Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Rethinking Sushi.

"I think it's fascinating that we assume sushi's all about the fresh, raw fish, but there are die-hard sushi aficionados in Japan who don't consider it sushi unless the chef has done something to his seafood ingredients, whether it's a slight parboil or pickling."

- Trevor Corson, author of The Zen of Fish: The Story of Sushi, From Samurai to Supermarket.

I found the above quote on Slate.com. Always glad to learn something new. Sara Dickerman's article notes sushi's shizophrenic character in this country: as one on the most expensive meals around (as found at Manhattan's Masa), and one as a workaday meal found in corporate cafeterias and delis.

"Sushi has saturated nearly every level of our food economy: How did this ostensibly Japanese food come to be so dominant? This season, two serious-minded books examine how sushi got to be one of our reflexive dining options, and how our taste for rice and fish affects our oceans."

The piece takes as its starting point Corson's book, and another delving into the same subject - The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy, by Sasha Issenberg. (Incidentally, both books rated highly on Amazon: 5 stars for Corson, and 4-1/2 for Issenberg.)

Slate says "the books are complementary rather than redundant, although both circle back to themes of sushi as a multicultural phenomenon, rather than a pure Japanese tradition. We gathered them together for an interview on sushi: its history, its cultural status, its environmental impact, and its future."

Dickerman poses several questions to the authors, including the role of refrigeration in the popularization of sushi outside Japan, and how outside influences have always left their mark on the tradition. She also asks if there is any monitoring for mercury in the fish bought for use in sushi.

Read both authors' comments at Slate.

Trevor Corson wrote an op-ed in Sunday's New York Times, which I quite coincidentally saw today. He writes: "With the depletion of bluefin tuna in our oceans now front-page news, people around the country have been sharing with me their confusions and fears about eating sushi. I think that we — and our fish — would benefit from a new deal for American sushi: a grand pact between chefs and customers to change the way we eat."

He says sushi in Japan encompasses a wide variety of lesser-known fish, but in AMerica sushi chefs just present customers with a small range of familiar fish. Whether in upscale joints or in neighborhood eateries, the American way of eating sushi has "deepened our dependence on tuna."

Corson's answer? "What we need isn’t more tuna, but a renaissance in American sushi; to discover for ourselves — and perhaps to remind the Japanese — what sushi is all about."

Read the whole op-ed, Sushi for Two.

As for Corson's claim that "die-hard sushi aficionados in Japan...don't consider it sushi unless the chef has done something to his seafood ingredients, whether it's a slight parboil or pickling," I found this on Wikipedia's article on sushi:

Narezushi (old style fermented sushi)

Narezushi (熟れ寿司, lit. matured sushi) is an older form of sushi. Skinned and gutted fish are stuffed with salt, placed in a wooden barrel, doused with salt again, and then weighed down with a heavy tsukemonoishi (pickling stone). They are supposedly salted for ten days to a month, then placed in water for 15 minutes to an hour. They are then placed in another barrel, sandwiched, and layered with cooled steamed rice and fish. Then the mixture is again partially sealed with otoshibuta and a pickling stone. As days pass, water seeps out, which must be removed. Six months later, this funazushi can be eaten, and remains edible for another six months or more.

Funazushi (鮒寿司) is a dish in Japanese cooking, which involves with anaerobic lacto-fermentation of fresh water fish, funa (鮒, crucian carp). The dish is famous as a regional dish from the "Shiga Prefecture", It is considered to be a chinmi, a delicacy in Japanese cooking.