Sushi History and Facts.

History and Facts

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History of Sushi.
Sushi Bars.
Making Sushi Rice.
Home Size Directions.

History of Sushi
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Japan is an island nation, its surrounding seas warmed by Kuroshio, the plankton-rich Japan Current, and abundant with an astonishing variety of fish and shellfish. The island themselves are mountainous, and its mountainous terrain make farming difficult. What little arable land exists is terraced and carefully cultivated to coax rice and a few other crops to grow. Japan has always fed its dense population from the sea and the rice fields, its cuisine emphasizing what nature provides. Therefore, it is not surprising that Japanese cuisine is based on its two most abundant food sources, fish and rice. Sushi, the combination of raw fish and seasoned rice that seems so exotic to foreigners, is a supremely logical food in Japan.

Sushi began centuries ago in Japan as a method of preserving fish. It is told that the origins of sushi came from countries of Southeastern Asia. Cleaned, raw fish were pressed between layers of salt and weighted with a stone. After a few weeks, the stone was removed and replaced with a light cover, and a few months after that, the fermented fish and rice were considered ready to eat. Some restaurants in Tokyo still serve this original style of sushi, called narezushi made with freshwater carp. Its flavor is so strong that it obscures the fish's identity altogether, and narezushi is something of an acquired taste.

In the 1700's a chef named Yohei began to serve raw fish combined with vinegared rice, and sushi as we know it was born. It became very popular and two distinct styles emerged. Kansai style, from the city of Osaka in the Kansai region, and Edo style, from Tokyo, which was then called Edo. Osaka has always been the commercial capital of Japan, and the rice merchants there developed sushi that consisted primarily of seasoned rice mixed with other ingredients and formed into decorative, edible packages.

Tokyo, located on a bay then rich with fish and shellfish, produced nigirizushi, featuring a select bit of seafood on a small pad of seasoned rice. Although the ornamental sushi of the Kansai region is still very popular, it is nigirizushi that foreigners are familiar with. Japanese cuisine is usually very simple, as it is based on a belief that nature cannot be improved. Therefore, the chef is presented with the task of arranging and preparing the food in such a way that its natural beauty and taste is not lost, but enhanced. 

Sushi, with all its beauty and tradition is the pinnacle of this art form. A master sushi chef, or shokunin, must work his way through a rigorous and apprenticeship. The Japanese believe skills can only be perfected through years of repetition. In order to understand the value behind any craft, one must study under a master The shokunin are heirs to the samurai tradition, and the chef's pride in his work goes beyond professionalism - it is his honor.

Sushi Bars.
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Sushi is traditionally served in counter style restaurants by master chefs who make and present each order. In Japan, dining out is a national pastime, and sushi bars are, by far, the most popular type of restaurant in that country. Sushi is a reflection of Japan's tradition of service, its aesthetic and its cuisine. The elegant presentation of each order, along with the wonderful flavors and ambiance of the sushi bar combine to make sushi a passion in the United States.

Americans, tired of fast food and microwaved dinners, have actively sought out artistic, delicious and refined meals. All of theses qualities are found in the Japanese sushi tradition. Sushi bars are friendly places, however, the formality of most Japanese restaurants is intimidating to many Americans.

When you are first seated, the server will bring you a hot towel, oshibori, rolled on a basket tray. Wipe your hands, and place the towel back in the basket when you are finished. Each place setting will be marked by a small saucer, a pair of hashi (chopsticks), and perhaps a hashi oki, or holder for the chopsticks. Hashi will be in a paper envelope an joined a the top. You should unwrap and separate the chopsticks. When you are not holding them the chopsticks should be placed either on the table or on the hashi oki, parallel with the edge of the counter.

Soon, a server will ask you for your drink order. Traditionally, only sake, tea or beer is considered appropriate. You will order all your food from the chef behind the sushi bar, but it is considered rude to ask him for drinks. When your sushi order is presented to you by the chef, you will see sliced ginger, and wasabi, a very hot form of horseradish. You will eat the sliced ginger with chopsticks as a palate refresher. Take a small amount of wasabi and mix it with soy sauce in the small saucer near your plate. Remember to use only a small amount, as you do not want to drown out the flavor of the sushi. Sushi is traditionally eaten with the fingers, in one or two bites, although many Americans handle it with chopsticks.

However, do not pass food from one person to another using chopsticks, as this parallels a Japanese funeral ceremony.

