If you thought that Sushi was simply clubbing together rice and raw fish, you could not be more wrong. There is so much that goes behind turning out that perfect piece, that Sushi making has been elevated into something of an art form. Sometime back, I got a chance to attend an International Sushi Workshop at the Sheraton New Delhi, which was conducted by Master Sushi Chef Masayoshi Kazato, Executive Director of All Japan Sushi Association. He was on his maiden visit to India and was ably assisted by Chef Hirotoshi Ogawa.
This workshop was basically conducted to emphasise “the understanding of ingredients, hygiene knowledge and culinary skills”, all of which are required to roll out, “a good sushi and authentic sushi”, as explained by Chef Kazato. The purpose was to Train the Trainer, a program to impart training to chefs, who in turn passed it on to the other chefs and aspiring young cooks. It was attended by all the top Sushi chefs of the country.
Watching Chef Kazato in action was like witnessing magic. He reminded me of the protagonist from 2011 American documentary film, directed by David Gelb, Jiro Dreams of Sushi. His deft hands working at such a fast pace belied his age. Who would believe that this energetic man was 64 years of age? So much so, that even the renowned Japanese chef of Pan Asian at the Sheraton, Chef Nariyoshi Nakamura, was watching the proceedings with rapt attention.
Right from the selection of ingredients and seasoning for sushi making, to the actual cutting techniques, required to making an “authentic” sushi, all these were demonstrated by chef Kazato, in front of the top chefs of India involved with Japanese cuisine. Sushi being a relatively new arrival in India, this was a great opportunity to learn from the great Sushi Master.
According to Chef Kazato, since Japanese cuisine deals mostly with raw ingredients that do not involve much heating, a safe and hygienic preparation of sushi is of paramount importance. It is important to know the different shell fish allergies and take steps to prevent food poisoning.
“Most chefs do not know how to prevent bacterial growth when handling raw fish” said Chef Kazato. “Fresh raw fish is hardly ever used while preparing sushi. It must be frozen at temperatures below -20C for a minimum of 24 hours”, told the sushi master explaining how this super freezing causes parasite destruction and prevents oxidization of blood, thus preventing discolouration.
The next lesson was about washing the fish, and soaking it in salt and vinegar, to further get rid of any remaining bacteria. A process called Sujime in Japanese. “The vinegar has to be cold and not at room temperature which does not soak well in the fish, and less fatty fish do not need to be soaked for long”, said Chef Kazato, giving an invaluable tip to the chefs present. And this was just the lesson on soaking.
Next on display were the cutting techniques. The different types of knives used for slicing fish were shown Usuba, Deba , Tyudebo, Kedeba and Yanagiba (used only for Fugu) “Some of these knives cost up to 25,000 Yen each and each piece is more precious than a samurai sword”, told Chef Kazato to an attentive audience .
He went on to demonstrate how the different fish, required for making sushi like the salmon, tuna, bonito, or neta as they are called in Japanese , were sliced . Mostly the fatty cut of the fish or toro was used for making sushi. Displaying a very high degree of skill he deboned the fish in such a way to ensure that the impression of bones remained on the fish.
Wait! That was not all. He then showed how to prepare the vinegar rice, sushi meshi or shari as it is called. “We add vinegar to the Japanese short grained cooked rice because it acts as an anti bacterial and increases the shelf life of the sushi”, said Chef Kazato. And one thought that vinegar was all about imparting taste.
While making the sushi, the way Chef Kazato executed each action with so much skill; it was like watching poetry in motion. He moved with a certain rhythm. He would dip his hands in a little vinegar to sterilize them, then after a clap, grab some rice in one hand and fish in the other, add a little wasabi and then with a mere flick, he would have the nigiri sushi ready, even before one could bat an eyelid. Yes! A couple of seconds was all it took him, to get the most perfect and authentic sushi ready.
This was indeed an invaluable lesson in Sushi making from a legendary master, and all those who attended will be grateful to Sheraton New Delhi, for organising this workshop.
– Lavina Kharkwal