Mr. Hamachi has met Chef Chip, previously amanager of the sushi department of Bristol Farms in Southern California. Chef Chip has offered to write a column about sushi here on theSushibar.com.
From time to time we will offer essays from Chef Chip about our favorite subject: SUSHI !!
Please let us know if you enjoy these articles.
Thank you, Chipsan
Tools of The Trade
Japanese kitchen knives (hocho) are quintessential to the art of sushi. A sushi chef's knives are as important to him as swords were to the samurai warrior, and to the traditionalist, they are just as sacred. I learned this the hard way.
Many years ago as a humble minarai (sushi apprentice), I offered to let my sushi master use my knife to demonstrate a cut, for his knife was not handy at the time. His eyes widened and his mouth drew into a thin line, so tight his lips went white. "Never let anyone use your knife!" was his stern, almost horrified response. I proceeded to get a lecture on how important it was that I keep my knife "undefiled," meaning that no one should touch it for any reason. He looked on my innocent gesture with as much horror as if I had just invited him to sleep with my wife. He explained that as a sushi chef I was a descendant (if not of direct lineage, then by tradition) of the ancient samurai warrior. He said that the same families who forged these ancient mystical swords, still make our sushi knives today.
These masters continue to follow the ancient traditions of their forefathers. The purification rituals are still performed, sacred robes worn and prayers said. After the blades are forged an annual knife ceremony (hocho shiki) is still held, consecrating their life's work. He explained that the medieval samurai believed that the spirits of their ancestors resided in their swords. If someone were to so much as inadvertently brush against one's scabbard, it was a grievous insult, worthy of a duel to the death (samurai always walked on the left hand side of the road to prevent an unfortunate accident such as this from happening). When I asked him if he held these same beliefs, he shrugged them off as mere superstitions, but his eyes and deeds spoke much louder than his sober rationalizations. I don't think he would have actually threatened my life if I touched his knife; but after my stern scathing, I didn't want to find out.
Leaving the mysticism aside, it is virtually impossible to carve paper-thin slices in soft fish and have the edges separate cleanly and sharply without these scalpel-sharp instruments. Forged from high carbon steel and sharpened only on the right side of the blade (kataba), these battle bred instruments are capable of holding an ultra keen edge (usuba beri). The left side of the blade has a slightly recessed surface, preventing it from dragging against the material being cut. Sushi knives will quickly rust if not properly cared for, because they are traditionally forged from non-stainless steel. The vast majority of sushi knives are designed for right-hand use. If a left-hand version is required, it will usually have to be special ordered, at a premium price - usually 50% more.
There are many grades of sushi knives available, ranging in price from $50 - $100 for utility grade knives (tatsutogi), up to around $3,000 each for the finest presentation grade knives (honyaki). Honyaki are the finest professional grade knives available. They are hand crafted entirely from the high-carbon steel (hitukuri) which is forged in a special kiln at nearly 1,900 degrees F in the samurai tradition (often by the descendants of ancient sword smiths).
Laminated knives are a more practical choice because they are easier to sharpen. There are four grades of laminated knives: Hongasumi, Kasumi, Kasumitogi and Tatsutogi (in descending order). They are mage by forging together two types of carbon steel. Jigane, the softer carbon steel is used on the outside to support the extremely hard hagane which forms the very edge of the blade and the backbone of the knife. Japanese top quality high-carbon steel (yasuki) comes in two varieties, blue steel (aoshiko) and white steel (shiroshiko). Yasuki aoshiko is the hardest hagane found in the hongasumi and honyaki, which can be honed to an ultra- fine, scalpel sharp edge that will stay sharp longer, but is more brittle than the softer varieties.
Two types of tempering and hardening techniques (yaki-ire) are commonly used. It is thought that the oil quenching (abura-yaki) produces a more flexible, durable blade that takes up added carbon from the oil, further hardening the surface. The cold water quenching method (mizu-honyaki) yields a slightly harder, though more brittle edge, which must be tempered to make it more durable by re-heating and allowing it to air cool. The hand forging process takes four or five highly skilled craftsmen about two weeks to complete. This is why these knives are so expensive to forge, and why some foundries are relying on more automation to produce an affordable product intended for a broader market.
I use a practical, though less romantic type of sashimi knife known as a hon warikomi. My yanagi bocho (willow shaped sashimi knife) has a kasumi grade hagane core laminated to a stainless steel exterior. It never rusts (unless improperly stored) and holds a decent edge for 2-3 days of professional use between sharpenings, making it a practical compromise in the $300-$350 price range. Plus I don't have to worry about taking out a second mortgage if I inadvertently chip the blade. Luck has been with me so far, as I've had this one for about ten years and the edge is still in pretty good shape.
Most sushi professionals lovingly care for their knives by storing them in a wooden scabbard (saya), packing them in a specially designed, padded case and carrying them to and from work each day.
Sushi knives are usually sharpened daily (always by hand on a stone and never a steel) to honbaysuki (true edge) standards. Three grits of water stones are used. It is said that the steel of certain knives match better with certain stones, so when selecting your knife it's a good idea to also buy a new set of stones to match your new knife. Generally speaking, the harder the steel, the softer the stone required. Always follow the knife manufacturers compatibility recommendations. Sharpening stones must be kept flat to function properly, so a stone leveling tool is a good investment too.
If much metal must be removed from the blade, to repair large nicks or a broken tip, a coarse grit, blue stone (arato) is used. The next stone that is employed is a red stone (aka toishi or nakato.) Though a medium grade by Japanese standards, it has a very fine grit and is suitable for most general sharpening needs. The finest grit (shiageto) or white stone polishes the blade to a mirror finish, to reduce its drag on the material being cut as well as creating the ultimate, micro-fine edge. The right side of the blade is always kept flat on the stone, and never held at any kind of angle, as westerners would.
Great care must be taken when honing these super-sharp blades. One slip can produce a nasty cut simply by inadvertently touching its scalpel-like edge. Because of this danger, I will not try to describe the proper sharpening technique in detail, lest I feel responsible for the severed fingers that's sure to result from an amateur attempt. Most stones come with sharpening instructions (printed in Japanese). Disregard these instructions. It's better to observe a master knife sharpener in action and be trained under his direct supervision than to experiment (and possibly lose the use of a finger) at home. Most sushi chefs will be happy to give you a few minutes of knife sharpening instruction - provided you have a good quality knife and a set of matching stones. A true sushi professional would find it sinful to see a high quality knife ruined by improper sharpening techniques.
