Why does the bill more when ordering sashimi at a prestigious restaurant?

Thicker cuts of fish are used for sashimi than for sushi. Depending on the restaurant, the equivalent of three pieces of sushi may be used in one cut of sashimi. In other words, two pieces of sashimi is the same as six pieces of sushi. At a restaurant where one piece of medium fatty tuna sushi is priced at JPY 1000, simple arithmetic prices medium fatty tuna sashimi at JPY 6000. Just a small order of assorted sashimi often costs more than JPY 10,000. Be careful.


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Revision date: March 5, 2018

Why are two pieces of sushi made at once?

One theory is that this practice is leftover from back when pieces of sushi were made larger and then cut in half. But, there are also some toppings that are better to eat in pairs.

For example, conger eel tastes completely different when one piece is eaten with salt and the other seasoned with sweet sauce. Serving the piece with the head skin-up and the piece with the tail belly-up also offers different textures. Since the back and belly of bonito have different fat content, it can be better to order two pieces at a time in order to fully experience each of the individual qualities of the fish.


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Revision date: February 26, 2018

Prior to WWII, there were chefs whose only job was making vinegar rice!

From the end of the Edo period through the Meiji period, rice was cooked using firewood and a pot. It is not easy to get the fire at the right temperature and the rice has to be cooked to the same texture regardless of where it came from or the size of the grains, so at the time the task required a skilled chef. Therefore, there were “Shari-ya” employed by sushi restaurants who specialized in cooking rice. “Shari-ya” focused on this single task and were not involved in the actual making of the sushi after the rice was passed on to the chefs.


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Revision date: January 29, 2018

Tuna was not a premium fish during the Edo period!

During the Edo period, tuna was not highly valued as a sushi topping and it was referred to as “Gezakana” meaning that it was inferior to normal fish. The reason was the big size of the tuna. At this time there was no ice, so tuna had to be salted. It was cut into blocks, salt was spread all over and in it, and that was it. At Uogashi (the market prior to Tsukiji) it was treated at shops that specialized in salting fish. The dark, discolored, salty chunks of flesh really were nothing but “Gezakana*”.

*Gezakana -Relatively low-cost sushi ingredients, such as gizzard shad and horse mackerel. Bluefin tuna used to be also called gezakana in the Edo period, for losing its freshness easily.


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Revision date: December 30, 2017

What makes a good sushi chef?

The balance between Shari (vinegar rice) and the topping is important in sushi. No matter how good the topping, the sushi won’t be good if the Shari isn’t right for it. More restaurants have been using red vinegar lately, but even if you use a Shari with a strong taste like red vinegar, the balance will be destroyed if the topping has a weaker flavor. Seasoning that goes well with various toppings that doesn’t stand out too much is ideal.

It works the other way, too. If the Shari is too weak, the sushi won’t be delicious no matter how good the topping. Even if the topping is not premium quality, if the Shari is matched perfectly, the sushi will be perfect. In other words, a good sushi chef is someone who can make sushi with perfectly matching toppings and Shari.


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Revision date: December 18, 2017

Why do some sushi toppings have ginger instead of wasabi?

Ginger is used for toppings with a strong, distinct taste and strong fishy smell such as bonito, horse mackerel and sardines.

Wasabi has a spicy taste and stimulates the senses of taste and smell and works to dull the senses so the fishy smell is not felt, but ginger is effective in actually extinguishing the fishy smell.


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Revision date: December 11, 2017

Why aren’t the prices included on the menu at sushi restaurants?

If you visit a premium sushi restaurant, such as one that places piles of salt by the entrance for good fortune, you’ll notice there are no price displays.

There’s not even a menu. All you find is a slab of wood hanging down the wall with names of the daily offerings such as Conger Eel (anago) or Spotted Shad (kohada).

This is not a place to get angry and ask how customers can order without knowing the price. First time customers may not know the market price and worry about budget, resolving to pay with a credit card if they don’t have enough cash in their wallet.

I guess you could say that sushi restaurants that don’t display prices are accepted by customers as being more traditional, like the old days. But actually, at pre-war sushi restaurants, there were wooden panels that listed prices such as “Fatty Tuna: 2000 yen”. It was during the 1960s that they stopped displaying prices.

The 60s was the start of an era of high-growth in Japan. Prices were rising rapidly and sushi prices also went up drastically. At the same time, the business practice of entertaining clients was gaining popularity and suddenly about 80% of the clientele of high-quality sushi restaurants were these types of business groups, rather than individual customers.

In situations like these, if there was a sign that read “Medium Fatty Tuna: 3000 yen” then it makes it difficult for the business guest to order what they like, without worrying about the price. Considering the total bill, they may also order fewer dishes than they want. As you can see, this practice of not displaying prices at sushi restaurants was in consideration for the business customers who were entertaining clients, as well as those being entertained as clients. At the same time, the well-known “Omakase” was created, the “chef’s choice” system in which the customer orders a menu created by the chef on the spot.


