Noresore/Conger Eel Whitebait

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“Noresore” will soon appear at some select fish markets, and as it will be a very short season, you will have to keep your eyes open!
Noresore stands for very young conger eels. They are called different names depending on regions: “Berada” in Okayama Pref., “Tachikurage” in Misaki, “Nagatankurage” in Wakayama Pref.
In Shizuoka, they mainly come from Hamana Lake, a seawater lake west of the Prefecture, famous for its oysters, eels and clams.

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5~6cm long, they are practically transparent, save for their eyes. They emit no smell. In our Prefecture they are available only during the first two weeks of March. They are slowly but surely becoming a rarity wherever in Japan, and people come from afar just for the experience!

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Before servingthem, lightly wash them in clean salted water.
As sushi, put them on top of “gunkan”, or a rice ball if you are an expert, with freshly grated ginger and chopped thin leeks.
I like them best served as they are with a little “ponzu or “yuzu” vinegar, a dash of “momijioroshi” (freshly grated daikon and chili pepper) and some chopped thin leeks for a last touch of colour!

Vegetarian sushi: Rape Blossoms

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I thought that since the first message received about this blog concerned vegetarian sushi, it is only fair that the first introduction to a seasonal ingredient to sushi should a matter of joy for Vegetarians (incidentally I am not a vegetarian). Moreover, vegetarians will have little excuse to refuse an invitation to a sushi bar/restaurant any longer!

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“Rape Blossoms” (a strange name if there ever was!), or Na no Hana in Japanese, are Spring plants used both for their edibility when young and later for their oil pressed out of their tiny seeds. The same flowers are used in Eurpe and America for their oil and also their decorative value in gardens and parks.
When you buy rape blossoms (usually sold in bunches), check that the bottom end of their stems haven’t dried out. Incidentally this also apllies to green asparaguses which can prepared in almost the same exact manner.
First drop them in a pot of slightly salted water jut before boiling point for as long as you would do for fresh spinach. One minute maximum. Then transfer them immediately into a bowl of cold water to stop them cooking and preserve their colour.
Drain and gently press water out of them. Fold them inside kitchen paper for a few minutes to take as much as water out as possible.
You can arrange them on “nigiri”, “gunkan”, “maki” or simply as a slad appetizer. Season them to your taste, although they are their best added with crushed sesame seeds dressing (“goma tare” in Japanese). Before arranging them as sushi, it might be better to mix them with a bit of such dressing, unless you wish to go for their real taste and paste the rice with a little wasabi first. A tad of lemon juice would go weel with it, too. If you do not use “goma tare”, just sprinkle some roasted sesame seeds on top!

Restaurants 1: Tomii

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Tomii has been my favourite for sashimi in Shizuoka for many years!
The present “oyakata” is Kazuya Tomii who came back to his parents establishment in April 2006 after spending 6 years honing his craft in Kyoto and work under the tutelage of experienced chefs for a couple more years in Shizuoka.
The cuisine served there is intensely Kyoto-style making a great use of the fish and vegetables available in the Prefecture land and sea. Whenever possible, Mr. Tomii uses only Shizuoka products, but will be more than agreeable to prepare cuisine from other Japanese regions.

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Last night (February 23rd) being “my” weekly night out, I visited the establishment and ordered sashimi first as usual. I never specify what I want as Mr. Tomii knows me well enough to know what I fancy.
The plate above contains toro (fat tuna), akami (lean tuna) hirame & hirame engawa (sole and sole filet fringe), fresh uni (urchin) on yuba (“tofu skin”) at the front and shime saba (pickled Mackerel at the back decorated with slices of kinkan (kumquat), live torigai (large cockle) in its shell, and freshly grated wasabi!
Tomii has plenty of other attractions, but that is for a different blog! Just know they offer some great Shizuoka sake!

TOMII
Address: Shizuoka Shi, Aoi Ku, Tokiwacho, 1-2-7, Tomii Bldg 1F
Tel.: 054-2740666
Fax: 054-2730033
Busines hours: 11:00~13:30 (Reservations only); 17:00~22:00 (reservations advisable)
Lunch set: 1,500 yen
Dinner: 3,000 yen~
Private tatami room available
Credit cards OK

Commonly asked questions and Answers

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More vegetarian sushi! Can you guess? Check the pages on the right!

