Friday, February 21, 2014

Accidental sashimi

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).

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