From Hiroko Shimbo, the well-known and widely admired authority on Japanese food, here is the most comprehensive, engaging, and instructive book that has ever been written on the fascinating world of sushi—the delights of eating it, preparing it, and savoring it in its many forms.
Shimbo introduces you first to the history of sushi (it started out as a way of preserving fish) and shows how it has evolved into the phenomenon it is today, relished by food lovers the world over. She then takes you into a typical sushi bar—guiding you in all aspects of the experience, from the ordering of sushi and the etiquette of eating it to the appropriate exchange with your sushi chef—all in Japanese, of course (you can tear off this sheet and the one on the back flap to tuck into your pocket so you’ll have these valuable tips with you the next time you visit a sushi bar).
For the home cook there are step-by-step illustrated instructions on how to make sushi rice properly and how to shape the rice around a variety of delicious fillings (primarily of cooked and preserved fish and seafood, omelets, vegetables, and seasonings). There are sauces and accompaniments to complement the sushi meal. A new world will open up as you discover sushi pouches, tossed and arranged sushi salads, sushi for the lunch box, and sushi dolls to make with your children.
Now, along with the professional chef, you are ready to tackle raw fish and seafood, and Shimbo gives you all the tools—what fish to buy, how to be sure that is safe to eat raw, and how to slice it expertly.
It’s all here in this all-encompassing, gloriously illustrated book, along with stories about fishermen, knife makers, tea growers, wasabi farmers, and sake brewers, to inspire American cooks to create, and enjoy, our own perfect sushi.
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Hiroko Shimbo is a trained sushi chef, restaurant consultant, cooking instructor, and author of The Japanese Kitchen, which was a Food & Wine magazine “Best of the Best” winner and an IACP Julia Child Cookbook Award nominee. She has also written for Saveur and other magazines. A native of Japan, she lives in New York City.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Master Recipe for Prawn Nigiri-zushi
In this master recipe, I am using only prawns, but try to include one or two more seafood varieties, such as tuna or salmon, to make your nigiri-zushi meal more colorful and flavorful. Although it might be fun to emulate the graceful ballet that the sushi chef performs to make each nigiri-zushi, it is undoubtedly simpler for the home cook, who is not yet practiced in this art, simply to prepare, up to 1 hour before serving, as many rice balls as will be needed.
3 cups (lightly packed) prepared sushi rice (see recipe below)
28 pieces prepared prawns (see recipe below)
Set up the working counter with sushi rice, prawns (and fish), wasabi, and a bowl of vinegar water.
Dip the tips of the fingers of your right hand in the vinegar water and rub both your hands together to distribute the water over your palms. Remember that too much water makes the sushi rice watery and too little makes it stick to your hands.
Following the illustrations, 1. reach into the sushi rice container with your right hand and pick up a small Ping-Pong-ball-size portion of rice (1/2 to 3/4 ounce). If you are a beginner, I recommend that you weigh the rice on a scale until you can eyeball the right amount to pick up. Without squeezing, quickly roll the rice over several times in the tips of your fingers, palm facing down. Transfer the rice to your left hand, placing it along the base of your four fingers. 2. Hold the rice in place with the thumb and index finger of your right hand as you make a depression on the top of the rice with your left thumb. 3. When you lift your thumb, the small depression remains in the center; it will not be visible when the sushi is completed, but it keeps the rice ball light and airy.
Place the index and middle finger of your right hand on top of the sushi rice ball and 4. roll the rice toward the tips of your fingers (the depression is down). 5. Slide it back to the original space at the base of the fingers of your left hand. Now you will make two motions simultaneously: 6. Grab the rice ball between the thumb and index finger of your right hand and move your left thumb back and forth across the top of the rice ball, exerting gentle pressure to smooth and flatten it. Do not squeeze the rice or press it down. 7. Continue to shape with the index and middle fingers of your right hand.
8. Pick up the sushi rice ball, rotate it 180 degrees clockwise, and return it to the base of the four fingers of your left hand. Repeat the process of grabbing the sides of the rice ball between the thumb and index finger while smoothing the top with the thumb as in step 6. Continue to shape as in step 7. 9. Now you have made a perfect rice ball. Repeat until you have used up all the rice. You should have about 28 rice balls.
Now smear a dab of wasabi on top of each rice ball, if called for, and 10. then place the prawn on top pressing it into the rice just enough so that it will adhere. There is nothing difficult about the technique. It just takes a little practice to do it as swiftly and efficiently as your sushi chef does.
NOTE: Making Rice Balls Ahead of Time
Line the rice balls up in a clean plastic container, then cover them with a clean damp towel plus a lid to keep them from drying out. Float the container in a bowl of warm water, changing the water as it cools down. Also, up to half an hour before serving, slice the raw, cooked, or cured seafood you will be using as toppings into the right size. At the last moment, all you have to do is smear a small dab of wasabi, if called for, on top of the rice ball and then put the topping on, pressing down slightly to hold it in place. That's it.
