Toro salmon, Toro Katsuo, Toro Sawara, Toro saba, Buri toro, Beni toro, and Toro, the original maguro, have all been added to the list, and the number of fish calling themselves Toro, other than maguro, is increasing.
In other words, the word Toro is becoming increasingly generic.
Anyone who has endured the advertising onslaught of the modern era knows that word “toro” always seems to make its way into marketing materials. The word is meant to convey a luxury ingredient, and the “gotta-eat-it” mentality that drives sales.
For example, Toro saba (Saba means ‘mackerel’) is a fatty mackerel. Speaking of fatty mackerel in Japan, the first thing that comes to mind is Norwegian mackerel (Atlantic mackerel). It was once criticized for being too fatty for some unintelligible reason.
In Norway, the amount of mackerel that can be caught in a year is strictly regulated by each fishing boat, so they only catch mackerel when it is fatty and the price is high. Japanese chub mackerel has a peak fat content of 20-25%, while Norwegian mackerel has a peak fat content of 25-30%.
The term “fatty” is often used to describe the meat and taste of the fish. This term, of course, implies a high fat content, but the real message we wanted to convey was supposed to be “tasty”. This is because fat contains many flavor compounds. However, literally fatty fish is appreciated and it has become a first-class citizen.
The increase in fatty farmed fish and imported fish such as Northern mackerel may have played a role in this trend, and at the bottom of it all, as with the Toro worship of tuna, there has been a major shift in Japanese eating habits in the postwar period.
In this naming, we cannot help but feel the commercial spirit and skill of the company, which has successfully turned what could be a disadvantage into an advantage by combining changing tastes with the sense of luxury that the word “Toro” possesses.
Nigiri sushi is generally made with raw seafood. It can be said that the seafood starts to go bad as soon as it is put on warm rice. Of course, at the stage of preparation, there are procedures being taken to reduce the causative micro-organisms of food poisoning. Out of all food that is commonly eaten raw, sushi is considered to have the least micro-organisms that cause food poisoning.
For example, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, a typically known bacteria that causes food poisoning, attaches to seafood, and if the conditions, such as temperature, are just right, it proliferates at double the speed of other food poisoning bacteria. When you are eating at a sushi restaurant, bacteria growth is being suppressed. However, if you take sushi home to eat it, depending on conditions bacteria could proliferate.
This is why as a basic rule, you cannot take sushi home from a sushi restaurant.
So then, what is the difference between sushi sold at the grocery store and prepared at sushi restaurants?
There are obvious differences between sushi made by sushi chefs and take-out sushi, as explained below.
Take-out sushi is lined up at the store, selected by the customer, then eaten at home, which takes time. Therefore, a higher amount of salt seasoning is used compared to Nigiri sushi restaurants, in order to delay the degradation in quality. Sushi made by sushi chefs at restaurants has a salt content of about 1% in the sushi rice, while that of take-out sushi has about a 2% content.
Next, with a pH of around 4.5%, it is difficult for bacteria such as Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli bacterium bacteria and Vibrio parahaemolyticus to proliferate, and there are experimental results that show they die out. In an experiment that measured the pH of sushi rice in take-out sushi, it was usually measured at 6%. Nigiri sushi made at a restaurant is often around 6.2%, so this acidity is put to good use in the sushi rice and could be delaying degradation.
Furthermore, although it may not be a pleasant topic of discussion, preventing spoiling and deterioration in food caused by micro-organism is done by adding preservatives to improve the shelf life. For example, classic preservatives such as benzoic acid, Sorbic acid and PH adjusters are used all over the world. There is an obligation to list these on the product label when used.
Now let’s get into the main topic.
This all being said, sometimes when you buy take-out, there are leftovers. There is no question that it is better to promptly discard them. But you may think that you can just eat it the next day, right?
You can. And it will taste the same as when you bought it.
First of all, there is something important to remember; not all toppings are equal in take-out. Unfortunately, things that require freshness like shellfish, squid, mackerel and sardines, cannot be saved. These must be consumed on the day they are bought.
Next, let’s go over how to eat your day-after sushi so that it still tastes good.
