An Introduction to Sushi, excerpts from Sushi, by Mia Detrick...
Nigirizushi is possibly the most artful branch of japanese cuisine, and it is certainly the supreme product of the sushi tradition. Nigiri means "pressed in the hand," and the chef forms a small oval of sushi rice in one hand, then presses a choice strip of fish or shellfish on top. Fish roe is also served as nigirizushi, on a pad of rice wrapped with a band of seaweed deep enough to contain the rice and hold the roe on top. This style of nigirizushi is caredgunkan, which means "boat," and is also used to serve tiny shellfish and other small ingredients that might otherwise go their own way.
Most varieties of nigirizushi contain a hint of pungent wasabi horseradish, and are meant to be dipped in soy sauce. Some seafood in nigirizushi is cooked, but these are exceptions. Fresh raw fish, shellfish, and roe are the prime ingredients in nigirizushi.
The splendid array of shellfish used for nigirizushi can be almost bewildering to most Americans, who may have little more than a passing familiarity with clam chowder and shrimp cocktail. Most of the menu items at sushi bars are exotic varieties imported from Japan, but local shellfish will turn up occasionally, as well as rare delicacies not on the menu. With shellfish in particular, you will do well to explore the selection with the chef.
Several kinds of fish roe are served in sushi bars, most of them processed and imported from Japan. A few are available fresh on occasion and are gently marinated in sake and soy sauce, giving them a less salty flavor than the processed kinds. The tingling flavors and intriguing textures of roe are only surpassed by their beauty; the gemlike reds, oranges, and golds seem to glow in the sushi case.
Makizushi means "rolled sushi" and it is thin strips of fish and vegetables rolled in sushi rice and crisp sheets of seaweed, and then sliced into bite-sized rounds. The seaweed is called nori, and another name for
makizushi is norimaki. Although it doesn't occupy the same exalted position as nigirizushi in Japanese cuisine, it is extremely popular and available in sushi bars everywhere.
Makizushi is a particular favorite among sushi neophytes; in fact, it is most people's introduction to sushi, and it is easy for a beginner to like. The hint of raw tuna in a slice of makizushi is a good way to dispel the notion that uncooked fish is creepy.
At first, the thought of nibbling on makizushi's seaweed wrapper may give you pause, but eating nori is only unnerving if you've tried it. It combines the light, seabreeze taste of seaweed with a crackly texture, and its crisp saltiness complements the soft sweetness of sushi rice.
Nori is made from several species of Porphyra seaweed that are washed and spread thin to dry in much the same way that wood pulp is made into paper. Before it is used, nori is toasted to enhance its flavor and texture and turn it a brilliant green.
Makizushi comes in two sizes at the sushi bar. Hosomaki, which means "slender roll," is the most familiar. The chef rolls it with a small, flexible bamboo mat. It is about an inch in diameter and contains one or two ingredients plus rice. Hosomaki makes six bite-sized rounds.
You may also ask for temaki, "hand roll," which is smaller, loosely rolled by hand and given to you like an ice cream cone to be eaten in two or three bites."
Next Lesson: Types of local fish we can use as sushi...