Tradition


 

One of the more coveted sushi

One of the more coveted sushi

This week, Chef Maeda introduces Abalone prepared Edo-mae (Tokyo Style), steamed in sake.  As a sashimi, fresh, raw abalone’s chewy texture with that distinctive flavor of the ocean is treasured.  But perhaps, as sushi, that chewiness prevents it from mixing with sushi rice quickly on palate.  When a good, fresh abalone is properly steamed in sake, it is no longer chewy, instead it becomes delicately tender, easily melting away and mixing and spreading with the sushi rice in the mouth.  Edo-mae sushi chefs take pride in giving their own touch to the fresh ingredients to bring out the best flavor, and this 4-hour steaming of abalone is one of the most intricate techniques that is passed on from a master chef to the disciple.  It may not always be available, so please do not miss out.

 

 

Californian abalone is steamed in sake

Californian abalone is steamed in sake

 

 

 

 

the must coveted seat in the house

the most coveted seat in the house

When a customer lets the chef choose the content of a sushi meal, we call it OMAKASE (oh-mah-kah-say).  When a master chef tends to a customer at the sushi bar and serves his sushi piece by piece, we call this practice TACHI (tah-chee).  An ultimate meal at a sushi restaurant is to have a seat at the sushi bar, ask for an OMAKASE meal and be served TACHI style.  If you like to have some sake, the chef will start with some appetizers to match your selection.  To give that kind of service, though, the chef must be familiar with the customer’s likes and dislikes, whether he/she tends to have a few drinks, size of appetite, etc.  So the customer hopefully have visited our sushi bar a few times before making a reservation to be served TACHI (a reservation is a must, as you can imagine).  Here is an example of Chef Maeda’s omakase course served tachi style to a Japanese customer and his associate, one late afternoon in June…as they both had to drive, they were not going to drink much.

 

 

 

*customers order Sapporo Beer

Tsukidashi (appetizer)  – Jellyfish with sesame marinade

*Chef asked the customer, “should I make sushi?” and customers nod, “please.”

* If it was a dinner and the customers were to have more drinks before sushi, then Chef might have started by asking, “should I cut a few sashimi?”  Customers may have answered, “Yes, your kampachi looks really good.  Can you cut kampachi and some others?  I’d also like your Ikura Oroshi.” 

*hot green tea is served

Fluke Fin & Red Snapper side by side

Yellowtail & Kampachi side by side

Two pieces of Medium Fatty Tuna

Horse Mackerel

Sardine

Mackerel

Sea Urchin

*Clam Miso Soup is served

Salmon Roe

Abalone

Syako (Mantis Shrimp)

Sea Eel

Egg (sashimi)

*Chef asks, “Should I roll something?”  Customers, “No thank you, it was just right.”

*Agari green tea is served

We feel these customers left very satisfied after enjoying the wide variety of flavors, textures, the different shapes and colors, and of course, conversing with Chef Maeda.  Chef cannot serve everyone this way.  He has to get to know you first.  After all, this is the ultimate experience every sushi connoisseur covets.

Sea Eel, anago

 

As in the freshwater variation, sea eel is a cooked ingredient of sushi.  Called anago in Japanese, its characters mean “hole-child,” as they hide in nooks and holes in the sand during the day, coming out only at night to feed.  The freshwater cousin is better known in the United States, but the sea eel is the eel preferred by sushi houses in Japan.  Sea eel is a cooked ingredient of sushi and the all important sauce, called tsume, is also made by the chef – making it a great showcase of the chef’s taste preference and skills.

 

Maeda’s sea eel is poached so softly, it breaks down immediately once in your mouth.  The texture is very fine, much finer than that of the freshwater eel.  The sweet fat is lighter and gentler.   Tsume, the sauce, is made from the broth which the sea eel was poached.  To the broth, soy sauce, mirin, and some sugar among other things are added, and the simmering for a long period thickens the broth into a tsume.  After making the sushi in his hands, Maeda would brush the tsume on the sea eel just before serving it to you.  The sweet and sour aroma of tsume teases you as you bring the sushi to your mouth.  As the sea eel melts, it wraps around every grain of shari (sushi-rice), all seem to meet in a harmony of flavors, textures, and warmth.  It is also a great source of vitamin A.  Now available year-round, sea eel’s natural best season is spring and early summer.

 

“Anago has to melt in your mouth…but if it’s too soft, it will fall apart on the touch of chopstick or hand.  To make it just right, timing is very important during the poaching.  As in any living things, every sea eel is different, so I pay close attention and treat each of them differently.”  Maeda

Gion Festival by Lynita Shimizu

Many guests have asked us about the woodblock prints displayed on our walls.  They are all done by artist Lynita Shimizu, from Pomfret Center, Connecticut.  Her technique derives from her time learning in Japan under renowned traditional artist in Kyoto, and contemporary artist in Tokyo.  Since the mid-70s, Ms. Shimizu has been introduced in many publications, received many awards and held numerous exhibits.  We love her art.  Using a very difficult, traditional technique, she creates art that is not only beautiful, but also warm and playful.  Please visit her website for more information.  You can also pick up a brochure at the restaurant.

Pictured art by (c) Lynita Shimizu

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

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

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