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Sashimi is fresh seafood, served raw, chilled, and sliced. The art of sashimi is in its elegant arrangements. Sashimi, unlike sushi, does not combine the fish with vinegared rice, therefore only the finest cuts of fish are selected by the sushi chef. There are four primary cuts used in its preparation. The first, Hira zukuri is a rectangular cut, and is primarily used for fish with fragile flesh. Ito zukuri is a very thin cut (perhaps a sixteenth of an inch thick) for fillets such as squid. Kaku zukuri is a cube cut, approximately three-quarters of an inch square, and is used for tuna and yellowtail. Finally, Uzu zukuri is a paper thin cut, so thin the plate is visible through the fish.

Chirashi. Nine is considered a very lucky number by the Japanese and this form of sushi combines nine varieties of fish and vegetables in rice. Chirashizushi literally means "scattered fish," and requires nine steps in preparation. Chirashi is usually served in a box or bowl and is similar to fried rice. Each person may help themselves to as much as they like.

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Sunomono. Traditionally served at the beginning of the meal as an appetizer, sunomono is a marinated cucumber salad served with wakame, crab, shrimp, octopus and topped with sesame seeds.

Oshinko. Pickled Japanese vegetables including daikon, cucumber, Napa cabbage, burdock root, and eggplant.

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Maguro (Tuna) More tuna is sold in sushi bars than any other kind of fish, and it is the fish most Americans associate with sushi and sashimi. Tuna should definitely be selected as the first cut for a sushi novice.

Hamachi (Yellowtail) Yellowtail is often mistaken for a form of tuna, but it is actually a species of amberjack, a sleek migratory fish related to tuna. A characteristic of yellowtail is a dark streak which may appear along the edge of a fillet. In the opinion of many, the delicate flavor of Hamachi makes it one of the most rewarding items at a sushi bar.

Sake (Salmon) The bright orange color of salmon makes it easily recognizable. Because salmon do not eat when migrating only those fish caught in the ocean, while they are fat, are considered suitable for sushi. Many people new to sushi are willing to order this wonderful fish due to their familiarity with its taste.

Hirame (Halibut) When seeing a halibut, it is impossible not to think it is a strange looking fish. But beneath the unusual exterior is a translucent flesh with a delicate flavor. Due to its texture, halibut makes wonderful, paper-thin sashimi and is available year-round from American waters.

Tai (White Fish) White fish is a chef's selection of seasonal white fish which can include Red and Pink Snapper as well as Seabass.

Kaibashira (Scallops) A scallop is the muscle of a giant clam which opens and closes its shell. Scallops have a very sweet flavor, a pale golden-yellow color, and are served sliced.

Kani (Crab) Crab is always served cooked. Kani is an excellent selection for those guests who are not quite ready for raw fish, yet want to enjoy the atmosphere and tradition of the sushi bar.

Ama ebi (Sweet Shrimp) Considered one of the finest delicacies available, a fresh raw prawn suitable for use as sushi is very rare. A clean, uncooked prawn is almost transparent and has a very sweet taste. In Japan, the love of sweet shrimp is taken one step further, with customers paying premium prices for "dancing prawns," which are still moving just before they are eaten.

Ebi (Shrimp) One of the most popular items to order is jumbo shrimp, or prawn, which is cleaned and butterflied, then dropped into boiling water.

Mirugai (Clams) This clam is usually called a geoduck or horseneck clam. It is very plentiful off the western coast of the United States, and can usually be found fresh. It has a slight rubbery texture and shellfish flavor.

Aoyagi (Clams) Aoyagi is a small imported clam from Japan. It is usually placed into boiling water before being thinly sliced for sushi in order to make the meat more firm and to enhance its bright color.

Ika (Squid) Ika has very white flesh which is glossy and slick, therefore it is usually scored with knife to allow soy sauce to cling to its surface. Some people love Ika on their first taste, while others are not enthralled. However, it is a very popular selection and a "must try" for the adventurous.

Hokkagai (Sea clam) Arctic surf clams have a slightly sweet taste and its meat is bright red and pale white. Hokkagai is usually butterflied for sushi.

Unagi (Fresh Water Eel) Japanese believe that eating unagi on a special holiday during the summer will guarantee good health for a full year. Unagi is never served raw. It is grilled and seasoned before it is presented, therefore you do not need to dip it in soy sauce. It is an excellent choice for a sushi novice.

Tako (Octopus) Octopus is probably the most easily identified item on the sushi menu. Tako is always cooked, which causes the tentacles to turn deep red. However, when it is sliced, the meat inside is pure white. It has a slight rubbery texture, but the clean, light taste will appeal to almost everyone.

Tobiko (Flying Fish Roe) This is the roe served most often in sushi bars, either alone or as a garnish for other types of sushi. Its characteristic bright orange, very tiny eggs are flavorful, firm and salty.

