The Story of Sushi (2007) takes a closer look at the classic Japanese dish that conquered the Western world. Discover the secrets of both traditional and more modern sushi ingredients – and discover the rituals and techniques used to prepare the perfect nigiri.
About the author:
Trevor Corson is a writer and philosopher. He studied philosophy in China, lived in Buddhist temples in Japan, and spent time on commercial fishing boats off the coast of Maine. He frequently writes for the New York Times. His other books are The Secret Life of Lobsters.
What’s in it for me? Become a sushi connoisseur!
Twenty years ago, sushi was a novelty in most places outside Japan. Since then, it’s become a takeaway staple, served in fashionable restaurants and sold pre-packed in supermarkets. But, despite its ubiquity, most people know relatively little about it.
Most folks think sushi is all rice, seaweed, and, of course, raw fish. But what about all the vegetarian sushi options out there? Here, we’ll delve into the story of sushi: how it’s made and its cultural significance. When we’re done, you may be a sushi connoisseur.
In Japan, sushi may be a source of health and well-being, and this outlook has spread to other cultures.
For many kids, eating healthy foods like broccoli or spinach could be reasonably torture. You most likely remember being told to end your vegetables – but unless you grew up in Japan, you were probably never admonished for failing to complete your sushi.
In Japan, sushi has an everlasting reputation as a source of strength and physiological state for adults and kids alike.
There’s a famous Japanese children’s story, written by the poet Kanoko Okamoto in 1939, called “Sushi.”
The story centers on a little boy who is such a picky eater who becomes weak and sick. So, his mother sits down with him to arrange some unique sushi to urge her child to eat.
She makes sure her boy sees how clean her hands are, so she begins the fragile process of rolling the sushi and preparing it with unique, nutritious toppings. After seeing what proportion love and care his mother puts into the food, he agrees to eat.
By the top of the story, the boy has learned to like food. He grows up healthy and robust and becomes a famous sushi chef. Like his mother, he takes care to arrange the proper sushi for every customer.
Today, this appreciation of sushi’s unique qualities has reached far beyond Japan.
Californian jock Kate Murray discovered the advantages of sushi as a young adult within the early 2000s. After suffering a sports injury, Murray had to exercise, which led to illness and uropathy.
To make matters worse, Murray spiraled into depression and commenced eating only nutrition. Fortunately, a fan introduced her to sushi; Murray immediately fell smitten with the food, and her metabolism kicked right back to gear.
Part of Murray’s appreciation came from the friendly and attentive sushi chefs who created the proper role for each customer.
Murray decided to become a sushi chef herself, and, as we’ll see, there have been more sushi secrets she unlocked.
There are common misunderstandings about what “sushi” means and the way it should be eaten.
When you consider the word “sushi,” you almost certainly associate it with fish. But the word means something else entirely.
In Japanese, “sushi” refers to the rice and the old way the dish was consumed.
“Sushi” specifies a singular form of round-grained rice that’s seasoned with salt, sugar, and rice vinegar.
Making sushi rice is such a skill that traditional Japanese sushi chefs are trained for two years before going to a different ingredient. The rice is so crucial that sushi restaurants want to have a full-time specialist whose only job is to organize it.
Interestingly enough, once you return to the earliest version of sushi, the rice plays a very different role.
After the rice was cooked, it was left to ferment in alcohol to act as a preservative for the fish. Naturally, during this version, the putrid rice was disposed of before the fish was consumed.
Times changed, however, and, as sushi spread to the West, habits formed that corrupted the everyday enjoyment of sushi.
For example, in many of today’s sushi bars, you discover people smothering their sushi rolls in an exceeding mixture of wasabi and soy, which completely ruins the fragile flavors.
It is particularly blasphemous since sushi is about appreciating the flavors prepared by the chef, not just the salty condiment and spicy Japanese horseradish.
Another sushi bungle is to devour all the gari or pickled ginger before you even eat your first roll. Gari is meant as a palate cleanser to be eaten between the various sushi rolls to prevent lingering flavors from mixing.
However, if you need to dunk your sushi roll into the condiment, there are correct thanks to doing it: avoid the common mistake of dunking the rice, and ensure you dip the highest layer of fish into the soy.
