Judge a chef’s ability and quality of the shop by its Anago (Conger eel)

Sushi restaurants that advertise “Edo style” on the sign somewhat fear customers who order Anago right off the bat. If the customer then eats as if they are really taking the time to taste the sushi, then any chef not fully confident in their skills will want to hide under the sushi counter.

Anago is a topping that really demonstrate a chef’s skills (or lack thereof).

Edo-style sushi chefs work on many toppings. Anago is a perfect example of these toppings. It is actually first steamed to remove the fat. However, it’s a difficult balance to remove the fat while still leaving the umami. The steamed Anago is then boiled and flavored. Since the fish is plain, the flavoring is also a subtle skill and not an easy task.

Depending on the shop, the chef may make the sushi with the boiled fish, use Nitsume (boiling down) to bring out the flavor or lightly roast the fish before combining it with the rice. The chef’s ideas and abilities are apparent in the final dish. If the sushi is made from the freshly boiled fish, it should be soft and melt in your mouth…if the chef knows what they are doing! Lightly roasted Anago will have an aroma that fills your entire mouth.

The work this topping takes to serve is a chance for sushi shops to show off their specialties, but it is also a clear indicator of the quality of the shop. The level of the chef and quality of the sushi shop will be revealed as soon as you place Anago in your mouth.


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Revision date: May 27, 2017

Gizzard shad (kohada) flavor is refined by exquisite salt seasoning!

According to most sushi masters, salt is the defining factor in the taste of gizzard shad (kohada).

Before seasoning gizzard shad with vinegar, the process starts with salting the spread open shad. It is the length the fish is salted that makes or breaks the fish. The reason for salting the gizzard shad is not just for flavoring, but also to draw out the umami of the fish. Salting for too long results in a briny taste; too short and the umami won’t come to the fore. The timing must be perfect in order to achieve that emotional “umami” moment.

This timing can be compared to boiling eggs: 3 minutes gets you soft-boiled eggs but five minutes gets you hard-boiled eggs. With eggs you can follow this rule of thumb, but no such rule exists for the spotted shad. The conditions for the salting time differ depending on the temperature, humidity, size of the fish and the degree of fat.

For example, a more slender fish in the middle of summer may be salted for 30 minutes, but a fatty fish in the winter needs to be salted for four hours. Just a few minutes longer or shorter than the perfect salting time completely changes the taste of the final dish.

Skilled chefs adjust the time on a daily basis according to the weather and the quality of the fish. Shops that can provide precisely the same spotted shad taste every day of the year are truly the best of the best.


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Revision date: May 29, 2017

How do you order at a sushi restaurant?

The sushi restaurant is unusual in that the customer sitting at the counter can see the seafood (neta) from which individual servings will be made, and can watch the chef deftly perform his art while enjoying lively conversation. Sushi restaurants also differ from other restaurants when it comes to menus.

Typically there aren’t any.

If the customer is inclined to worry about what the bill will come to, he orders Okimari (combination set)*. This consists of 7 to 10 pieces of nigiri-sushi and nori-maki selected by the proprietor in such a way as to allow them to offer an affordable price. It is cheaper because, like ready-made clothes, Okimari is not necessarily made piece by piece to fill individual orders. Of course, it will not be of inferior quality. Okimari is prepared by the chef and his assistants in the same way that everything else the shop is prepared. If the diner still wants more, they are always free to order sushi of their choice (Okonomi). Generally Japanese customers eat no more than 10 pieces of nigiri-sushi.

People at the counter most often order Okonomi (a la carte)**, which may be likened to having suits tailor-made from the finest fabrics. The customer who orders only the best will find that the check at the end can get a little expensive. But this is worth remembering (sushi worth eating is never inexpensive).

Long ago people used to say that first ordering Okimari and then ordering Okonomi after was the best deal for eating sushi, but that is a thing of the past. Actually, there are more and more shops that don’t allow Okonomi orders. The only choice is Omakase***. In some cases, all customers sitting at the counter take their seats at the same time and eat the same dishes and the same sushi in the same order. Even if you know nothing about sushi toppings, if you leave it to a master sushi chef, they will provide you with a combination boasting a good balance of early, peak and late season sushi. Omakase is great as it allows you to concentrate on genuinely enjoying the sushi and, especially if you’re visiting a shop for the first time, there will be no confusion regarding the best dishes.

*Okimari-The price and menu content are easily understood when ordering “Okimari”. The rank of “Tokujou”, “Jou”, “Nami” are often used. Order additional sushi as you like for a more fulfilling experience.