The toppings this method works for are tuna, salmon, white fish and steamed shrimp. However, the only white fish it works for are benthic fish such as flounder. As long as the meat is still transparent the next day, it’s safe. For Hamachi, which always has more than 20% body fat, which oxidizes, so avoid keeping it to the next day. Raw shrimp is out too. Steamed shrimp becomes more delicious when quickly put into sushi vinegar for storage.
The method is simple!
First, remove the Nigiri sushi topping from the rice. Next, wash that topping with running water for a few seconds and then dry well with a paper towel. Make sure you are quick in all of these steps. Finally, wrap in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.
Next, use a wet paper towel to wrap the sushi rice. Wrap this set in plastic and put it in the vegetable drawer if possible. If you don’t have a vegetable drawer than the normal refrigerator compartment is fine.
The next day, when you are ready to eat, heat the sushi rice in the microwave at 1000W for 10 seconds. The point is just to warm it up a little. Next, just take the topping from the refrigerator and place it on the rice. You can add some wasabi if necessary.
Incidentally, if you use this method for take-out sushi, even when consuming it on the same day, it will taste even better than just eating it right away.
The practice of sushi chefs is to put somewhat cold sushi toppings (16~19℃) or room-temperature toppings (20~23℃) on top of sushi rice that is the same temperature of the human body (37℃). We are trying to imitate this method. If you are consuming on the same day, any topping can be removed from the rice and prepared like this.
But please do not wait any longer than the next day to eat any leftovers.
Do not bend this rule. Let me warn you that the symptoms of food poisoning from shellfish and silver-backed fish are horrible. It should also go without saying that if the sushi rice has already dried out, there is no bringing it back, even with this method. Once you’ve reached that point, you just have to throw it away. Naturally, you cannot eat smelly sushi toppings.
It goes without saying, that each type of fish has its very own scientific name. However, in places like the Toyosu Fish Market, there are seafoods that end up sharing a name.
The official Japanese name of ama ebi (sweet shrimp) is “Hokkoku Akaebi” (scientific name: Pandaluseous Makarov).
In Japan, ama ebi lives naturally along the Sea of Japan coast and the coasts of Hokkaido, and the ama ebi sold at Toyosu market is caught from Toyama prefecture and northward to Hokkaido and southward. When made into nigiri sushi, it is harmonious with the acidity of the vinegared rice and the thick sweetness is irresistible. It really lives up to its “sweet” name.
However, what dominates the Toyosu Market is frozen shrimp of the same pandalidae family, called “Honhokkoku Akaebi” (scientific name: pandalus borealis kroyer) from Iceland and Greenland.
This is distributed as “Ama ebi” at the market, but strictly speaking it is a different type of shrimp. As far as appearance goes, it is impossible to tell the difference and they say that even the flavor is the same.
The majority of ama ebi used at conveyor belt sushi is produced in Greenland and imported to Japan through China. The reason for this import circumvention is that the processing to turn the shrimp into ready-made sushi toppings is done using inexpensive labor in China. The frozen ama ebi is thawed in China, processed (head, shell, etc., are removed) and then frozen again. Of course, this process diminishes the freshness of the fish. Preservatives are used to help prevent this. For example, pigment fixing agents are used in order to reduce discoloration from fading. Furthermore, acidity regulators and antioxidants are used to prevent changes in the quality and color of the meat. Ama ebi is stored in packs of 50, imported en masse to Japan, and can be used for sushi or sashimi immediately upon thawing.
As this ama ebi caught in the North Atlantic Ocean is considerably cheaper than domestic ama ebi, the reality is that conveyor belt sushi wouldn’t survive in Japan without these imports.
You probably already know this, but “toro tuna” is not the name of a type of fish. “Toro” is the name of a fatty part of the tuna. The fat content and attributes of the belly side of the tuna are completely different from that of the dorsal side. Toro is the name of the part near the head, mostly on the belly side.
In the same way, there is no fish called “toro salmon”. Just like tuna, “toro” refers to the fatty part on the belly side of the salmon. It is also called “harasu” in Japanese. This is how the word is used at some scrupulous sushi restaurants. This description of “toro salmon” is correct.
