All posts by dragonlife

Robert-Gilles Martineau hails from Bourgogne/Burgundy, France and presently resides in Shizuoka/Japan

Seasonal Fishes: Katsuo/Bonito

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Bonito or “katsuo” in Japanese are extensively caught by fishermen from Numazu, Shimizu, Yaizu and Omaezaki Charbours. The main fishing areas are Shizuoka, Mie, Kochi & Miyazaki Prefectures.
It is also called “katsu” (Tohoku Region), “Honkatsuo” (Kyushu Island), “Magatsuo” (Shikoku and Kyushu Islands. N.B.: the same name designates another fish in other parts of Japan!), “Suji” (Yamaguchi & Wakayam Pref>).
It appears on the markets early Spring~Autumn as “sho gatsuo” (first bonito) and “modori gatsuo” end of Autumn.
They are traditionally line-caught but nets have been used extensively in recent years.

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It can be appreciated raw, as sashimi, preferably served with a saucer of soy sauce (shoyu) mixed with thin slices of fresh garlic, or with wasabi, a touch of lemon and shoyu, or as nigiri topped with grated fresh ginger a thin slice of garlic, unless you prefer grated fresh ginger with chopped thin leeks.

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Another very popular way to eat it that will please Europeans and North Americans alike, is “tataki”.
The fish is first grilled over charcoal until it is lightly cooked on the whole outside then plunged into ice water to stop it from cooking any longer. It is then cooked into large slices and served with freshly chopped daikon and thin leeks, “shiso” leaves (perilla/beefsteak plant) and wasabi.

Note 1: in restaurants specify whether you want the skin or not when ordering sashimi.

Note 2: the same fish is a staple food in Sri LAnka where it is first smoked

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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.