In the final lesson, we are covering some of the simple garnishes used for sushi, as well as some easy etiquette tips.
If you are not confident with chopsticks; instead of asking for a fork, just use your hands. It’s perfectly ok, and is less embarrassing. I cannot help but raise an eyebrow to people using forks on sushi; there is just something off about that image. Chopsticks, or hashi, just take practice. Not everyone holds them the same way. Holding the chopsticks at the top with my thumb and index finger holding one and middle and ring fingers holding the other, I stabilize both hashi with my thumb and pivot with the upper chopstick.
Again, this just takes some practice.
Meanwhile, let’s talk about those common sushi bar condiments you see on the side of your plate.
Wasabi – It is the scary bright green pungent glob of something or other.
Sushi bar wasabi is made from a powder that resembles the Japanese horseradish root, wasabi. Rarely do U.S. sushi bars serve real wasabi. People are often scared of its “spiciness”, but wasabi is actually not spicy. The sensation you experience from wasabi or horseradish overload is pungency. It goes straight to your sinuses but does not linger. Making wasabi in large quantities can become very uncomfortable; much more so than cutting onions. When I have to make wasabi paste at the restaurant, I look away from the mixing bowl, being careful not to breathe in the pungent powder. Prepared wasabi paste can also be bought in a tube. None of this stuff however is real wasabi. Real wasabi root is actually pretty expensive, but you can sometimes find it in the spice aisle of your grocery store. This wasabi root powder is white with a greenish hue. This can also be made into a paste, but it would be a hefty price to pay for a condiment that is often wasted. This powder is generally reserved for use in more gourmet cooking applications.
Gari – pickled ginger: This bright pink burst of acidity is meant to be a palette cleanser in between different pieces of sushi. If you like the taste of it though, there’s nothing wrong with adding a slice to your sushi roll.
You can find jars of gari these days in asian markets and some grocery stores. It is also fairly easy to make at home if you can find young ginger root.
Shoyu, or soy sauce, is essentially the Japanese version of table salt. This is typically how you season your sushi.
I like to dip the corner of a piece of sushi in the soy sauce and invert it on my plate and let it spread throughout the sushi without overwhelming it. Soy sauce also comes in a lite variety containing less sodium; this is really nothing more than watered down soy sauce. I prefer to use the regular soy sauce, whilst showing restraint.
Many people mix wasabi into their soy sauce and fully submerge each piece of sushi in this concoction, effectively masking the subtle flavors that the sushi chef intended for them to experience. Wasabi and soy sauce are meant to be used sparingly. A small dab of wasabi will not overwhelm your sinuses with its pungent punch, but instead will add an extra kick to a piece of sushi. Too much soy sauce will make a piece of sushi too salty and likely to fall apart. Wasabi and ginger are a bit of an acquired taste; often ignored and left on the side.
Speaking of acquired tastes, lets talk about sake, an alcoholic drink made from fermented rice. Sake is often referred to as rice wine, which is a bit of a misnomer. Sake is made in a process more similar to beer. I would say rice brew or liquor are more accurate labels. Sake is the drink of choice for many sushi-goers. Sake is often served hot, which is a very unique quality not often seen with alcoholic beverages.
Sake is often served to visitors at temples in Japan. It is very strong, however, so i recommend sweet plum wine for those who can’t stand the strength of sake. Some people like to add sake to plum wine to balance out the sweetness of the plum wine and the strong bite of the sake. Americans are also known to take sake bombs, which is a shot of sake dropped into a half-full glass of beer. Most sushi/sake bars offer a sake flight which is a shot of multiple different types of sake. Varieties of sake generally differ by the amount of filtration. The filtration process removes rice starch and affects taste. Sakes that are less filtered, such as Sayuri, are cloudy and sweeter than more filtered varieties.
In regards to serving sushi, you can certainly use any type of plate, but rectangular plates are generally used. The more traditional style of sushi plate it known as a geta, which is made of wood or bamboo and resembles a traditional style of sandal of the same name. Large platters of sushi often come on a large wooden boat, adding an extra layer of drama to the presentation.
And now comes the best part…eating!
After enjoying a sushi snack, it is time to study up for the bar exam! The sushi bar exam that is.
For more in-depth information about sushi-grade seafood, check out this recommended reading: The Aquatic Index.