Japanese knives are classed according to their shape and intended use.
The following types of Japanese knives are quintessential to the art:
Sashimi bocho.: These are slender, sword-like knives with blades that vary from eight to thirteen inches in length and from 3/4 to 1-1/4 inches in depth. Two types are used for slicing sashimi. The yanagiba (willow leaf shaped) also known as masao, has a pointed, deeper blade than the takobiki (octopus knife), which has a thin, blunt tipped blade. The former was developed in the Osaka / Kyoto area (Kansai region), while the latter has its roots in the Kanto region (eastern Japan), around Edo (ancient Tokyo).
Usuba bocho. and Nakiri bocho.: (thin knife and vegetable knife) The edge of the blade of these kitchen knives are straight, so they can lay flat on the table for chopping. The spine may be either straight, with the blade forming a rectangle, or it may curve at the tip and fall to meet the straight edge. They resemble light weight meat cleavers, and in professional hands, are lightning fast. The nakiri bocho, which is sharpened on both sides of the blade (ryoba), is easier to handle when cutting straight slices. The usuba bocho has a single sharpened edge (kataba) like sashimi bocho. While harder for the newbie to control, it is superior for carving thin, clean edged, flat slices.
Deba bocho and Kodeba bocho.: (universal fish knife) These knives have a four to eight inch long, heavy blade. The edge sweeps upward slightly, towards the tip. It is met with a dropping spine to form a spear point. At its base, the depth of the blade is usually 1-3/4 to 2-1/2 inches. The deba bocho. excels at cleaning fish (shitagoshirae), severing bones with ease. It is exceptionally versatile. The small kodeba bocho) is used for delicate work, such as cleaning shellfish and six inch and smaller fin fish. Having only a four to five-inch long blade, the beginner will find it easy to control.
The sushi chef occasionally employs other types of knives for specialized tasks, such as: opening clams, shucking oysters, cleaning eel and performing the wide-peel technique (katsura muki) on cucumbers and daikon. Some itamae can even be seen using western style chef's knives on occasion, for less critical tasks, simply because they are versatile, durable and easy to care for - though some cutting ability is usually compromised.
If I had to choose only two knives to use exclusively, they would unquestionably be: #1 a yanagiba and #2 a medium bladed deba bocho. Though the other knives are handy, these two are quintessential to the art. If you are on a tight budget and only purchase your fish filleted, you may get by with a sole yanagiba, pressing into service your sharpest kitchen knives for general use.
Jacked Up Sushi!
Yellowtail is the common name for several species of amberjack (Serilola sp.). Yellowtail harvested from Japanese waters and farmed in Japan is scientifically classed as Seriola quinqueradiata. California yellowtail is Seriola dorsalis. On the other side of the world, the Australians feast on Seriola grandis. Yellowtail is a spindle shaped fish with a yellow to gold stripe running along its lateral line to its yellow tail. What a coincidence!
To the Japanese, yellowtail is an ascending fish (shusse-uo) meaning that its name changes according to its size. To make it even more confusing, these names also vary depending upon what area of Japan you are in. In the Kanto region of Japan (around Tokyo) the one to two inch long fry are called Mojako. Fingerling yellowtail up to the length of 6 inches are called Wakashi. When they grow larger, up to 16 inches, they are known as Inada. From 16 inches to about 2 feet Tokyoites call them Warasa. Mature yellowtail are called Buri throughout Japan. The Japanese yellowtail is the smallest variety, reaching an adult length of about 3 feet. Just recently, a record North American yellowtail was caught. It weighed in at 77 lbs., but most are under 30 lbs. The Australian species are the largest, and have been known to reach over 100 lbs. Medium sized, wild-caught buri make excellent sushi, especially the fatty winter yellowtail (kanburi). However, buri's leaner meat can't compare with the richly cultivated Japanese import known as hamachi.
Hamachi: (young cultivated yellowtail)
The Japanese raise yellowtail in commercial hatcheries where they feed them a special diet to improve the meat's rich, buttery qualities. These special cultivated yellowtail, known as hamachi, are harvested when they are roughly a year old and weigh from 15-20 pounds (about 2 feet in length). Hamachi this size will yield 2 sides, about 5 lbs. each. This is when they are at their peak of flavor and creamy richness. Hamachi's meltingly tender flesh should be sliced as thickly as tuna (1/4 inch or more) to fully enjoy its unique, smoky flavor and creamy, smooth texture, reminiscent of toro. Like tuna, its savory belly meat called Suna Zuri, meaning "rub sand," makes mouth watering sushi. If you need to justify your passion for yellowtail, it's loaded with omega 3's, making it a treat for your heart as well as your tongue. Hamachi has more calories than most other fish, so enjoy it in moderation - or substitute kanpachi instead.
Yellowtail meat is most easily recognized by its two-toned musculature. The majority of the flesh is a light, beige color. This rich, milder tasting meat joins a thinner, bright red colored portion located by the bones along the lateral line of the fish. When exposed to air for a brief period the red meat turns dark brown. Cut away most of the stronger tasting dark meat, as the milder, sweet, buttery, light meat is preferred.
Do not discard the trimmed off dark flesh. Reserve this valuable meat to be chopped, mixed with Nakaochi (tuna scrapings) in a 40/60 ratio, and used later in a dynamite roll - one of my personal favorites. While on the subject of rolls, try the classic, Negi Hama roll (chopped yellowtail with green onion.) After slicing the green onion thinly, wash it briefly under cool running water to moderate its harshness. Dry the prepared negi on paper towels before combining with minced hamachi. Roll as a Hosomaki (slender roll) or as a Temaki (hand roll) with cucumber and daikon sprouts. This is a match made in heaven. You won't be disappointed.
There are several companies producing and exporting lightly smoked, sashimi grade hamachi to the US. Though the color is slightly darker than natural, fresh yellowtail, the taste is sweet with various levels of smoky flavor. Smoked hamachi tends to be a little leaner, though. One company is bringing in a lightly smoked amberjack product. It is much leaner than hamachi and is quite watery, with a slightly bitter taste. Though promoted as sashimi grade, let your taste buds decide. Enough said!