Sushi chefs have a unique technique to make light and airy nigiri.
Japanese sushi chefs can spend a lifetime mastering the art of handcrafting the proper nigiri, the name given to some rice with different toppings.
But there are some general rules that every one chef follows to realize the proper nigiri.
A primary goal is to create the sushi roll light and airy by packing the rice together during a ritualized process.
It starts with the sushi chef taking a couple of rice into his paw and shaping it into a cylinder.
With his mitt, he flips a bit of fish into his open palm, so he curls the paw into the form of a U so that the cylinder of rice is lightly placed onto the fish.
The chef then gently squeezes the rice into a triangular shape, then into a cylinder. This vital process allows air to enter the nigiri, preventing the sushi roll from being too densely packed.
A good sushi roll should be firm enough not to collapse but loose enough to dissolve in one’s mouth.
There are even scientific studies of the right nigiri: MRI scans show that the most spartan sushi rolls do indeed contain more air than the inferior ones.
In the next step of the method, the sushi roll, now topped by the slice of fish, is turned over into the mitt, where it’s pinched into a more rectangular shape.
Finally, the left repeatedly forms a U shape so that the chef can lightly move on the fish to get rid of any remaining air separating the fish from the rice. This way, he will be sure that the fish will continue the roll.
During the method, the chef handles the chilled fish just long enough to warm it up slightly, so it is often served at vital signs, the best condition for sushi.
Shrimp may be a recent addition to sushi menus, but concerns about using the curious creatures.
One of the foremost popular items at your local sushi restaurant is probably going to be a nigiri topped with shrimp, primarily if you reside within us.
But this can be a comparatively recent addition to the sushi menu. After warfare II, shrimp only joined the list of popular toppings when the Tokyo way of constructing nigiri spread throughout the West.
By the time it arrived within you. s., shrimp was a traditional delicacy, and chefs were quick to begin using the ingredient.
Nowadays, most sushi menus feature one among two variations on shrimp: they’re either raw and transparent or cooked to a pink and white color, which is the more popular method in America.
Everyone knows how tasty fresh shrimp is – but less is thought about the journey a shrimp takes before it arrives on your plate.
Most curious is that the Pandalus Borealis, a shrimp that spends the preceding two years as a sexually active bachelor before transforming into a female, turning its testes into ovaries and mating with young males.
But of more concern are the moral issues surrounding shrimp’s role within the world of sushi.
The first issue stems from shrimp beginning to decompose after they die because of certain enzymes within the crustacean.
Therefore, sushi chefs have to keep the shrimp alive for as long as possible, which results in ripping the tails off of live shrimp just before preparation.
Equally concerning are the environmentally hazardous methods surrounding shrimp fishing and farming.
Trawling could be a typical shrimp-fishing method that involves dragging huge nets through the ocean that always trap and kill a spread of other species, including endangered ones like sea turtles.
And shrimp farming isn’t far better. Indeed, countless acres of invaluable mangrove habitat is destroyed so that the coastal lands might be repurposed as farms.
People use different names to explain the maturity of a fish, but everyone agrees, wild fish make the most straightforward sushi.
Have you ever found yourself during a sushi restaurant, staring uncomprehendingly in the slightest degree at the unfamiliar ingredients on the menu? If so, you’re not alone. Deciphering the main points of a sushi menu is a form all its own.
After all, it’s not precisely general knowledge that Japanese talk to yellowtail tuna as “ascending fish,” thanks to the progression of flavor changes that happen within the different stages of the fish’s development.
It means that young yellowtail caught heading north through the ocean will appear as Inada on the menu, and this fish contains a distinctly different taste than Buri. This yellowtail has matured and is caught during its return south to get eggs.
To make matters more confusing, different terms are going to be utilized in other parts of Japan.
In Tokyo, as an example, people recognize five stages of development for the yellowtail with a mostly different set of names than in Kyoto, where they realize seven stages.
So, consistent with the Tokyo school, you’ve got Mojako, which measures one to 2 inches; Takashi, two to 6 inches; Inada, six to 16 inches; Warasa, 16 inches to 2 feet; and, finally, the fully mature Buri.