Ikura (Salmon Roe) Most Americans are familiar with Ikura, simply not with its Japanese name. In this country, it is called red caviar, taken from salmon, the eggs are bright orange, extremely tasty, and have a sticky texture.

Uni (Sea Urchin Roe) Possibly the most "acquired" taste in sushi is the urchin. Those who enjoy it can spend a great deal of money satisfying their cravings. Fresh sea urchin is available from August until April. 

Tamago (Omelet) Tamago is an egg omelet which is made in very thin layers, one upon another, until the omelet is about an inch thick. It is then chilled and sliced, and its sweet taste is a wonderful contrast with other types of sushi. The expert preparation of tamago is considered a mark of a master chef.

Saba (Mackerel) While the mackerel and the tuna are related, the taste of the two could not be more different. While tuna is very light, mackerel is much richer. The best mackerel is caught during the winter, and it must be frozen within six hours or it will lose its flavor.  However, the Japanese take great care to preserve its taste, therefore saba can usually be enjoyed year round.

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Makizushi is sushi which is rolled with rice and sheets of seaweed, then sliced into bite-sized portions. This form of sushi is extremely popular due to its amazing versatility, almost any combination of items can be used. Sushi novices will find it particularly appealing, as the many ingredients combine into a delightful taste sensation which will completely dispel any squeamishness associated with "raw fish." There are two types of rolled sushi. The first, Hosmaki, or cut roll, is the most familiar. The other form, tamaki, is rolled by hand into a cone shape. Watching a master chef create rolled sushi is very entertaining, and not as difficult as it may appear. In fact, with a few ingredients you can easily learn to prepare rolled sushi at home.

Making Rice. (A rice making story from a visitor to Thank you taojones).
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  My roommate in Santa Monica, Mitsu Kasiwa was the owner of Super Sushi on Main St. It is closed now but not forgotten,  every time he threw out one of his kitchen help I was drafted into kitchen service. For a hakujin (Caucasian) this was a great thing. My first job was to eat everything, to know how it should taste. I love soba the most. I have been eating sushi since 1975. Getting the rice right was really important. Takami Maruyama taught me  to make the rice. Here is what we did every night to make the rice. you may put this on your site if you like.

 First we would rinse the rice until the water ran clear,  I guess we washed about 15 pounds dry at a time. it took me about two weeks to get  the right amount of rinse to please everyone involved. The instructions  in the Japanese cookbooks say "rinse until the water runs clear" but most of the Itami (translation "he who stands before the board") liked me to stop somewhat short of that so the rice would be sticky.  If you over rinse apparently you loose some of the starch. I learned to stop at about a 15 % cloudiness.

 The damp rice would sit for a few minutes until it turned really white and lost all its translucency. We then put the rice into the cooker for the next step.  The right amount of water was always a matter of animated discussion.  It was measured by placing the palm of the hand flat on the rice and pouring in water until the knuckle of the index finger just peeked out of the surface, about 3/4 of an inch over the sunken rice.  Then each Itami checks the level with their own hand and there must be at least 10 minutes of head shaking and frowning, after which one more sake cup full of water is added to assure luck. The lid is fixed and the cooker does the rest. 

 When it is finished, the rice is brought to a large spruce washtub and a flat paddle made of wood is used to quarter the load into sections. Once loosened the rice is dumped from the cooker into the tub and about a pint of Mirin and rice vinegar in about a 50/ 50 mix are added as evenly as possible. The tub is then spun around and the paddle is used to separate the rice by holding it at about 30 degrees and slicing it  gently into the rice as the tub is turned.  Almost like a chef decorates a cake icing with his knife. Then the rice is fanned with a towel for a few minutes to polish the grains by blowing off the steam. The rice is covered with a towel and allowed to cool.

 The end result is a rice of slightly firm texture, with no trace of mush. Each grain is separate but sticky if pressed. When sliced in half  the centers of the grain are pearly translucent circles with a thin white ring on the outside. each grain has a shine. The vinegar is added not only for flavor but to prevent the rice from fermenting.

 Once you start to notice the quality of the rice you are on your way to discriminating between the really great and the mediocre sushi experience. We have to keep our local sushi bars honest by letting them know we appreciate the fine points of the "rice cake". I really believe that a lot of good sushi bars suffer from a sort of "why bother" attitude  if they think nobody appreciates the difference anyway.

Home size directions:
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  Rinse 1 cup of rice until the water runs mostly clear, drain and let the rice stand for about 15 minutes damp (you can hear the rice already absorbing the water if you listen close).