Kanpachi: (lean yellowtail or Seriola dumerili)
Kanpachi is the leanest of the yellowtail family. As such, it is not as popular in American sushi bars as it is in Japan. Its back has a royal blue to purplish sheen, while the characteristic lateral stripe is a darker gold and is less distinct than its sciaenoid kin. Similar in taste and texture, its cousin, longfin amberjack (hirenaga kanpachi or Seriola rivoliana), commonly called Almaco Jack, is found in waters from Mexico to Micronesia. Though an adult kanpachi can reach the length of seven feet, they are considered best for sushi when they are from 2 ½ to 3 feet long. Its body a little deeper than buri (more distance from its dorsal fins to its ventral fins.) Like hamachi, kanpachi are now being farm raised to provide a constant supply of succulent, rich tasting meat, regardless of the season.
Ocean dwelling kanpachi found in U.S. waters are best during winter when their meat is tastier and firmer. I understand that the season is reversed in Japan where they are best in the winter. This holds true for many but not all migratory fish, like tuna, depending on their migration patterns. Kanpachi's cream colored fillet has the appearance of Shima Aji (yellow jack) though it displays a denser musculature. Slice it about 3/16 of an inch thick and serve with a bright tasting shoyu.
While it is occasionally served raw, kanpachi from the Gulf of Mexico (Seriola dumerili) is usually enjoyed hot off the grill, just as you would yellowtail collar (hamachi kama). To prepare, marinate in a 50/50 mix of white or yellow miso paste and mirin overnight. Rinse off the miso just before cooking, pat dry, and grill to perfection. Serve with mounds of grated daikon and ponzu.
Shima Aji: (yellow jack)
Yellow jack is a heavy, silvery colored fish with yellow pectoral fins and creamy textured, translucent golden meat. Shima aji has an even deeper body than kanpachi, shaped somewhat like a sea bass. It can reach the length of 3 feet at maturity. Being a sciaenoid, it is closely related to hiramasa (king fish) in ichthyology, as well as taste and texture. Its yellow lateral stripe runs lengthwise to the tail, where it ends with a small patch of hard scales (zengo).
Scale shima aji and serve with a thin strip of its silvery inner skin left adhering to the edge of the fillet, similar to saba. It is harvested for sushi when it reaches the length of from 1-1/4 to 2 feet. One way to identify shima aji sushi is by the thin layer of reddish meat lying under its shiny skin. Clean and section shima aji using the gomai oroshi method. Cut each moderately firm fillet thinly into 1/8 inch thick slices, employing the sogi giri (diagonal cut) technique. This mild tasting, slightly oily fish is a little sweeter and marginally leaner than buri. It is traditionally served over a fresh, green shiso leaf. Garnish with a pea sized mound of freshly grated ginger root (né shoga). Delicious!
Hiramasa: (gold striped amber jack or king fish - Seriola lalandi)
Closely related to yellowtail and yellow jack, its thin, silver, salmon-shaped body exhibits the same distinct, yellow lateral line as its sciaenoid cousins. It is a sizable fish which can attain the length of five feet, but those taken for sushi should not be longer than three feet, or their flavor will diminish. Hiramasa has leaner and firmer flesh than buri, with a milder, more delicate taste. Divide its carcass using the gomai oroshi technique, splitting each fillet along the lateral line, similar to yellowtail. Though rarely found on the sushi menu (shitadai), this tasty shiromi is worth requesting. Slice it about 3/16 of an inch thick and serve with a momiji oroshi and lemon garnish. It's great served with a simple sprinkling of sea salt and a little lemon to bring out its subtle flavor nuances without the distractions of soy sauce.
Comparable in taste and texture, but otherwise unrelated is Cobia (Rachycentron canadum) or lemon fish, found swimming in the Gulf of Mexico. If you've had fresh hiramasa in a Gulf Coast sushi bar, it's almost certainly been cobia.
Remember, if anyone asks you about yellowtail, don't tell them that "you don't know Jack!", because now you do!
Tuna Tuna Tuna!!
Several varieties of tuna are served as maguro. By far the best tasting tuna for sushi is bluefin (Thunnus thynnus). The Japanese know it as hon-maguro, kuro-maguro, and shibi-maguro. The largest of the tuna family, bluefin, can grow to a length of over 14 feet and weigh more than 1500 pounds. Those specimens weighing between three and five hundred pounds (nakaboushi) are best for sushi, though tuna ranging in size from 20 pounds to more than 1000 pounds are used. Smaller meji are lighter and lack flavor, while the larger fish concentrate the distinctive tuna-flavored oils.
Kihada or kiwada (yellowfin tuna, ahi or Thunnus albacares) displays soft, bright red to pinkish, mild flavored meat, sometimes displaying a spidery, indigo venation similar to albacore. Yellowfin tuna normally grows to about 300 pounds. Sample yellowfin during the winter and early spring, when it is at its best in U.S. waters and bluefin is out of season. Do not confuse the bright red meat of yellowfin tuna with the creamy white and dark red musculature of yellowtail, which is a type of amberjack. Because of its availability, beautiful color and attractive price, yellowfin is the most popular tuna found in U.S. sushi bars.
Mebachi (bigeye tuna or Thunnus obesus) has a high concentration of harsh tasting oils located under its thin skin, tainting the first 1/2 inch of the adjoining meat. This foul tasting, odorous layer must be discarded. The remaining soft-fleshed, bright red meat turns sticky with age, so it should only be eaten raw when fresh.
Minami maguro (southern bluefin) is a fatty tuna that schools in the warm waters of the southern hemisphere, particularly in the Indian ocean. Southern tuna's deep red meat is richly flavored, but its quality varies considerably depending on the season and the location caught. Because southern tuna freezes well, it is often frozen to preserve its long journey to the sushi bar. Freezing does damage the texture of the meat and greatly reduces its wonderful rich flavor.
There is a frozen tuna that comes from the Philippines that is cured with an odorless, tasteless smoke. Its unnaturally bright red, near flourescent pink color is a dead giveaway to its poor quality. Some processors produce a frozen product that has a bright red, natural looking color and a fairly decent taste. Others leave a lot to be desired. The quality of frozen tuna varies considerably. The moral of the story is: If you must buy frozen tuna, taste it before you buy a large amount, or you may be dissappointed.
Shiro Maguro: (white tuna, albacore or binnaga) This is the same fish found in high-grade canned tuna. As its name implies, fresh shiro maguro (white tuna) ranges in color from a translucent, pale peach, almost flesh tone color, to one of a rosy, pinkish hue. Its scientific name is Thunnus alalunga. Considerably smaller than other species of tuna, it seldom attains the weight of forty pounds. This extremely tender, soft-fleshed tuna loses its rosy color quickly, turning darker and more opaque after being exposed to air, but its flavor is not immediately affected by the color change. It is often served as tataki (quickly grilled on the outside) to combat this effect. Try to handle the soft, fragile meat as little as possible. Keep it cold and wrapped in plastic to retard its premature aging. Sliced thickly, its unique, gentle flavor is milder than the robust, bright red meat of bluefin tuna. Do not confuse binnaga with the snowy white meat of escolar, which is sometimes called "white tuna" too. Sample binnaga at the peak of its season (from July through October in the U.S.), because its delicate meat does not freeze well. Frozen albacore is available, but it is always seared on the outside, "tataki style" first.