Most salmon used at conveyor belt sushi restaurants is either trout salmon or Atlantic salmon. The reason this salmon can be served at the cheap price of US $1 or $2 per plate (2 pieces of sushi) is that these particular fish are all farmed and are available in bulk quantities from overseas. This salmon is mainly imported to Japan from Norway, Chile, Scotland and Canada.
Actually, the popular “toro salmon” topping is made from these imported items and the fat content is three times that of wild salmon. Feeding farmed salmon plenty of solid compounded feed that is high in protein and high in fat, turns the entire body to toro.
Salmon, which are born in freshwater and migrate downstream to the sea are called “sea-run fish” and they may be farmed in either seawater or freshwater. Trout salmon is “former” rainbow trout that was raised in a fish cage in the sea. In the wild, the sea-run rainbow trout grows up to 1 m in length, its body turns silver and the meat takes on a red color. The wild version of these are called “steelhead” and fetch a high market price, so they are not used in conveyor belt sushi restaurants.
Just like other aquaculture, salmon farming faces some difficult issues. It may surprise you that salmon is actually a white fish, originally. In the wild, the salmon meat gets a red color from feeding on crustaceans such as crab and shrimp that contain the red pigment astaxanthin. However, in the fish cages where the salmon are surrounded by nets, the food chain is also restricted. The compound feed would be plenty if the goal was only to raise bigger fish, but that results in a grey color or light yellow meat that doesn’t even resemble the salmon pink (orange?) that everyone wants and they don’t sell.
Therefore, when making the solid compounded feed, artificial coloring is mixed in. One of the colorings is called canthaxanthin. This is a synthetic chemical derived from petroleum. There is a color chart with 10 different, detailed levels of red coloring and buyers can even indicate which color they would like and the farmers can achieve it. It’s kind of like an industrial product that is being manufactured. Japanese people prefer a dark red color for salmon in the same way they do for tuna, so the coloring for Japan’s market is adapted to that.
When light is shone on wild salmon, the red coloring looks faded, but the light makes farmed salmon that have been fed coloring, look brighter. Artificial coloring is a necessity in farmed salmon and this is true for the trout salmon and Atlantic salmon that are used as the ingredients for toro salmon as well. All of the farmed salmon in circulation have been colored in this way, so much so that it wouldn’t be surprising if the insides of their stomachs were stained red. The flamingos at zoos also get their beautiful pink feathers from these chemicals.
Trout salmon is rainbow trout that has been farmed in the sea. On the other hand, rainbow trout farmed in freshwater is called Donaldson trout. Of all the large rainbow trout gathered at each location, those with small heads and fat bodies were selected and bred over many years to create this type. The objective of choosing a small head is to make more meat. They are characterized by their fast growth and while normal, farmed rainbow trout grow to about 30 to 40 cm, Donaldson trout grow up to nearly 1 m. The name is taken from the American who developed this variant.
The Donaldson trout is farmed throughout Japan and is used as toro salmon and aburi salmon at conveyor belt sushi restaurants. Since they are supplied directly to the processor (of the salmon) from the farmer without going through the market, they may be sold cheaper than the import price. Just like the imported salmon, this farmed salmon is also fed artificial coloring. There are also already new variants improved from the Donaldson trout being bred. Trout made from breeding Donaldson trout females and steelhead males are called Donaldson steelhead, for instance. They grow even faster.
Ample use of the latest biotechnology has been made in salmon farming and some of these technologies include creating young fish without functioning reproductive organs, “triploids” which means increasing the size of the fish up to triple and “all female populations” where males are converted into females. The triploid fish grow large in correlation to the lack of energy exertion. The objective of all-female populations is to get more masuko (ovaries). Masuko is used for the ikura (salmon roe) at conveyor belt sushi, and since the fish that the roe is harvested from have an inferior flavor, they are used for aburi salmon. Now, there are even triploid, all-female farm populations. No wonder the restaurants can serve a plate (2 pieces) of salmon sushi for US $1.
The simple phrase, “toro salmon” contains so much meaning.
Between the time Edomae sushi was born (1810-1830) and around 1930, the toppings used in nigiri-sushi were strictly limited to slices of seafood. There were no so-called delicacy toppings (such as salmon roe and sea urchin, etc.).
