Gazing begrudgingly at the day’s selection of sashimi grade fish at my local supermarket, I realized that my options are, and have always been, quite limited. Tuna, salmon, squid, or kampachi.

Despite having moved 50 km away from the ocean, I refuse to accept the fact that I am stuck with a dimished selection of fish to choose from whenever I get that urge for sushi or sashimi – and unfortunately, that craving is five days out of the week.

What to do? Resort to my usual menu of salmon and avocado wraps (norimaki) accompanied by a haphazardly concocted egg pancake (tamagoyaki)? Attempt to better my hand-form sushi (nigirizushi) made with kampachi and tuna? No!

So, I am splintering away from the Japanese world and applying what I’ve learned about working with raw fish to a western delicacy inspired by a recent trip to Amsterdam. The day’s special is Salmon Tartare!

Now, you might have heard of the beef variant known as steak tartare, which is made with raw beef, mustard, herbs and spices served with toast and tartare sauce. Salmon tartare is, unsurprisingly, the fishy version of perhaps one of the greatest dishes I’ve ever had the pleasure of consuming.

Salmon tartare as featured on Sushi Break is not a new invention. But I will share the result of my experimentation below.

Salmon tartare – with special soy sauce and sliced tomatos

Salmon Tartare served with toast and sliced tomatos

Recipe is not exact*, but if you want to try yourself, here is the shopping list:

  • 1 lb fresh sashimi grade salmon (I used Norwegian salmon, sans skin and bones)
  • 1/2 seeded finely sliced/diced cucumber
  • 1/2 tbs minced shallots
  • 1/2 small white onion
  • 1/2 to 3/4 tbs truffle infused olive oil (normal EVOO is fine too), don’t add more than 1/2 tbs if your salmon is really fatty or you’ll have salmon fat contending with oil which I find a little distracting and not so tasty
  • 1/2 tsp salt (Okinawan salt was used, but if you’re going to use table salt, a small pinch only)
  • 1 tsp fresh parsley finely chopped (dried parsley also ok)
  • 1/2 tbs Jane’s Crazy Pepper (finely ground with mortar and pestle)
  • 1 tbs of fresh squeezed orange juice (I didn’t have lemon/lemon juice)
  • 1/2 tsp (and I mean no more than 1/2 tsp) of sesame seed oil (aka 胡麻油) – this stuff is quite aromic and strong tasting, so don’t let it steal the show

*The shopping list was based on a salmon tartare recipe on Bon Appetit

Instructions: Slice the salmon finely, but not so small that you get mush. You’re trying to make food for humans, not cat food. Keep the salmon aside in a chilled bowl. To the salmon, add the other ingredients in no particular order – but I find that mixing it all in separate bowl ahead of time is a nice idea, so you can just dump it in with the freshly sliced salmon, and be on your way to eating. Rapidly but gently blend together the ingredients with a rubber spatula or other forgiving tool – in other words, don’t use a wooden spoon that grips (and rips) the salmon meat apart with each stir.

For the presentation, what I did was scoop half the mixture into two shallow coffee mugs, flipped them upside down onto the serving saucers, and stored in the fridge for 30 minutes (or however long it takes you to make your other dinner items). Ideally, when you remove your mugs, your salmon tartare should look like little domes.

I used a lull in between rain storms to venture out and have a look at the Sunday fish stock at a neighborhood grocer.  The only thing decent they had was makokarei (below “karei”), or young marbled soles that were shipped fresh from Chiba prefecture.

Prepped sole (karei) with head and guts removed.

About a 10 inches in length and weighing about 380 grams, this flatfish was not exactly a bargain at 752 yen ($9.64). But when these babies are available, I won’t waste the opportunity for a nice meal in the form of sushi, sashimi, or grilled sole.

Karei are a white meat fish and have a light taste that when properly served can have a slightly fluffy texture, especially when grilled, broiled or otherwise cooked.

The sushi and sashimi iterations present an unexpectedly tough and chewier texture compared to the cooked versions. Karei and its opposite-eyed cousin the Hirame (Flounder) are popular choices at restaurants that specialize in fish — but they are also more expensive compared to more common fish like aji (horse mackerel) and sake (salmon).

I sliced my sole at home (I had the fish seller remove the head and guts before repackaging) using the Gomai-oroshi or five-piece fillet method. Like the name suggests, the result is 4 boneless fillets and a bony carcass (not pictured) — the fillets I used for sushi and frying, while I threw the leftovers into a pot for soup.

When filleting a flatfish, make sure you have a thin and flexible fillet knife or other chef’s knife with a slender blade. It also helps to rinse and wipe your blade during the filleting so you can make a clean cut as often as possible — this will help prevent tearing or ripping of flesh and possibly ruining your fillets.