The History of Sushi
The tale of sushi begins centuries ago. Sushi originated not from a desire for novelty but from economic need—the need to preserve fish, an important source of protein. The first sushi—freshwater fish salted and pickled in fermenting rice—originated not in Japan but in the rice-growing region of northern Southeast Asia, where the method is still used. That primordial sushi making soon spread to China but disappeared there during the thirteenth century, when the Mongolian nomads who subjugated the country introduced a very different food culture. Before the Chinese abandoned this method of fish pickling, though, their frequent contact with the Japanese brought the practice to my country. No one can say with certainty when sushi crossed the Sea of Japan, but the earliest written references to it appeared in the eighth century AD. Over subsequent centuries, this ancient form of sushi evolved into today’s world-famous sushi cuisine.
In ancient times, the most common way to preserve fish was to salt it, and this method is still used throughout much of the world. But fish that is salted and dried gets hard as a board, such as bacalao, the salt cod of Europe and America. Using rice as well as salt in hot, humid areas of Asia created a product markedly different in flavor, aroma, and texture. The cooked rice fermented, producing lactic acid, which both aided preservation and imparted a pleasant sharp, tart flavor. (Some scholars believe that the word sushi comes from an older Japanese word meaning “tart” or “acid.”) At the same time, the plump, moist rice grains kept the fish tender and moist.
But there were drawbacks to this early preservation method. The pickling took at least a year, and when the process was through, the rice was too pasty to eat. It was wiped off the fish and thrown away. This wasted the always valuable rice crop.
Primitive sushi making is still practiced in some rural areas of Japan. In Shiga Prefecture, funa-zushi is made from local funa, freshwater carp, which is pickled in rice and salt for a year. Proud locals enjoy watching the reactions of outsiders who taste this delicacy for the first time. Most tourists—and I mean Japanese tourists, not foreigners—are so repelled by the smell of funa-zushi that they shun it without taking a bite.
I find that owners of funa-zushi souvenir shops, who sell gift-wrapped boxes of the delicacy to curious out-of-towners, like to exchange stories about their experiences. Some have received angry phone calls from customers: “The sushi was spoiled when I opened it; I had to throw it away! Send me back my money.”
Locals lament that the world doesn’t appreciate the strong smell and distinctive taste of funa-zushi, which they compare to mature Roquefort cheese. One 8-inch funa-zushi, however, can cost eighty dollars, much more than a generous slice of Roquefort cheese. Alas, these die-hard traditionalists are unlikely to succeed in bringing funa-zushi to the world.
The Evolution of Sushi
By the fourteenth century, sushi began to change. Although agricultural improvements had greatly increased Japanese rice production, rice was still an expensive food, and the Japanese had come to believe that it shouldn’t be wasted in preserving fish. So a new sushi evolved, nama nare-zushi, or short-pickled sushi. With the shorter fermentation time, the fish grew only mildly tart, and because the rice didn’t disintegrate, it was good to eat along with the fish.
By the seventeenth century, the Japanese were producing rice vinegar, and this new product inspired the development of an even faster sushi. Rice vinegar and sake, rice wine, now served as preserving agents in place of lactic-acid fermentation. By the nineteenth century, haya-zushi, quick sushi, had nearly replaced the ancient, slow method of preserving fish in fermenting rice.
But soon even haya-zushi was found too slow. It was the beginning of the mercantile age in Japan, and busy artisans and merchants needed a fast lunch; travelers wanted a tasty snack. Inevitably a quickly produced item such as oshi-zushi, pressed sushi, would become the vogue. It was called hako-zushi, boxed sushi, because of the way it was made. Vinegar-flavored rice was laid in a round or square wooden mold about one foot across. Sliced fish was laid over the rice, and a lid that fit inside the mold was pressed on top of the fish and rice. The mold was removed, the sushi was cut into bite-sized pieces, and presto—there was the world’s first fast food. As boxed sushi became popular, eggs and vegetables joined fish as toppings for the rice. In the Kansai region around Osaka and Kyoto, this sushi is still popular today.
But in Edo—the city now known as Tokyo—even boxed sushi was soon considered too slow. With more than a million residents, Edo was Japan’s political and business center and the capital of the powerful Tokugawa shogunate, whose regimes spanned the interval from 1600 to 1868. During this feudal era, when Japan was closed to nearly all foreign trade and influence, the domestic economy flourished, peace reigned, and Japanese culture and arts, including the culinary arts, reached their zenith.
