I received a wonderful cookbook for my birthday in January called "Japanese Cooking A simple Art" by Shizuo Tsuji. This book was first published in 1980, so it is a veritable classic and considered the "bible of Japanese cooking". It is as much a primer on Japanese cuisine as a collection of recipes.
As most of you know I studied French patisserie and boulangerie in Paris a number of years ago. So I am no stranger to the kitchen. Despite the fact I specialized in the sweet part of French cuisine, I have tackled many a complicated savory dish. But I honestly had no clue about Japanese cooking. And when you are living in Japan this is a problem. A trip to the market is a comedy. I can identify tomatoes and onions, chicken and beef visually. But anything packaged, anything with a label is a huge shoulder shrug.
So armed with this new cookbook I have set out to learn something about Japanese cooking. I've become a bit more adventurous in the market, buying things I never would have before. I ask a lot of questions of the staff: "Bonito wa doko desu ka?", "Kore wa mirin desu ka?"
So yesterday I bought a lovely piece of fish. I'm not very good at identifying fish, even in English, but I'm guessing it was Sea Bream. I'd found a recipe in my book and was preparing to pan-fry it. When you buy fish or meat in a Japanese market, besides the lovely decoration in the package, there is often a seasoning packet or condiment. I'd tried the little packet that came with the pork cutlets I had bought once; it was all right, but nothing special. When I peeled back the cellophane of the styrofoam tray, besides the fish there was a little mound of shredded daikon radish and a packet of something. Curious, I opened it and tasted it. Wasabi. I put it all together. The beautiful cut of fish, the daikon garnish, wasabi. This was sashimi. This was meant to be eaten raw, uncooked. I was about to murder this fish. Oh-la-la, quelle massacre!
But what did I know of preparing sashimi. I quickly looked up sashimi in my "Japanese Cooking" book. I read the section, studied the diagrams and took my knife, which was most definitely not a sashimi-bocho, and sliced up the fish. Now anyone that is a sushi connoisseur knows cutting indeed affects the flavor of the fish. Paper-thin slices taste differently than thicker slices. I thought of the Simpsons episode when Lisa convinces the family to go out for sushi. When the master sushi chef is indisposed Homer eats a piece of sashimi that is poisonous because it was incorrectly cut by the apprentice chef.
Well, I'm sure a master chef would be horrified at my slicing of this fish. He may even be horrified at the quality and freshness of it. But for my first attempt at sashimi I have to say, おいし かった (it was delicious).