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Revision date: October 23, 2017

A Guide to Avoiding Food Fraud!

It is true that in an age when aquatic resources are being depleted, there is a worldwide demand for a substitute for luxurious fish. However, although it’s not easy to tell fish apart once it’s sliced, that doesn’t mean that restaurants should not be held to certain standards. Here we present a number of severe cases.

First of all, Opah belly meat with some fat is used for the tuna in Negi-toro (tuna minced with Welsh onion leaves). Opah is widely distributed in warm seas and it’s known to be inexpensive with a smooth taste. The price is less than 1/100 of the Pacific bluefin tuna and if possible Negi-toro made from Opah should be avoided.

Next let’s discuss Japanese conger, an essential Edo-style sushi topping. A substitute for Japanese conger is the Common snake eel, which is a type of sea snake from Peru. The taste is pretty good, but the skin is rubbery and it doesn’t stick to the Shari (vinegar rice) so it’s instantly apparent that it’s a substitute fish. If you find Japanese conger at kaiten-zushi for JPY 100 per plate, you might want to question the source.

A premium sushi topping is the Mirugai clam (also called Hon-miru). This shellfish is characterized by its unique texture and taste. Instead the Japanese geoduck (Shiro-miru) is used, which sells for half the market price. However, the taste of the two is so similar that even Sushi Tsu has mistaken them, which is great news for dishonest dealers.

In April 2015 the Food Labeling Act was revised, leading to progressive reduction of fraudulent labels, but it is not a solution that eradicates dishonest dealers so consumers need to be educated and aware.


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Revision date: September 21, 2017

Is Sushi made by a Master Really Transparent?!

Some of the shari drops off of the sushi placed in front of you by the chef saying, “Sorry to keep you waiting.” You may be served this kind of nigiri sushi at restaurants that have lines out the door. Of course sushi that falls apart before it even touches your lips is a failure.

Good nigiri sushi looks solid, but once you put it in your mouth the shari naturally loosens. Next the loosened rice absorbs the taste of the topping and it doesn’t stick to the roof of your mouth. On the other hand, with shari of sushi that has been pressed too strongly, the taste of the topping is left in your mouth, getting in the way of new flavors.

In other words, the sushi looks hard on the outside, but it soft on the inside. This is the perfect recipe for sushi.

When first learning, chefs are only concerned with shape and press the pieces too firmly. Next they let up on the force a bit and once they find the perfect amount of pressure, they become a real sushi chef. A master sushi chef is one rank above that and makes sushi that light can pass through. The sushi must be pressed gently enough for light to pass through, but firmly enough so that the sushi holds its shape.


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Revision date: August 28, 2017

Why are the prices at fancier sushi restaurants and Conveyor belt sushi so different?

In some cases a two-piece sushi dish you can get for JPY 100 at Kaiten-zushi (Conver belt sushi) can cost up to 2,000 for half the volume at a fancy restaurant. Many Kaiten-zushi establishments are part of large chains so costs are kept low by buying in bulk.

Also, unlike the fancy restaurants, which procure the best seasonal catch from fishing grounds all over the country, Kaiten-zushi uses a combination of frozen and farmed fish as well as substituting some fish for certain toppings.

For example, Engawa is often thought to be from Japanese flounder, but Pacific halibut or Greenland halibut is used instead as a substitute.

While different from fancy sushi restaurants that serve various seasonal fish and edomaeshigoto, Kaiten-zushi has its own merits and offers sushi at a much lower price. It’s really up to the customer what they hope to get from their sushi experience.

 


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Revision date: July 3, 2017

What are “ikejime” and “nojime”?

How the fish is butchered also changes the taste. If the fish suffers and struggles, the body wears and may be damaged, circulating oxidized blood throughout the body, which makes it lose flavor. For fish of high value such as sea bream, flounder, yellowtail, rudderfish and tuna, a method called “ikejime” is used.

The taste of tuna is said to be determined based on the preparations after being caught. The tuna is caught with as little suffering as possible and the nerves are killed immediately for an instant death. Generally, blood is then drained perfectly, entrails and gills are removed, the tail cut off and then the fish is placed in ice-water to lower the body temperature.

The medulla oblongata and main artery of the fish are cut and a kitchen knife is inserted into the base of the tail to drain the blood. A thin metal rod is inserted into the backbone to paralyze the nerves and at the same time controls the putrefied materials that come out of the spinal cord.

This extends the time until rigor mortis sets in, making it easier to maintain freshness and simultaneously preventing blood from circulating in the body, which also prevents the fishy smell.

Freezing the fish to death in ice water is called “nojime”. This method is generally used for small fish such as sardines, horse mackerel and mackerel that are fished in large volume.

 

 

At fish markets, the term “kill” is not used for living fish, instead the word “shimeru” meaning to close or tighten. The term “dead fish” is also not used. Instead the term “nojime” is used for fish that died naturally en route to the market. This stems from the awe of precious life and turning that life into food.


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Revision date: March 27, 2018

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

The real way of making 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