However, in 1934, a restaurant in Ginza called Kyubey started a revolution. This restaurant is still synonymous with high-end sushi, but at that time many political and business people went there as well. Then, one night… Apparently, one of the regular customers was tired of eating ordinary sushi and said to the chef, Hisaji Imada, “I want to eat some sushi that is more unusual. Ikura (Salmon roe) sounds like it would make good sushi,” as a joke. Imada, who took these words seriously, thought to himself, “But the roe would fall off if put directly on the shari (vinegar rice),” and racked his brain that night for a solution. Finally, he had an idea and said, “I know, I could just surround shari with seaweed and put salmon roe in it.” This is how the Ikura Gunkanmaki was born.
Next, when that customer came in again and Imada nervously served him his new Ikura sushi concept, it was received much better than expected. Gaining confidence from this reaction, Chef Imada put it on his regular menu. The story goes that rumors of the delicious taste spread and other sushi restaurants started to copy it. Then, the term “ikura gunkan-maki”(salmon roe battleship roll) was coined.
Nowadays, everything is used as battleship roll toppings from sea urchin to shirauo to negi-toro to mayonnaise and canned tuna-fish. It goes without saying that it all started with salmon roe.
In the United States and other countries, “Buri: right image” is called yellowtail, but this word refers to fish like “buri” and “hiramasa” and actually can be applied to a large number of fish. Actually, it isn’t far off since a layman can’t tell the difference between a “buri” and “hiramasa” just by the pretty yellow line on the side of the fish’s body.
In Japan, “buri” is the most well-known fish that goes by different names depending on its stage in life (shusse fish). Actually “buri” has many different names even depending on the region you are in. For example, in the Kanto region, it may be called wakashi (0 to 30 cm) → Inada (30 to 60 cm) → Warasa (60 to 80 cm) → Buri (80 cm or more), and from Kansai on further west, it is called, Tsubasu (0 to 30 cm) → Hamachi (30 to 60 cm)→ Mejiro (60 to 80 cm) or Buri (80 cm or more).
This is where the term “hamachi” came from West of Kansai, full-grown buri, at about 30 to 60 cm is called Hamachi. In other words, Hamachi is a young buri.
Of course, it’s not that simple. You can get hamachi sashimi at grocery stores all over Japan, all year long. Hamachi is not only used from Kansai westward, it is also used at grocery stores throughout Japan. This may lead you to believe that hamachi is a different fish and not the same as buri, but you would be mistaken.
Behind the curtain, buri cultivation is thriving in Japan (and throughout the world). More than 80% of the buri on the market is said to be farmed. Because it is not apparent by appearance whether the buri was raised in the wild or by aquaculture, the wild-raised fish is called buri by market affiliates in order to make it easier to understand. That means farmed products have come to be called hamachi.
Also, in the Setouchi region, people preferred to eat the young hamachi rather than the adult buri. Kagawa Prefecture became the first in the world to successfully cultivate hamachi in 1928, and that is what led ‘hamachi’ to become synonymous with ‘farmed fish’. Of course, that would be one reason that people call farmed buri, hamachi.
What is the difference in taste between wild buri and farmed hamachi?
Buri (yellowtail) is a fish for which the name changes according to the stage of growth. We would like to start this article by reviewing the definition of “hamachi”.
Jumping right into it, medium-sized (30-60 cm), farmed “inada” or “wakashi” class buri is called “hamachi”. Even in Kanto, the names inada and wakashi are only used for wild fish, while hamachi is used for farmed fish.
The accepted theory is that the delicious flavor of Kanburi (wild buri caught during the cold months of November to February that has grown fat for the winter) depends heavily on the condition of high-fat content. The two major brands of Kanburi are caught on the Noto Peninsula and Himi in the Hokuriku region, and buri caught in Hokuriku has a higher fat content and also tastes better than buri caught in other places. This may be because fish that live in the frigid sea have higher fat content than those that live in warm seawaters.
You don’t know the true taste of buri until you’ve had Kanburi. It is especially popular as sashimi. The fat of the buri enters the muscle tissue, turning the fat into an incredible texture that practically melts in your mouth. Whether farmed or wild, the lipid content reaches its peak from December to January. This is 10% lipid content in the wild fish, but 25 to 30% in the farmed version.
