"Panda Express ain't no sushi," remarks Jerry Jan, head chef at RA Sushi, with candor. "Do not get sushi from there."
Unsurprisingly, Jan says what elevates sushi is the freshness of the fish. Most quality sushi restaurants pick their catch right out of the water, put it on ice and have it delivered to their doors almost daily, whereas other fix-it-quick sushi chains keep their fish frozen for days on end.
The quality of vegetables and rice are also paramount. Even though RA Sushi is a chain restaurant, Jan makes sure the avocados, cucumbers, cilantro and rice he uses in his meals are all premium-grade, and he receives new batches of fish every other day.
And veggies and rice in sushi aren't the only option. "We use a lot of fruits," says Jan. Mangoes, kiwis and oranges are all used to accentuate his dishes.
Despite the freshness of the fish, the crispness of the vegetables and the grain of the rice, some food patrons still find themselves recoiling in fear at the thought of ingesting raw fish. To that end, Jan tells customers, "Let's take it one step at a time."
"I'd recommend them trying some basic rolls," Jan says. Simply put, a sushi roll, or "maki," is a seaweed spread filled with rice, some type of veggie and fish that may or may not be cooked, then rolled up "like a burrito." Rolls come in endless varieties. Jan primes his patrons on California rolls, followed by a shrimp tempura roll and finally, a spicy tuna roll.
Once the chef has gotten his guests "on a roll," he then takes them to the next level with "nigiri," or fish on rice. If guests are really feeling brave, he offers them "sashimi," which is a dish that features the raw fish all by itself and perhaps flavored with different sauces and marinades, as in the case of the chili ponzu yellowtail -- a popular choice, he adds.
Jan, a Houston native, has been in the restaurant business for 11 years. He was thrust into the world of cooking soon after graduating from Clements High School, and sushi has become one of his specialties -- so much so, in fact, that he has been giving Sushi 101 classes at his RA Sushi location, where he teaches such basics as how to make a California roll, how to make rice, where to buy ingredients and the key tools used in making sushi. Advanced participants learn how to make specialty rolls. Jan also owns a food truck, Curbside Eatz, that serves Asian comfort food to the Washington area Wednesdays through Sundays.
To learn how to make your own sushi, visit Jan's upcoming Sushi 101 class to be held March 10. For more information, contact RA Sushi at 713-331-2792.