Akami maguro (red tuna meat) is the most popular course served in sushi bars. Maguro comes in various shades of red, with the deeper shades indicating a lower fat content. The leaner meat is located closest to the spine, while cuts nearer the belly are fattier and thus more valuable.
Tuna meat having a smooth, homogenous texture without any striations is the most tender, while that found approaching the tail is the least expensive. The translucent deep red meat closest to the spine called the tempa has the least striations is the most flavorful of the red meat (akami.) Discard the black, blood-saturated portions (chiai). A sushi chef buys his tuna in a large 1/4 tuna slab called a Cho. A cho is made by slicing each side of the tuna in half lengthwise. This technique produces a large piece that is roughly triangular in cross section. The upper or back cho. (seitcho) yields the optimum akami maguro while the best toro or fatty tuna comes from the lower, belly cho. (haraitcho). Maguro can be frozen, but loses some of its flavor and texture in the process. However, tuna caught at the peak of season (for bluefin, from November through February in Japan and during the summer in America) and frozen, may taste better than fresh fish caught out of season. As with all migratory fish, tuna's quality varies from year to year as well as seasonally.
Benign parasites tend to infest the meat more heavily in the summer, when the water starts to turn warm, especially with tuna caught in southern latitudes. Parasitic worms are rarely found in the flesh (I'm sure you've heard the expression, "It's just a fluke."), but the soft edged holes left behind destroys some otherwise beautiful meat. Though completely harmless to humans, the pin head sized white eggs they deposit at the end of these tunnels are disgusting evidence of their passage. A good sushi chef always inspects the meat thoroughly, because the damaged flesh will eventually heal, often leaving no clue to the tiny egg's presence. This is one reason it's important to find an experienced, well trained sushi chef you can trust.
Using the traditional process of filleting a tuna (sakudori), rinse each cho. and pat dry. Slice it across to its width, into ten-inch long sections. Form the resulting wedge shaped blocks into rectangles by cutting horizontally with the grain of the meat (parallel to the long axis of the fish). Though varying in thickness, slice each rectangle one take wide by drawing the knife straight down. (One take equals the width of four fingers or about three inches.) Place the resulting fillets into the sushi case, awaiting the next order. Any fillet that is not going to be used within a few hours should be placed on paper towels to absorb the excess moisture which exudes from the meat, reducing discoloration. Next, wrap it in plastic to reduce its exposure to the air.
When a patron orders maguro nigirizushi, the final slice is made across the grain of the meat into 1/4 inch thick slices which vary in width from 3/4 inch to 11/4 inch. Since there is no ideal size, each kami (head chef) sets his own standard and the subordinate itamae conform to his example. Maguro served as nigirizushi is streaked with wasabi and always presented unadorned.
Albacore and occasionally the dark red meat from the larger species of tuna are often served "katsuo style" (tataki or Tosa-mi). To prepare tuna in this manner, I rub soy sauce mixed with wasabi into the meat. I will then grill the seasoned tuna brick (saku) briefly or sear it in a super hot skillet. Here's a trade secret (toranomaki), use garlic oil to lightly grease the pan. This imparts a subtle, roasted garlic flavor to the beefy tasting tuna. After cooking it for a few seconds per side, bury the seared tuna in crushed ice to prevent the meat from cooking through. Some chefs place the tuna in ice water to keep the inside raw, but I have found that this leaches away flavor. The result looks and tastes like super-tender, rare roast beef. Garnish with nira (a garlic tasting Japanese chive), or use regular green onion (negi) and garlic slivers for a similar effect. Sauce the albacore with ponzu or chirizu. A slightly bolder sauce called tosa zuyu is used for the darker seared tuna (see sauces for recipes.)
Can a tuna ever be too fresh?
Yes! To grasp this concept, you must first understand what happens when a fish (or any other animal for that matter) dies. Immediately after death occurs, a fish's body goes through a complex series of chemical changes. Within two to three hours after death, the protein within the muscles coagulates, resulting in a stiffening and toughening of the flesh called rigor mortis. The length of time this process lasts is determined by the size of fish, its species, how gently it was handled after it was caught, how it died, and how quickly it is chilled and the temperature it is held at. A long rigor mortis is desirable, because this process tenderizes the meat. If the fish is improperly handled, this process may only last a few hours. In contrast, a thousand pound tuna that is correctly handled may stay in rigor for up to five days. For the optimum results, fish should either be eaten before rigor mortis sets in (in the case of live "tank fish" or ikijimi) or just after rigor has ended (for fish dressed and iced soon after they are caught or nojimi), but never during this natural aging or tenderization process. Remember, "aged tuna"and "old tuna" are two entirely different things.
Fresh akami maguro (red tuna meat), whether aged or not will have a translucent, almost jello like flesh, while old tuna meat will look rather muddy and opaque. A pinkish-white, creamy looking opacity is due to an elevated fat content. Do not confuse the shade of redness with age. The meat from a yellowfin or Ahi tuna (ahi means fire in Hawaiian) will appear a much brighter crimson than a similarly fresh piece of deep red, almost purple, bluefin tuna meat... but the bluefin tastes better!
Tokyoites (Edoko) are reputed to like their tuna fresher, just as it comes off the boat. Of course the denizens of this bustling metropolis have never been known for their patience. The residents of Kyoto and western Japan, known for their sophistication and refined palate, as a rule, prefer their tuna aged to perfection, just as the people of North America tend to prefer well marbled, aged beef; while our South and Central American cousins tend to favor fresher, leaner cuts. As fishermen who've dined on freshly caught tuna sashimi know, fresh tuna, like fresh beef, tends to be a little gamey tasting. This stronger "wild" flavor is more pronounced in the larger, darker fleshed species than in young tuna (meji) or albacore.
