When I was a kid I wasn’t afraid to try new varieties of food. I loved me some raw vegetables: broccoli, brussels sprouts, and spinach. I liked to shock other kids by eating what they were picky about. As I think back to this adventurous exploration of food, nothing left such an impression on me as my first time trying sushi. Since then, I was hooked, and Japanese food has been one of my favorite cuisines. I could literally eat it every single day (if given the choice).
Last week, my good friend called and told me he had visited a Japanese market and bought ingredients to make chirashi bowls. He said I was “good at cutting things” so he needed me to come over and slice the fish. Chirashi is a traditional Japanese dish served in most sushi restaurants. You’ll find it in the back of the menu and it’s usually a great bargain considering the amount of food you can get. It is basically a combination of sashimi on top of a large bowl of sushi rice. I have never attempted to prepare it at home, but I have made sushi rolls before. I once worked with a man who made his rice early in the morning and throughout the day would make various types of sushi rolls. I learned a few tricks from watching him. This taught me how simple creating your own sushi can be.
When my friend called and said he had purchased all the ingredients, he was not lying. He literally had everything. I’ll give you a list and describe each of the fish, vegetables, and other Japanese ingredients that he purchased so you, too, can be prepared for your own visit to the Japanese market.
Tuna – Maguro
Salmon – Sake
Sea Urchin – Uni
Seaweed Salad – Sesame seeds a little splash of sesame oil and some chilli flakes are added to this classic. I can eat a truckload of this.
Flying Fish Roe (small eggs) – Masago, or Tobiko
Salmon Roe (large eggs) – Ikura
Smoked Mackerel – Saba
Crab – Kani (not technically what we used, which was imitation crab stick, so “Kanikama“)
Sakura Denbu – or just ‘denbu’ this is the pink, fluffy, sugary stuff. Think cod flavored cotton candy. That’s actually what it is.
Nori or dried seaweed – this is the wrapper for the majority of sushi, it can be cut into strips for garnish. Did you know that seaweed really isn’t a plant at all? It’s actually algae. Yum 🙂
Pickled Daikon Radish – Takuan: This can be many different colors and flavors.
Squid – Ika: You need to score this, or it will be too tough to eat. What I mean by that is: cut a shallow pattern into the meat, not completely through it, just enough to tenderise. Checkerboard style works great.
Wasabi – Japanese horseradish, you know, the spicy green stuff.
Ginger – Gari: This is pickled ginger, not everyone’s favorite, but great for cleansing your palate between bites, or for freshening your breath at the end of the meal. 🙂
And of course sushi rice.
Sushi rice is different than typical white rice. It has a fatter, small grain and it’s treated differently after the cooking process to give it that sticky texture. Here’s a recipe to teach you how to make perfect sushi rice. You can omit the sugar, but I suggest using it, especially for chirashi.
In my book, no visit to the world of japanese cusine is complete without miso soup. Then again I am American. Here’s a great recipe for miso soup, with or without the added green chard is fine: Classic Miso Soup with Tofu.
Typically, when you buy sushi quality fish, it already comes sliced into large rectangular pieces. Whenever you get the fish home, it is not immediately ready to eat. First, you will need to trim any discolored or tough areas from the slab. I will provide step-by-step instructions below on how to trim and slice the fish into sashimi sized pieces. The best trick to creating a clean cut besides having an extremely sharp knife, is to also keep a damp towel nearby to wipe your blade clean and to keep your hands moist between cuts. You want to keep all your fish refrigerated until right before you cut it; if the fish is warm, you will be dealing with a gooey mess. This is because the fat is no longer solid. You want to use a knife that has a long, thin blade. A knife with a short blade will encourage you to saw through the fish instead of using one long draw from base to the point of the blade like you ideally should. Keeping your hands wet will prevent them from sticking to the fish and also will keep them cool. I have heard the best sushi chefs have naturally cold hands. Make sure your rice inside the chirashi bowl is also cool. You would not want your fish to be cooked on the bottom by the time you eat it. Here is a the best video I have found highlighting all of these points: How to prepare fish for sushi.
So, lets briefly discuss cutting against the grain. This applies to ALL meat and is really worth utilising:
Cut with the grain=chewy. Cut against the grain=not chewy.
Now that you’ve read my brief description, here is a link that really delves into the physics of why to cut against the grain: The Food Lab. It’s a little tongue-in-cheek since they really get into extreme detail, and even go so far as to prove mathematically why you should do this. 🙂 It’s a long read but worth it, in my opinion, if you’re a carnivore. It is full of thought provoking info about this age-old issue of ‘with or against the grain’.
Well those are just a few of the tips I have learned in my years of enjoying sushi. Hopefully they save you some time and trouble with your first time attempting it at home. In a future post, I will go over how to make sushi rolls. I cannot encourage you enough to try cutting sashimi and making chirashi at home. It is such a light meal and a perfect balance of all the food groups. Eating sushi can be an expensive outing, but with just a little homework you can create it right in your own home.