A year ago, we posted a blog compiling a number of national and international sushi restaurants recognized as the top players of the sushi world. While doing research, information was left on the cutting floor about the actual process of sushi-making; enough to write a subsequent blog paying respect to the specialized chefs who commit years, even decades, as apprentices studying and training the centuries-old practice of sushi craftsmanship.
n the 2018 blog, we made mention of a released documentary on 90- year old, Master Chef Jiro Ono who owns the revered, Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo, Japan, who began his teachings at the young age of 7 years old. In the film, viewers witnessed a remarkable grueling training for aspiring master chefs. Dining at a Michelin-starred sushi restaurant and observing a chef’s meticulous and effortless performance art is breathtaking. Eating at Sukiyabashi Jiro is such a coveted experience, that the restaurant was just recently stripped of its 3 star Michelin rating. Not because of a dip in the quality of sushi or service, but because it is no longer opened to the general public. Diners, fortunate enough, can only make reservations through personal referrals or the well-connected luxury hotel concierge.
A master chef’s skills are well-regarded because of the rigorous training to learn every aspect of this craft ranging from knives knowledge to determine the exact weight of the sushi just by feel. Fortunately, a number of women have successfully broken through the glass ceiling from outdated beliefs of elder Masters and have built their own restaurant empires or work at elite sushi establishments.
HOW SUSHI IS MADE
In defining sushi (or shari), the term refers to the seasoned rice which may or may not be served with seafood and/or vegetables. Typical sushi restaurants use medium grain rice; on the other hand, fine dining chefs choose pricier short-grain rice providing more starch for stickiness and possessing a sweeter taste than its lengthier counterpart.
The blend of rice is such a critical component that master chefs have their own unique combinations purchased from a number of rice producers. A connoisseur of sushi will develop a palate heightened enough to distinguish between restaurants’ blends and how rice is prepared in individual kitchens. In the U.S., chefs may be more creative by using either a mix of short and medium grain, brown rice or even quinoa.
The rice is cooked in a clear stock called dashi (ingredients of water, kobu (dried kelp) and smoked fish shavings). Then the cooked rice is mixed in a Japanese wooden tub with a chef’s specific measurements of vinegar, sugar, and salt and allowed to cool for serving.
TYPES OF SUSHI
Sushi rice can be accompanied by a variety of ingredients consisting of seafood or vegetables. Popular sushi dishes usually ordered are:
1. Nigiri – usually, raw fish or shellfish served on the top of rectangular molded rice sushi
2. Sashimi – for purists who want to eat just the fish or shellfish served alone without the rice sushi
3. Norimaki – sushi rolls with rice and different fillings wrapped in seaweed; typically served in countries outside of Japan. Popular sushi rolls include Tiger Rolls, California Rolls, Vegetable Rolls, Spicy Tuna Rolls, and Caterpillar Rolls to name a few
4. Uramaki – similar to Maki, except seaweed wraps around the filling and the rice is on the outside
5. Gunkan – petite cups of sushi rice and dried seaweed with different fillings, especially fish eggs and sea urchins
6. Temaki – sushi hand-rolled into a cone shape with seafood fillings
The categories of sashimi (raw seafood) served with sushi has no limits and depends on the season and fishery location: salmon, tuna, mackerel, sweet shrimp, clams (cooked or raw), yellowtail, roe, squid (body is served raw, the tentacles cooked) halibut, crab meat (cooked), sardines, red snapper, octopus (cooked), trout, sea urchin, and eel (deep-fried or boiled).
Being served in Japan or at a high-end sushi restaurant in other countries means using certain etiquette when eating sushi to 1) enjoy the flavors of the fish and 2) to not insult your chef. When being served sushi, chopsticks should be used for sashimi; and your hands can be used with other types of sushi. Condiments available include a bowl of wasabi (Japanese horseradish) to be mixed with soy sauce as a dipping sauce for your sushi. Only dip the seafood in the soy sauce or the rice will break apart in the bowl if it is dipped. Pink pickled slices of ginger (gari) may also accompany your sushi to be used as a palate cleanser between courses. It is suggested to pair green tea (agari) with your meal.
When a diner is determining the expense and value of sushi, the variety, quality and freshness of the fish are keys. Yet, other elements come into play: the chef’s attention to the slightest details from preparation and slicing of the fish (certain cuts and fattiness can produce different flavors and textures); the doneness, consistency, and evenness of the shaped rice mold to receive its topping; and even the theatre-like presentation of sushi, the ambiance of the restaurant and hospitality of the chef and his staff.
To truly admire the art of sushi making, one should gain an understanding of the dedication and passion that Master Chefs pour into a craft that engages all the diner’s senses ranging from the immaculate look of the plated sushi, the fresh taste of the rice and seafood, the clean aromas and the silky, diverse textures. Certainly, a spiritually immersive cuisine adventure! – AJ
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A big thank you to the sites that provided educational content!
Hat Tip to the following photographers:
Kelvin Zyteng sushi with black chopsticks
Luigi Pozzoli – sushi Roll
Sayama – tuna sushi
Takedahrs – mackerel sushi
Jonathan Valencia 5 – maki roll sushi presentation
Chevanon Photograpy – prawn sushi roll
Huy Phan – sushi chef
Valeria Boltneva – sushi roll