In Japanese cuisine, sushi (寿司, 鮨, 鮓) is vinegar-seasoned rice, usually topped with a variety of ingredients including seafood (cooked or uncooked) and vegetables. Outside of Japan, sushi is sometimes misunderstood to mean the raw fish by itself, or even any fresh raw-seafood dishes. In Japan, sliced raw fish alone is called sashimi and is distinct from sushi, as sashimi is the raw fish component, not the rice component. The word sushi itself comes from an outdated grammatical form of a word that is no longer used in other contexts; literally, sushi means "it's sour."
Much care is put into the creation of the dish and the many methods of preparing the food indicate the importance of appearance to the educated consumer.
Beginning as a method of pickling fish centuries ago, sushi has evolved into an artful, unique dining experience. In its earliest form, fish was placed between two wads of rice, producing a moderately complex chemical reaction as the fish fermented, helping to preserve it. Sometime between the 14th and 16th centuries, rice vinegar started to be added to the rice to help speed up the process which took several months. Around this time the rice also started to be consumed with the fish it was used to preserve. Nori (red algae seaweed paper) was added about this period as a way to keep one's fingers from getting sticky, thus creating the first ancestor of modern 'makizushi', or rolled sushi.
Sometime in the mid to late 18th century, a restaurant in Edo (modern Tokyo) started serving sushi rice alone with thinly sliced fresh fish pressed into it. This was the start of Edo-Mae sushi, which is also known as 'nigirizushi', or pressed sushi. Sometime after this, a chef took this one step further and eliminated the sushi rice all together, resulting in sashimi. It is important to note that sashimi specifically refers to thinly sliced raw or mostly raw fish and shellfish.
It is hard to tell when exactly the wasabi and pickled ginger were added, but it is probable they came in with the Edo-Mae sushi, as this was when the focus of sushi became enjoying the taste of the exceedingly fresh fish, and the condiments heighten the experience.
Composition and PreparationEdit
Sushi, in its simplest forms, is made by first cooking rice, seasoning it with vinegar, and molding it to shape with added toppings or fillings. Like Western hors d'oeuvres, sushi should be served in a manner that will allow eating by hand, usually in a bite or two. As such, sushi will be shaped or cut to the appropriate size before serving—while sushi may sometimes be prepared as an entire wrap or roll, these must be sliced into smaller pieces before consumption. Sushi is usually served cool with soy sauce, sliced ginger, and wasabi.
Common toppings and fillingsEdit
The possibilities for sushi toppings and fillings are nearly endless, but common ones include:
- Raw fish (e.g. salmon, tuna, cuttlefish, hamachi yellowtail)
- Cooked eel
- Cooked shrimp/prawn
- Fish and sea urchin roe
- Cooked egg
- Cooked chicken
Sushi is often accompanied by various condiments, including:
Types of SushiEdit
Makizushi ("rolled sushi"), or maki for short, is the kind most common to North American consumers (see California Rolls). It consists of sushi fillings layered on top of nori and sushi rice, rolled into a tube, and cut into thick slices. Easy to make and even easier to mass produce, it has found a wide proliferation as a new form of fast food, but it is still found in traditional Japanese restaurants.
Temakizushi is a variety of rolled sushi. It usually consists of sushi fillings, rice, and nori wrapped into a small cone. It is even found in convenience stores in Japan.
Saikuzushi is a type of rolled sushi, where the rice is colored and rolled with ingredients such that it will produce a design or image when sliced. It is quite difficult to make this, and also quite expensive when bought.
Nigirizushi ("hand-formed sushi"), or nigiri for short, consists of a small, hand-formed small bed of sushi rice topped with common sushi ingredients. Gunkanmaki ("battleship roll" or "boat sushi") is a nigirizushi where an oval piece of sushi rice is wrapped with nori and topped.
Temarizushi ("ball sushi") is like nigirizushi, but shaped like a ball. The process for making it is less technically rigorous, making it a popular variety for homemade sushi.
Oshizushi ("pressed sushi") is similar to nigirizushi, but it is formed by pressing with the aid of a wooden mold (oshibako). Generally, the topping is placed in the oshibako first, followed by the rice is added on top. The combination is then pressed together with the oshibako top or lid. After pressing, the sushi is removed and cut into serving sizes.
Inarizushi ("stuffed sushi") is generally a pocket or pouch containing the rice and other ingredients. Materials used to make the pocket include tofu, bean curd, egg, and cabbage leaves.
Chirashizushi, sometimes referred to as a sushi bowl, consists of sushi rice topped with various sushi ingredients. Chirashizushi has two main regional types: the Tokyo and Osaka versions.
Sashimi is sliced raw seafood (usually fish) without any rice. It is artistic, with thin slices of fish and shellfish formed into a range of different shapes. Because it does not contain rice, sashimi is not technically sushi—however, it tends to be grouped with it due to the overlap in ingredients.
Sushi can be eaten as served by the cook or accompanied by soy sauce and/or wasabi. In Japan, sushi chefs will apply a small amount of wasabi to the appropriate types of sushi during preparation. For example, sushi that features its own unique sauce will be prepared sans wasabi so as not to compromise the flavor. Western sushi chefs may do this, but some may not apply wasabi to any sushi.
As a general rule, it is always appropriate to eat sushi by hand, unless doing so would be exceedingly messy or would cause the sushi to fall apart—in these cases, chopsticks are appropriate.
A meal may often begin with simple miso soup. Many people start with a mild sushi, such as tamago (a sweet, cold omelette on rice), and end with a stronger taste at the end of the meal, like a darker fish. Between different items it is recommended that a piece of pickled ginger be eaten to cleanse the palate and ensure that none of the subtle flavours of the sushi is missed. Hot, fresh, green tea is an excellent beverage to drink with your meal, as is beer or plain water. While sake can be consumed with sushi, because it is made from rice it is considered to be too much rice in one meal.