THERE were two things I knew about sushi beforehand: It’s a Japanese dish and it’s raw fish.
OK, so there was one thing I knew about sushi.
“Sushi means ‘with rice’,” says Paul Thacker, Chino Latino’s head chef.
“Most people think it’s raw fish but it’s a dish that can be made with any kind of filling, meat or fish or vegetables, such as avocado, sweet potato and cucumber.”
Their signature sushi, the Chino Latino roll, is actually made with shredded duck.
“When we first opened in Nottingham not a lot of people knew about sushi then. So the duck helped them understand it wasn’t just raw fish.”
Just eight of us are sat around a table facing Chino Latino’s sushi chef Son. He stands over a table of dead fish, like a knife-wielding teacher.
Given the nod, he proceeds to fillet the salmon, seabass and tuna.
We’re at the Maid Marian Way restaurant, adjacent to the Park Plaza Hotel, for a sushi masterclass.
More often than not, when visiting stars want sushi, they end up in Chino’s -- everyone from England cricketers to Mick Hucknall to WWE wrestlers.
I’d never even eaten the stuff, never mind made it.
Rice I can deal with but uncooked fish?
I’m used to it leaning up against a pile of chips in a batter jacket.
Or sealed in a plastic bag and boiled.
Or flaked then mushed with mayo between two slice of wholemeal.
Before we took our seats, I had a nibble from the bar and didn’t like it.
The flavour was too strong, the texture too... weird.
“Most people who eat sushi for the first time are not keen,” Paul admits.
“It has a natural gagging effect because you’re putting raw fish in your mouth and you’re not used to it. But the more you eat the more you grow to love it.”
The blue apron and gloves, last seen in an episode of Silent Witness, suggest we may be in for a messy session of fish gut splattering but thankfully it’s not the case.
Son, who started working in restaurants in Thailand at the age of 13, will hand us two inch slices of seabass, tuna and salmon that is ready to go.
The fish is gutted as soon as its caught, we’re told. Leave the guts in too long and it’ll smell fishy.
Says Paul: “A way to check for a good quality fish is the gills, which should be bright red, the eyes should be clear and it shouldn’t smell too strongly of fish.”
Most fish from the supermarket will suit except the tuna which has to be sushi graded.
Chino’s use tuna from the Maldives that is flown in within 48 hours of being caught.
And it’s tuna that sushi starters are advised to try.
Says Paul: “It hasn’t just the texture of raw fish as there are crunchy elements to it, so the brain is being told ‘this isn’t so unusual.’”
We’re also given a bowl of cooked sushi rice. It’s short-grain rice that is washed free of starch, drained, boiled in a pan, then flavoured with vinegar, sugar and salt.
It’s sticky, hence the bowl of water.
“It’s important to keep the hands wet to stop the rice sticking.”
The bamboo rolling mat, which I last used in the 70s as a table mat in a caravan somewhere , is called a maki su.
And finally, a flat green sheet of what looks like blotting paper called nori.
“It’s seaweed,” says Paul, who does all the talking, while Son does all the work.
“It’s been cooked to a pulp, dried pressed and cut in to a sheet to roll the sushi in.”
The idea is a simple one. Mush some rice in your hand, flatten it on to the nori, drag a bit of wasabi which looks like dried mushy peas or pickled ginger a.k.a. sushi gari, drop in a couple of fish bits and using the sushi mat, roll.
Squash in to a square shape. Cut the green sausage in to six, prop them upright and drop a bit of soy sauce on to the top.
That’s the maki roll.
For the hand rolled sushi you use one hand and create an ice cream cone.
That’s how it simple it looks, at least . To do yourself is messier. The rice sticks to the hands and ends up all over the mat and plate.
And with the rolling you end up with a fat middle and bits of fish hanging from the end.
But we don’t do too bad.
It takes three months training to be reasonably adept, says Son, who has worked as a sushi chef in Holland and Israel. He came to Nottingham five years ago.
Says Paul: “He can make a sushi meal of one maki roll and five pieces of nigiri in 60 seconds.”
Quips Son: “If I go slow, I have no job.”
Judging by our efforts, he’ll be OK for a while. Woe betide him should they ever stick frozen fish fingers on the menu...
To enrol on a sushi master class at Chino Latino, £20 per person, call 0115 947 7444.