Sole fillets after using gomai-oroshi (5-piece fillet). Carcass (the fifth piece) is already in the soup pot!

Picking a good flatfish (sole or flounder) is not difficult, but what is difficult is finding one that isn’t cultivated (“farmed”). I personally preferred freshly caught flatfish because while I have a general idea of what these bottom-feeders dine on in the wild, I don’t want to think about the stuff the farmers are giving them in the cultivation ponds. Not that it’s easy to taste the difference either, but it is just for peace of mind.

Farmed soles and flounders can be spotted very easily by flipping them to see the white underbelly and checking for dark spots on the skin. I have been told that the feed used in cultivation causes this, but I will save the science behind that for another time. The point is, if you want a fresh flatfish, go for a pure white underbelly specimen — don’t forget to ask the salesman if it’s not indicated.  Most supermarkets and fish mongers know that more and more people have become aware of the difference between fresh and farmed fish and may likewise develop a preference for the fresh version.  So, they sell their flatfish in packages with the fish’s white underbelly in full visibility.  I think this is great because not only does it show honesty on the part of the seller, but it prevents too many people from messing with the fish too many times to check for spots — someone eventually needs to buy that fish and it’s best that it’s not been handled too much!

This video is the first of several planned productions of Hetakuso Bocho (“Unskilled Knife”).

In the first episode, I gut and filet a striped pigfish, also known as an isaki in Japan. Isaki is best eaten in the summer months (June, July, August), can grow up to 50 cm, and fetch a relatively high price at market.

This fish is known to be tasty grilled or fried, for sushi or as sashimi.

Isaki have a reddish flesh that you might notice resembles red sea bream (when sliced for sashimi and sushi) but has a little more fat and softer flesh when eaten raw. If raw fish is not your thing, you need to be careful not to overcook isaki as doing so may result in it becoming dry and not so tasty. That is, unless you have some tartar or cocktail sauce, but in my opinion that doesn’t do justice to a fish that can cost $20 or more, and certainly not to be confused with the stuff you get for fish n’ chips.

Picking out a good Isaki can be difficult as the common rule of thumb involves checking the fish’s eyes — the more clear and full, the better — but with even good isaki the eyes are a bit cloudy. I always try to choose gerth over eyes, but if I can confirm both the better.

W00t happy new year’s!!!!!

Got some good buri (yellowtail) when I was out shopping the other day.  It was supposedly shipped directly from Kagoshima, Kyushu to my local supermarket in Tokyo.  With all the pollution and radiation floating around the Pacific side of Japan, I am trying very hard to source my ingredients (especially fish) from western Japan. My strictness paid off.

The package of this buri says basically that it is sashimi grade, and was cultivated (farmed) locally in Kagoshima.  Then it was taken from the water and killed right on the spot, a type of quick fish slaughter that originally came from Japan known as ike jime (printed as 活け〆 on the label),  This is the preferred method of killing a fish meant for eating as the taste is comparably better than say, a fish that was subject to prolonged suffering prior to death (i.e. left to bleed to death), or stuck in a live-catch tank with 25 of his mates for hours and hours of pre-death stress.

If you’re a fish addict, then you should care not only about where your fish comes from, but also under what circumstances the fish was put out of its misery.

Not that every fish seller will tell you if your soon-to-be sushi dinner was killed as soon as it was taken from the water, but you should at least ask.

This wasn’t cheap, by the way: 7 bucks for 167 grams!…okay I got 2 bucks off (see the sticker) because it the last day it was eligible for sale.

The market today didn’t have much on display today.  Mainly shellfish, nishin, and inada.  Their refrigerated section always has some good fish so the pick of the day is kampachi (greater amberjack), a favorite of mine among the white fishes and is good for both sushi and sashimi.

The specimen pictured below comes from one of Japan’s main islands, Kyushu, which lies to the south just short distance from South Korea.  At the very southern region of Kyushu is Kagoshima, which is the specific location where this piece of kampachi originates.  It was a great piece that went well with a slightly “weak”  sushi rice — I had to balance out the flavor of the both the fish and the rice so that neither dominated the sushi I made (a pinch of salt and drop of sesame seed oil did wonders here).

Kampachi is a fatty yet light-tasting fish given its peach-whitish flesh.  Raw kampachi sushi or sashimi IMO is better eaten closer to room temperature.  It gives you that melt-in-your-mouth effect, which is harder to achieve when it’s too cold.  It might be a bit on the expensive side but just getting your hands on it is only half the battle.  Picking the best piece may take you to a few different fish shops.  My favorite cuts are like the one featured above, with a good balance of red to white (skin layer) which gives a nice shimmering meaty appearance.

