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giving thanks

Recipe: tora no maki roll

Thanksgiving is about food, loved ones, and giving thanks. We have the food in spades, loved ones too – although we’re not with friends or family today. And then there is the thanks. I have a lot to be thankful for.

I got my breast cancer diagnosis just over a year ago, right before Thanksgiving. We were waiting for biopsy results and so Thanksgiving was a bit of a bust. While we had a quiet holiday that year – just me, Jeremy, and the dog – the uncertainty of our future and of my life hung heavily over the day. There was no point in crying, no point in making any plans because all we could do was wait and keep a level head about it. It was surreal, but at the same time I would rather it be me than anyone else I cared about. My treatments turned the past year on its head. Jeremy and I forged through it together, but chemotherapy was an incredibly isolating, dismal, freakish experience: physically, emotionally. While I pride myself in my ability to reach from within for the strength to plod through shitty times, I could not have gotten through it on my own.

I thank every day that I have Jeremy in my life. I will be forever grateful to those loved ones who were there for me when I needed them most. I’m thankful for my tele betties who gave me something to look forward to each week when I began my chemo. I’m thankful for my awesome physicians, nurses, radiation techs, and PT. I’m thankful for the incredible friends I have made (and even met!) through this blog and for all of the use real butter readers who make me laugh and cry and laugh some more. And lastly, I am thankful to be alive and relatively well. Well enough to hit the slope today…

getting my tele legs back this morning

happy thanksgiving, everyone!

I say “slope” instead of “slopes” because our local hill has only ONE run on the big mountain open right now. Slim pickins as far as snow goes, but we’re getting a little snow over the holiday weekend. Anyway, skiing is the reason I made turkey dinner on Monday, because I didn’t want to babysit a turkey today. I’d rather ski than roast a turkey any day. But a girl has gotta eat, right?

we started with some grilled prosciutto-wrapped shrimp

and then sake (salmon) sashimi

One of our favorite rolls at Sushi Tora is their tora no maki roll. It combines creamy and crunchy textures, sweet and salty flavors, and cool and warm temperatures all in one delectable bite. Today was the first time we made the roll at home.

it’s an inside-out roll

sake (salmon), unagi (eel), avocado

The assembly is much easier than the not so special roll because there isn’t any mixing required. After spreading the rice on part of one side of the nori, Jeremy flipped the sheet over and layered avocado, salmon, and masago (flying fish roe). He rolled it up in a sheet of plastic wrap and a bamboo mat so it’s compact and generally cylindrical in shape.

filling the roll

roll it up

After unwrapping the roll, we set a layer of unagi on top of the roll, covered it with the plastic wrap, and pressed it again with the bamboo mat. I typically like to keep the plastic on when I slice the roll – it keeps things from getting unbelievably messy. Then when I’m done slicing, I just peel the plastic off. The one thing I have not been able to find in stores is the sauce that sushi chefs always brush on barbecued eel. So I finally went searching through my two Japanese cookbooks and found a sauce that I could make at home. SCORE!

placing the unagi on top of the roll

brushing on the sweetness

The toro no maki was fantastic and we had enough unagi to make two rolls. I feel as if I’ve achieved a small victory though, because I can now make my own sauce for the eel which goes beautifully with tons of other sushi like tamago and tempura. Yipeee!!!

turkey day, my way

Tora No Maki Sushi Roll
[print recipe]

4 cups cooked, seasoned sushi rice
1 package of sheet nori
1/2 lb. sake (salmon), sliced into 1/2-inch thick strips
1 lb. unagi (eel), sliced into 1-inch strips
8 tbsps masago (flying fish roe)
1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted, and sliced
eel sauce
toasted sesame seeds
soy sauce
gari (pickled ginger)

eel sauce
6 tbsps soy sauce
4 tbsps mirin
2 tbsps brown sugar (or caramelized sugar syrup)
dash of rice wine vinegar

To make the eel sauce: Combine ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to boil. Let boil for a minute or so and reduce to simmer until slightly thickened. Let cool (it will thicken some more, so don’t boil it down too much).

