Among sushi terms, there is a word called “Fucho” which is unfamiliar even to Japanese. It would be cool if you knew, but it wouldn’t be embarrassing even if you didn’t. However, these terms are used between pros. It seems senseless if customers use them and sushi chefs might find it off-putting.
At sushi restaurants, sushi toppings are classified as Akami (Aka means ‘red’ and mi means ‘flesh’), Shiromi (Shiro means ‘white’), Hikarimono (Hikari means ‘silver’), and so on. These names are derived from the color of the flesh and the appearance of the fish. However, since there is no clear definition, different sushi chefs have different classifications. For example, if the fish has shiny skin, it is called Hikarimono, and if the skin is removed, it is called Shiromi.
Basically, if the flesh is white, it is called Shiromi. If it is red, it is Akami, but if it is beige, it is called Iromono (Iro means ‘colored’). It may be an obsolete term nowadays, but among older sushi chefs, it makes sense.
The fish that fall into this Iromono category include Hiramasa, Kanpachi, Buri, and Shima-aji. Sawara should also be classified as Iromono, but since Sawara is a newcomer to the Edomae sushi category, it is not classified as Iromono.
It is difficult for the ordinary person to understand what is going on. To add to the confusion, Hiramasa, Kanpachi, Buri, and Shima-aji are called Aomono (Ao means ‘blue’) because they are blue-back fish. This is used primarily as a fishing term.
Both conveyor belt sushi and premium sushi have versions of sushi made with raw sweet shrimp or botan shrimp. However, in Edomae Sushi, boiled shrimp is always used. The use of raw shrimp in sushi started in the Kansai region. Moreover, in the Kansai region, there are many restaurants that make sushi with live Kurumaebi known as “Odori or Kassha”. However, this way of eating may be declining nationwide. It is probably because there is increased texture when boiled, so it tastes better.
Going back to Odori, “Odori” means “dance” in Japanese and it is said that this name came from the fact that shrimp twitches on the sushi rice and looks like it is dancing. If you look up the roots, it seems that this method of serving started at a sushi restaurant in Kyoto City in the early Showa period. It spread throughout the Kansai region, but although Odori may look easy to make, the method is actually quite elaborate.
Let’s introduce the common recipe here. First wash the live Kurumaebi with fresh water and start by bending the head with your hand while detaching it from the body, then peel off the shell. Next, peel the skin off the abdomen and cut the abdomen open vertically. Fresh shrimp is difficult to peel, so it is important to do it very carefully. Next remove the veins from the back and sprinkle on just a bit of mirin and vinegar, then lightly rinse off with ice water. After that, parboil just the tail in boiling, salted water to make it look attractive.
Then make the sushi with the open side facing up. The direction is important because it is easier to tell that the shrimp is dancing when it is arranged this way. To finish, sprinkle lemon juice over the shrimp meat. This stimulates movement of the body.
Now let’s discuss how a customer eats Odori. It goes without saying that since the shrimp is still alive, the moment you dip the topping in the soy sauce, the shrimp twitches in its death throes, convulsing violently. Apparently the customers are greatly pleased to see this. We don’t recommend the faint of heart to order this dish.
Incidentally, eating only the shrimp in this way is called “Odorigui”. In China there is a dish in which living shrimp is soaked in Shaoxing rice wine or fermented alcohol, made drunk, and then eaten once it has settled down. These sorts of methods may be considered cruel in some western countries.
When preparing fish, it is sprinkled with salt 30 minutes to one hour before cooking. Sushi chefs also salt fish for almost the same purpose. This is called Shiojime. Shiojime brings out excess moisture and fish odor from the fish. At the same time, the proteins that make up the fish’s muscles dissolve, giving it tenacity. The result is that the fish meat gets resiliency. Another objective is to eliminate the bacteria on the surface of the fish. In sushi preparations, Shiojime is often followed by Sujime. The amount of vinegar that permeates the fish depends on the circumstances of Shiojime, so it is an extremely delicate task.
Oboro and Denbu look the same, and the ingredients are also pretty much the same. In other words, there are no clear differences between them, but what it is called differs depending on the restaurant’s policy and the locality. There are various theories for this, but there is no clear line distinguishing oboro and denbu.
Denbu (田麩) is mainly boiled white fish that is then loosened and made into fibers, then seasoned with sugar, mirin, salt, etc., then roasted until the moisture is gone. Some are colored with red food coloring (called sakura denbu) while others are left as the brown color similar to tsukudani. The appearance is as if only the fibers of the original ingredients remain. This is why it was written with the kanji “田夫” (the literal meaning of kanji: rice patty+husband). The word “田夫” means “someone from the countryside” or “rough-cut” and refers to the way the fish is turned into a coarse form by pulling the meat apart. It is also used as a coloring for chirashizushi, futomaki (large sushi rolls), bento boxes, etc.