But there’s one thing that almost all sushi lovers do agree on: the most effective sushi comes from wild fish, not farmed.
While farmed yellowtail has been popular within u, s. since the 1970s for its tender and buttery texture, the meat isn’t as flavorful as wild yellowtail. Furthermore, the farmed variety can contain 30 percent fat, which fits against the famously low-fat Japanese diet.
Apart from flavor, other farming problems stem from the fact that yellowtails of various stages are routinely kept together. It implies that the smaller fish, especially the Mojako, get eaten, leaving farmers without much variety.
But for sushi masters, there’s simply no comparing the flavor you get from fish that have swum long distances and matured within the wild.
Salmon eggs are a comparatively new addition to sushi, and that they have a lengthy and complicated preparation process.
The world of sushi isn’t restricted to only raw fish and rice. If you’ve recently been to a sushi restaurant, you recognize that fish eggs have also found their way onto nigiri.
Even though they’re a comparatively recent addition to sushi menus, salmon eggs have been a part of the human diet for thousands of years.
Japanese have been eating fish eggs for millennia. Within the nineteenth century, the Russians popularized eating salmon eggs as caviar. Before this, within u. s., salmon eggs were primarily used as fish bait.
Nowadays, salmon eggs are simultaneously wildly popular and quite rare.
On the Russian peninsula of Kamchatka, there’s a thriving one-billion-dollar black marketplace for caviar.
In this area, which isn’t aloof from the northern shores of Japan, even the local bears compete for the salty treats by catching the feminine fishes, sucking out all the eggs, and tossing the bodies aside.
But when it involves sushi, it wasn’t until after warfare II that Tokyo chefs came up with the thought to feature fish eggs as an exciting new ingredient.
Even though it would sound sort of a simple idea, preparing salmon eggs for sushi may be complex and time-consuming.
First, the eggs are rinsed in water to get rid of any sticky residue. Then they’re lowered into a bowl of salt water, which loosens the membranes enough for them to be removed.
After that, the eggs are placed in brine, where they sit and absorb the salt. It strengthens the eggshells, improves their texture, and helps produce tasty amino acids within the eggs.
Finally, the eggs are left to soak for 2 to a few days during a marinade of condiment, sake, mirin (a Japanese rice wine), and dashi, a fish broth. Afterward, they’re strained and prepared to serve.
->Preparing sushi involves rituals and techniques that aren’t unlike the showmanship of martial art.
It’s no secret that Japanese culture places great value on way and tradition, which certainly extends to sushi.
For the Japanese, making sushi is the maximum amount about the rituals of food preparation because it is about flavor.
Sushi master Toshi Sugiura, the founding father of the California Sushi Academy in la, teaches his students that creating sushi may be a spiritual endeavor similar to practicing martial arts.
He demonstrates this by memorizing some rice and covering it in his palm, sort of a magician making a white mouse disappear. And then, after a flurry of rapid movements that lasts but ten seconds, he opens his hand to reveal an ideal nigiri sitting on his palm.
This association between the traditions of sushi and Kung Fu is common in Japan.
There are even sushi-themed Japanese comic books, just like the acclaimed Sushi Chef Kirara’s Job, where chefs compete and develop their form of forming nigiri. These styles include Kung fu-like names, like Flying Crow, Stone Pagoda, or Dragon within the Sky.
And once you see a sushi master at work, it’s hard not to notice the Kung Fu connection.
When former athlete Kate Murray was studying at the California Sushi Academy, her instructor, Toshi, taught her to approach sushi as a martial artist.
When chopping, it’s normal to square at the board with squared hips, but Toshi steps back together with his right foot and stands at a 45-degree angle to the cutting board as if he’s on the point of performing a martial arts maneuver.
And then Toshi lets loose an aggressive shout before chopping a radish so fast, and with such force, that his knife appears like a machine gun firing.
Toshi explained that this type of chopping power doesn’t just come from his hands; it must come from the correct alignment of the whole body.
The students tried to follow the sushi master’s lead, though many ended up cutting themselves. It just goes to indicate – being a sushi master takes a lifetime of practice.