The peak season of the medium-sized class of buri is summer, and the fat content for that season is 5 to 7% in inada and wakashi. and around 8 to 15% in hamachi. While the fat content in farmed buri is overwhelmingly higher than in wild buri, unfortunately, this does not translate to better taste. Throughout the world, buri with soft meat that has fat that glistens above the meat like hamachi sashimi, is popular, but after years of eating it, the wild buri always ends up tasting better.
Winter is the season for wild buri. The lipid content during winter is only around 10%, but this makes both the taste and the aftertaste better. The reason that the lipid content of farmed buri is higher than wild buri, is that sardine fish meal and farmed fish feed oil are used in the formula feed, or sardines, which are high in fat content, are fed as-is to the buri. However, in recent years there has been researched in formula feed for hamachi and buri with higher meat quality, which has improved the results.
When comparing flavor, wild buri has a higher content of umami, such as inosinic acid, in the meat than farmed buri. It is especially high in nitrogenous extractives, histidine, trimethylamine oxide, etc., which makes the flavor richer. In contrast, the meat of farmed buri is soft without much umami. This is probably one of the reasons that it feels greasy.
As an aside, three cousins (closely related species) of buri are often used as sushi toppings in sushi restaurants. In the Fish Name Dictionary, the translations of these cousins are Goldstriped amberjack (Hiramasa: right image), Greater Amberjack (Kanpachi), and Japanese amberjack (Buri). Sushi University also adopts these terms.
But if you dive deeper into the fish name dictionary,
Hiramasa is known as amberjack or yellowtail or hiramasa kingfish. Kampachi is known as amberjack or yellowtail. Buri is known as… you guessed it: amberjack or yellowtail.
When lumping them all together, they are called yellowtail, as is common in the U.S.
I’m sure you’re interested in the price, and while the price of the seasonal winter buri varies, it is generally around $10-20 per kilogram. Since there is very little distribution of hiramasa, the price is said to be about double that of buri. The price of Kampachi: right image is somewhere between that of buri and hiramasa. These prices refer to the wild-caught fish.
Finally, if you eat and compare buri, kampachi and hiramasa in sashimi form, most people can’t tell the difference in fat distribution. When made into sushi (buri sushi, hamachi sushi, hiramasa sushi, kampachi sushi), the sweetness of the fat and the flavor of the fish emerge splendidly, and the taste of each fish becomes distinct and obvious. Even the still-developing inada, with very low-fat content, is used as a sushi topping and its refreshing taste is unforgettable. This showcases both the depth and greatness of Edomae (Edo Style) sushi.
When you sit at the counter and order nigiri a la carte, they will come out in pairs.* There is nothing wrong with counting these in the regular Japanese way “ikko,” “niko.”
*It is said that nigiri-sushi in the Edo period was bigger than it is today, and too big to eat in one bite. In the Meiji period, the custom emerged of splitting this one big portion into two to make more easily consumed portions, and this is why it is common to get sushi in sets of two. However, nowadays making one piece of nigiri-sushi at a time is not very efficient. We think it’s actually easier for the sushi restaurant to make them in sets of two. Of course, you can order them one by one.
But the sushi restaurant won’t count them like that. Formally, sushi is counted in this way: Ikkan (one), Nikan (two).
We have absolutely no idea where the custom of using the “kan” counter came from. It’s also not clear when use of that counter for sushi started.
Of course, there are theories. For example, there is a theory that back at a time when a single unit of money was called “kan.” The price for one piece of sushi was around 1 ‘kan’, and the counting method gained popularity. There is another theory that one sushi roll was counted with the counter for roll “巻” (also pronounced “kan”), then a different kanji was used for it later. However, these are just theories that were created after the fact and the mystery remains unsolved.
Even if you ask the owner of a sushi restaurant, they’ll probably cock their head to one side, think for a moment, and tell you that the “kan” mystery may never be solved.
Sushi rolls wrapped in seaweed rolls are counted in units of 本 (hon/bon/pon) in the wrapped state, and when cut with a knife, the units change to 切れ (kire). While these units are fairly straight-forward for Japanese language speakers and easy to understand, only the enigmatic 貫 (kan) remains a mystery.
