On Eating and Loving Food

Makin’ sushi

Posted:  Wednesday, October 4, 2017 - 8:30am
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Sushi is one of the most sought after items on restaurant menus these days.

The word brings to mind raw fish, but sushi, though it can, and sometimes does, contain raw fish, is always made with rice, cooked with rice vinegar, salt and sugar, and a combination of yummy stuff like avocado and other veggies, shrimp or other fish, rolled up into a cylinder with a thin sheet of nori (seaweed) then cut into pretty, artful thick discs.

Sashimi, on the other hand, refers to thinly sliced raw meat of fish, most commonly tuna or salmon, served without rice.

I love sushi. Does anyone not? It’s so yummy, and pretty, and at least somewhat healthful, and not too fattening. A plate of those artfully arranged bites with some soy sauce, pickled ginger and wasabi on the side, and a glass of chardonnay or sauvignon blanc? Or Champagne? Or prosecco? Or a beer? Or a manhattan? Hello.

Of course, I had to start Googling sushi to learn a little about its origins, and here’s what I found, mostly from pbs.org, and thehistorykitchen.org: The concept of sushi was first mentioned in a fourth century Chinese dictionary that said salted fish placed in cooked rice caused a fermentation process, thus slowing the bacterial growth in fish.

Then, sometime around 1824 a Japanese entrepreneur named Hanaya Yohei opened the first sushi stall, selling nigiri sushi, a combination of raw fish and rice, with vinegar, in Tokyo.

Anyway. Once I started thinking about sushi, it was all over. I texted my nephew, Wendell, who was “The Sushi Guy,” or one of them, at Mine Oyster this summer. A Japanese chef named Taka was, and is, the real sushi guy there. He taught Wendell everything he knows about sushi.

So Wendell was making sushi that day. The sushi menu at Mine Oyster is extensive and varied. There’s sashimi and nigiri, with fresh raw tuna, salmon and other local fish; there are maki rolls, with the nori on the outside, and inside out rolls, with the nori inside the rice; there are California rolls with fresh Maine crabmeat, and deep-fried soft-shell crab rolls, there are shrimp tempura rolls and Philadelphia cream cheese rolls. There’s a spicy tuna roll. There’s even an eel roll for godsake. You name it – there’s a roll for it.

I ordered the Premium California Roll made with fresh Maine crabmeat, avocado, cucumber, and tobiko (flying fish roe).

Have you ever seen flying fish? On one of my sailing voyages from Boothbay Harbor to the Caribbean there was a day – a perfect sunny day with a warm breeze and big, lazy rolling seas – when schools of flying fish came up out of the swells and flew, sometimes landing on our deck. I scooped them up and threw them back into the sea. It was awesome.

Anyway, the California rolls were ridiculous. And oh! So pretty!

I watched Wendell make them, bugging him and taking pictures, for around an hour. If you’ve never seen anyone making the rolled up vinegared rice morsels of pure deliciousness, you should. It’s cool to see how it’s done.

First, Wendell explained, the short grain sushi rice is cooked with rice vinegar, then dumped into what he called “the sushi robot,” a large container that compresses the cooked rice and vinegar into rectangles and spits them out the bottom of the machine.

The rectangle of rice is placed on a thin sheet of nori, or vice versa, and ingredients like fresh raw tuna, avocado, cucumber and daikon sprout are laid on the rice. The rectangle is rolled up into a tight cylinder using a bamboo mat, and then sliced into six fat discs.

I get sushi at Hannaford in Damariscotta, too. I went in yesterday and struck up a conversation with the couple at the sushi counter. They always smile and thank people when they pick up a container of their sushi, and I had always smiled and waved back, but never taken the time to chat. I’m glad I did. It’s amazing what you can learn simply by opening up a conversation with someone.

Did you know that they are franchisees and that their little sushi stand at Hannaford is their own business? Did you know that they make and sell up to 100 packages of fresh sushi every day? Did you know that they have three kids who attend Lincoln Academy? I didn’t.

I did know that their sushi was fresh, and delicious, though. If you have passed it by thinking it was pre-packaged not necessarily fresh or hand-made, you should think again. And say hi to Mr. Than and Mrs. Soe.

So I have never made sushi, but will attempt it soon. If you have, or do, tell me about it: suzithayer@boothbayregister.com.

Meahwhile, while the weather is still relatively warm and sunny, go find some sushi and sit on a deck with a glass of wine, or a beer, or a manhattan, or if you’re a teetotaler, a glass of sparkling water with a slice of lemon.

Seriously.

Oops. It’s five o’clock.

See ya next week.