Recently, we were fortunate to see the new documentary, Jiro dreams of Sushi. This documentary follows 85-year-old master sushi chef Jiro Ono, owner of the esteemed 10-seat, $300-a-plate Sukiyabashi Jiro restraurant in Tokyo.
Since all of us at Food411 dream of sushi on a regular basis we decided to research this very popular food. Here is our "411" on this wonderful addition to the American table.
In general, Americans believe sushi is simply raw fish - but raw fish is actually sashimi, not sushi. This incorrect belief of what sushi is has left many Americans unwilling to sample sushi as an appetizer.
While many believe sushi is raw fish, it's important to note that sushi doesn't even have to contain fish at all. Granted, fish and seafood, especially raw or cured fish, is one of the most popular ingredients in sushi, but it is not necessary.
Sushi actually is characterized by a slightly sweet, sticky rice, made with a sweet vinegar. Ingredients for sushi include fish (cooked, steamed, raw or cured), seafood, raw and steamed vegetables, and cooked egg omelet. As you can see, while sushi can contain raw fish, sushi itself is not actually raw fish.
Japanese Sushi was developed hundreds of years ago to prevent fresh fish from perishing. The actual origin of this method however was not in Japan but in other South-East Asian regions. To preserve the fresh raw fish by using fermentation it was salted and pressed in layers of rice. A heavy stone was used as a weight to achieve the needed pressure. Fermented like this it was possible to eat the fish even months later. First the rice was thrown away, later on it was eaten together with the fish. In the middle of the 17th century the Japanese discovered that the fermentation could be accelerated by adding vinegar to the rice.
There are mainly two styles of Sushi: The Kansai-style from Osaka, and the Edo-style from Tokyo.
The more popular type of preparation for Sushi developed around the region of Edo (the name of Tokyo until 1868). Slices of fresh fish were taken as cover for rice tidbits that were pressed and formed by hand. This kind of Sushi is called Nigiri-zushi and today is spread throughout the whole world.
Less known is the Kansai-style. It is a form of preparation that developed in the region of Kansai around Osaka, the economic center of Japan. The fish is pressed together with the rice in a trough and afterwards cut it in pieces. This is called Oshi-zushi.
Sushi is a very healthy meal. It is a low fat, low calorie, high protein meal. The fatty acids in fish help to prevent strokes & heart attacks. A typical Sushi-meal with 8 different Nigiri and two pieces of a roll contains about 450 calories.
Tips when eating at a Sushi restaurant:
At the beginning of the Sushi-meal you will usually get a hot towel, an Oshibori, to wipe over your face and hands. When your chopstick are not in use, lay them down parallel on the small ceramic rest provided. You will have a small ceramic dish to put in soy sauce . The most common beginner's sushi eating mistake is mixing soy sauce and wasabi on the same piece of sushi. This is a no-no! Soy sauce breaks down wasabi and if you mix them on a plate, the wasabi becomes lumpy. The two provide very different tastes that are not meant to be combined. Many sushi eating experts agree it's best to alternate a piece of sushi dipped in soy sauce with a piece spread with a small amount of wasabi. Believe it or not, the exact same type of sushi will taste entirely different when it is dipped in soy sauce versus spread with wasabi. The soy sauce is to flavor the fish, not the rice, so you should dip the fish into the soy sauce. Soy sauce will break down the rice. Wasabi is the better choice for the rice side of sushi or using on rolled sushi.
After dipping, a sushi piece is eaten with one bite. You are not supposed to take bites from sushi and then sit it back on the plate. This is considered unclean and insulting. If a piece of sushi is too large to put in your mouth in one bite, it is acceptable to ask the sushi chef to cut the pieces for you.
Most restaurants that serve sushi will serve thin slices of pickled ginger with the sushi. Many Americans place the ginger on the sushi roll and eat it with the sushi. This is not proper! The pickled ginger has a pungent, strong flavor and is meant to cleanse the palate when you change from one type of sushi to another or after you have eaten sushi and prior to eating another dish.
Sushi should be as fresh as possible and should be eaten immediately upon being served. Additionally, one should not eat other things while eating their sushi. A true sushi chef may become quite upset if you leave the fresh sushi he has prepared sitting uneaten while you finish your soup or other dishes.
Clean your plate completely, leaving not even one grain of rice. To leave food on your plate is an insult to a Japanese chef. Because of this, you should not pour more soy sauce than necessary. It's more acceptable to pour soy sauce more than once than it is to leave it left over on your plate or dish.
Sushi Rolls at home
Maki-zushi is vinegared rice combined with seafood and vegetables then wrapped in an edible seaweed called nori and sliced into rounds is far easier to prepare in your own kitchen than nigiri-zushi, and so very delicious. The recipes are in this link, they require a sushi mat (readily available in kitchen stores).
Sushi "hand rolls" are another fun & delicious change from regular sushi. You can make the hand rolls in advance, or lay out all the ingredients on a table and let your guests create their own rolls with their favorite fillings.
A "raw" fish recipe easily made at home
- 1 pound sushi-grade ahi tuna, also known as yellowfin tuna
- 3 scallions, finely chopped (white and light green parts only)
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (from 2 medium limes)
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 4 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
- 1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- Fresh herbs finely chopped (cilantro, flat parsley)
- Rice crackers for serving
Trim any dark flesh and fat from the tuna and discard. Dice tuna and place in a large bowl.
Add all remaining ingredients. Serve immediately with rice crackers.