Wake Up Little Sushi

Sushi Restaurant

CK: Chris Kinjo, Sushi Chef

    You know, eating the foods of foreign lands can be a lot like visiting foreign lands: intriguing, enlightening, exciting, exotic, educational, frustrating, tedious, confusing, intimidating. This is certainly true of the cuisine of Japan; and especially true of sushi. Excuse me a second.

AB: Pardon me. Maguro nigiri [tran: Tuna served on top of vinegar rice], please.

CHRIS KINJO: Akami, toro or otoro? [tran: Red tuna, fatty part of the tuna, or fattest part of the tuna]

AB: Um, toro.

CK: Chutoro? [tran: medium fattest part of the tuna (from the upper belly)]

AB: Chutoro. Um ...

    Watch me amaze him with my knowledge.

AB: Ahem, actually, I'd rather have shimofuri [highly marbled type of otoro].

CK: Wrong. How about "no sushi for you"? How about some chicken teriyaki? [walks off]

AB: Okay, that would be great.

    As you can see, even ordering sushi can be a little bit of a challenge, which makes sense when you've got strange ingredients many of which are completely raw, dozen of distinct styles, and enough ritual, tradition, and custom to make a Western head spin. And yet, whether enjoyed at your local sushi-ya or in the privacy of your own home, sushi is that rare combination of flavor and fun, texture and tradition, nutrition and nuclear science that we like to call ...

["Good Eats" theme plays]

Sushi Restaurant

    [sips a beverage] There's no better way to learn about sushi than to hang out at a sushi bar or sushi-ya. Now since the Sushi Chef, or itamae, practices his or her craft right at the counter, sitting at the bar is kind of like going to culinary school.
    Now, this would be a good time for me to give you my very favorite sushi phrase: omakase [tran: "entrust" or "protect"] onegai shimas [tran: "please do me the favor"]. Now it essentially means you're putting yourself completely in the chef's hands. It's a vote of confidence that never fails to rev the pride engine of an itamae. He'll break out his finest skills, his sharpest knives, his top quality sea critters, just to prove that you did the right thing. I'm going to give it a try.

AB: Excuse me.

CK: Hai. [tran: yes]

AB: Omakase onegai shimasu.

CK: Wrong again. I told you, no sushi for you. No chicken. No nothing.

AB: [to off camera] Freeze program.

    Excuse me for just a moment, won't you?

Sushi-ya Holodeck Lab

GUEST: Lab Technician

[a box bearing the inscription "Sushi v1.0", descends]

AB: [emerges, speaks to the Lab Tech]. You know, I think the itamae program is still running just a little bit hot. Check out the programming, okay?

    I don't know. It looks like if I want sushi, I'm going to have to take matters into my own hands.

Woods of Japan

    Legend has it that sushi was invented about a thousand years ago when an old woman who lived in the woods of Japan had just sat down to eat a big pot of rice. She heard some bandits coming—and fearing they would take her rice—she climbed a tree and hid it in the nest of a large sea bird. By the time the bandits departed and she finally got back up the tree, the rice had partially fermented and it was completely littered with bits and pieces of fish left by the sea bird. She tasted it. It was great. And thus, sushi was born.

