Tavern Queue: Sushi
Welcome to the first, and potentially last, Sushi Queue!
As we continue doing one-off Tavern Queues for you, this one was one of the original ideas I had for this column. I hope you enjoy it — we had a lot of questions, and hopefully I provided a lot of good answers! My wife and I have been eating sushi for about 10 years now, and it’s my backup career if this whole internet thing falls apart (not even kidding, more on that later).
Let’s get down to it!
Finding the kind of Sushi that you like (and remembering!) can be a real challenge. I’d highly recommend that you do what I do: try absolutely everything. If it’s on the menu of a good sushi restaurant then it’s probably worth trying at least. When you try it, and before you eat it, take a picture of the complete sushi serving and email it to yourself with the names of the rolls and make a note what major ingrediants are in them. Apply a label to it in gmail, and you’ll soon have a database of rolls and fish that you’ve tried and liked.
In your case though it sounds like you’re having trouble finding a good place. I can’t recommend Yelp enough for sushi; 3.5 stars and better are a pretty safe bet. When reading through reviews, watch out for people that give a place 2-stars but are clearly sushi snobs — there’s a lot of those people out there.
A hand roll is a big thing in parts of the world, but it’s not something that’s really caught on in the US from what I can tell. It’s great for walking around and eating a sushi-based meal on the go, and is what they’re used for elsewhere in the world. Here they seem to be everywhere … yet I rarely see people eat them. I’ve tried them before and they’re good, don’t get me wrong, but not my thing. The seaweed wasn’t oily either, for what it’s worth.
Make a game out of it! When I try to get people to try a new sushi dish, or invite them out for the first time (I’ve done this with several dozen people now), I play “have a shot of sake for every new dead fish you eat.” After a few shots they won’t be having any more sake, and Eel is a good thing to start the game off with.
Don’t order it online, for real. Just about every city has at least one Asian market, and you’ll want to go there to get your nori (the seaweed sushi is wrapped in). You’ll want to do this for a few reasons. First, the products that the local market hold are going to be used by immigrants and families that carry on traditional cooking, which makes them immediately the kind of thing you want to use as you expand your culinary adventures. The crap that you get off Amazon or from World Market* isn’t going fit the bill most of the time, it’s just going to be popular junk instead of the real deal.
Second, if you have a question about what to use, the local Asian market owners are absolutely the people to ask. When I first started making sushi I struck up a relationship with the butcher at an Asian market in Fargo, North Dakota (where I lived at the time… a while ago now). He was beyond helpful in getting the right fish picked out for me and making sure I had enough of the right ingredients. The people that spend their lives working with this type of food are always willing to share knowledge and talk about it — use that to your advantage.
Finally, if you are at a local market you’re going to be able to ask them to get you something special. A lot of these places order from middle-men overseas, who are in turn buying goods right from the wholesale open-air markets. In my case I was able to get some special eel sauce delivered from Japan at absolutely no additional cost — it only took visiting the business a few times and talking with the right people. $5 later I have an incredibly good bottle of eel sauce that’s impossible to find in the US.
*World Market isn’t all that bad actually if you’re in a big city, but the ones in the small cities can have “authentic” ingredients that are an absolute joke. Whole Foods is also pretty good with nori, from what I’ve found. Your mileage may vary with them, however.
I’m really tired of a culture that values putting as much crap on my plate as possible. There are many reasons I’m overweight and trying to change that, but chief among them is the fact that Western food is filled with corn syrup and stuff we generally would never put in our bodies by itself. That frozen pizza you’re eating is only part pizza. Sushi? You’re eating exactly what you see, and you can trace it back to exactly where it began. The albacore salmon, the rice, the seaweed, the oil — you know what it looked like a day ago. Can you say what your Taco Bell looked like a day ago? Nope — and I wouldn’t want to know.
