Mar 01 2007

Sushi and Sashimi

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A Fish Shop, Hokkaido
It takes years to become a Sushi master. A young apprentice may spend two years simply preparing the rice before he is allowed to touch a fish. The fish is so fresh many bars keep the fish alive in tanks and prepare them for each order. I’ve even seen a lorry full of water transporting fish across Tokyo; a sort of huge mobile aquarium.

In this country it is only possible to serve either sashimi or a simple version of sushi if you are fortunate enough to be a fisherman or live so near the sea that you are able buy fish the day it has been caught. There is a saying in Tokyo that if it is past midday the fish is not fresh enough for sushi!

I am lucky enough to have two sources of very fresh fish in my local town so occasionally, for a very special treat, I make Temaki-zushi or California Roll style sushi. I rinse sushi rice in water and cook it in an equal quantity of water i.e. 5 cups of rice to 5 cups of water. I boil it quickly for three minutes then reduce the heat and continue for a further ten. Then I check to see that the water is all absorbed. Next I cover the pot with a cloth and let the rice stand for another 15 minutes. While the rice is standing I prepare the dressing by mixing a little salt and sugar with about 125 ml of Sushi vinegar or Mirin.

Traditionally the rice is tipped into a wooden tub but a plastic bowl will do at home! Using a wooden spatula, I slice through the rice rather than stir it, slowly adding the rice vinegar mixture. The Sushi apprentice would also fan the rice as he turned it, to cool it to body temperature; cooler than this and the grains begin to harden. Now you begin to see why he must practice for so long to perfect this art form of cooking rice!

I serve the rice, still warm, with very thin slivers of the freshest raw fish; salmon and tuna, scallops, king prawns, smoked eel. Raw vegetables too; sliced cucumber, avocado, asparagus, mange-tout peas, spring onions and whatever else I fancy.

I ask each guest to take a sheet of Nori sea weed, fill it with rice, a selection of fish and vegetables, a dab of hot, eye watering Wasabi and a little slice of sweet pickled ginger and some soy sauce, then twisting it into a cone shape, eat it with their fingers. We drink green tea, a glass of sake or some Japanese beer and have a feast; a simplified version of the great delicacy of Japan!

And a dish of Sashimi, fish, wasabi and ginger and soy sauce without rice or nori, makes a wonderful starter to a meal.

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