Butterfly Shrimp and Other Fun With Laser-Cut Nori

butterfly shrimp

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.

decorative nori standing up

The same sheet, folded on itself.  Wouldn't that make beautiful sushi?


decorative nori folded over

How about a doily that goes on top of the plate?  I can imagine a server pouring hot broth directly on the seaweed

nori doily on plate

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!

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