He plans ahead, making enough on weekends to help feed the crew during the week.
"He has often remarked that if we win the lottery he will chuck the rat race and go to cooking school for fun," says his wife, Chris.
One of the family's favorite things, she says, is when Jim goes searching through the fridge for spur-of-the-moment inspiration "and comes up with something spectacular out of odds and ends."
Generally those expeditions result in a stir fry, one of his specialties.
"I will do that at the drop of hat," says Jim, who also prepares Swedish pancakes, omelets and other breakfast treats for his two young daughters on weekends.
For Mother's Day, he grilled Cornish game hens and made celery root gratin with potatoes, cheese and saffron.
Jim is on-call at a DuPage County homeless shelter, where he sometimes supplies baked chicken, half a dozen meatloaves or trays of grilled chicken for 40 to 50 people.
"Cooking is my recreation and relaxation on weekends," he says. "It's a challenge for me to work on my technical chops in the kitchen and make people happy with good food."
Test your own chops this week with some of Jim's biggest hits. Regarding the sushi, he offers these tips:
"Properly prepared rice and ultra-fresh ingredients are the keys to great, do-it-yourself sushi. Your fish should smell mildly like the ocean, if at all, never fishy, and should spring back when poked gently."