Kampachi sashimi and nigirizushi is common, but I’ve yet to sample a piece of rolled kampachi sushi.  I wonder if the seaweed taste overpowers the subtle, yet rich kampachi flavor which is why it isn’t necessarily a typical makizushi ingredient.

Spun up a quick image showing just where akami, chutoro and ohtoro are cut from a Bluefin Tuna.

Akami is what many sushi lovers outside of Japan know as “maguro” or simply tuna. Not so expensive and is used in a variety of non-sushi dishes.

Chutoro is the fattier variant of akami, with noticeably lighter color (light red to pink). Often consumed as sashimi (sliced raw fish) as well as sushi.

Ohtoro is the fattiest part of the tuna with a clearly marbled appearance (similar to how Kobe beef and other domestic steaks are marbled in fat) and allegedly can only be taken from the fattiest bellies of Kuromaguro and Minamimaguro Tunas. Being expensive and sweet, sushi shops normally don’t stock a lot of Toro or Ohtoro since it doesn’t pay off as well as cheaper-to-procure high-selling fish like kohada, buri, sake, etc. Sushi eaters who start with bland sushi and end with sweet or strong tasting sushi will finish their meal with ohtoro, so economics tell sushi chefs not to procure it in high volumes.

In the diagram below, assume it is of a Kuromaguro which  has a thick layer of fatty flesh between its akami and chutoro innards and the ocean (separated by the white dotted line). In real life however, the appearance of these three representative cuts of tuna can be very different depending on the type of tuna they come from – for example, if I see a piece of tuna sashimi labeled chutoro with white fatty fibrous stripes, I can pretty much tell it is not a Kuromaguro a.k.a. Honmaguro (Pacific Bluefin Tuna) but possibly a Mebachi “”Bigeye Tuna or Kihada “Yellowfin” Tuna. Of course, one could always ask the seller or look at the label…

Sometimes you may hear use of the term “Toro” in general (with the leading “Oh” dropped). This refers to fatty maguro meat with the gelatin-like sinews that are rich in collagen. Toro is available in most sushi shops, grocery stores and fish markets.

But, the popularity of tuna cannot be disputed as akami and chu-toro are often included among the Japanese’ favorite sushi (let’s assume they are used in several sushi variants including tekka-maki, negitoro-maki, etc).

(Edit: Otoro is cut from the underside of the fish (the belly) while chutoro is cut from fatty parts closer to the dorsal region.  Please refer to the image below more like a color guide, not as an anatomically correct cross-section of a Bluefin maguro.)

Author’s note: “Chiai” is the darker rather bloody meat that you don’t normally see served. The akami referred to in the image above is pretty dark but please don’t think I forgot about chiai.

In Minato-ku close to Onarimon and Shimbashi, POSEIDON is a kaisendon restaurant that offers reasonably priced bowls filled with rice, raw fish and other delights.  Mainly for customers with little time to relax and eat, the menu is simple, the prices fixed, and seating limited.

However, this restaurant has two unique points that I want to share. POSEIDON as written above is not what the sign says on the shop front.  It is written ポセイ丼 using the katakana characters for the “POSEI” and the kanji for “bowl” as the “DON” part.  Okay, I personally found it amusing and passed by it a few times before actually setting foot in the door.  That leads to my second point – the quality of food at this little shop is some of the best I’ve had in a while and at a price that I won’t argue with.  A salmon (sake) and scallop (hotate) sashimi bowl was around 600 yen, and it was a fair portion.  I’ve been to Tsukiji Market a few times and the bowls they offer are not only a bit pricey (despite the fact they source right from the docks 50 meters away) but leave you with a grumbly tumbly nonetheless.

POSEIDON therefore gets the following eval, which I am just making up right now:

  • Location: Crappy, if you live on the Mita-line, probably great, but a bit of a walk from Shimbash Station (you need to walk towards Shiba Park).
  • Interior/Cleanliness: Nice earth tones with wood and stone, comfortable seats/Spotless
  • Menu: Limited, but they don’t need to go beyond what they already have.  They don’t have sushi, but they have a teishoku (set lunch) with some slices of fish along with a main course, but the bowls (don) are the best
  • Price: bang is greater-than-or-equal-to buck
  • Naming: very appropriate to the Greek name for the God of the Sea, glad he’s found a vacation spot in Tokyo.
  • Would I go back?: Yes, you bet.

Below is a photo of the menu outside and sorry, it doesn’t have what I ordered (cut off on the right).

#sushi Shion Sushi did not impress me – Read why I didn’t like it.

Wake up and smell the she-li (#sushi rice)! | | Make sure you fan the rice while you mix in the vinegar!