The Kitchen

    When it comes to specialty foods like sushi, I take the kit approach and keep all the basic parts together, like a tool or sewing kit. Remember America, organization will set you free.
    Now sushi is perfect for kitting because so many of the basic bits and pieces have long shelf lives. Now let's take a look in my basic kit here. Let's see. We've got the basic condiment—the ketchup of Japan—dark soy sauce. I use this all over the kitchen. But I don't want to run out, so I keep some in here. We've got some rice wine vinegar, a slightly sweetened vinegar that has got to be used on the sushi rice, or meshi. Now speaking of rice, because it's got to be sticky but never mushy, we can't use long or medium-grain rices. What's perfect is Japanese short-grain rice, but, unfortunately, the Japanese do not export any of their rice. Luckily, California grows some excellent hybrids, so we're okay there.
    Let's see, now we've got nori. Now if anybody's ever told you that these green sheets are made of seaweed, they were very much mistaken. It's algae, harvested from the shore, dried on racks, and pressed into sheets. Now these are very, very susceptible to moisture. So, I generally buy packages that contain just a few sheets as opposed to these big guys. That way, you don't have to open them and let all the moisture in. You can see they come with those little packs of desiccant stuff; you can feel them in there. You don't want to eat those. Bad Eats.
    Okay, let's see. I've got a special rice spoon, which is good. And I've got a couple of different rolling mats for making rolled, or maki-sushi. We'll get into those later.
    Oh, almost forgot. Wasabi, that green hot stuff that's often lurking inside your little pieces of sushi. Oddly enough, both the powdered and the paste form contain almost no, if any, wasabi. That's because it is extremely hard to find, and extremely expensive, and, well ... come here.
    Real wasabi is a rhizome that comes from an evergreen member of the mustard family. Now it's very picky stuff. It only grows in certain kinds of soil and on well-drained, but moist, shaded hillsides. Some wasabi is grown in Oregon as well as New Zealand. And it's pretty good. But real sushi aficionados will tell you that the Japanese version is superior in every way.
    Now in top sushi shops, whole roots are grated into little bowls via shark skin graters. Really. And it's used as a garnish, but it's got none of that hot pungency of the powdered green stuff that you see in lesser stores. It's floral and sweet, with just a little bit of [throws a little punch into the air], you know, right in the background.
    While we are here, we should probably make mention of pickled ginger, or gari. Although it's not an absolute necessity when making or serving sushi, it is a common palate cleanser, something you would eat in between other pieces of sushi. Now the manufactured type is usually made with a dyed vinegar, so it's orange or pink. Homemade stuff is usually white, but that's another show.
    The first step to making sushi rice, or meshi, wash the grains in cold water. This will remove this nasty, powdery starch residue which will become a gummy annoyance if left in place. Just keep washing and draining until the water runs clear. Three changes usually does the trick.

Always use the big end of the chopsticks when
taking sushi from a communal platter.

The Kitchen

    Sushi rice is usually cooked with an equal portion of water by volume, so this two cups of rice will go into the pot along with two cups of fresh water.

2 Cups Sushi or Short Grain
2 Cups Water

    [the kosher salt container opens] No, no, no. Sushi rice does not get salt at this point of cooking. Now we'll bring this to a boil over high heat, uncovered, and we'll cover as soon as we achieve bubblage.
    [camera pans over to the rice cooker] Yes, rice cookers are very popular, and they are capable of producing sushi rice. If your household goes through a lot of rice, then you might want to consider a machine, especially one that includes a warming function and "fuzzy logic" that keeps the rice from burning. The problem is, this is a unitasker, and we've got rules about that kind of thing around here. [throws the rice cooker out the window]
    When the time is up on the rice, just kill the heat, and leave everything right where it is for another ten minutes.

    In the meantime, combine 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, and 2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar in a microwave-safe container. Mix up, best as you can, and stash in said box for 30 to 45 seconds on high heat, of course. Now the point here is to dissolve most of the sugar and salt. There is not, however, enough liquid to dissolve it all, but there will be, once we have a little extra liquid from the rice.

