The Zen of Fish by Trevor Corson

Yesterday, I finished reading Trevor Corson‘s fabulous book The Zen of Fish: The Story of Sushi, from Samurai to Supermarket.

As I mentioned before, this book was both entertaining and educational!

It provides the science and history of sushi — originally fish preserved in rice in the old capital Kyoto where the rice was thrown out before becoming fast food in Edo (now Tokyo) — interwoven through the personal drama of a group of students at the California Sushi Academy.

Here are a few of the interesting things I learned from this book:

  • Wasabi at most sushi bars is just normal horseradish colored green. True wasabi is quite rare and expensive and loses its potency when mixed with soy sauce.
  • Properly prepared nigiri is eaten with one’s fingers since is very lightly packed (meant to melt in your mouth) and will fall apart if picked up with chopsticks.
  • Hard-core sushi aficionados say the fish should never be raw nor should it be completely fresh and should always come served with the right amount of sauce or flavoring; 19th century sushi was never served raw and was always salted and marinated, blanched, or seared before serving.
  • Ikura, the Japanese word for salmon roe (eggs), is derived from the Russian word for caviar — ikra.
  • Hamachi, which I always thought meant yellowtail means farmed yellowtail these days (or “cultivated” yellowtail). Japanese use different words to describe yellowtail in different stages of development – mojako (1 – 2 inches), wakashi (2 – 6 inches), inada (6 – 16 inches), warasa (16 inches – 2 feet), buri (mature).
  • Salmon must be frozen to kill parasites before serving; a freshwater fish, salmon is particularly vulnerable to parasites.
  • Wild salmon meat is tough and leaner than farmed salmon; most American’s prefer the fatty, soft meat of farmed salmon; Salmon is very rarely served as sashimi or in sushi in Japan.
  • Ama-ebi (raw sweet shrimp), one of my favorite kinds of nigiri, was not served until after World War II.
  • The compound that makes fish smell fishy is TMAO losing it’s oxygen and becoming TMA.
  • The three ways to order sushi are okimari (meaning “it’s been decided,” this is a pre-fixed meal), okonomi (meaning “as I like it,” where the customer knows what he wants), and omakase (meaning “I leave it to you,” where you simply trust the chef to create a variety of dishes for you based on his knowledge of your preferences and what items are freshest that day); Omakase is thought to be the best way to order.
  • Japanese are as intimidated as Westerners of sitting at a sushi bar.

If you love sushi, you will enjoy The Zen of Fish!

To read more about the book, click here to visit the author’s website.


One response to “The Zen of Fish by Trevor Corson

  1. It is an interesting story. Visit my blog if you are interested in Samurai Zen.

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