Sashimi - a heavenly slice
Sushi and Sashimi are one of the mainstay meals in the varied fare available from the many multi cultural restaurants around Australia. These simple dishes have a strikingly attractive presentation and have delicate, rich and sometimes robust taste making them a very popular meal at Japanese restaurants and every upmarket cafe in town. While these delicacies may command a high price at exclusive restaurants you can prepare sashimi and sushi at home for a pittance, and with the abundance of fresh fish available around Tasmania in both salt and fresh water you can serve a sushi meal that any restaurant in Japan would be envious of.
Before we get ahead of ourselves lets break down a few terms. Sushi is a dish, in this case raw fish served on a small rectangular pad of rice. It is also the generic name used in Japanese restaurants to describe a platter or meal of varied items which can include sashimi, sushi and nori rolls. It can include raw or cooked fish, other seafood, omelette, or any other ingredient the imagination can conjure up. Sashimi is fresh slices of raw fish which is usually served with condiments like soy sauce and wasabi. Nori rolls refers to rolls of dry seaweed which have a layer of rice on which is placed further ingredients that are then rolled up and sliced. Wasabi is a root plant similar to horseradish however it is presented as a green paste and has a kick like granddads double barrel shotgun, so beware.
Only two things are essential to make sashimi, fresh fish and a very sharp knife. There are many commercial sashimi knives available, traditionally they have a single beveled edge to the blade and a flat edge, therefore they are right or left handed. Commercial filleting knives, even cheap ones these days come with extremely sharp edges and can fit the cause for home use if you just want to give it a try and aren't too serious at this stage of the game. The second ingredient is the fish, commercial species used at restaurants include tuna (blue fin or yellow fin), blue eye trevalla and sea trout or Atlantic salmon. All are regularly available at commercial fish shops, but make sure they are fresh. Also don't be put off by the sometimes extremely high price commanded by tuna as you can get away with a chunk of 100 gm to 200 gm depending on how much you intend to serve. As I said though, fresh is best and there are plenty of species that you can catch yourself to make a fantastic sashimi or sushi meal. Brown or rainbow trout with a good orange to red flesh is ideal as is our fabulous Atlantic salmon, silver trevally, garfish and flathead also make beautiful sashimi. The Japanese also love the oilier mackerel which is simply filleted, skinned and sliced once all bones have been picked out which is as simple as can be. (But don't tell the missus what you did with her tweezers!).
Sushi and Nori rolls can be made with readily available sushi kits from most supermarkets. Kits include most of the stuff you need including a bamboo mat for rolling nori sheets into rolls once the ingredients are added. All sorts of ingredients can be added to Nori rolls, but fresh raw fish with a slice of carrot and cucumber and a light smear of wasabi is the making of a fantastic Nori.
I love to make a sushi platter when friends are coming for dinner, especially over the Christmas break at the shack.
The contrasting colours between the white flesh of trevalla, the deeper hues of yellowfin tuna and lovely orange of both fresh trout and prawns make a fantastic sushi and you have a meal to remember. I have recently done a bit of reading into sushi and sashimi to find out that squid and scallops also rate highly, I am looking forward to testing these in future platters. Squid is simply gutted, skinned and cut into rectangles for sushi or sliced very thinly for sashimi, while scallops are simply cut in half straight out of the shell. Scallops can also have boiling water tipped over them and then wiped off with paper towel to firm the flesh slightly once they are cut in half. Tasmania is ideally positioned for nearly all of the fish I have mentioned. Catch them fresh, treat them well and you have ingredients that the best in the restaurant trade can only dream of.
A couple of quick hints if you are having trouble slicing your fresh fish, wrap it in glad wrap and put it in the freezer for half an hour before slicing it, this will firm the flesh to enable thin slices. Cut fish into rectangles and slice across the grain where possible. Pick the pin bones out of fish before slicing and remove flesh from the blood line after slicing, the blood line is quite oily and is apparent as a darker streak of flesh near where the skin was removed. Prepare sushi and sashimi as close to serving time as possible.
With all of the fresh fish we have available in Tasmania, give sashimi and sushi a try. Don't be afraid to buy the ingredients but get them from a reputable fish trader and make sure they are fresh enough for sushi. Better still, catch it yourself and stick to the "fresh is best" motto and you can't go wrong.
One final word is to be sure of what you are dealing with when making sushi or sashimi. The Japanese have a 'special" sashimi they call fugu. This is made from the flesh of toad fish which hosts a deadly toxin in the liver and internal organs. Fugu chefs spend years perfecting their skills in preparation of this delicacy, which apparently leaves a tingling on the tongue and lips when eaten. Apparently from residual poison in the flesh. A number of people die every year in Japan from eating this delicacy and the moral of the story is to only prepare sushi or sashimi from fish you know are safe to eat.
We have lots of great eating fish which are not too hard to catch so have a go and impress friends and relatives with your culinary talent. You might even surprise yourself with how easy sashimi and sushi are to prepare.
Japanese sashimi knives
In our research for this story we had difficulty in finding a good sashimi knife at a reasonable price. It is remarkable that "good" sashimi knives can be well over $1000, some are more, but many are over $200. We have found some very good value "Made in Japan" knives for around $100. The price is not firm yet at time of going to press.
These knives are made of carbon steel and are NOT stainless! Good-quality, three-layer laminated Japanese kitchen knives are expensive. So when you're looking for knives, you'll generally find many offers for "high quality" knives at unrealistically low prices. Of course, the offers neither clearly state that the knives are laminated or made of single-layer steel, nor if they're made in Japan or in a low-wage Third World country.
However, especially in knives, the quality of the steel and workmanship are paramount if the knife is not to become a constant source of annoyance. These sashimi kitchen knives are made in Japan. Japanese kitchen knives customarily consist of three layers of steel; two soft outer layers and an extremely hard high-carbon steel central layer. Most of the knives of this type exhibit hardnesses of Rc 61 and higher, which is extremely high for knife blades. On the other hand, the single-layer sashimi knive we have found is typically hardened to approximately Rc 57 - 58, which is still the equivalent of very high-grade European cutlery. They do, however, require more frequent sharpening than the three-layer knives.
The knives are not "rust free" and should be oiled lightly with any kitchen oil when washed. Wash by hand and never place in a dishwasher where they can bump other objects and be dulled. Likewise never keep in the "cutlery" drawer, but in a knife block or wrapped in a protective cover.
Sashimi knives are flat on one side and ground on the other. This design allows you to cut wafer thin slices of fish consistently. It will surprise you how much easier it is with the correct knife. Sashimi knives are sharpened on one side only.
If you are interested in one of the genuine Japanese knives give the TFBN office a call on 03 6331 1278.