First, what do you imagine when you hear the word “negitoro”?
Most people probably think of “Negitoro Gunkan” or “Negitoro Roll” served at sushi restaurants.
But the real “negitoro” does not have leeks!
The original name for negitoro was negitoru. It translates to chip away in Japanese. The name eventually evolved to negitoro.
Here we come to the point.
The original negitoro is made from medium fatty tuna or nakaochi* chopped up finely with a knife and then mixed with chopped green onions on top. But the tuna may be switched out with filler, leading to a variety in quality of the negitoro available.
First of all, the lowest in the ranking are the offcuts of tuna that can’t be made into sashimi (mainly Yellowfin or Albacore tuna) and this is mixed with vegetable oil and minced. The type of onion used is normally green onions. You can pick this type out because it will be whitish in color. This version is normally served at conveyor belt sushi.
The medium quality uses the nakaochi of cheap Albacore tuna or Swordfish.
High quality negitoro uses the nakaochi of Pacific bluefin tuna or Southern bluefin tuna. Sometimes thegreen onion shoots are then rolled up inside. If you have a chance to try negitoro in Japan, we recommend you try the top quality options without a doubt. One piece will probably cost around $15 USD. But that’s the price for the real thing!
Finally, let me introduce some negitoro trivia. There is a lot of flesh on the middle bone (spine) and the surrounding area for tuna and the like. This is called “nakaochi*”. Scraping the meat from this area surrounding the spine is known as “negitoru”, which is where the word “negitoro” comes from. In other words, the name “negitoro” is not actually from the words onion (negi) and tuna belly (toro).
What is negitoro like at Sushi restaurants?
Originally, the meat from the middle cut or in between the bones of the tuna was used for negitoro. In order to get meat from these parts, the chef would have to purchase an entire tuna, or buy the cut that includes the mid-ribs. However, both of these purchases are difficult for a single sushi restaurant, so now the chef chops the meat from the body with a butcher knife until it forms a paste that is sticky and smooth from the fat in the tuna. This paste is used for negitoro.
The ginger served in sushi restaurants is called “gari”. There are people who just chomp down the gari since it’s all free.
However, in certain prestigious restaurants where the gari is handmade, it does end up on the bill. This is because considering the time and ingredients that go into making the gari, the restaurant will be losing money if they don’t charge for it.
However, most sushi restaurants purchase their gari from companies that specialize in it. These mostly include pickling manufactures that have expanded to China or Southeast Asia and have factories there.
When made at these factories, large amounts of ginger is soaked in the stock solution, creating gari in bulk. The quality has improved greatly over the years, but often the fibers are crushed making it soggy, or the gari is stained from ume vinegar.
On the other hand, homemade gari and gari made in Japan is flavored with vinegar and salt while sugar is used sparingly as a subtle flavoring. Handmade gari is crunchy and chewy. The color is also the original pale yellow of ginger.
And during the fresh ginger season at the beginning of summer the price of fresh, domestic ginger jumps up to thousands of yen per kilogram. Since ginger has a high water content, it can be wrung out to reduce 1kg of ginger down to 300g. Making delicious gari by hand costs money. It is also a daunting task of making a year’s worth in advance. Once it’s done there has to be a refrigerator dedicated to storing only the gari.
When you put it that way, homemade gari is far more expensive than its imported equivalent. Providing homemade gari is one of the things that sets sushi restaurants apart from each other. Of course even if you’re not charged for the gari, eating too much will affect your sense of taste for the meal.
Many regular patrons of sushi restaurants look forward to having casual conversations with the sushi chefs. It might be difficult to understand for visitors who don’t speak Japanese, but sushi restaurants are the only restaurants in the world that customers can speak directly with the head chef. If you don’t need conversation, then the waiter could just bring the sushi made back in the kitchen. Of course they also want customers to see the beautiful act of making sushi, but there is no particular reason that the sushi has to be made in front of the customer. The technical term for this is “Exposed Business,” meaning that the chefs are putting themselves on display for the customers. Did you learn something new?
The naval (actually the anus) in the middle of the body serves as the border separating the head part (top) and tail part (bottom) of the eel. The fat is distributed better on the top. People used to say that since the bottom moves more it is more tasty, but is this really true?