Assembly: On a sheet of plastic wrap, set down one sheet of nori. With wet hands, grab a handful of sushi rice and evenly spread across the top 3/5 of the nori sheet, pressing the rice down to ensure it sticks to the seaweed. Flip the nori over so that the rice faces down onto the plastic wrap. At the non-rice end of the nori, lay out salmon, avocado, and masago, leaving a little room on either end. Take care not to overfill the roll. Roll the fillings up from the non-rice end of the nori (like a carpet) and continue to roll tightly, but not too tightly until the rice encompasses the entire outer part of the roll. Use the plastic wrap to help maintain shape without letting the roll stick to you. Use the bamboo mat to firm up the shape and compact the roll. Remove the bamboo mat and the plastic wrap from the roll. Heat the eel in an oven until very warm. Place a single layer of eel on top of the roll and then cover with plastic wrap and bamboo mat to press the eel to the roll. Remove the bamboo mat. Slice through the plastic wrap with a very sharp knife dipped in water, to get 8 even pieces. Brush eel sauce on top of the pieces and garnish with sesame seeds. Serve with wasabi, gari (pickled ginger), and soy sauce. This should yield 4 cut rolls.

39 nibbles at “giving thanks”

  1. Rosa says:

    A marvelous recipe! Those sushis looks beautiful and extremely scrumptious! Happy Thanksgiving!



  2. Tartelette says:

    Unagi…yum!! My favorite…hands down!
    What a great Thanksgiving spent on “zee” slope :)
    I am thankful for your gift of frienship Jen, and the constant laughters.

  3. Ronine says:

    Beautiful writing on your thanks, Jen. I’m so happy that this past difficult year has also given you some new things to be thankful for.
    And thank (!) you so much for the recipe on eel sauce. My all-time favourite sushi is unagi and I was sad to read that it’s now on the ‘avoid’-list ( However sushi is so expensive here in Switzerland that we haven’t had to worry about the background of their unagi yet. I will now try to find some sustainable freshwater eel at the fish monger and test your sauce. Did you bbq’e it yourself?

  4. Maja says:

    Ever since you posted a sushi recipe a month (two, maybe?) ago and i told my sister i now have a sushi recipe i’m sure will be delicious, she has been nagging me when will i make sushi. Now it appears i have two recipes … thank you! :) I hope it won’t mean twice the nagging, i have thesis to finish. :) Your thanksgiving post was lovely, it made me read through with a smile and watery eyes. Best wishes to both of you! :)

  5. Manggy says:

    Congratulations! I think you officially have the lightest Thanksgiving meal ever :) I love me some Unagi. I think I’ll order whatever sushi we have here that has in on top next time.
    I’m thankful for having met you, Jen :) And thankful that you are alive and relatively well too! (Gosh, I’m a little verklempt reading this… I can’t even begin to imagine how emotional it is for Jeremy.)

  6. Mrs Ergül says:

    first thought: you 2 have got some gorgeous skiwear! Niceeeeeeee

    Thanks for reminding us to be thankful for all we have got. I am thankful I found your blog and get to know such a personality amongst other things.

    You take care! xxoo

    P.S Yummy-licious sushi there! I’m craving it now!

  7. nina says:

    I am not bad with making sushi, but your efforts are clearly superior to mine. I love the addition of eel!!!

  8. joanne at frutto della passione says:

    Thank you for your blog, thank you for your photos (which I love), thank you for your candor and a super thank you for your recipes.
    Have a great weekend, we will (first snowfall of the year today, me and the boys will be playing outside tonight!)

  9. Anna says:

    I’d choose salmon sashimi over Turkey ANYDAY. <3

  10. barbara says:

    I’m thankful for your friendship ad support Jen. Cancer is a bitch but it has brought some beautiful people into my life – you especially. xxoo

  11. Blond Duck says:

    Happy Thanksgiving! My Mom had breast cancer two Thanksgivings ago so I know the feeling very well. Congrats on kicking it!

  12. Astrid says:

    May you have many more snowy ski slopes this winter and the next 80 winters to come!
    Thank you for your blog. Though, really, it’s kind of a torture looking at the photos of your sushi. I would give all the turkeys in the world for a roll like that…

  13. Fiona says:

    What great news. I was wondering about your tele-plans the other day, because you haven’t really mentioned them. It’s so good to see you out doing what you love.

