When Americans think of Japanese food, we often think first of sushi. The truth is, sushi chefs spend a lifetime perfecting the craft of forming rolls and nigiri, seasoning and slicing the ingredients, cooking the rice just so, and even serving everything at the ideal temperature. That's not home cooking! When people in Japan do make sushi at home, it's more rustic. Temaki is perhaps the most casual presentation––and you can have fun making hand-rolls with your friends instead of struggling to impress them by constructing neat maki. Simple hold a square of nori in one hand, fill it with it with rice and whatever fillings you like, and loosely fold or roll it to eat.
Throwing a sushi party requires more shopping than cooking. You'll be in the kitchen only as long as it takes to cook a pot of rice, slice some vegetables, and snip standard-size sheets of toasted nori into quarters. Though a Japanese market will offer more variety of authentic ingredients, you can probably find everything you need in any large grocery store these days. Don't be afraid to experiment with some unconventional fillings (in Japan you'll even find things like creamed corn and tuna salad on sushi).
Some suggestions for what to put in the rolls include sashimi, roe, sprouts or microgreens, julienned carrot and daikon, cucumber matchsticks, umeboshi (pickled plums), and shiso leaf.
You can get sashimi grade fish from a good fishmonger or a high-end grocery store and cut it up yourself, but you will need a very sharp knife and a little skill. The easier route is to buy pre-cut sashimi. If your fishmonger or grocery doesn't have it, get an assortment of sashimi from a Japanese market or even as takeout from a sushi restaurant. Perhaps it goes without saying that you'll want to serve soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger alongside the sushi — if you buy pre-cut sashimi, they'll come with it.
Take care with the rice, and you won't be disappointed. Cook it precisely and flavor it gently. Sushi rice isn't really sushi rice without seasoning; making your own seasoned vinegar is easy, and you can adjust it to your taste (but if you can only find seasoned vinegar to buy, just omit the sugar and salt in the recipe). You won't become a sushi chef overnight, but you can make something really tasty and fun. Here's the only recipe you'll need to throw a great sushi party!
— 3 cups premium short or medium grain sushi rice
— 3 cups filtered water
— 1 4-inch square piece konbu (optional)
— 1/4 cup rice vinegar (not seasoned)
— 2 Tablespoons sugar
— 1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
In a heavy bottomed pot, rinse the rice in several changes of cool water, until the water runs clear. Pour off all the rinse water. Add the filtered water and the (optional) konbu.
Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid. Do not remove this lid until the rice is finished, listen to the pot to know what is happening inside.
Bring the pot to a full boil. You will hear it rumble, and steam will push its way out at the edges of the lid, and the water may even boil over a little.
Turn the burner down to the lowest possible setting, and set a timer for 18 minutes.
While the rice is cooking, make the seasoned vinegar. Combine the sugar and salt with the vinegar in a jar, and shake until they dissolve; set aside.
When the timer goes off, return the heat to high for one minute, or until you hear the rice crackle. Turn off the heat, and leave the lid on for five more minutes (if your stove is electric, remove the pot from the burner).
Lift the lid and gently fluff the rice using chopsticks; discard the konbu if using. Transfer the rice to the largest bowl you have, or better yet to a large cutting board. Enlist an assistant if you can: you need to sprinkle the seasoned vinegar onto the rice and toss the rice to coat it evenly, at the same time as you fan the rice to cool it (a small rectangle of cardboard makes an effective fan). When the rice is evenly seasoned, shiny, and dry, it's ready. Serve right away or within a few hours.
In cool weather, leftover rice can be stored at room temperature overnight. Refrigeration will make the rice hard, but then it's perfect for making fried rice the next day.