Love sushi? Follow this primer for would-be pros

Today’s Tempo dining review acknowledged that sushi is one of the fastest-growing restaurant genres in the Rogue Valley, likely mirroring a nationwide trend.

Diversity in dining options is never a bad thing, but it is too bad that local sushi establishments seem to be going the way of Chinese and Mexican eateries — all offering very similar menus of Americanized dishes. Traditional sushi’s focus on the freshest, highest-quality fish served simply but expertly is lost in most restaurants’ supersized maki rolls that apparently are even more appealing if deep-fried and slathered in thick sauces.

It doesn’t help that the fish itself may not be as purported, with the country’s sushi restaurants the biggest offenders, according to a February story that ran in the paper’s Sunday lifestyles section. Some specimens, including “red snapper” that is in fact tilapia farmed outside the United States, shouldn’t be considered suitable for raw consumption, sources say.

In addition to these seafood shenanigans, a lot of newcomers to Japanese fare have no idea what sushi actually is, one reader recently opined. His email to the paper echoed my own take on the topic, so I’m sharing these tips from the Dallas Morning News for enjoying sushi the way the Japanese do.

The first, appropriately, is don’t order “crazy rolls.” Start by asking the chef what’s great for sashimi (raw, sliced fish) that day and order some based on the reply. I’ll add my two cents here about patronizing sushi restaurants that do a brisk business, turning over their fish quicker, meaning it’s fresher. 

Continue your meal with nigiri (raw, sliced fish atop rice), then order a roll. Note that hand rolls not only are delicious but mark you as a pro. 

Here are more sushi pointers:

1. If sitting at the sushi bar, don’t order a slew of items at once. In Japan and Los Angeles (home to many of the world’s best sushi bars outside of Japan), it’s customary to order sushi one at a time. At its best, sushi is meant to be eaten immediately as it is prepared.

2. Know savvier seafood choices, like Spanish mackerel, uni, shad and abalone. If you have any sort of environmental consciousness, say no to bluefin tuna or bluefin toro. Most tuna served in U.S. sushi bars is bigeye tuna. Or go for Kumamoto oysters, a real treat and among the “greenest” seafood options, which I discussed in a previous post.

3. Ask for fresh wasabi. The best sushi bars offer paste from the actual horseradish root for an extra charge, about $2 to $6, but it’s well worth it. Whether or not you’ve ordered it fresh, the sushi chef should be putting a dab of wasabi inside the nigiri sushi, when appropriate. If you’d like more, put a dab of wasabi (using chopsticks) directly on top of the fish. Or you can mix a little in the soy.

4. Don’t fill that little dish with soy sauce. Just put in a little, enough to make a puddle about the size of a nickle or quarter. At the best sushi bars, the sushi chef will tell you which sushi items need sauce — he’ll be saucing many of them himself. If you do dip, do it upside down, seasoning the fish, never the rice.

5. Using your fingers is fine. In Japan, some people eat sushi with chopsticks; many others eat it with their fingers. In any sushi bar in that country, you’re given a hot towel once you’re seated, a custom followed by finer restaurants in the States. Note that sashimi, however, does require chopsticks.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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