The Hartford Courant review of Maeda Sushi Restaurant 

A wonderful review of Maeda Sushi Restaurant is published inside the “Flavor” section of the Hartford Courant.  We like to thank Mr. Greg Morago of the Courant.  Please pick up a copy of the paper, or click here.  Or, just click on the picture of the actual newspaper to read.

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

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