Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Evolution Of Sushi

Crab, Cucumber, Avocado, and Tobiko or Flying Fish Roe

Because I am a BIG AND ENTHUSIASTIC FAN of sushi (don't EVEN get me started on the subject of bento boxes) I decided to take a class on sushi making.  Though I have been making sushi rolls off and on for years, I still have a vision of my two kids hovering like a pair of sharks at the end of the cutting board gobbling up all of the pieces I deemed unfit for the dinner table, I thought it was time to refine my skills.  It was SO much fun.  The class was taught by a sushi chef from our local Four Seasons Hotel.  Each student had their own sushi station to work at.  Each station was very well equipped - complete with a bamboo mat, nori, delicately sliced vegetables, and all of the ingredients necessary to make a variety of sushi rolls.  We learned to make futo-make or the big roll filled with all sorts of delicious ingredients, haso-make or thin roll, tekka-make or the ever popular tuna roll, te-make or the hand roll that is made without a bamboo mat and ura-make or the inside out American-style sushi roll.

At the end of class my fellow students each took home little boxes of sushi they had made - all except me - by the end of class I had eaten all of mine - right down to the last kernel of rice!

I am fascinated by food histories and traditional food preparations and so I found it particularly interesting to learn that the original sushi was a fermented food.  The original sushi, known as nare-zushi, is actually a form of food preservation which first developed in Southeast Asia and spread to southern China before its introduction to Japan.  Nare-zushi is fish that is salted and wrapped in rice.  The gutted fish can be stored in the rice and allowed to ferment for upwards of several months and perhaps years.  The rice is discarded and only the fish is consumed.

In the hands of the Japanese sushi began to evolve and change.  Because the Japanese prefer to eat their fish with rice namanare was developed.  Namanare is raw fish wrapped in rice and consumed within about a month while it is still somewhat fresh and not fully fermented.

In the 17th century Osaka-zushi developed.  For the first time rice vinegar was used to flavor the rice instead of fermentation. Vinegared rice and salted fish were packed into wooden boxes, weighted with a stone, and allowed to ferment overnight.  The following day Osaka-zushi was sliced into rectangles and eaten.

Finally during the Edo period, the ultimate fast food, the maki or rolled style sushi, began to appear.  Futo-maki, ura-maki, hosos-make, kappa-maki are the popular and elegantly presented hand formed sushi rolls that we are familiar with today.

Incidentally, the original nare-zushi is still prepared today near Lake Biwa, Shiga Prefecture.  Eighteen generations of the Kitamura family have been preparing the dish since 1619.  Fresh fish is scaled and gutted - though the gills and often the roe are preserved in the fish intact.  The fish is then packed with salt and aged for one year and then repacked annually in rice for about four years.  The fermented fish is served thinly sliced or as an ingredient in other dishes.

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1 comment:

  1. Now I'm in the mood for sushi! :D I like the evolution of the fermented rice, very interesting!