On the other hand, Oboro (朧) is made by using a grinding bowl to break down the meat of shiba shrimp or white fish, then seasoning with sugar, mirin and salt before removing the moisture over low heat. Oboro is used for bara-chirashi, futomaki (large sushi rolls), etc., and is also sometimes used between the topping and shari (vinegared rice) in nigiri sushi. This gentle sweetness and the shrimp aroma are essential for Edo-style sushi. Making oboro is laborious work, so there are fewer and fewer Edo-style sushi restaurants that make their own oboro.
During the Edo period, samurai would change their names at Genpuku (coming-of-age ceremony and career stages. Fish that are called by names as they grow older/larger are called “shusseuo (出世魚)”, are considered lucky and are used in cooking to celebrate milestones in life.
Shusseuo doesn’t just change in name, they also change in taste. The bigger the body, the more fat. However, young fish also have their own delicious, refreshing taste unique to their age. For example, using the young fish for deep-frying and fatty fish as sashimi is an interesting way to put it.
Shusseuo is not the only fish called by different names as they grow. According to the “Study of Japanese Fish Names”, there are 82 types of fish that are called by different names as they grow. Kuromaguro and kanpachi are popular examples. Kuromaguro changes from Komeji to Meji to Maguro and then to Oomaguro. Kanpachi changes from Mojako to Shiwoko to Akahana and then to Kanpachi. Even konoshiro, sawara, unagi, shake, koi, etc. are not shusseuo. Generally, it’s not those fish that are called by different names according to their growth stage that is called shusseuo. Fish that taste better as they grow, that changes little over time, and have been valued since eras when preservation and transport were not well-developed, are called shusseuo.
A good representative fish of shusseuo is the yellowtail. Its name changes as it grows and there are various forms of their names depending on the region. In the Kanto region, it changes from Wakashi (15-20cm) to Inada (30-40cm) to Warasa (60cm) and then to Buri (80cm or greater). It is said to be most delicious at 40 cm or longer and even if the body is plump, inada often has little fat.
Even if the name is the same, depending on the region, it may be referring to a different size. For example, inada is a fish up to 40 cm in Kanto but in Tohoku and Tokai, it refers to small fish of 15-20 cm. Further, although it is not related to its growth, those caught in Tohoku during summer are called “ao”. In Toyama, they are called “gan” and “gando”.
Finally, the changing names of fish demonstrate the breadth of culture. We should cherish this local diversity present in the names of our fish that capture the abundant food culture and importance of the seasons.
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.
Because the effect of wasabi is transient and difficult to sustain, it is not a good match for fish with a peculiar odor in some respects. For this reason, it is often used with white fish that have a lighter flavor.
This ginger includes Zingerone, a pungent component, and Gingerol, a spice component that changes to Shogaol when heated. Zingerone and Shogaol combine with the components that cause the fishy smell of fish and can eliminate that smell from its source. It makes sense to use ginger as a condiment for fish known for a stronger smell, like horse mackerel and bonito. The Gari served with sushi utilizes the effects of these components effectively for the enjoyment of the delicious taste of the sushi.
On the other hand, wasabi works by numbing senses of taste and smell with a stimulating spice so that the consumer doesn’t experience the fishy smell.
Furthermore, when you try to eat a light sushi topping after one with a richer flavor, a bit of Gari will cleanse your palette so you can fully enjoy the lighter fish. The pungent component also accelerates saliva production, assists with digestion and enhances absorption.
Back before there were refrigerators, wasabi was indispensable for Nigirizushi, eliminating the fishy smell and also providing bactericidal effects to prevent the fish from spoiling. Wasabi is originally from Japan and it has been used in Edomae sushi from the very beginning. Even with all the advancements in technology for storing sushi toppings, wasabi is still used today to remove the fishy smell and prevent spoiling. However, nowadays the flavor and aroma of wasabi and the way it brings out the flavor of the sushi topping is the main focus.
When wasabi is grated and exposed to the air, its unique heat is made enhanced by enzymes. Using a coarse grater gives the wasabi a rough, fibrous texture that spreads the spicy flavor through to the back of the throat. On the other hand, if Sharkskin wasabi is grated finely, it foams up with tiny bubbles and makes a creamy taste. The type of wasabi depends on the personality of the shop.
However, the powdered wasabi and wasabi paste you find at kaiten-zushi (conveyor belt sushi) is primarily made from horseradish and is colored and scented with additives. It isn’t dried wasabi and it is significantly cheaper.
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.
The real way of making sushi rice for Nigiri sushi by a sushi master. There are 4 tips!
In order to bring sushi to life, it is extremely important how sushi rice (shari or vinegared rice) 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 most important point here is to keep the water level which includes the rice consistent (The first tip).
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 sushi rice 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.
Water：330 – 340cc
Komezu (Rice vineger)：50 – 60cc
Salt：1 tsp – 2 tsp
Sugar：1 tbsp plus 1 tsp – 2 tbsp plus 2 tsp
＊If you use Akazu (Red vinegar made from fermented sake lees), add almost no sugar.