    That’s the perfect roll for me – all my favorite things. But I’ll probably still go out for sushi. The Japanese population here (thanks to a large Toyota facility) means that there are sushi restaurants that fly in fresh fish daily. But at the grocery stores the fish isn’t good enough for me to buy for cooking, much less sushi.

    Here’s hoping for tons of snow on your mountain. Happy holidays.

  14. Bridget says:

    Interesting idea to leave the plastic on while cutting the rolls. I should definitely try that, because I always get frustrated during that part of making sushi rolls.

  15. jenny says:

    Glad you had a good thanksgiving and did what you wanted too, I’m really jealous you’re out skiing!! Beautiful pictures, as always…

  16. lk says:

    It is a very touching story to me. Yup, we must always be thankful for being healthy in the this world. Our health is our wealth. Your tora no maki sushi rolls looks super duper delicious! Great photos!

  17. tokyoastrogirl says:

    Happy Turkey Day to you and Jeremy. I’ve been reading your blog for a few months and you are a constant source of inspiration. Thanks for being so honest about your experiences. Your cooking, photography, athletic ability, writing and relationships with famliy and friends are all on such an amazingly high level…and the fact that you do it all while working through cancer just kicks my ass into gear every day- most people only hope to live as balls out (‘scuse the phrase but dang it you’re ballsy as hell!) as you do and I only hope I can grab life by the horns with the gusto that you do. Seriously, you rock.

  18. cookiecrumb says:

    Love and good health to you.

  19. Kathy says:

    Happy Thanksgiving! I am thankful for your beautiful, always inspirational stories and photos.

  20. Woolly says:

    Great post… and I am thankful to have found this Blog so I can get excited about food again. I will admit I have come here quite often to look thought your recipes for dinner ideas! So thank you…. and keep posting!

  21. Pam says:

    I am so glad you were able to get up on the mountain – what a wonderful way to spend Thanksgiving. The sushi looks fantastic.

  22. Mollie says:

    Now that is a meal I would give thanks for! Looks outstanding. That sauce is magic stuff – I’ve always wondered what exacatly it was at sushi bars. mmmm

    Seeing those pictures of you on the slope (ha!) makes me very very happy. :)

  23. Margie says:

    I am thankful for your inspiration. Since stumbling upon your blog I have found myself in awe. Your writing, photography and sheer will are uplifting in ways that you cannot imagine. Happy Thanksgiving holidays to you!

  24. Melissa says:

    Happy Thanksgiving! Seeing you on the slope is something to be grateful for indeed.

    And eel sauce!! Yes!

  25. Maja says:

    I just needed to share with you, Jen, it finally snowed here, so much so that it slowed the traffic and that every sound is dampen down by the snow. :) Have a great day! :)

  26. Maya says:

    A lovely picture! You are truly inspiring.

  27. Manisha says:

    Hot! That’s you! Love those pictures of you!

  28. Nate says:

    That is a beautiful roll! Thanks for the eel sauce recipe too.

    You’ve been tagged! Come visit my site for details.

  29. Andrea says:

    I could eat that any day of the week, not just turkey day. :-)

  30. Irene says:

    What a great roll and it looks like it was a fantastic day! Happy Thanksgiving *your* way. :)

  31. robin // caviar and codfish says:

    Oh, awesomeness. I love making eel sushi at home but always have to have it with soy sauce. Thanks for this sauce, Jen!

  32. Susan at Sticky,Gooey,Creamy,Chewy says:

    What a year it has been, Jen! I’m so thankful that this Thanksgiving finds you in a much better place than the last. I’m praying for nothing but good things for you and Jeremy in the future. You deserve it, my friend!

  33. White On Rice Couple says:

    We’re so happy to see you guys back on the slopes again! You guys are in your element: with each other and outdoors, in the snow. *loud applause*!