Q: Are there “special seats” at a sushi restaurant?
A: The usual misconception is that sitting at the counter automatically proves more costly than sitting at a table or on a tatami floor. The price will vary accordingly to what you have ered wherever you sit. The fact that customers sitting at tables usually order “sushi sets” will tend to demonstrate that it is cheaper, but you can order the same at the counter. On the other hand, sitting at the counter will entice you to order sushi piece by piece and venture into some exotic requests, hence a higher price. I myself always sit at the counter because I can enjoy the vital opportunity to converse with the chef, watch his technique and have a good look at the available ingredients of the day.

Q:“Nigiri Zushi” should be eaten at once?
A:Yes, for two reasons:
First, the carefully-made “nigiri zushi” will somehow collapse on itself after some time and will not look so appetizing.
Second, the “neta” will dry up and will lose some flavour, tenderness and freshness. That is why I have always strongly felt gainst the very popular “kaiten sushi” (conveyor belt) restaurants!
The trick is to order one “nigiri zushi” after the other and savour them individually, one more reason to choose a counter seat.

Q: What are the prerequisites for a good “shari” (rice ball part of the sushi)?
A: As rice is actually the most important part, only high-quality rice such as “Akita Komachi” should be used.
Next, the balance between the rice vinegar, sugar and salt is very important. Too much of any ingredient will leave an overwhelming taste inside the mouth to the detriment of the other ingredients. Not enough salt will also be detrimental. Only experience will dictate the right amounts!

Q: Should you dip the “neta” or “shari” first into the soy sauce?
A: Do as you like! But if you dip the “shari” first, keep in mind it might desintegrate if you don’t it quickly!
I myself very often ask the chef to add soy sauce directly onto the sushi!

Q: Is there a definite order in ordering and eating various kinds of sushi?
A: That is widely subject to personal taste. The best way is to finish with your special favourites.
I myself start with tuna sashimi (“akami” variety, my preferred part of the tuna) and finish with “nattoo/ume/shiso (fermented beans+pickled plum meat+green beefsteak leaf. Mind you, I would not order that in Osaka!) maki” with soup, preferably “kanijiru” (miso and crab soup).
In between I shall order all kinds of “nigiri zushi” according to availability. I also make a point to order “chyawan mushi” (Japanese steamed custard) whenever possible.

Q: Is sea urchin (“uni”) nice to eat as “nigiri”?
A: It should be. If the “gunkan” (literally “mother ship”, term taken from the Navy) is properly made! A “gunkan”-style “nigiri zushi” is made with a strip of dry seaweed wrapping the rice ball leaving the top free and securing the topping (“neta”). moreover I would ask the chef to season it with soy sauce to avoid dropping it into my soy sauce saucer (sorry for the pun!)

Q: Should all “neta” toppings be made from absolutely fresh fish only?
A: That is another misconception. Long ago, sushi “neta” were exclusively made of boiled, pickled or salted fish.
As hygiene, refrigeration and preservation have greatly improved, we have access to better and better fresh fish. But in some cases, such as for “maguro” (tuna), it is best to leave the fish rest in a secure place for a while before eating it.
“Maguro” is at its best after a week left in a cold (not frozen) place.

Q:Especially in the case of “kohada” (gizzard shard fish or small sweet sardine) we can see at least 5 ways of cutting and presenting the fish: which is the best one?
A: Well. that probably depends both on the chef’s and the customer’s preferences. With a different cut or presentation, various parts of the fish will offer a different exposure to the eater’s palate with consequent different tastes and flavours.

Q: “Kanpyo (dried gourd shavings) maki” is usually cut into 3 pieces and “tekka (tuna) maki” cut in 6. Is there a definite reason for that?
A: No. This is being dictated by two factors:
a) Easy-to-hold or to-eat portions.
b) Sometimes the “maki” shared into smaller portions (6) will be more practical and pleasing to the eye.

Q: Which is better, a male fish or a female fish?
A: A male fish, because a female loses part of its own nutrients for egg (roe) production, especially in the case of salmon and white-fleshed fish.
There is one exception, though: Female turbots (“karei”) apparently lose little when bearing their roe.

Simple introduction to Sushi and Sashimi

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More sushi for vegetarians!
Can you recognize the plant?