Toro: (fatty tuna meat) The richest toro comes from the belly section of bluefin tuna. Like all tuna, it is at its best in the winter (in summer in the US). Toro is graded by its fat content. In the past, the Japanese have favored leaner tuna, but in the last fifty or so years they have come to prize the tender, smoky tasting, unctuous cuts more. Because of this Western influenced trend, otoro (the fattiest tuna) is the most valuable portion of the fish today. Though rare and costly, otoro's rich, smoky flavor makes extraordinary sushi. In fact, the word "toro" means "melt," alluding to its meltingly tender, buttery rich texture. I have paid over $40 a lb. wholesale for top grade otoro, and I have seen the retail price soar to double and even triple that at times. Sushi Roku, a top notch sushi bar in Beverly Hills, routinely gets $30 for one order (2 pieces) of otoro nigirizushi!
Shimofuri or "falling frost" is a highly marbled type of otoro that comes from the tuna belly near the head. Its pinkish, net patterned flesh, delicate texture and smoky taste make it a favorite of many sushiphiles.
Dandara or fat banded otoro comprises most of the belly section of the tuna, behind the shimofuri and extending to the tail. It tastes wonderful, but its fattiness may be a little overpowering for some.
Chutoro or "middle fat" portion of the tuna is located just above the otoro and next to the skin, surrounding the akami or red meat that makes up most of the tuna. Its pale red meat has a pinkish cast, with some fillets displaying a subtle color graduation from pink to red. Sometimes the toro from large yellowfin tuna can be found adhering to tough, stringy ligaments. Scrape this soft meat free from its tough, white attachment with a spoon and serve in a temaki (hand roll) with finely chopped negi (green onion), kyuri (cucumber) and kaiware (daikon sprouts), or as a gunkanmaki (atop a rice pad encircled with nori). Yum!
Toro is traditionally sliced thickly, 1/4 inch or more for sushi and 1/2 inch for sashimi, to allow the rich flavor and soft texture of this delicacy to be fully appreciated. Toro is typically mated with green onion, but other than that, try to avoid distracting seasonings that might obscure the simple beauty and creamy, mellow flavor nuances of this rare and sumptuous treat.
(sweetened omelet or dashimaki)
Tamago is a welcome, refreshing variation to the raw fish theme. It may be served during, or at the end of a sushi meal. When eaten as a dessert, tamago is referred to as "ichinin-mae." Though it may appear easy to make, atsu tamagoyaki (thick omelet) is one of the most difficult dishes to prepare well and is thought to be a high point of shokunin training. This is evidenced by the bold, archaic Japanese custom of appraising the quality of an untried sushi bar by ordering tamago first. If the tamago is rubbery, browned, runny or in any way below an acceptable standard of excellence, the first time patron may surreptitiously leave without paying the bill and nothing will be said. Before you attempt this rather presumptuous behavior (by U.S. standards), be advised that many sushi bars now buy their tamago from firms specializing in this field, hinting at the bar's management, not culinary skills.
To make his preparation easier, a sushi chef uses a rectangular tamago pan called a tamagoyakiki. The home chef will find a smaller, narrower version useful in making a short fat loaf, saving possible waste of a long loaf from the square, professional pan. Used for a brief period, a microwave can help set the omelet, but the only needed tools are a sudare (bamboo rolling mat) and a frying pan. A heavy walled Teflon pan, or a well seasoned cast-iron skillet will suffice.
Three recipes for making plain atsu tamagoyaki (thick omelet).
5 large hen's eggs
4 Tbs. chicken broth
2 Tbs. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
Broth may be homemade or canned. If bouillon is used (not as tasty), eliminate salt.
5 large hen's eggs
1/3 cup dashi
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. shoyu
1 1/2 tsp. sake
4 Large hen's eggs
1/4 cup dashi
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. shoyu
1 1/4 tsp. mirin
1/4 tsp. MSG
Follow these directions for all of the above recipes:
Dissolve the sugar in the warm broth. Next, combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Beat the eggs well but gently with a fork or a whisk, but do not use a rotary beater. Try not to incorporate any air bubbles into the egg mixture. Grease the pre-heated pan with a cotton cloth or a pastry brush dipped in vegetable oil. When hot, pour in a scant 1/4 cup of egg mixture and tilt the pan to evenly coat the bottom. Return to medium heat and cook until the egg just sets. You do not want the egg to brown at all. When the surface barely hardens, fold the far third of the omelet over toward you. Next, fold this doubled section over again to make a three layered omelet. Re-grease the exposed surface of the pan, slide the cooked egg onto this freshly grease surface, and grease the remaining part of the pan. Pour in another 1/4 cup of the remaining egg mixture and lift the omelet to allow some of the mixture to run underneath. When this layer is barely set, roll the tamago toward you twice. Repeat until all of the egg mixture is used.
Remove from pan and immediately roll in a sudare (bamboo mat) to shape the tamago into a rectangular loaf. A sushi chef uses a special wooden board to square the sides of the loaf. At this point, the omelet should exude a slight amount of liquid when mashed. If the egg mixture is too runny a microwave can be used for about thirty seconds to further set the tamago. Weight the rolled omelet with a heavy plate and allow it to set up in a refrigerator until cool. Unwrap and trim the ends and possibly the sides square, saving the trimmings for rolled sushi. Slice off a 3/8 inch thick slice and bind to the rice pad with a wide strip of nori. Offer tamago unadorned, or brush with a dab of thick eel sauce (tsume) and garnish with white sesame seeds (shiro goma.)
In Japan, the thick omelet is often flavored with shrimp or dried pink fish flakes.
If you would like to try your hand at one of these tasty variations, the recipes follow:
Shrimp flavored omelet
5 large hen's eggs
3 oz. raw shrimp
1/3 cup mirin
1/3 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. sugar
Fish Flake omelet
5 large hen's eggs
1/3 cup oboro or sakura denbu
1/4 cup mirin
1/3 tsp. salt
2 tsp. sake
To make the shrimp flavored tamago, peel and de-vein the shrimp and chop finely. Next, the Japanese use a ceramic mortar (suribachi) that has a grooved interior to further grind the shrimp into a paste. If you don't have a suribachi, press the chopped shrimp through a fine mesh strainer with a spoon to achieve a similar result. If oboro or sakura denbu is used, eliminate the previous steps. Add sugar and salt to the fish or shrimp and blend in the mirin and sake until you achieve a porridge like consistency. Next, whisk in the eggs, being careful not to introduce any air into the mixture. Pour the mixture into a well greased, hot, square tamago pan so that it's about 1/2 inch deep. Cook over low heat until it is halfway done but the top is still runny. Flip the egg cake and cook the other side until it's just barely browned. The finished omelet should be about 3/4 inch thick.
