Throw Your Own Home Sushi Party (Safely): An Interview With An Expert

Apr 10, 2013 12:02 pm

A Japanese master on handling, shopping for fish

Albacore tuna sushi with ginger and scallions
Albacore tuna sushi with ginger and scallions
 
Photo: Jason Kessler
Photo: Jason Kessler
Fresh abalone "noodles"
 

Sushi is intimidating. In my mind, it falls into the same category as bulldozing and bronze-sculpting in terms of things I shouldn't do at home, yet it's not nearly as intimidating as you think. Home sushi is actually amazing if you do it right. Plus, you feel like you're getting away with something by not paying those big-time prices at your local sushi bar. If I were still writing my Heart Attack column, I'd probably suggest having a sushi-making date. As it turns out, it's not only affordable: it's really fun. Plus, there's less clean-up because you're not cooking anything. It's a win-fin situation.

Since I'm not an expert myself, I had to track one down. Luckily, it's not too hard to find a sushi expert in Los Angeles. My expert of choice? Yoya Takahashi of sushi powerspot Hamasaku. Kyoto-born, Grateful Dead-loving Takahashi took over the sushi bar at Hamasaku earlier this year, and the meals I've eaten there are among the best sushi experiences I've ever had. He thrives on seasonality, recently serving tiny firefly squid as well as abalone “noodles” in a cherry blossom dashi. That was all the evidence I needed to realize that this is definitely the guy to talk to about throwing a sushi party at home.

Related: Tips on Buying and Handling Raw Seafood

Can any fish be eaten as sushi? How do I know if something is sushi-grade?
Typically most ocean fish can be eaten raw. To be safe, make sure the fish has been flash-frozen first.

If I'm making sushi at home, which fish are easiest to work with?
Tuna, salmon or any fish that has been filleted is easier. You don't have to worry about bones and breaking down the fish.

What's the coolest thing you could serve at a home sushi party to impress your guests?
To make good sushi, the rice is always overlooked. Making good rice is key to good sushi. We use a special kind of rice with some of the germ left, so it's a mix between white and brown rice. It has the texture of white rice but the nutrients of brown rice. You can find it at Japanese grocery stores and it's called haiga mai or sukoyaka genmai.

At a regular fish market (not a wholesale place), how do you determine if a fish is fatty or not?
Like beef, you look for marbling in the fish. Look for the middle portion of the fish. In tuna, the fish will look more pink because of the fat in the fish. If you want a leaner cut, get the ruby-colored portion.

When you're shopping for fish, what should you definitely stay away from? Enormous bloodlines? Off-color? Three eyes?
Don't buy dull-colored fish. The fish should be bright and vivid in color. If it's a white fish, the flesh should be clear and kind of translucent. It should not be a solid white or milky color — more of a sheen to it. If it looks like it has a film over it, don't buy it. The fish should look moist, not dried out.

Besides smell, how can you tell if a fish is going to be bad?
If it has holes in the flesh, don't buy it. Gills should be a dark red color. Eyes should be clear and glossy, not foggy. If you touch the stomach, it should be firm and not soft. Use common sense and your own judgement. If something tells you it looks bad, it probably is.

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