**Okonomi-A way customers choose and order sushi they want to eat. If you clearly know what you like and want to enjoy eating at your own pace, ordering “Okonomi” your choice of sushi, would be best.

***Omakase-If you don’t have any preferences, and you are happy to have a professional choose the most delicious toppings from that day’s catch, then ask for Omakase.


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Revision date: December 3, 2018

The real way of making shari (vinegared rice) by a sushi master. There are 4 tips!

In order to bring sushi to life, it is extremely important how shari is made. Let me introduce a cooking method, a top grade sushi master uses.

First, wash the rice gently. Leave it to soak for about half an hour and let it fully absorb water. The first tip is to keep the water level of the rice even in this way.

The rice should be cooked with water with a ratio of 10 to 9. A little less water than the regular rice, so that it is cooked slightly hard. This is the second tip.

While you wait for the rice to cook, make awasezu* by adding salt and sugar in vinegar. Also, set up hangiri (rice-cooling tub) for mixing the rice. Don’t forget to wipe the inside with a wet kitchen towel to prevent the rice from sticking to it.

Once the rice has finished cooking, leave it to steam for about 15 minutes and dump it out into hangiri. Pour awasezu immediately and let it sit for 30 seconds or so. Because the rice absorbs vinegar only while it is hot, managing this process quickly is the third tip.

After letting it sit for 30 seconds, spread the rice out with shamoji (rice spatula) as if cutting it down. Make sure that vinegar goes around using a cutting motion vertically. Additionally, fan the rice using a uchiwa (fan) to remove the moisture of vinegar and mix the rice with a cutting motion horizontally this time. Fanning with uchiwa is not to cool down the rice (Do not put the rice in the fridge to cool it down.), but to dry up the excess moisture of vinegar. Moving both hands as you consider it is the fourth tip.

After the rice is vinegared evenly, assemble it in one place and cover it with a damp kitchen towel. In about an hour, it is ready when shari is settled. (Body temperature) Even in a hurry, if you don’t give at least 30 minutes, it won’t help the taste of course, and also won’t make it easy to form the rice for sushi. If you rush at the end, all the delicate attention up to this will be in vain.

*A professional recipe for awasezu is as follows. This is a recipe for short grain rice species such as Koshihikari and Sasanishiki. Slightly sticky rice like calrose is not suitable for sushi rice.

9 cups rice

8 cups plus 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp water

8 tbsp plus 1 tsp vinegar ~ 12 tbsp vinegar

2 tbsp plus 1 tsp salt

1 tbsp plus 1 tsp sugar ~ 2 tbsp plus 2 tsp sugar


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Revision date: May 18, 2017

Salmon is not used as a topping in Edo-style sushi!

 

The Japanese were not in the habit of eating salmon raw. Salmon was not a traditional topping in Edo-style sushi. The reason for this is that the existence of parasites has been well-known since long ago and there was no way to prepare the salmon raw.

According to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, salmon must be frozen at -20℃ for at least 24 hours in order to completely kill all parasites. Salmon served at sushi restaurants must be stored frozen and then thawed before serving.

The type of salmon (sake) you find in Japan is Chum salmon. However, most of the salmon served raw at sushi restaurants is Atlantic salmon. This is a popular topping throughout the world due to the high fat content and smooth texture achieved by sea farming in places like Norway and Chile. The fish are strictly managed from water quality to the effects on the environment, so there are very few issues with parasites and the salmon can be eaten raw. However the fact remains that the fish are administered a number of chemicals due to concern of spread of disease-causing germs in the farms.

Even when salmon roe and sea urchin first started to be used as toppings, most sushi chefs said that these didn’t count as Nigirizushi and refused to use them. However the favorable reputation of sea urchin sushi in Ginza won out, it started to be used by more chefs and eventually became one of the major dishes.

The fifth generation sushi chef at one long-standing shop says, “If it’s what the customers want, then salmon may also be rolled as Nigirizushi in the near future.” It may even become part of the standard menu.

At a pre-Edo sushi shop that features Hokkaido toppings, they are actually serving ultra-high grade salmon such as Keiji* and Tokishirazu**.

*Keiji are young salmon with immature ovaries or testes. Only 1-2 Keiji are found in a normal catch of 10,000 salmon. Normal salmon fat content is 2-15% but the Keiji have a very high body fat percentage at 20-30%.

**Tokishirazu are salmon swimming upstream at the beginning of summer. They are the same chum salmon found in the fall, but since they aren’t caught during the spawning season, the fish don’t have eggs or milt, and instead have a high fat content. The name “Tokishirazu” stems from the fact that these fish are caught out of season, in summer and the name means ”ignorant of time”


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Revision date: May 9, 2017