In Tokyo, an entirely different technique of cooking tamago is frequently used. The Tokyo sushi chef will fill his tamagoyakiki with the raw egg mixture and cook it over a burner just enough to set the surface of the omelet. He will then put the pan in an oven and bake it at 325 to 350 degrees until it is set, he will then remove the inch thick tamago from the oven, flip it over and cook it on the stove until both sides are a medium brown. The latter technique takes less of the chef's valuable time to prepare, and the resulting tamago is calorically more austere, because it uses less oil.
The Edoko Itasan (Tokyo chef) sometimes makes a thinner omelet (about 3/8 inch thick) using the same recipe of the thick variety. He sections the thinner omelet into a 1 1/4 inch wide by 2 1/2 inch long rectangle. It is then split lengthwise down the center, only partially through, and the edges are folded downward around the nigirizushi style rice pad. This presentation is called kurakake or "saddle style", because of the resemblance to a horse's saddle.
I prefer the layered method of preparation. Though more laborious, layering and frying produces a tastier, tender tamago that will melt on your tongue more readily than the baked variety. Ask your sushi chef which method he prefers. Taste both styles and choose your favorite.
Another way of preparing tamago is the thin egg wrapper (usu tamagoyaki) used in fukusazushi, chakinzushi and to wrap special rolls known as datemaki. These are made similar to a French crepe.
The following are some recipes for making thin omelet sheets for use as an egg wrapper:
Makes 1 sheet
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. cornstarch
Makes 2 sheets
2 large eggs
2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. chicken broth
1 pinch salt
Makes 10 sheets
8 large eggs
2 Tbs. sugar
3 Tbs. cornstarch
3 Tbs. chicken broth
2 tsp. salt
As before, thoroughly mix the ingredients together, trying to avoid incorporating any air bubbles into the omelet, some chefs strain the mixture through cheese cloth to ensure a homogenous mixture. Lightly grease a tamagoyakiki or a heavy, non-stick skillet and warm over medium heat until a test drop of egg mixture sizzles. Remove the pan from the heat and pour in enough egg mixture to coat its bottom in a thin, crepe-like sheet. Flip the omelet over when the edges curl up and the surface becomes glossy and quickly harden the other side. Slide the cooked omelet onto wax paper and lightly roll with a rolling pin to thin evenly. Blot off any excess oil and trim to the required size and shape. Use these thin omelets exactly like a nori wrapper, or use them in two unique ways, namely chakinzushi and fukusazushi, which are traditionally eaten without wasabi or shoyu.
Chakinzushi is a traditional style of egg wrapped sushi resembling a lady's drawstring purse. It derives its name from a chakin which is a linen cloth for wiping wet instruments during the Japanese tea ceremony (sado), where it is frequently served. To form, wrap a thin omelet around a small ball of shari, gather the omelet at the top and tie with a blanched strand of mitsuba (trefoil), parsley, cooked kampyo (bottleneck gourd strips) or a round, thin slice of green pepper. Decorate the top of the ruffled egg wrapper with oboro, a tiny, delectable morsel such as a single green pea on a bed of pink fish powder (sakura, denbu), or a small boiled shrimp. A garnish of kuro goma (black sesame seeds) lends a final touch of elegance to an already exquisite presentation.
Another type of sushi that is traditionally served during the famous tea ceremony is fukusazushi. (A fukusa is a silk cloth used for wiping dry tea instruments.) To prepare, wrap a small cube of rice in a thin, square omelet, much like chakinzushi, fold the omelet neatly over the rice as you would wrap a birthday gift. The package, thus formed, is about the size and shape of a thick folded handkerchief, but puffy in the center like a pillow. Band with a thin strip of nori, soy paper or temaki katsu sheet and tie with a special gift knot. Like chakinzushi, garnish with kuro or iri goma.
Oshokuji o dozo! Please enjoy!
The California Roll (Kashumaki or Karifoniamaki)
Though maligned by a few sushi purists who don't even recognize it as legitimate sushi, the ubiquitous California roll is the most popular roll served in American sushi bars from coast-to-coast. It is most Americans first introduction to the world of sushi. Indeed, many novices incorrectly call any makizushi a California roll. I routinely get asked, "Do you have any of those California rolls without the seafood?" and "Do you have one of those California rolls with the grilled eel?" Though the California roll has become popular around the world, it bears only a slight resemblance to authentic, Japanese fare; being as the name implies, a California creation. It has even been exported to Tokyo, Japan, where it has been well received. The Japanese deem our lowly California roll as foreign and exotic as western movies and Hollywood.
Its genesis was at the now defunct Tokyo Kaikan restaurant in the Little Tokyo area of downtown Los Angeles. When Mr. Mashita created this roll in the early 70's, I'm sure he had no idea of how enormously popular it would become. His inspiration rapidly altered the course of "America sushi" forever, and has led to a plethora of inventive creations. Now, almost every sushi bar has their own unique variation.
I was fortunate enough to interview Ms. Kimie Kawasaki, who worked with Mr. Mashita when Tokyo Kaikan was in its heyday. It was originally made with imitation crab (kani kama), flying fish eggs (tobiko), wedges of avocado and wisps of shredded cucumbers. Mr. Mashita rolled these ingredients, inside a crispy sheet of rice lined toasted seaweed (nori) and cut it into six pieces, with the dark green seaweed on the outside, nakamaki style. Today, there is no single style of California roll. In the intervening quarter century since its humble birth, the California roll has evolved into as many variations as there are sushi chefs. Some of the more popular styles follow.
Mr. Mashita's prototype notwithstanding, today's California rolls are usually served inside-out (uramaki) with rice on the outside. They are almost always composed of three basic ingredients: crab (kani) or imitation crab (kani kama), though sometimes shrimp is used; avocado; and cucumber. Three other fillings are also commonly used: smelt roe (masago), mayonnaise and toasted sesame seeds (iri goma). The kani or kani kama is typically mixed with mayonnaise and masago, and placed in the center of the roll along with cucumber and avocado. Sesame seed dotted rice often graces the outside of the roll. In another popular variation, the kani is broken apart and mixed with mayonnaise, while masago adorns the outer rice. Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds on top of this attractive version as a tasty garnish.
We make several kinds of California rolls where I am currently employed. Our most popular variation uses tiny tender, parboiled bay shrimp, which are marinated in the juice from sweet pickled ginger (gari). The ginger adds a delicate, spicy-sweet flavor to these tasty morsels. When combined with rich, creamy avocado they make an interesting juxtaposition of flavors and textures.
