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.