Over a year ago I experimented with laser-cutting nori, the dried seaweed paper used commonly in making rolled sushi. Because nori is flat, thin, and dry, it cuts extremely well with a laser, and I was able to get extraordinarily high-resolution cutouts. Because I didn't always have access to the laser, I wanted to find a way to keep producing cut nori at home--and I found one. The QuicKutz Silhouette SD Digital Craft Cutting Tool ($199) is a computer-controlled craft cutter designed for cutting paper and light cardstock. It works by moving the material backward and forward while moving a very sharp blade side to side (and up and down). Although the nori was too brittle to handle intricate cutting on the Silhouette, I was still able to successfully cut a few dozen different patterns. If you want to experiment with this technique at home, a craft cutter is the way to go.
The picture at the top is (what I'm calling) Butterfly Shrimp. It's wholly impractical, a little ridiculous, and really funny. I've also created an edible butterfly using wasabi as the body, with two wings skewered in.
The next images are of the most intricate pattern I attempted to laser-cut. It's an amalgamation of traditional Japanese stencil designs. I think of this nori sheet as a kind of edible doily… a garnish that is ornate to the highest degree. It casts cool shadows, too.
The same sheet, folded on itself. Wouldn't that make beautiful sushi?
How about a doily that goes on top of the plate? I can imagine a server pouring hot broth directly on the seaweed
I do think that there are good applications for laser-cut and laser-etched foods, nori or otherwise. You may recall that I used this technique to garnish a duck consommé a while back. Unfortunately, do to the elasticity of damp nori, this technique only works well on dry surfaces, which most sushi preparations are not. I plan to experiment in the same way with phyllo dough – my plan is to build a Moroccan-inspired "lampshade" out of a single layer of baked phyllo. We'll see how that works out!