Demystifying Sushi and Sashimi


These traditional Japanese foods are becoming more popular than ever in the Western World - but there's still confusion about them.

By FamilyTime

 

If you are one of the many North Americans who adore sushi and sashimi, you don't need reassuring that these are wonderful foods. But if you are one of the many people who recoil at the idea, read on. You're missing something!

Yes, a lot of sushi is made from raw fish but it also can be made from more familiar ingredients. On the other hand, all sashimi involves raw fish. Eating the fish served at the best sushi bars in town is nothing like swallowing a goldfish whole at a fraternity party! (Does that really happen?)

Impeccably fresh and served with glorious condiments and seasonings, sashimi-quality fish is refreshing, mild, and delicious. When made into sushi, the different flavors and textures explode pleasantly in the mouth for a lovely taste sensation.

Very few Western home cooks make sushi and sashimi in their own kitchens. Here, we discuss the dishes available in Japanese restaurants and sushi bars, and restaurants serving fusion cuisine representative of a number of Asian cultures.

Sushi
Despite popular misconceptions, sushi is not synonymous with raw fish. The word refers to the slightly sweetened, vinegared rice used to make the dish of the same name.

Sushi rice is not the long-grain rice to which we Westerners are most accustomed. It's short-grain rice, or if that is not available, can be made with medium-grain rice. When cooked, these rices are starchier and stickier than long-grain rice. When properly prepared by a Japanese sushi chef, the rice is polished and glossy.

In Japan, the rice for sushi is coated with talc and must be rinsed very well before it's cooked. Not all rice sold here is as authentic and may or may not need such careful rinsing.

Sushi may be made of rice rolled around small pieces of raw or pickled fish. If rolled, it may also include vegetables and cooked seafood and it is this kind of sushi that most appeals to anyone unfamiliar with the food.

Other forms of sushi include rice rolled inside nori (seaweed) or fingers of molded sushi rice topped with fish. See below for more detailed definitions.

Sashimi
This is the fish. Although most culinary scholars agree that the word sashimi translates to mean "thin slices," it always refers to slices of fish.

Sashimi must be made from the freshest fish available. Some restaurants keep fish alive in large tanks until just before serving. In any event, sample sashimi only at reputable restaurants and sushi bars. If in doubt, skip it!

Sashimi is served with wasabi (very hot horseradish) as a condiment and with grated daikon radish and pickled ginger to cleanse the palate. Soy sauce -- or a sauce made with soy sauce, mirin (sweetened rice vinegar), sake, and bonito flakes -- is also served alongside the sashimi.

Sashimi may be served on small beds of sushi rice -- in which case it transforms from sashimi to sushi!

Sushi and Sashimi Etiquette
It is acceptable to eat sushi rolls with your fingers although chopsticks are the preferred method of getting the food from the dish to the mouth.

Eat the sushi or sashimi in one bite or two at the most. Never spear it with the chopsticks. You may feel clumsy at first, but with a little practice you will understand why these utensils were devised for this kind of food.

At a sushi bar, only order sushi and sashimi from the chef. Order tea or another beverage from the waitress or waiter. Order a selection as a compliment to the chef and as a treat for you. Unlike Chinese food, it's not good form to share Japanese food, although you can certainly sample your dining partner's choices.

The small dish next to your plate is for soy sauce, which will be nearby in a small pitcher or carafe. Pour a little into the dish and dip the fish side of the sushi into it - not the rice side.

At the finer restaurants, the waiter or waitress may offer you a hot, wet cloth before and after the meal. Use it to wipe your hands and then either return it to the basket in which it was offered or fold it and put it on the table near your place.

Basic Types of Sushi

Nigiri Sushi: This is one the most common and basic kinds of sushi, consisting of small balls or fingers of sushi rice topped with fish -- raw or pickled -- or other ingredients such as cucumber, carrots, and wasabi. These can also be topped with sweet, Japanese-style omelets, cooked shrimp, eel, or crabmeat.

Maki Sushi: These are sushi rolls formed in a bamboo mat and then cut into bite-sized pieces. These may or may not be rolled in nori, or the nori may be inside the roll with the outer layer being made of rice. The center of the roll contains fish or another seafood, such as eel, crabmeat, or shrimp. It may also contain vegetables only, such as avocado and carrots.

Temaki Sushi: These are known as hand rolls and are extremely popular. They are made with sheets of nori filled with rice and other ingredients and eaten out of hand.

Regardless of your favorites, sushi and sashimi fit happily into today's lifestyle and eating preferences. The fish is good for us, there is very little, if any, fat, and there are only small amounts of rice.

Best of all, these dishes can be made with delectable combinations of foods for taste treats that please everyone in the family.