Excerpts from Sushi, by Mia Detrick
"Awabi (abalone). The abalone is a sea snail. Called a sea ear because of its shape,
abalone is prized for its mother-of-pearl inner shell and the subtle, unique flavor of its edible "foot." In
Japan, awabi are cultivated commercially and over 16,000 metric tons are taken each year. But most
American sushi bars get their abalone from the much smaller numbers taken along the U. S. Pacific
coast, where there are eight abalone species to choose from.
In the sushi case, abalone is displayed in a shell, although not necessarily the one it arrived in.
The meat of a market-sized abalone is about an inch thick and the size of a hand. Its color ranges from
pale peach to gray. Japanese varieties are much smaller, and they may be gray or even blue.
Abalone toughens as it cooks, so sushi is its most perfect manifestation. Even so, raw awabi is rubbery.
For sushi, it is sliced across the grain and scored slightly to tenderize it and give the soy sauce
something to stick to.
Kani (crab). Crab is served cooked for sushi, and although varieties are available off both
coasts in the Lower Forty-eight, most crab served in sushi bars is frozen king crab imported from Alaska. These
long-legged, gangly creatures may weigh up to twenty pounds and produce succulent, firm chunks of coral-streaked
white meat that are tidy to serve in sushi, but lose much of their flavor in the freezing process. They are caught in
ice-cold rough waters off the Alaskan coast, and most ships process the catch on board and ship it out already
cooked and frozen.
Frozen crab, although pretty, meaty, and reassuringly familiar, is rather ordinary and may not be worth eating in
a sushi bar, unless you aren't ready for raw fish. A popular West Coast aberration, the "California Special," is
a rolled sushi made of cooked crab meat, avocado, and mayonnaise rolled in rice and seaweed. It is a tasty and
harmless way to introduce someone to sushi, but it is as authentically Japanese as a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich.
Ebi (cooked prawn). Ebi is one of the most popular items on the sushi menu. It is actually
jumbo shrimp (a prawn is really a freshwater crustacean, but jumbo shrimp are called prawns in restaurants),
and those served in American sushi bars are flown in frozen from Mexico. They are dropped in boiling salted
water, then cleaned and split into a butterfly shape. Their firm, striped, pink-and-white flesh is a familiar treat
for the sushi beginner timid about eating raw fish.
Ama ebi (raw prawn). The Japanese consider fresh raw prawn one of the greatest delicacies in the sushi case. A
cleaned, uncooked jumbo shrimp is glossy, almost transparent, and sweet. Fresh and frozen prawns are widely
available -- many varieties are caught on both coasts, but ama ebi is still a rare treat. Few prawns, fresh or
frozen, are of a high enough quality to be served raw.
In Japan, raw shrimp gourmandising is taken a step beyond ama ebi. Odori, "dancing prawns," so named because
they dance around just before they are eaten (who wouldn't?), are said to tickle the palate when served
raw, pulsating with not-quite-extinguished life. The Japanese pay as much as twenty dollars for this rare pleasure."
Tomorrow: Some How-To's...