June 13, 2012

A lesson in Sushi

“In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few”
Shunryu Suzuki

One of the advantages about living in Paris is that there are more sushi restaurants than Pizzerias in this town. Expat daughter loves sushi, Expat boy hates it and my hubby has come around after 15 years of hard persuasion and is starting to take pleasure in this Japanese delicacy.

So I leaped at the opportunity when my Japanese connection, Ms Communication, suggested a hands-on MAKIMONO (rolled) SUSHI lesson and a demo on how to prepare sushi rice & cucumber wakame vinaigrette salad. This was to be followed by a lecture on sushi etiquette while enjoying chef Kino-san's sushi. WOW!

I was the first to sign up (along with Ms Organized of course) and we had a blast. Ms Communication did an excellent job of translating all of Kino-san's explainations and suggestions. No matter how hard I concentrated I could not understand a word of Japanese. But it was fun watching the bubbly and confident chef move his hands speedily in and out the gigantic rice bowl formatting all different kinds of sushi, Nigiri-zushi (hand shaped sushi), Oshi-zushi (pressed sushi), Maki-zushi (rolled sushi) and Chirashi-zushi (scattered sushi). Choping, cutting, dipping, splashing, composing and shaping this Japanese culinary art with delicious flavor and colorful form.

Kino-san's secret combination of rice.

Washing and soaking the rice before ...

...boiling it in the rice cooker...

...adding a litle sushi vinegar...

...and mixing the rice well.

An eely appetizer in the meantime...

... followed by a seaweed soup with egg to keep us going!

Years ago, one could not practice this art form without a minimum of 10 years of training and proven skill.  Now, due to the growing need, restaurants will hire sushi chefs with just a few years of learning experience.  But sushi is about culinary expertise and an Itamae-San (expert chef) continually strives to master his skill while performing for the delight of the patron and serving an array of bright colors, mouthwatering tastes and tingling sensations. Kino-san has it all!

Fish as fresh as it comes

Perfect Makimono sushi prepared by Kino-san.

Then it was our turn with a little help from our friend...

As for the Sushi etiquette: we learnt that Nigiri-zushi is traditionally eaten with the fingers, even in formal settings.
Soy sauce is the usual condiment - uff, we got that right. Traditional etiquette suggests that the sushi is turned over so that only the topping is dipped; this is because the soy sauce is for flavoring the topping, not the rice, and because the rice would absorb too much soy sauce and would fall apart - that was news to all of us apprentices.
Further NEVER "whittle" your chopsticks.  If you have to, do it under the table so the chef can't see you!  Doing so implies that the chef is cheap.
If you use your chopsticks to pick at a communal dish, use the back end of your chopsticks.  Never pass a piece of food with your chopsticks to another person's chopsticks, as this maneuver is reserved for handling cremated bones.

Most importantly, the best compliment you can give a sushi chef is to comment him on his rice! Good sushi comes from good rice!

I'd like to believe that Kino-san enjoyed our company as much as we did his. He certainly was very patient in answering all our questions. In future I will remember to ask the chef for a fish recommendation.  Fish is a seasonal animal, and the catch of the day will vary throughout the year.  Asking the chef for his opinion not only shows that you respect him, but will likely get you top-quality sushi.

In the meantime I will take home my (not-so-perfect) maki-zushi masterpieces to impress my loved ones! Itadakimasu!

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