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Movie Chowdown: Samurai Edition

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Here in America, we take sushi for granted. We have no problem consuming sushi from any source, ranging from hardly passable fare purchased at a grocery store to the overpriced but proportionally more delicious delights at an upscale Japanese restaurant. Anyone with a rice cooker or stove can attempt sushi making, and as such the mystique of really good, properly crafted sushi is all but a lost art here in the States. In Japan, its a completely different story all together.

In Japan, if you want to make sushi, it takes patience and commitment. Not patience in the "oh, I'll spend half an hour tonight on dinner instead of putting it in the microwave" patience, but "I'll spend the next three years just cleaning this sushi restaurant in hopes that one day they teach me how to cook the rice" patience. This commitment stems from a much more tightly knit social structure, where neighborhood restaurants live and die by their commitment to tradition, elegance, and "terroir".  As one famous chef put it, "ingredients make up about 40% of the meal, and the rest is technique."

"What the hell does this have to do with movies," you might be asking. Well, I'm getting to that. The patience and time-consuming craft that goes into making sushi in Japan bleeds (no pun intended) into the ways in which directors like Akira Kurosawa create their films. In The Bad Sleep Well, a tremendous and under-appreciated work by Japan's most famous director, one of the stars famously said that his jaw was in terrible pain during one scene because Kurosawa made him redo an eating scene over and over until he got just the right take. The dish? Rice.

 

The Movie

The Bad Sleep Well is one of Kurosawa's most underrated films, and one of his most gripping. Set in Japan just after the war, this story tells of a man consumed by the desire to avenge the murder of his father at the hands of ruthless businessmen. The film features Toshiro Mifune, this time without a beard, as the lead character, and a variety of Kurosawa stalwarts that round out the ensemble. The film's protagonist uses subtle, psychological warfare to take down his enemies, eschewing tactics from heavy-handed, modern samurai pics that contain dismemberment at a Tarantino-esque level. Check out this wonderful entry in the Kurosawa oeuvre, and it is stylistically much different than his samurai epics like Throne of Blood and Ran

Toshiro Mifune

The Food

You will need:

Sushi-grade rice (short-grain rice, from Japan)

Your favorite fillings, including but not limited to imitation crab, real crab, cucumber, avocado, shrimp, tuna, salmon, and anything battered in tempura

A sushi mat

Seaweed sheets

Rice vinegar (if bought pre-flavored, skip the sugar and salt steps)

A pot

A sharp knife

Sugar

Salt

Sesame seeds (optional)

Plastic Wrap

 

The first step is to wash the rice. Place 2 cups of rice in the pot, and fill the pot to cover the rice with water. At first the water will be milky and white, so you want to drain the pot of all of the water. Repeat until the water is clear, and then drain that water so just the rice remains.

Pour in 2 and 1/2 cups of water into the pot, and bring the mixture to a boil. Immediately reduce the temperature to low and simmer, covered, until the rice has absorbed all of the water, stirring occasionally to ensure the rice does not stick to the pan.

Whilst this is happening, mix 1/3 cup rice vinegar with a little bit of sugar and salt, and put to the side.

When the rice has finished cooking and has absorbed the water, mix in the vinegar mixture while the rice is still hot, and fluff the rice lightly to mix.

Take the pot off the heat and set aside for 20 minutes, so the rice has time to relax and become room temperature.

Julienne your ingredients (thin, about the size and shape of a matchstick), and set them aside. Cover the sushi mat with plastic wrap on both sides (this makes cleanup much easier). On the sushi mat, place one sheet of seaweed (or half a sheet, it should be slightly smaller than the mat itself), and cover the relaxed rice over the entire sheet, only about 1/4 inch of rice all around. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, and then flip the entire operation over so the seaweed sheet is facing up and the sesame rice side is on the mat.

Fill the middle of the seaweed sheet with your ingredients (fill sparingly, if you use too much filling the roll won't seal and you will have an open-faced rice sandwich).

Starting at the edge closest to you, roll the mat and sushi platform away from you, tucking in the filling as you go (If you have ever seen cigarettes or cigars rolled, its much the same fashion).

Unroll just the mat, and you should have a long log that is completely covered with rice, but filled with awesome. Remove plastic wrap from the rice. Take your knife, wet it with hot water, and make quick, clean, samurai slices to cut your roll into manageable pieces.

Samurai with sword

Consume with vigor, patience, fortitude, and the knowledge that one day, soon, you will avenge your father's murder. Like revenge, this is a dish best served cold, or, if you can't wait that long, room temperature.

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