Imagine that you had a sushi stand in Edo, then the largest city in the world. You would have served nigiri-zushi or even invented it. You would have cooked the rice, tossed it with salt and sake lee vinegar (page 25), and waited for a customer to approach. Upon receiving his order, you would have formed a small rice ball in your hand, carefully laid a slice of fish on top, and immediately handed the ball to the impatient customer standing in front of you. No pressing in a box, no cutting, no waiting. Such a morsel was nigiri-zushi, the ultimate fast food. It was an instant success, and its popularity was contagious. Sushi stands, sushi caterers, and sushi restaurants sprang up like mushrooms on every corner of this busy city. The demand for sushi grew so great and the sellers so greedy that the embarrassed shogun government arrested two hundred sushi chefs for drastically overcharging their customers.
In those early days, nigiri-zushi was always topped with cooked or cured fish or shellfish, such as kohada (gizzard shad), maguro (tuna), aji (horse mackerel), miru-gai (gaper clam), anago (conger eel), awabi (abalone), kuruma-ebi (kuruma prawn), or ika (squid). The use of raw fish, the essence of today’s sushi, began only after World War II, when the development of high-speed transportation and modern refrigeration and freezing equipment made it possible to transport and store raw fish safely.
Early nigiri-zushi was different from today’s in another way: it was almost three times as large. There is a curious bit of history behind the shrinking of sushi. At the end of World War II, Japan faced a severe rice shortage. The American occupational forces set up a rice-rationing system and decreed that all sushi restaurants must close. Kataro Kurata, a well-known chef at Sushi-ei (a restaurant still operating in the Ginza district of Tokyo), appealed to the staff at general headquarters: “Sushi plays as important a role in Japan’s culinary culture,” he said, “as the sandwich does in America’s.” When the appeal reached the highest levels, sushi restaurants were allowed to reopen—on the condition that the chefs use only rationed rice brought in by their customers. And so a standard was set: each cup of raw rice made ten pieces of sushi, including seven nigiri-zushi and three pieces of a traditional thin roll. Although a few heretical restaurants are now supersizing sushi to satisfy the American craving for larger food portions, the postwar prescription is still nearly universally followed. General of the Army Douglas MacArthur himself may have set the size of modern sushi.
In the nineteenth century, other kinds of sushi developed: thick and thin rolls (maki-zushi and nori-maki), stuffed tofu pockets (inari-zushi), and sushi rice served in a bowl (chirashi-zushi).
Nori-maki and Maki-zushi. Both the thin sushi roll, nori-maki (nori roll), and the thick roll, maki-zushi (sushi roll), first appeared late in the Edo period. The thin roll arose in Edo (now Tokyo) and the thick roll in the Kansai region (Osaka and Kyoto prefectures). Both rolls are made with nori, a sea vegetable known as laver in England and Wales. In Japan, nori is harvested from bays, formed into thin, dark green sheets by a process similar to papermaking, and dried. For nori-maki and maki-zushi, nori is rolled around sushi rice and a filling, and then the roll is sliced into white rounds with a green perimeter and colorful center. Both thin and thick sushi rolls are frequently prepared at home as lunch box fare.
The Kansai thick roll, futo-maki, uses a whole sheet of nori plus an added quarter-sheet for strength; traditional fillings include simmered kanpyo gourd, shiitake mushrooms, omelet, and sweet fish flakes. Today’s thick rolls may have other ingredients, such as raw fish and tempura shrimp.
The Tokyo thin roll, hoso-maki, uses only a half sheet of nori, and in the early days, kanpyo gourd was the only filling used. Today’s thin rolls come in many varieties, including kappa-maki (with cucumber), tekka-maki (with tuna), and oshinko-maki (with pickled daikon).
Inari-zushi. This sushi arose near the end of the Edo period as an inexpensive vegetarian snack. Thin sheets of tofu were deep-fried, simmered in a sweet broth, slit open to form a bag, and then packed with a mixture of sushi rice, cooked kanpyo gourd, and kikurage (tree fungus). Inari-zushi was peddled not at nigiri-zushi stands, which occupied the busiest street corners, but at plain stands set up on quiet streets at dusk and marked by flags bearing the image of a fox. In Japanese folk religion, foxes are the mediators between the people and the god of the harvest, o-inari-san, who ensures good business. Foxes were believed to love abura-age (fried tofu), which forms the bag that holds the sushi rice. So inari-zushi was a favorite food of all foxes. (How did foxes come to love fried tofu? Please don’t ask.)
Modern inari-zushi is a little bigger than a matchbox but still only a third to a fourth as large as the old version, which was cut into pieces and eaten with shoyu (soy sauce) laced with wasabi. Today inari-zushi is often prepared by home cooks for lunch or snacks.
Chirashi-zushi. Another invention of the late Edo period, this sushi is the easiest to make. The word chirashi, meaning “to scatter” or “to sprinkle,” describes the way to make this delightful dish. It requires no special ingredients, just sushi rice and whatever colorful, delicious additions...
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