  Add a cup of cold water and put on a high flame with a heavy lid  for 10 minutes and then turn it down for another 10 and then as low as you can till all the water is absorbed  no peeking  till at least 20 minutes have gone by or you will lose the steam and the rice will come out hard.

  If you have done a good job it looks like the moon but none is stuck to the bottom or burnt.

  Gently dump the rice into a bowl and with a spatula gently mix in about 1/4 cup of Mirin and rice vinegar. Slice the liquid into the grains carefully but quickly and fan with a towel until the steam stops rising, then cover the rice with the clean dishtowel and let it come back to room temperature.

Good luck with your site.

Wasabi. (This is interesting, from
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 Why Fresh Wasabi Is Different Than Prepared Wasabi Paste Or Powder:
 The most frequently asked question we receive is: What's the difference between wasabi powder, prepared wasabi paste in tubes and fresh wasabi?

Wasabi powder is available in most grocery stores and is also used in most sushi restaurants in the U.S. The powder is not real wasabi at all. The customary ingredients are horseradish powder (dried and ground regular horseradish), mustard powder, cornstarch and artificial color (blue and yellow). It's convenient and inexpensive but tastes nothing like real wasabi.

 Prepared wasabi tubes are available in Japan in three grades. Grade 3: no real wasabi, Grade 2: approximately 25% real wasabi and Grade 1: 100% real wasabi.

The grades 2 and 3 are usually available in the U.S. however, grade 1 is more difficult to find. The grade 1 will say 100% real wasabi on the box. Grades 2 and 3 and also jars usually contain from 75% to 100% artificial wasabi powder as discussed in the paragraph above. Most all prepared wasabi in tubes and jars also contain other ingredients. A typical FDA ingredient list on the box reads as follows for prepared wasabi: horseradish, mustard, modified starch, sorbital, vegetable oil, salt, citric acid, natural spice extract, artificial color.

Real wasabi is one of the rarest and most difficult vegetables in the world to grow. Few geographical areas are suited for growing wasabi.

 Wasabi (Wasabia japonica syn. Eutrema japonica) is a highly valued plant in Japanese cuisine, used primarily as a condiment for seafood dishes. More recently it has found widespread appeal in western cuisine due to its unique flavor. Used as an ingredient in dressings, dips, sauces and marinades, wasabi is a versatile spice and is rapidly becoming one of the most popular new flavors. Wasabi has a heat component that unlike chili peppers is not long lived on the palette and subsides into an extremely pleasant, mild vegetable taste that even people normally averse to hot food enjoy. 

 Wasabi is a vegetable that requires intensive cultivation. The plant is a perennial that grows to about 18 inches high producing leaves on long stems from the crown of the plant. As the plant ages the leaves fall off at the stem bases and with time a rhizome forms which is the part of the plant that is used. Unlike processed wasabi, fresh wasabi has to be carefully grown for approximately 2 years before it is mature and at its peak flavor. The whole plant is harvested, but only 10% - 15% of the plant's weight is the rhizome-- above ground root.

Although soil cultivation is sometimes used, only water cultivation produces the high quality required for fresh consumption.

About Ikura..

We've gotten a couple of emails from people with salmon roe that they would like to turn into ikura... here is a recent email I sent to them.

Some links that might help with salting salmon roe.

A recipe
Preparation method Measurement Ingredient Preparation Method

Salmon caviar is second only to sturgeon in quality. To make red caviar you need a piece of 1/4" to 1/2" mesh screen at least one foot square, depending on the egg size. first choice is plastic or stainless steel but plain steel can be coated with vegetable oil and galvanized can be coated with resin. Separate the eggs from the membrane by gently rubbing the skein of eggs over the screen. Discard the membrane and blood vessels remaining on the screen after most of the eggs have passed through. Make an 80 deg sal brine [1 cup + 2 tbs salt to 1 qt water]. Gently stir the eggs in the cooled brine from 15 to 30 min. The uptake of salt will depend on the maturity of the eggs; they should become opalescent. Do not over salt. drain for 8 hours. Keep cool but above 40 deg so the eggs do not congeal. Pack into jars. Refrigerate between 34 and 36 deg. up to a year. Over 40 deg it will have a very short life.

N.B. Once sealed in jars it MUST be kept refrigerated at all times to
prevent possible BOTULISM. some caviars can be pasteurized with minimal loss of flavor and color but not salmon. Rely on good refrigeration instead. Extracted from: Smoking Salmon & Trout by Jack Whelan. Published by: Airie Publishing, Deep Bay, B.C. ISBN: 0-919807-00-3 Posted by: Jim Weller



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