2 Tbs. Sugar
1 Tbs. Kosher Salt
2 Tbs. Rice Wine Vinegar

    When the meshi is done, dump it into a large bowl, preferably a wooden bowl, and unvarnished would be nice. Wood will wick away excess moisture, but it won't suck the heat out of the rice too quickly the way a big metal bowl would. If you don't have a big wooden bowl—, you know, like a salad bowl—just use the biggest glass bowl that you can get your hands on. It'll be okay.
    Slow cooling is really crucial if the rice is going to absorb the next hit of flavor and develop a sticky, but not gummy consistency. Now once the rice is spread out a bit, drizzle on the vinegar mixture, and cut it into the rice with a spatula. Don't stir, okay. That would just rile up the starch coat. Think slashing motions here.
    Now traditionally, at this point, an assistant would come in with a fan. Not to cool you down, but to cool the rice and dry the vinegar/sugar syrup onto the outside of the grains. That is what is going to ensure the stickiness needed to create stable three-dimensional forms without having to squeeze the rice into dense little dumplings. Now if you don't have a fan, a paper plate will do the job very nicely.
    Now once the rice is completely cool—and yes, you'll have to fan it until it is at room temperature, it'll just take a couple of minutes—place a moist towel over it and stash it in a relatively cool place in your kitchen, until you're ready to make your sushi shapes. Whatever you do, do not put it in the refrigerator. The grains will get hard, and lose their subtle adhesive qualities.

The Seafood Guy: Marietta, GA - 10:32 am

GUEST: John Stewart, fishmonger

    It is a sad and simple fact of life that food can make you sick. And if meat is on the menu, the chances of this goes up. And if raw fish is on the menu, well, let's just say that the most important question a beginning sushimon [tran: sushi maker] can ask is not, "What fish will I prepare?", but, "Where will I get the fish that I prepare?
    Now this is John, my fishmonger. Fish is what he does. Fish is all he does.

AB: Good afternoon, John.

JOHN: Hey, Alton. You come here to pay your bill today?

AB: [laughing] Pay my bill ...

JOHN: My man.

AB: No. Really, I was coming in because I'm thinking about sushi tonight. What do you think?

JOHN: Sushi ... hmmmm ...

AB: [to the camera] He's got a lot to think about.

JOHN: [thinks for a few minutes]


JOHN: Well, I'll tell you what. I've got ... Today we've got some great red snapper that just came in, some wonderful mahi-mahi, we have pompano, but I tell you what. Today, I'd have to say, for sushi, go with the tuna, which is yellowfin, and the Spanish mackerel.

AB: Tuna and Spanish mackerel. I will have one Spanish mackerel, and half a pound of your best tuna.

JOHN: You got it, sir.

AB: Excellent.

    Now since temperature and quality have a direct correlation, whenever I shop for fresh fish, I always bring a wee cooler of ice to portal my catch home.

AB: [gives the cooler to John] There you go.

    Now ... [to the camera] come here, come here. The United States government happens to believe that fish that has been flash-frozen to about 20 below zero is actually safer than fresh fish and there are several mail-order organizations here in The United States that will ship you vacuum-packed, flash-frozen fish. So if you don't have a fishmonger like this, you can certainly consider that an option. Just don't tell him I said that, okay?

JOHN: Hey, man, that hurts.

AB: Just cut the fish.

The Kitchen

    If I've said it once, I've said it at least, oh, I don't know, five times: organization will set you free. This has never been more true than it is in the making of sushi.
    I like to work on a large wooden board. I'll be cutting raw fish on it. Yes, I am okay with that. I have some attractive service pieces. I have some pickled ginger, or gari. I have nori sheets which I have cut in half. I always roll with half-sheet sizes. I have two rolling mats, a large bamboo mat, and a smaller one, wrapped in cellophane for California rolls. We'll see that shortly. I've got about a pint of water spiked with two tablespoons of rice wine vinegar. I have the rice that we made earlier. I have some wasabi for garnish. I have one large sushi knife, very big, very sharp. You don't have to use that, 'cause you might take your finger off. So, feel free to use any slicing knife with a narrow blade.

In Japan it's not uncommon for a sushi knife to cost over $5,000.

The Kitchen

    Although it might be tempting to have your fishmonger cut the fish into strips for you, don't do that. It will just age and oxidize very quickly. So, leave it whole and cut off what you need as you need it. Now always cut very thin, and always cut against the grain. Now on a tuna steak like this, which was cross-cut to begin with, that means laying your knife over, and cutting on the bias. That will ensure that the meat will fall apart in your mouth, instead of being chewy. Now for a round fish or flat fish filet like this, cutting against the grain is a little bit different. That means angling this way because you can see the grain runs this way.