Sashimi or thin slices of fish when put onto some rice could be called “sushi” as long as rice vinegar, salt and sugar have been added to season the rice beforehand.
On the other hand it does not have to be sashimi as almost anything could be used for making sushi: fish guts, roe, shellfish, meat, vegetables. etc.
Even the word “sashimi” does not actually apply to fish only as its meaning is “thin slices” (debatable).
There are 3 basic kinds of sushi:
“Nare Zushi”, or pickled fish sushi.
“Nigiri Sushi” or “Edomae Zushi”,or sliced fish et al onto small balls of rice.
“Oshi Zushi” or “Osaka Zushi”, or sliced fish et al pressed onto rice inside a wooden box or mould and then cut into equal-sized pieces.
Of course the three above kinds can be divided into numerous sub-varieties.
One important variety is “Chirashi Zushi”, basically all kinds of (available) ingredients, preferably small, strewn on a layer of rive inside a bowl or shallow Japanese dish. This last variety is commonly encountered at home meals when it is more practical for a housewife to serve to a whole family.

“NARE ZUSHI”
This is the original form of sushi in Japan. One way to preserve fish was to gut it, slice the meat with or without the skin and pickle it (ferment it) in rice. The fish could then always be presented at meals after having taken it out of the pickle jar, cleaned it and served it on a dish as an accompaniment (or main dish) to the usual Japanese fare of rice, miso (fermented beans) soup and pickles.
Then one day, somebody selling fish in Edo (old Tokyo) struck on the idea to serve it wrapped around balls of rice to which vinegar, salt and sugar had been added for preservation. These balls were 2 or 3 times as big as nowadays and 3 balls would be enough for a meal.
This form of sushi is rarely encountered or availabe these days. One modern extension of this technique is “Zuke” whereas tuna (“maguro”) or other fish has been first dipped in hot water for a while, then transfered into iced water to stop it cooking and finally marinated into a pickle brine (“tsuke shiru”) for a while. When cut, the surface is cooked and slightly harder while the inside is still soft and comparatively raw. If it is not dipped in brine it becomes “tataki”.
(Note: “Zuke” also means leaving the fish slices in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin and sake for about a certain amount of time begore making any kind of sushi. Each restaurant has its own original secrets and recipes.)

“NIGIRI ZUSHI”/”EDOMAE ZUSHI”
“Nigiri Zushi”, arguably the most popular kind of sushi, consists of a small hand-formed ball of rice, or more commonly called “shari”, seasoned with rice vinegar, salt and sugar covered with a slice of fish or other ingredients(defined as “neta” in Japanese).
Moreover, before covering the “shari” with the “neta”, a small portion of grated Japanese green horseradish (“wasabi”) is applied on top of the “shari” to be in contact with both the the “shari” nad “neta”. But this is not always the rule. Grated ginger and chopped chives can be applied on top of the “neta” or the “neta” could be seasoned with sauce (“tare” or “tsume”) or the horseradish could be applied on top of the “neta” (as in for “anago”=conger eel). In some cases, I myself like the “neta” sprinkled with a bit of salt and lemon juice as for “hirame”
( sole/flatfish).
The “nigiri zushi” can be then be dipped or not, according to your preference, into a small dish of soy sauce before eating it.
A “nigiri zushi” seasoned with “tare” or salt and lemon juice should not be dipped into soy sauce.
“Edomae Zushi”, apart of “nigiri zushi” comprises “te-maki zushi” (a sushi made inside dry seaweed in the form of a cone served in one piece),”ha-maki” (the same as “te-maki-zushi” but with lettuce instead of dry seaweed), “nori-maki”
(a long thin roll usually wrapped in dry seaweed, then cut in 2, 3 or 6 portions), “futo-maki” ( a thick roll wrapped in seaweed cut into thin slices), “inari zushi” (plain or mixed with some finely-cut ingredients seasoned rice wrapped inside fried toofu pouch, also known as “0-inari San”) , or “chakin zushi” (seasoned rice plain or mixed with other ingredients inside a pouch made of thin omelette).
The possibilities for “edomae zushi” are almost limitless.
Ome more variety made in Kyoto called “te-mari zushi” (small round “nigiri zushi”) ought to be mentioned as its shape is particularly beautiful and its size is popular with diet-conscious ladies!

“OSHI ZUSHI”/”OSAKA SUSHI”
This type of sushi is made from rice (“shari”) seasoned as in “edomae zushi” and then stuffed inside small wooden boxes, smeared or not with horseradish (“wasabi”). Finally thin slices of fish or else are carefully arranged on top usually so as to form a pattern. A wooden lid will then be pushed on top of the sushi to press it evenly and firmly. The sushi will be then slid out out of the box and cut into regular rectangular portions to be served accordingly to the chef’s taste and skill.