    We’re thankful to blogging first, because without it, we would not have you guys in our lives. Then next, of course, our puppies because of them, we have the bond of canine unconditional love. Then lastly, our friendship that only gets better with time.
    Now, gimme some of that sushi roll to celebrate dammit! If I can’t ski, I want some sushi…..

  34. Ginny says:

    You are so lucky to have snow and be able to ski at this time of year. I can’t wait but in the East Coast, it isn’t quite the same.

  35. peabody says:

    Yay for snow and getting to ski!

  36. Deacon-Frost says:

    Adding this blog to the list of things im Thankful for.
    And that roll looks amazing.

  37. Passionate Eater says:

    I know I am a little late in responding to this post, but thanks for sharing so openly about your personal struggles. I have been more or less a silent follower of this blog, but when my Dad went through the excruciating chemo process, your openness made it easier to relate to him (a traditional, quiet, and stoic Asian father). I am thankful for your inspiration (and your awe-inspiring creations and photos).

  38. jenyu says:

    Rosa – thank you, dear!

    Tartelette – hee hee! You are such a sweetie. Thank you, Helen. Thank you for being you.

    Ronine – Ooh, I didn’t know it was on the list! I bought my unagi from Whole Foods (already bbq’d), and they are usually really good about that. I’ll be sure to ask them next time. At the sushi bar, I usually get anago (cheaper) :)

    Maja – I have another one coming up soon too! thanks :)

    Mark – ha ha, but it FELT so heavy! Don’t cry, sweetie. When you finally come out to visit, we’re going to split our sides making fun of one another :) xxoo

    Mrs. E – thanks, love :)

    Nina – *blush*. I’m sure your sushi making is awesome!

    Joanne – yay for snow and thank you for your sweet comment!

    Anna – ahhh, you speak *my* language, dear.

    Barbara – *big hug* I can’t tell you how much that means to me.

    Blond Duck – thank you.

    Astrid – thanks for the kind wishes. Sushi isn’t all that hard to make though! I’ve spent the past several years figuring it out :)

    Fiona – We don’t have much of a Japanese population, but we have several good sushi bars in Boulder. Still, it’s sooo much cheaper to make your own and I trust my fish dude at Whole Foods to hook me up right! Happy holidays to you and Chuck and the wee one :)

    Bridget – all of our favorite chefs do that for the messy rolls. It’s a great way to keep it neat!

    Jenny – thanks!

    Ik – thank you :)

    Tokyoastrogirl – you are too kind. Listen, as long as you get out and live life, then you’re kickin’ ass too :)

    Cookiecrumb – aww, thanks dear. xxoo

    Kathy – thanks.

    Woolly – hello hon! Thanks and it’s always good to hear from ya.

    Pam – thank you. I hope you all had a nice holiday too.

    Mollie – me too. Now we know the recipe for the secret sauce. Just don’t go pouring it into your mouth ;) xxoo

    Margie – thank you, and I hope you and your family had a great holiday.

    Melissa – :) thanks!

    Maja – woohoo, snow! I hope you get to enjoy it, whatever you end up doing!

    Maya – oh, thank you, sweetie.

    Manisha – don’t make me laugh! Next time it will be YOU in the pic :)

    Nate – thanks for the tag. I’ll try to get to it this year.

    Andrea – hee hee, same here.

    Irene – thank you.

    Robin – it’s all about the sauce, chica.

    Susan – you are such a dear one. Thank you. I hope for nothing but the best for you and the SGCCs. xxoo

    WoRC – awwwww :) If you guys come visit us, you can ski AND have sushi! I swear it.

    Ginny – I know what you mean (having grown up on the East Coast and gone to grad school there). That’s why I live here. But I’ll keep fingers crossed for ya.

    Peabody – w00t!

    Deacon-Frost – thank you.

    Passionate Eater – I hope your Dad is okay. Asian dads can be odd like that (although mine is untraditionally loud and a big goofball). Thanks for commenting.

  39. FoodieView Blog » Recipe Roundup: A Sampling of Seafood says:

    […] the fish in suhsi rolls and sashimi is full of protein and calcium. Jen has a great recipe for salmon avocado eel sushi roll and Beachlover Kitchen shares an exotically exquisite mango and salmon maki. Margotís salmon, […]

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