It’s also often said, “the top should be served skin-up and the bottom should be served skin-down.”
Skin-up means that the skin side is on top and the meaty side is on the rice.
Skin-down means that the meaty side is facing up and the skin side is on the rice.
Conger eel easily melts apart when it is boiled and broth enters the part where it separates, so the appearance is not as appealing. But unless the crack is extremely obvious, both the top and bottom of the conger eel is often prepared skin-down in sushi.
Once a bluefin tuna is caught, it arrives in Tsukiji fish market within a day or two. However, that fish is not used as a sushi topping that day. No mater how good the tuna is, it starts out very stiff and is not in a state where it should be eaten. The meat is hard and the white muscle lines are left in your mouth. The odor and acidic taste of the red meat is strong and the unique sweetness of the fish is nowhere to be found. After it has rested the muscles soften, bringing out the fat.
Then, when the sushi chef gets the tuna, he first separates the red, lean meat and the fatty toro portion, rewraps them separately and, seals them in plastic and puts them on ice. Next is waiting for the “young” meat, not yet suitable for eating, to mature. The number of days the fish will be rested depends on the size of the fish and the temperature. The smaller the cut and the warmer the temperature, the shorter the rest time. Generally the time is from 3-14 days.
This “young” fish not ready for consumption is a fresh, deep color but as it matures the color darkens, the fat is brought out and becomes a fleshy color. Proper care must be taken because if it’s rested for too long, the color changes too quickly.
At sushi restaurants, only the master chef makes the sushi. Depending on the shop, the apprentices don’t even touch the knives. The texture of a fish changes greatly with the way a fish is cut, drastically affecting the workmanship of the sushi. There is a clear difference in taste when the master makes a piece of sushi from when the apprentice does. It is also commonly thought that a sushi chef can only take care of about 8 customers at once while he is also preparing pieces of sushi, so most counters have around 8 seats.
You can determine how good a sushi restaurant is just by glancing at the topping box (neta-bako). The toppings should all be bright and shiny. This seafood was selected that very morning throughout Tsukiji Fish Market. Even when marinating in vinegar, it’s clear how lively and fresh the fish is.
Every single good sushi restaurant is small. The maximum counter space for a single sushi master to keep up with each customer is 10 seats. These excellent restaurants also have a number of regular customers and almost seem like an exclusive club.
The master conditions his customers to enjoy the toppings that he believes to be the best and the customers train the master into making the dishes they like. After all, making sushi may be a single profession, but it is a relative business and it takes time to build this deep understanding between the chef and customers.
Good sushi chefs do not play favorites to their regular customers. Good regular sushi customers are well-mannered and don’t make an unpleasant atmosphere for first-time customers. Both the chefs and customers are educated in this way. There is this sense of pure pressure in the restaurant.
Good sushi restaurants close their doors early. They need to get to Tsukiji Fish market first think in the morning. This means they need to get to bed by midnight. So the regular customers at these restaurants get up to leave when closing time rolls around. Somewhere along the way they’ve been trained to do this.
The bluefin tuna goes by different names in Japanese depending on its age. It starts out as “Meji (メジ or メジマグロ),” grows into “Chubou (中坊)” and finally is called Maguro (once it’s 50 kg or more).
Meji is less than 1 year old and weighs around 20 kg.
Chubou is an old word for relatively low-class Buddhist priests who were treated as errand boys. I guess it was meant to imply that these boys were even weaker than tuna. At this stage, the fish are between 2-5 years old and weigh about 40kg.
Anything larger than that is called Maguro. The biggest is 3m long and 600kg or more. Especially large tuna is called Shibi. “Shibi” comes from the Japanese characters for “4-days”, which is how long the fish takes to mature.
Most Meji and Chubou are caught from May until the beginning of autumn when Maguro is thin and tasty.
Meji has a unique scent and taste that sets it apart from full-grown tuna. The color is similar to the skipjack rather than bluefin. On the other hand, Chubou has a lighter color and it isn’t as rich, but the flavor is young, refreshing tuna. That is why Meji is considered to be a completely separate sushi topping and Chubou is presented to be a type of tuna.