All the things you wanted to know about sushi but were afraid to ask, from the expert.
Who knew that International Sushi Day was June 18? If that holiday puts you in the mood for a roll or two, then pause for a moment to hear these tips from one of the few American sushi masters, James Beard Award-winning Chef Tyson Cole, owner of Austin’s Uchi.
Soy Sauce: A Little (or None) Goes a Long Way
Try to use as little soy sauce as possible. Especially if the restaurant serves your sushi with other yakumi, or sauces and accents that are meant to go with your order. The Japanese never serve soy sauce with sushi. You have to ask for it. There’s a reason for that.
Wasabi: Not Like Butter
You’re not supposed to make a paste, mortar, putty, or anything gloppy with wasabi and soy sauce. I’ve seen so many people take their wasabi “paste” and spread it on their sushi like they’re buttering toast. Then they line up the pickled ginger on top like roof shingles. You can’t even see the fish!
This is used to cleanse your palate. It’s not to eat with your sushi. Not only is it pickled, but it’s ginger. Two really strong flavors. So when people put that on their sushi, you know what they taste? Pickled ginger!
Order One At a Time (And Eat it When Served)
That long list they give you at many sushi places makes people think they have to order everything right then and there. When you place a large order, the chef makes all of it at once, which takes time, which makes the first piece old by the time they’ve finished the final piece. Then, when it gets to your table, it sits even longer as you work your way through it. If you want mediocre or bad sushi, order it that way. If you want good sushi, don’t order it all at once. And, eat your sushi when it’s served.
A Word About Chopsticks
You don’t need them as much as you think you do. Sushi was originally made to eat with your hands. The only time you need chopsticks is for sashimi. Everything else, you can eat with your hands.
Skip the Spicy Tuna Roll
The two most popular sushi rolls in America are the California roll and the spicy tuna roll. California because it’s delicious. It’s the perfect combination of cucumber for texture, avocado for creaminess and a little fat, and crab for sweetness. On the other hand, spicy tuna rolls come from sushi chefs in America trying to get rid of their older tuna with spicy mayonnaise.
Bigger is Not Better
Sushi is supposed to be bite-sized, and the rice is supposed to fall apart in your mouth. It’s a delicacy.
It’s supposed to be warm and it’s supposed to be soft. It’s not supposed to be sticky, hard, or crunchy. Sushi has everything to do with the rice, not the fish.
What To Know About Mackerel (Saba)
Saba is a very oily and particularly strong tasting fish. It’s the cheapest fish you can buy, and most restaurants cure it with salt so they can hold it for a long time. That is where the food poisoning comes in. At Uchi, we buy all of our mackerel fresh and cure it in-house each day. Whatever is not used that day is then moved to our grilled mackerel dish, Saba Shio. After that, whatever is not used is discarded.
Beware of Too Much Escolar
Escolar is a natural laxative. It’s a great fish to use for sushi, but order it only in small amounts. There are some big horror stories attached to it and those who have consumed too much of it.
One Bite Nigiri
Nigiri is the sushi rice pressed together with a slice of some sort of fish on top. You really shouldn’t take two bites. It’s supposed to be one bite. Unfortunately, some restaurants get carried away with the size of their nigiri. If it’s just too big, hold it with your fingers. Smear a dab of soy sauce on top of the fish (not the rice) and take a bite. Then take the second bite without setting it down.
Clean Your Plate
If you’re in Japan or in a real Japanese restaurant, don’t ever, ever, ever leave anything on your plate. You eat everything. Their philosophy is, “We’re an island nation. We barely have enough resources. So when you have something on your plate, you better be thankful for it. And you better eat it.”
Avoid Pre-Sliced Sushi
You see pre-sliced sushi at a lot of restaurants. It means the restaurant is cutting corners. They’re not paying attention to the product or respect to the fish. They’re exposing the fish to more air, which is breaking it down and ruining its texture.
Open for curbside pickup and dine-in, by reservation only.
Cover photo courtesy Logan Crable/Uchi Austin