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Sushi - Lesson 2
submitted by: Deborah Alves


Excerpts from Sushi, by Mia Detrick

Maguro (tuna): Tuna is the fish most Americans associate with sashimi and sushi -- more of it is sold in sushi bars than any other kind of fish. Raw tuna has a soft, meaty texture and clean taste that win over many sushi skeptics at first bite.

In Japan, tuna is greatly prized as a food fish. What little tuna is eaten in America is canned, and at first it may be difficult for you to believe that the flavorful deep-red flesh of maguro is any relation at all to the chunky main ingredient of school-lunch sandwiches or Friday-night casseroles.

There are many varieties of tuna, but the kind you'll most likely encounter in an American sushi bar is a relatively clean cut of bluefin or yellowfin tuna, both of which are available year round, fresh from American waters. Tuna also freezes well, so there is always maguro in the sushi case. However, as is true for all fish, tuna's quality varies from season to season. Prime specimens are generally caught in the winter, from November to February. Despite its availability and consistent good taste, in the spring and summer tuna may be inferior to less familiar fish that are at their peak. Sample maguro at different times of the year and, as always, seek the sushi chef's recommendation.

Toro (fatty tuna belly): In Japan, tuna are graded and priced according to fat content -- the fattiest part of the fish is the most prized -- and toro, cut from the tuna's belly, is usually the most expensive item on a sushi menu. Toro is pink and somewhat opaque, and the sushi chef may identify it as chutoro, which is moderately fat, or otoro, which indicates the highest fat content, tuna that is light pink and extraordinarily tender.

Toro is taken only from bluefin tuna, which are abundant in the waters off the East Coast. Bluefin have never been commercially important in the United States except as pet food, partly because the fish are so enormous that they are awkward for fishermen to handle. Many specimens caught are the size of a baby elephant, and when the cat food market is down, they are often thrown back. The same fish flown to Japan could command an exorbitant price.

A taste of toro goes a long way toward explaining why. Its richness and tenderness approach that of butter. In the winter, when toro, like maguro, is at its best, it is a luxurious and tasty delicacy well worth its price. Out of season, however, it may not live up to its reputation or its price tag.

Shiro maguro (albacore): Albacore is the source of top-grade canned tuna in the United States, where its delicacy and excellent flavor can scarcely be discerned midst the mayonnaise. Its Japanese name means "white tuna," and albacore flesh ranges from rose to pale peach in color. Its flavor is rich but not overbearing.

Albacore meat is so soft that it is difficult to handle. It also changes color quickly in the sushi case, although this does not indicate deterioration. For these reasons, many sushi chefs choose not to serve it. Even when it is available, shiro maguro is almost never on a sushi-bar menu.

The albacore is abundant in Pacific waters, uncommon in the Atlantic, and in season July through October in the United States. If you have the good fortune to come across shiro maguro, don't miss the opportunity to try it as sushi or sashimi.

Hamachi (young yellowtail): Yellowtail is the common name of a number of species of amberjack -- sleek migratory fish similar to the tunas. The japanese variety called hamachi has light golden flesh and may display a dark streak along the edge of a fillet, a characteristic of the two-toned musculature of fish that cruise the open seas. Since hamachi is not listed on many American sushi menus, it may be overlooked. It's one of the most rewarding discoveries you can make at a sushi bar.

Hamachi can be as rich as toro, smooth and buttery with a deep smoky taste, but not as overpoweringly fatty. The area around the pectoral fins is considered the tastiest part and is often set aside for special customers. Some sushi bars grill the skeleton and the bits of meat left on it and serve it as an appetizer or snack.

Although varieties of yellowtail are plentiful in waters off both U.S. coasts, hamachi are usually flown in frozen from Japan, where they are raised in hatcheries and harvested when they weigh between fifteen and twenty pounds -- just right for sushi. Yellowtail caught here are usually too lean to qualify.

Hamachi is available for import year round, but you may have to try a few sushi bars before you find it."

Tomorrow: More types of fish...

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