There is also the way that sushi is made by the masters. It is an artform — if you haven’t seen the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi yet you need to go watch it tonight. It will prove to you beyond a shadow of a doubt that food preparation isn’t just something you do from 5:30 to 6:15 every night. I alluded to it earlier, but if this whole internet thing doesn’t work out, I am seriously going to go become a sushi chef. I make it at home and have had some moderate success at it, but I want to learn to do it professionally, so I’ve spoken with a chef around Minneapolis and I have a standing invitation to come and apprentice. Every few months when I run into him I remind him, and we’re still on.
For the longest time I just used a $20 rice cooker my wife and I got from Target. It worked fine, not amazing, not terrible. Now I have a bigger and better one, and I’m experimenting with steaming and other ways of cooking rice. Maybe a separate Tavern post about this at some point when I figure it out.
The key to rice, I should add, is getting the good stuff. Buy sushi rice at the store, or ask you local Asian market what a good rice to use is. They’ll know.
All y’all with refined sushi palettes, what should I order next time I go? (and are the prices reasonable? there’s another place a couple towns over; because of the distance I’ve never gone there, but might if these numbers seem out of control to y’all.)
Prices are very reasonable! I’d order the following the next time you go:
- Dragon Maki — Eel and avocado is a good combo
- Scorpion King Roll — This sounds like a spider roll on steroids, and that’s amazing
- Sushi Deluxe — Go in and watch the chef and the sushi bar, if he’s paying attention and working diligently, then get this!
Canned fish is pretty bad and I wouldn’t even bother, to be completely honest. Instead I’d recommend that you head to your local Asian market or a high-end grocery store. Tell then about your allergy and ask for some good tuna or salmon. At a high-end store you’re likely not going to run into cross-contamination issues.
I’d also recommend an upscale sushi restaurant for you. The kind where you’re going to drop $150/$200 for a meal for two. When you make your reservation explain to them that you have a severe shellfish allergy and see if they can accommodate you. A good friend of mine has this as well, and we’re able to go to a couple clean and well-prepared places. One time we stopped at a place that ended up not being so careful and it was immediately obvious, we didn’t even finish the meal (nor did we pay for it).
Definitely albacore tuna and yellow tail salmon. Both of those are pretty tasty and can break apart in your mouth easily; which is a big thing for people just starting with sushi. The colors on them are also different from what Westerners expect in their food, so it’s a good transitional plate. And finally, most people have had salmon and tuna before in some cooked form, so they’re already familiar with the animal. It’s just a matter of them knowing it’s safe to eat raw.
One thing to make sure is that you got to a place that makes good nigiri. The proper nigiri will have well-formed rice that’s wiped in oil on top, and then the fish will just be laid above the rice. There won’t be any hard cut marks or debris hanging onto the fish (yes I’ve had this, and returned it), and it will be cut with its gradient. Beware of eating cheap nigiri, especially any place that wraps it in a little bow of seaweed. If you’re not spending $2 to $3 for a single piece, chances are you’re doing something wrong.
Side note: the most expensive nigiri I had was $12 in Manhattan. It wasn’t any better than my $2.50/piece I have at my go-to place in Minneapolis.
Spider roll for life … it’s not even a choice!
I love Lotharfox’s answer, he said it as well as I could have:
Not a question, but my wife and I took a sushi making class (about 10 years ago). I was thoroughly surprised how easy it was. The hardest part was making sure we had the right kind of rice, and it was cooked just right (and then a fan used to cool it correctly).
As far as rolling it and cutting it, and putting it all together, really easy. One of the greatest parties we ever had was a sushi party where we made all different kinds. There was a lot of “what if we put that in a roll?” Like hotdogs, or tuna salad. We had standard stuff, like tekka maki, kappa maki, California rolls.
On a separate note, when my oldest son was little, like three years old, he was super picky. There were about five foods he would eat: cereal, mac and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, tuna roll, and chicken hearts. Needless to say, that’s why we took the sushi making class. Cheaper than going out (though that kind of fish isn’t that cheap to buy, either).
That’s it for today’s Tavern Queue. Carry on the discussion below and if you have anything you’d like us to cover in the next Tavern Queue, speak up!
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