Of the spicy variations, the Baja California roll is my favorite. Its mild heat and zesty flavor comes from slivered seeded jalapenos. Another spicy roll, the Kamikazi California is kicked up several notches with strips of unseeded habeneros. Warning: the Kamakazi is a real scorcher - far too intense for most. When a customer requests a spicy California roll most chefs just add their house spicy sauce to obtain the necessary Scoville. I know of one Hawaiian chef who uses emerald hued wasabi tobiko (flying fish roe) to spice up his bejeweled artistic creation.
In one of the most popular formats, the kani (invariably kani kama) is left in sticks or chunks and no mayonnaise is used. Masago is instead, placed on the inside, or spread on the outside, trading places with sesame seeds. Some chefs add yamagobo (pickled burdock) to the middle, or layer thin avocado slices on the outside of the roll, caterpillar roll style. I have also witnessed a shokunin center small mounds of masago (or a mixture of masago and mayonnaise) on top of each cut piece as a feast for the eyes and palate. Dried bonito shavings (katsuobushi flakes) and shiso leaves are also employed for a similar purpose, usually in the hand roll (temaki) versions. The number of possible variations are limited only by the imagination and virtuosity of the sushi chef.
One of my all time favorites is the Baked Scallop California roll: (B.S.C. roll). A B.S.C. is simply a California roll that is topped with scallops and baked. To prepare, spread about 1/3 cup of a mixture of chopped scallops (hotategai), smelt roe (masago) and mayonnaise on top of a finished California roll (a dash of shoyu is optional). Bake or broil for eight to ten minutes until done. While baking, the sweet, succulent juices from the bubbling scallops seep through the warm sushi, imparting an incredibly wonderful flavor to an already tasty roll. After removing it from the oven, slide it from its greased baking sheet and onto a serving tray. Sprinkle with black sesame seeds (kuro goma), and serve hot. Caution: allow to cool slightly before voraciously devouring it.
I could go on ad nauseam about the selection of avocados (I prefer the dark, bumpy surfaced Hass over the thin skinned, green Florida variety), whether it is nobler in the mind to mayo or not to mayo, or the subtle differences of using smelt roe (masago) vs. flying fish roe (tobiko); etc. But I feel part of the fun of the California roll is in the discovery of all the unique and interesting permutations that abound. Go explore and discover your own favorites. I would love to hear your findings.
The Japanese do not use sauces to blend flavors the way we Westerners do. Instead, they use them to complement (moderate or accentuate) distinct flavors. Vinegar based sauces are generally used to moderate strong tasting fish and also firm the meat of soft fleshed varieties. Conversely, the saltiness of shoyu (soy sauce) and the sweetness of mirin (sweet rice wine) is each employed to heighten the flavor of the food with which they are served.
This is a simple basic sauce used for marinating vegetables and as a salad dressing.
To make this sauce, combine 1/2 cup su (unseasoned rice vinegar) and 1/4 teaspoon salt with 1/4 cup sugar in a non-metallic saucepan. Heat on low, stirring with a wooden or plastic spoon until the sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool before using. This sauce will keep for weeks in the refrigerator.
Note: To make sanbai zu sauce add 1/4 cup of prepared dashi and one tablespoon of shoyu to the above amazu sauce. Sanbai zu is an excellent dipping sauce for vinegared crab or marinated mackerel (shime saba).
A spicy dipping sauce for shiromi (white fleshed fish) and fried seafood.
The recipe follows:
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup shoyu or tamari
1/4 cup grated daikon
2 Tablespoons saké
1/4 teaspoon shichimi or nanami togarashi (7-pepper spice)
1 or 2 thinly sliced negi (scallions)
Combine all ingredients and allow them to age for at least 1/2 hour to blend the flavors. If storing the sauce in the refrigerator, use tamari instead of shoyu, to avoid settling of the wheat. The alcohol can be removed from the saké, if desired, by heating it to boiling. If this is done, allow the saké to cool before adding it to the sauce.
Note: This sauce is almost identical to somé oroshi. To make somé oroshi, first omit the grated daikon (oroshi) and seven-pepper spice (shichimi togarashi). Next, make momiji oroshi by poking some holes in a fresh daikon and stuffing it with whole dried red peppers (togarashi or takano tjume). Allow the peppers to reconstitute overnight inside the daikon before grating on an oroshi gané. Add a small amount of the resulting pepper-spiced daikon pulp (momiji oroshi) to each diner's kozara (saucer) at the table, to taste.
Nikiri is a simple but important sauce to prepare. It was once used as a primary seasoning for most nigirizushi. Though it is still widely used in Japan, its versatility within the U.S. is virtually ignored.
To properly utilize this sauce, thinly brush it on the fish portion of any nigirizushi that is normally dipped in shoyu, just before serving. It is usually not provided as a dipping sauce for your guests, except with certain types of sashimi. Provide your guests with regular shoyu for dipping purposes. This sauce leaves a thin, sweet glaze that adds as much to the appearance of nigirizushi as it does to its taste.
The recipe follows:
1/4 to 1/3 cup mirin
1 cup shoyu
In a small saucepan, combine both ingredients. Heat to boiling and simmer about ten minutes to slightly thicken the sauce and mellow its flavor. Allow it to cool before using.
This sauce is traditionally made with the finely grated skin of yuzu (a highly aromatic lime-like Japanese citrus fruit) or sudachi (a sharp tasting, lemon-like Japanese citrus fruit which is usually in season when yuzu is not and visa versa). In America, a 2:1 mixture of lemon to lime with a little orange juice or tangerine zest is a close substitute for taste but not aroma. The resulting sauce will keep in the refrigerator for over a month. It is available bottled in Asian grocery stores, but if you wish to make your own (fresher is always better).
The recipe follows:
1/4 cup su (unseasoned rice vinegar)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice or a mixture of lemon and lime in a 2:1 ratio (best)
1-2 Tablespoons of finely grated tangerine skin or orange juice
1/3 cup tamari*
1 Tablespoon mirin (optional) - This reduces the sourness of the sauce, giving it an added dimension. It is a similar, but reciprocal principle to adding lemon to ice tea.
*Shoyu can substitute for tamari if the Ponzu will be used quickly, as it will turn the sauce cloudy over night. Let it sit undisturbed for about a week and the wheat will settle to the bottom allowing you to carefully decant the clear liquid or strain through a coffee filter if short on time.
Mix all ingredients together and let mature overnight for best results.