When ordering sushi, always start with leaner, white
fish and progress to fattier (usually darker) fish.

Sushi-ya Holodeck Lab / Sushi Restaurant

    [a box, bearing the inscription "Sushi v1.0", ascends.]
    [now in the restaurant] In 1809, a sushi maker named Yohei came up with an idea that changed the world, fast food. Now this was Edo—Tokyo, but before it was Tokyo—and it was about the size of London back then and its population was known to have a lot of taste, but not a lot of patience.
    Yohei wanted to satisfy both of these urges. So, he took a little slice of fish, grated on some fresh wasabi, and then flipped it over and pressed it into a hand-pressed oval of rice. He named the form nigiri, sold them by the piece, and they have been popular ever since. Let's watch how they get made.

CK: [demonstrates] So now what? You trying to steal my technique?

AB: No. I'm just watching.

CK: Yeah, I know. You're always watching. But how about paying your bill sometime?

AB: Ha ha ha ha.

    A good itamae is known to be able to keep like 10 to 20 customers at one time, without ever writing anything down. Of course, I can't help but notice, the place is practically empty.

CK: That's it. You got to get out of here now.

AB: [to off camera] Freeze program. I've got to work on this.

    [the box descends and now says "Sushi v1.5"]

AB: [emerges from the box, signs a clipboard, and gives the lab technician a nasty look]

LAB TECH: [hangs his head and walks off]

The Kitchen

    And now, we nigiri. The most important thing to note about sushi manufacturing is that you do not want to squeeze. You do not want to squish the rice. You want there to be plenty of air in between the granules so when it hits your mouth, it basically just kind of falls apart. But it does have to be shaped. And I go through the same little ritual, or the same series of movements each time I do this so that the fish is just adhered on top. And there we have it, nigiri maguro, the oldest and perhaps purest form of sushi. The second most popular form, or maki, has rather dark origins.

Edo Gambling House

    Legend has it that tuna maki, tekka-maki, was invented in an Edo gambling house some night in the eighteen something or others. A gambler, desperate to keep his hand on the dice, demanded that the cook concoct for him a snack that he could munch with one hand. Well, the cook went into the kitchen, grabbed some little tuna scraps, and some rice, and wrapped it up in a piece of nori, thus creating something that looked like a big green burrito. Now, faithful fans of this show will find irony in this tale, because on the other side of the world, perhaps, on the very same night ...

British Gambling House

     ... I, John Montague, Lord of the Dance, and Earl of Sandwich the fourth, the third, I don't know which one I am. But, I'm a notorious gambler and I have just beckoned my servant to bring forth a slab of roast beef packed between two pieces of bread so that I might take nourishment without having to give up my cards. And thus was born, the sandwich. Take your sticky dice.

In Japan, the word sushi refers to the rice not the fish.

The Kitchen

    Tekka-maki, of course, requires tuna, just a little bit. I like to slice a couple of pieces off of a larger filet, thusly. Again, against the grain, and then I split those down the middle into narrow fingers. Be careful. There you go. That's certainly enough for one. And lay out your mat—flat side needs to be up—and bring the edge all the way to the end of your board. Then grab yourself a piece of nori. Now nori has two sides, shiny and rough, and you want the rough side placed up.
    Get some water on your fingers. You want them wet, but not dripping, so just have a towel nearby, and then grab some rice. Now, it's always easier to take some rice off the roll than to add some later. So, use enough rice, and bring it right up to about a quarter inch away from the edge of the nori. Rub on a little wasabi, however much you want—it's completely up to you—and then the fingers of tuna go right down the middle, overlapping ever so gently.
    Hold the tuna in place with your fingers, and then roll the mat over, and squeeze just enough to seal the roll. You don't want to squish it. And grab your knife, and dip it in water—that'll help the blade from catching on the seaweed—split that roll in half, double it over, and split into six pieces. Remember, use full sawing motions. Don't push down. A little gari on one side, maybe a little wasabi on the other, and you're good to go.

