Thursday, 28 February 2008

How to order sushi like an expert

When sushi first started to catch on in the UK as something regular on our restaurant menus I was basically very reluctant to try it out.For a long while I carefully avoided it being put off by the raw fish and the thought of eating all that rice. But I am glad to say I have tried it since and after a few attempts my opinion has greatly changed,especially the misunderstanding sushi as consists only of raw fish. But I suppose that is the reason many people won't even try it. If you haven't sampled it then I think you should take the plunge and go for it because it is a delicious and reasonably healthy meal as well being a really sociable and relaxed way of eating with friends or even alone if you eat in a traditional sushi bar where you are served at the counter or pick from a conveyor belt it's less obvious that you are alone and this is a factor that appeals to many people.

If you are eating out there are two styles of sushi restaurant there are the ones where you sit at a table or counter and order your food from the menu, or the more modern style where diners are seated around a conveyor belt and pick from the dishes that pass by. In the traditional order at table restaurant you may be provided with a menu that is illustrated and this will help you learn the names of the various kinds of sushi and you will see what you are ordering. Of course, when seated at the conveyor belt of sushi train you get to see exactly what there is so its much easier, although at first you may not recognize some of the more unusual types of fish and seafood that are used to make it.

Sushi is a combination of dressed rice that is either formed into rolls, or small clumps with different fillings or toppings. Raw fish can be used but cooked fish and vegetables are also used. When a piece of sushi comprises only of a piece of raw fish or seafood with no rice, this is known as "sashimi".

Diners dip the pieces of sushi into soy sauce to enrich the flavour and it is a must if you are going to appreciate the real taste- trust me it does make a difference to the taste.Sometimes the chef may add wasabi to the sushi; it's a very piquant green paste made from a root like horseradish and it takes a little getting used to as too much can blow the top of your head off! If you find it too hot or you are a novice, check whether any wasabi has been used by the chef before adding your own. Wasabi is reputed to have anti-microbial properties that may vastly reduce the risk of food poisoning so if you can build up a tolerance to the immense kick from the wasabi, so much the better. I like to add a little to my dish of soy sauce but purists say that this spoils the sauce. After each piece, or couple of pieces, eat a sliver of sweet, pickled ginger; not only does this refresh the palate but ginger is said to have properties that aid digestion.

To me, seeing the pieces of brightly coloured sushi set out reminds me of candies in a store window. Sushi-making is a serious art and sushi chefs train for years to master the techniques. There's a whole language involved in sushi-making but a few terms will be beneficial to the sushi novice.

"Nori" this is the name given to the flat sheets are seaweed that are used to make the shell for sushi rolls and the wrapping for cones of rice.

"Makisushi" these are rolls of sushi; rice is laid onto the sheet of nori with a filling, then rolled into a tube before being cut into bite sized pieces.

"Nigirisushi" these are the little mounds of compressed rice that are topped with a sliver of fish or seafood. Unlike other kinds of sushi, these are usually eaten with the fingers because they have a tendency to break up when you use chopsticks to pick them up.

"Inarisuhi" these are little cones of nori that are filled with tofu or sometimes rice.

"Chirashi sushi" this is when you get a basket or dish that has a base of rice and then various pieces of raw fish, seafood and vegetables scattered over it.

Salmon (in Japanese "sake"), shrimps (ebi) and tuna (toro, akimi) are probably the most recognizable of the fish toppings used in sushi but other commonly used ones are mackerel (saba), eel (unagi) and snapper (kurodai). Commonly used vegetables are daikon ( a peppery white radish-like root vegetable), avocado used in the very pretty California rolls), cucumber and sweet (bell) peppers. Often you will see pieces of sushi topped off with a little cluster of roe (ikura); these taste delicious but also add a new and unusual texture to the sushi.

Although many Japanese restaurants offer sake (an alcoholic drink distilled from fermented rice) its not a great drink to accompany sushi because a similar flavoring is used to dress the rice. Therefore my advice would be to stick to drinking water with your food then have a mug of green tea afterwards to aid digestion.

Many supermarkets now sell takeaway sushi packs which are a great introduction for sushi virgins, especially for people nervous about eating raw fish because they tend not to contain any uncooked fish at all. Instead the toppings will be vegetables or cooked fish such as tuna, smoked salmon or prawns; this is essential for supermarket bought sushi because only the very freshest fish can be used if being served raw. Supermarket sushi rarely has wasabi already added but comes with separate packets of soy sauce, pickled ginger and wasabi so you can experiment and see what you do and don't like.

Once you are familiar with the basic kinds of sushi and the ingredients used, you may wish to make your own sushi; it's a delicious and versatile food that is limited only by your imagination!

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