“When making sushi, place your nori seaweed sheet with the shiny side facing down.” That was the first of many sushi-making secrets I gained from a recent hands-on Sushi Workshop at Viking Cooking School.
Located inside Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City, Viking Cooking School is a recreational cooking institute specializing in hands-on classes for home cooks and impassioned foodies. The interactive classes range from Pizza Workshops and Mexican Fiestas to elaborate French Dinner Parties and Date Nights.
The Viking classes are an exciting way to learn skills and techniques from the experts. And it’s downright fun to prepare dishes that are outside of your usual weekly rotation. Best of all, when the preparations are through, you gather with your fellow classmates to savor the meal you just made.
The state-of-the-art Viking kitchen is located on a main concourse at Harrah’s and enclosed in glass. This means your culinary efforts are on display. Passersby are not at all shy about pressing their noses to the glass to see just what you’re making in there.
The kitchen can welcome a limited group of 16 participants per class, working together in groups of four. While it’s fun to go with friends and share the experience, solo attendees will find it’s a great way to meet interesting people who share your appreciation for good food.
A Very Sushi Sunday
Our class of 15 met at 11 a.m. on a Sunday for a three-hour workshop. My husband, who worked in a professional seafood restaurant kitchen years ago, was my cooking partner for the day. Sharing our table were Bobby and Bailey. We introduced ourselves and quickly found common ground in our appreciation for healthful cooking and a love of rescued dogs.
We were greeted by Chef Brittany, who had us don our aprons and fill out nametags while she reviewed the recipes we would be making that day. She directed us to three hand-washing sinks so we could safely handle our food. She then invited us to enjoy a pre-made Chambord cocktail and light snack of salt and pepper edamame. The class was already off to a tasty start.
After our nibbles and sips, we gathered around Chef Brittany’s table to see her demonstrate the cucumber roll (Hosomaki). We carefully watched her every move as she aligned her bamboo sushi mat with the edge of the table and placed her nori sheet (shiny side down, rough side up) atop the mat. She then dipped her hands in Tezu, a water-rice vinegar mixture, and grabbed handfuls of the sticky sushi rice from a nearby bowl. The rice is evenly pressed to cover all but the upper ½” or so of the nori. I was amazed at the amount of rice that went into each roll.
Once the rice layer was complete, she added wasabi and toasted sesame seeds. Then she laid several long, thin slices of cucumber toward the bottom of the sheet and demonstrated how to use the bamboo mat make the perfect roll. She made it look easy. I had my doubts.
Then it was back to our tables to attempt to construct a cucumber roll for ourselves. We all dipped our hands into the Tezu and got down to business. My husband quickly had our side of the table coated with runaway sesame seeds. Laughs ensued but we still remained focused on the task at hand. And while “delicate” would not be a word anyone would use to describe my first somewhat hefty sushi roll, I was rather pleased with the outcome.
We placed our rolls on serving platters beneath the work surface, cleaned our tabletop with a food-safe sanitizing wipe, and went on to challenge number two.
Next up was the spicy tuna roll, and out came bowls of fantastic-looking Bluefin tuna, which Brittany explained must always be purchased frozen. As a bit of a self-professed tuna-holic, I thought the Bluefin looked exceptional. Throughout the class, the ingredients we used were all top-notch and abundant.
The “spicy” quality of the spicy tuna roll comes from a zesty mixture of Japanese mayonnaise, green onion and Asian chile garlic sauce, which we mixed at our tables. The roll was constructed in a similar fashion to the first, and my technique improved greatly on this version. In fact, Chef Brittany borrowed my roll as an example for the class. Sweet success! Onto the serving platter my spicy tuna roll went.
It was about this point in the class that Chef Brittany started pouring complimentary wine for those who wanted it, with the condition that she wouldn’t “lose” any of us.
Our third roll presented a twist: it was a California roll (Uramaki) that we would roll inside-out. Once again, we watched Brittany’s technique (picking up a very showy move for removing an avocado pit) and returned to our tables to give it a go ourselves.
This time, after covering the nori with rice, we were instructed to flip the sheet over and fill the other side with wasabi, fresh crabmeat and toasted sesame seeds. So when the sheet was rolled, the rice would be on the outside of the roll. This is easier said than done but all in all, the group at my table rose to the challenge. Onto the platter went my third relatively chunky sushi roll.
The platter was already sporting a generous amount of food, and we didn’t stop there. Out next came bright pink smoked salmon and beautiful shrimp on skewers for hand-pressed sushi (Nigiri-Sushi). We sliced the salmon and butterflied the shrimp, which were then placed atop small rectangles of hand-pressed rice. A thin band of nori made each piece look like a finely-wrapped gift. We each added several hand rolls to our already-full platters, sliced our sushi rolls and finally it was time to eat.
Time To Dine
After another round of hand washing, the class moved to the adjoining dining room which features an impressively large communal table. More wine was poured and as people took their seats we shared a toast to the wonderful meal we had all worked to prepare.
The well-appointed dining room is set back in an alcove which provides diners with a cozy sense of privacy that creates a perfect backdrop for a meal to remember.
In addition to the ample servings of sushi we had made for ourselves, there was a bowl of hot Miso Soup waiting at each place setting. It was a delicious blend of dashi, red miso, fresh shiitake mushrooms, soft tofu and green onions.
The conversation flowed as we all dug into our hand-made delicacies. We made a valiant effort, but it quickly became apparent that there was no possible way to eat all the sushi we had made. At the end of the meal we were each given a printed packet of the day’s recipes, along with bonus recipes for the Miso Soup. We were also invited to keep our aprons as a memento of our class and time together. I have been using mine while whipping up dinner ever since.
No Clean Up
Here’s the best part – no clean up. As we were dining, the Viking Cooking School elves set to work cleaning our workstations and removing the trash we had created over the past three hours, including the sticky rice that now coated the floor and my husband’s trail of sesame seeds.
More Excitement in Store
Upon our exit, Chef Brittany offered all class attendees a 10% discount at the adjoining Viking Cooking Store. The stylish retail space has everything from food-scented candles to Viking brand cookware. Food lovers could easily spend an hour browsing the extensive collection of cookbooks, small kitchen appliances, serving pieces, infused oils, salsas and kitchen gadgets.
The store showcases products from several wineries including Valenzano Winery located in nearby Shamong, New Jersey. Valenzano is known for making a selection of wines which are non-traditional and locally grown. Viking Cooking School offers Valenzano’s Jersey Devil Port, White Cranberry and Blueberry among others.
Going Back For More
I thoroughly enjoyed my first foray into the world of Viking Cooking School and am already eyeing the schedule of future classes for a return visit. With a calendar that’s filled with experiences that include “Latin Sizzles,” “Backyard Entertaining,” “Southern Specialties from the Hit Movie ‘The Help’,” “Classic Steakhouse,” “Mediterranean Grill,” and “Macaroons and Whoopie Pies,” the only difficult part is choosing. To see a list of upcoming classes, visit www.vikingrange.com and make your plans to attend Viking Cooking School – the most enjoyable school on earth. Taste the adventure!