Aside from soba noodles, this sauce is also excellent for fried rolls, such as a spider roll or a fried calamari roll, and for tempura.
The recipe follows:
1 cup dashi
3 Tablespoons shoyu
2 Tablespoons mirin
2 Tablespoons katsuobushi flakes
1/3 cup su (for soba zuyu only)
1 Tbs. shaved tangerine skin
Mix the dashi, shoyu and mirin in a saucepan and heat to boiling. Add the katsuobushi flakes and continue boiling for one minute. Strain the mixture through a cheese cloth or a coffee filter and allow to cool. Add the rice vinegar (su) and finely grated tangerine skin (if making soba zuyu). The sauce may be sprinkled with red pepper flakes when served.
Tsumé is traditionally made with the reduced stock of boiled conger eels (anago). This abbreviated recipe tastes great and takes much less cooking time than the traditional method of preparation.
The recipe follows:
1 cup dashi
1/2 cup mirin
1/2 cup shoyu
1/4 cup sugar
Put all ingredients into a saucepan and heat to boiling over medium heat. Simmer the sauce for about three or four hours to thicken. Reduce its volume to the point that it "threads" or "webs" when picked up with hashi. This recipe will yield about one cup of tsumé which will keep in the refrigerator for several months. Heat to ambient temperature (or warmer) before use.
Before air-conditioning, tsumé was traditionally reduced slightly more during the hot summer months to increase its viscosity, preventing it from trickling off the sushi. A small pastry brush or rubber spatula will allow you to apply it thinly and evenly. Tsumé has traditionally been used on both anago and unagi. American sushi chefs use tsumé to dress everything from avocado-based rolls to tamago.
When thinned to a more pourable viscosity with saké, it is referred to as kabayaki no taré. Taré is commonly used on boiled squid (niika), squid legs (geso), and occasionally, the edge meat of hirame (engawa) - though I consider the latter a barbarous practice.
This is a variation to soba tsuyu.
The recipe follows:
1 cup dashi
1/4 cup mirin
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup katsuobushi flakes
1/4 cup usukuchi (light) soy sauce (if unavailable, substitute 3 Tbs. regular shoyu)
1 Tablespoon finely grated tangerine skin or orange juice
Prepare this sauce in a similar manner to soba tsuyu. Serve both sauces with grated daikon, momiji oroshi (red pepper spiced grated daikon), or grated fresh ginger root (né shoga) to be mixed at the table in each diner's kozara (saucer).
Note: Usukuchi means thin flavor, not low sodium. Please do not confuse these two sauces, because their flavor is entirely different. Usukuchi is much lighter in color.
Although available bottled, the fresh sauce is more flavorful. Use this sauce to marinate meat, fish or chicken before grilling or broiling. It also adds a unique flavor when used to reconstitute dried shitake mushrooms and kampyo. (gourd strips).
The recipe follows:
1/4 cup shoyu
1 large clove garlic, crushed
11/2-2 Tablespoons mirin
1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger root
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon MSG
In a small bowl, mix all ingredients and allow to stand in a refrigerator for at least an hour for the flavors to mingle. This is enough marinade for about one pound of meat or fish. Let the food marinate, refrigerated, for one to four hours to obtain the optimum flavor penetration. After the food is finished marinating, brush the remaining teriyaki sauce on the meat during cooking for a nice glaze, and to intensify the flavor. Teriyaki grilled shiromi (white meat fish) goes well with oroshi (grated daikon), in chirashizushi, and in rolls with shiso, leaf, kaiware (daikon sprouts), yamagobo. (pickled burdock) and kyuri (cucumber).
This recipe is for those who prefer a fuller bodied sauce than soba tsuyu or ten tsuyu.
It is used in similar applications.
1/2 cup shoyu
1/4 cup katsuobushi flakes
2 Tablespoons mirin or saké
1/4 cup su (for tosa zuyu only)
1 Tablespoon finely grated tangerine skin or orange juice (for tosa zuyu only)
1 Tablespoon wasabi or karashi powder (for wasabi joyu or karashi joyu only)
Prepare this sauce in the same manner as soba tsuyu and ten tsuyu. Mix the shoyu and mirin in a saucepan and heat to boiling. Add the katsuobushi flakes and continue boiling for one minute. Strain the mixture through a cheese cloth or a coffee filter and allow it to cool. It may be served with red pepper flakes, but is usually not served with the other condiments.
To make wasabi joyu or karashi joyu, mix one Tablespoon of the appropriate powder in an equal amount of water and allow it to stand for a couple minutes until its bitterness subsides. Blend evenly into the sauce proper. Karashi joyu tastes great on bonito sashimi.
Note: When making tosa zuyu, eliminate the mirin and instead use two tablespoons of saké, together with 1/4 cup rice vinegar. Add one tablespoon of grated tangerine peel or orange juice as a substitute for yuzu peel.
Salmon is a fish that lives in both salt water and freshwater. When in freshwater, it can pick up harmful parasites as other freshwater fish may.
To render raw salmon safe for sashimi it should be frozen at 0 degrees fahrenheit for 72+ hours. Done properly, this hard freezing process kills parasites as reliably as cooking. Your home freezer does not get cold enough to kill the parasites! It must be done with commercial grade equipment.
Before this freezing process was discovered, sushi chefs blanketed their skin-on salmon fillets in a layer of coarse salt for about an hour or until the salt begins to melt. They then rinsed off the remaining salt and patted the meat dry. This salting firms the flesh and renders it safer to eat. I understand that the salt does not completely kill the parasites, but it weakens them enough that they are not viable if consumed by a person with a normal, healthy immune system.
To make the salmon even safer to eat raw, the chef sometimes marinates the salted salmon in rice vinegar, wine or sake for 10 minutes to 1 hour depending on the recipe. If marinated too long, the marinade, particularly vinegar, will "cook" the flesh on the outside. The longer it is marinated the more flesh will be cooked. This outside flesh may be eaten as it tastes good, but it is usually discarded because it is discolored and tough.
Farm raised Atlantic salmon have a much lower incidence of parasites so they are the safest to eat with the least amount of curing. Where I work, we start with fresh, farm raised salmon and then salt it, cure it in vinegar, and freeze it for 72 hours to produce a product that is as safe as is humanly possible.
As a side note, farm raised salmon has a higher fat content, so it is more tender than wild caught salmon, and is healthier for your cardio-vascular system because it contains more unsaturated fatty acids (omega 3's and 6's).
When prepared properly, raw salmon is safe.
Trust your sushi chef and enjoy.
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