February 2008


Pickled Ginger - gari

 

 

There is always a small pile of pickled ginger – called “gari” in Japanese – accompanying sushi.  They are meant to be eaten in small amounts in between different kinds of sushi, as it refreshes your mouth and prepares you for a new flavor.  Maeda’s gari is lighter in color and less syrupy than the version commonly served in typical Japanese restaurants.  That is because Maeda marinates them himself with salt, then a mix of vinegar and sugar.  It works perfectly well to cleanse your palate with its pungent, yet deep spice.  The antiseptic gari also helps in digesting, making it a perfect companion to sushi.

Anybody with money can buy a fresh piece of tuna.  But often years of training and experience is required in less obvious things like gari.  Bad, sugary gari can ruin a perfect piece of tuna sushi.”  Chef Maeda

Courant on Maeda

Maeda Sushi Restaurant was featured today on Hartford Courant’s “Cal,” weekly magazine section. Chef Maeda conversed with Linda Giuca, the highly regarded food editor of Courant about his Edo-mae sushi. If you have a copy, please seek it out on page ten. If you don’t, pick one up, or here is a link to the electronic version.  The photo of the article is also expandable.

Hikarimono

 

The pictured are sayori (halfbeak), kohada (gizzard shad/Japanese herring), and aji (horse mackerel).  Japanese categorize fish with shimmering skin as “Hikarimono.”  Literally translated, it means shiny things.  The group includes; mackerel, kohada (gizzard shad), aji (horse mackerel), sayori (halfbeak), sardine.  In Edo-mae, or Tokyo style sushi, the chef’s skills are truly tested in the preparation of hikarimono, because they tend to be very sensitive fish that are quick to deteriorate without the application of proper curing technique.  Maeda uses salt and vinegar of various kinds on each fish to bring out the natural flavor.  The methods and timing used are different for each fish and requires intimate knowledge derived only from years of experience.  The result on your plate is a work of art.  It is beautiful to look at, and once in your mouth, you will find a harmony of flavors.

People tend to stay away from the unknown.  Because it requires such delicate work to be able to serve them, hikarimono are often omitted by the restaurants without skilled chefs.  As a result, many sushi fans in the area have missed out on this delicacy.  Please feel very confident that you will receive hikarimono of the highest quality from Maeda. 

“One can understand how important hikarimono is to us (chefs) if you know that a traditional sushi chef seasons sushi rice to match the flavor of his kohada and other hikarimono.  It can decide the taste preference of a particular sushi bar and restaurant.”  Chef Maeda

Mixing sumeshi

No matter what you may order at a sushi restaurant, there are things that remain constant.  One of them is rice.  One of the surest ways to find your favorite sushi restaurant is to carefully taste the vinegar seasoned rice – maybe even more so than the fish.  That should explain why cooking and seasoning of the sushi rice – called “sumeshi” or “shari” in Japanese – is one of the most important and painstaking tasks for a sushi chef.  It is a process where he distinguishes himself from others, and Maeda is no exception.

It starts with the highest quality short grain rice available from California.  Since it is a farmed product affected by natural conditions, it has unique characteristics year to year.  The water content of the rice is also effected by whether if the rice used is still fresh from harvest in fall, or “old” crop that has been stored.  Maeda makes subtle, but important adjustment accordingly to achieve the consistent result.  Factors that change the resultant sumeshi includes the amount of water used during cooking, timing, the content and amount of vinegar mix used in seasoning, and the technique used to incorporate the vinegar mix with the rice.

The cooked rice is placed in a wooden tub called “hangiri” and the vinegar mix is added.  Maeda lets the rice and vinegar come together evenly, while letting extra moisture evaporate by an action somewhere between cutting through and quick chopping, using a wooden paddle.  He is also careful not to squash each grain of rice.  In precise and calm motion, Maeda gets this crucial process done in a couple of minutes.  The rice is cooled down while the vinegar settles in, before it’s ready to be used for sushi.

“I avoid using new crop as much as possible because it contains too much moisture and gets too sticky.  But when I have to, years of training in proper technique pays off as I am able to coat each grain with vinegar and get the desired stickiness and flavor.”  Chef Maeda