In 2001 a 444 lb. tuna sold in Tokyo's main fish market for $173,600.

The Kitchen

    Once upon a time, a Sushi Chef in California got a crazy idea. He thought he would take the rice out of the inside of the roll, and put it on the outside of the roll, and thus was born a roll that has no raw fish in it at all, America's favorite sushi, the California roll. Let's make one.

    You will need avocados, some crab, and some cucumber sticks. You will need your plastic-covered mat. You will place one sheet of nori on that mat. You will get your hands wet. You will get hold of some rice, and you will build just as before. Only this time, you're going to add some sesame seeds, and then you're going to flip the whole thing over onto the mat.

For 4 servings you will need 1 medium avocado, 4 crab sticks, 1 small cucumber , 1/3 cup sesame seeds and 4 sheets of nori.

    Take one quarter of avocado, sliced very thin—I usually get four, sometimes five slices out of this—and the avocado goes down on the nori first. This will give you a nice foundation that won't slide around when you start adding other ingredients. Three or four pieces interlocking will do. Ordinarily, crab (real crab) is used here, but you can use krab with a "k", which is usually made from pollock, believe it or not, but it still tastes pretty good. Just split a piece of that, or the real crab leg into several pieces, and then top that with, maybe, eight of the long pieces of cucumber. Roll using even pressure.
    Although the fillings, or gu, are completely up to you, resist the urge to add more than about three different items in the middle here. Any more than that, and your palate is just going to get confused. Besides, they'll be really hard to roll.
    Once you've got it rolled, apply a little even pressure, just to set the rice, and then continue as before, dipping your knife in water, splitting in half, and then doubling up, and cutting into six pieces. Some of rice is going to fall off. That's okay.

Sushi Restaurant

    Thank you very much. Now, at most sushi-ya, you will be served three accompaniments with your sushi. You will have some soy sauce, or shoyu, some gari, or pickled ginger, and a wee little wad of wasabi, or if not real wasabi, mixed wasabi paste. Now as for the gari, as mentioned before, it is usually used as a palate cleanser, but you can also just treat it as a side dish. Just munch away. It is said to be very very good for the digestion.
    As for the little wad of wasabi, sitting so sinisterly on the plate, I'd say to leave it be. Do not go mixing this up with your shoyu unless it is for dipping sashimi, which, of course, is fish—raw fish—without the rice. The way I figure it is, if the itamae wanted there to be wasabi inside the piece of sushi, he or she would have put it there, okay?
    Now, when it comes to the shoyu, it's very important that you remember that it is there to underline flavors, not cover them up. So you want to go very very sparing. And you do not, under any condition, want to go dumping the entire ball of shari—the rice ball—inside of the sauce. So here's how you do it. Oh, and remember, sushi was invented as finger food, so fingers are always permissible. And the dip [turns the sushi over, lightly coats one end]. And yes, you eat it all in one bite.

AB: [with his mouth full of sushi]. You know, ummghj, fgg fgfhh ...

CK: What did you say?

AB: No omff gio gfhgd ...

CK: What did you say about my sister? I heard you say something about my sister.

AB: [with his mouth still full of sushi] feef pogam, feef pogam! [the program doesn't freeze]

Sushi Holodeck Lab

    [AB exits the box that now says "Sushi v6.0"]
    Well, as I was mumbling, I hope that we have given you the courage to jump, feet first, into the culinary pool that is sushi. If you're already a fan, maybe it's time to try a little rice and roll of your own. If you've always shied away, well, trust me, exotic though it may seem, sushi is certainly Good Eats.
    See you next time.

AB: [signing the clipboard for the technician] Make it disappear.

Sushi Holodeck Lab

CK: [emerges from the box, and looks around, the music is ominous]

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010