Sushi Modern is an online publication all about sushi. From stories of sushi chefs to the techniques handed down from sushi masters, Sushi Modern showcases the culture and cuisine of one of the world's most well-known foods.
When judging the quality of a piece of nigiri, there are so many factors to evaluate which is why nigiri is deceptively sophisticated. At its core, it’s just fish on rice; but sushi has evolved into a highly technical discipline. Every flavor, texture, and scent must be artfully crafted to create the perfect bite.
Now an international sensation, uni was once an uncommon delicacy enjoyed only by the regions which harvested them. Today, because uni is so difficult and labor-intensive to harvest, suppliers are having a hard time keeping up with soaring demand. Uni only became popular in sushi shortly after the Second World War. It is not "traditional" in *Edomae* sushi, but is too delicious for *Edomae* chefs not to include it on their menus.
Wasabi is a very popular condiment in Japanese cooking, finding a home in sushi, grilled meats, and even desserts like wasabi ice cream. It is a bright green, moderately spicy species of horseradish, a type of plant that grows with a thick root (rhizome) and long stems. The root is commonly grated to produce a fine purée that brings out it's flavor. Wasabi has a very unique flavor and spiciness similar to European horseradish, but more of an herbal taste.
Tai is an incredibly important fish to the Japanese people and, as such, has a very special place in sushi. In fact the small port town Toyohama in Hiroshima throws a massive festival in the summer to commemorate tai, complete with 18-meter long sea bream floats and dozens of food stall vendors. The popularity of this fish in particular is the origin of the popular taiyaki waffle desserts shaped like a sea bream fish and filled with anko bean paste.
Maguro broadly refers to tuna. If you go to a sushi restaurant and just order maguro, the chef will assume you mean lean tuna (akami) from whatever species of tuna they have on hand. But in sushi, we distinguish between the species and the cut. For example, the fattiest part of the tuna belly is called otoro (the name of the cut). And northern bluefin tuna is hon maguro (the name of the fish).
Have you ever seen sushi chefs brushing soy sauce on nigirizushi as a finishing touch before placing it in front of the customer? Well it's actually not just soy sauce; it's a sweetened reduced variation called nikiri. Because skilled sushi chefs try to craft the "perfect bite," they must prepare a piece of sushi with all of the flavors assembled into a perfect package, which is why *nikiri* is brushed on rather than letting the customer dip the piece into a sauce dish.
Making sushi requires very high quality fish and ingredients, not just any old fillet from your local supermarket. The quality and freshness of your fish is critical because raw sushi ingredients should taste very clean—not fishy at all. Aside from the freshness and quality requirements, certain species of sushi require special freezing to make them safe for raw consumption.
Shima-aji, or Japanese “striped horse mackerel,” is a common point of confusion for many sushi eaters. The shima means “striped” and aji is Japanese “horse mackerel,” or “jack.” But shima-aji and aji make two very different types of sushi. Aji would be more familiar to those who have eaten the more common saba (mackerel), which is a bit more fatty and oily with a “fishier” finish. The shima variety is quite a bit leaner and more delicate, closer to kanpachi.
Omakase is a traditional Japanese dining style in which the chef provides a meal tailored to your preferences based on availability, budget, taste, and seasonality. A comparable concept in Western cuisine would be the “tasting menu,” but omakase is so much more than that. It’s a very intimate experience and very human experience that is best thought of as a verbal and non-verbal dialogue between you and the chef.
So you want to make your own sushi? The home sushi chef faces the main challenge of sourcing ingredients, namely seafood fresh enough to make good sushi and treated properly for raw consumption. Sushi’s strong emphasis on ingredients makes sourcing the hardest part; the market for sushi fish for consumers is small enough to limit the availability, consistency, and variety of products.
Often mistaken for its freshwater counterpart (unagi), anago is saltwater eel. As sushi, anago is never served raw, always cooked, and usually simmered in a broth made from repeated cooking of eels over time. When served, the reduced broth (called tsume) is brushed over the nigiri. Tsume replaces soy sauce entirely so the sushi instead has a sweet barbecue-like flavor.
Saba makes a fatty, oily, and decadent piece of sushi, extremely rich in flavor. Though its use in sushi is very widespread, saba sushi has roots in Edomae (19th century Tokyo-style) sushi. The common preparation of shime-saba (cured and marinated in vinegar) was a staple technique of the time.
Running a sushi restaurant is no cakewalk. With very high prices on virtually every sushi menu, it’s easy to imagine the owners bathing in a large tub of money. For most, the reality is much less glamorous; most sushi restaurants fail within five years, many operate near cost only one small event away from ruin, but a select lucky few reach financial success.
Katsuo is a popular sushi fish in Japan native to the Tokyo bay. Unfortunately, it is still difficult to find outside of Japan, in part because the flesh quickly spoils after the animal's death. Like most tunas, the myoglobin in the flesh produces a bright red hue. The taste is similar to bigeye or yellowfin tuna, but deeper as if crossed with mackerel.
Ikura refers to the roe (fish eggs) of salmon, which are non-native to Japanese waters. In fact, the Japanese did not eat salmon until a wildly successful Norwegian marketing campaign in the 1980’s. The name ikura is believed to have come from the Russian word “ikra,” which means “fish eggs.” Today, ikura only refers to the eggs of salmon.
Yuzu is a truly unique citrus fruit native to China and Japan. Its incredible flavor and distinctly Japanese reputation has made it wildly popular in the Western cuisine, particularly among French and American chefs experimenting with Asian ingredients on their menus.
Shimmering silver-skin Kohada are such wonderful Summer treats. They have a very special place in Japanese cuisine, especially sushi. The general name for these fish is Konoshiro, which are small sardine-sized fish. In English, they have the unfortunately unappetizing name "Gizzard Shad." As they grow, they get new names in Japanese to denote their size.
Salmon, tuna, snapper, flounder, escolar, sea bass—there are countless fish to try as sushi and sashimi! But with a wide diversity of options comes the burden of remembering which can and cannot be safely consumed raw. That's why we've put together a helpful buying guide to flag species that have parasite risks and other hazards.
Delicious, rich, and creamy, Uni (ウニ) is the bright yellow innards of the spiny shellfish "sea urchin." Sea urchins are round shellfish covered in protective spines. The only edible parts are the yellow tongue-like slivers on the inside, which are actually the animal's gonads (reproductive organs). Uni is almost always served raw because it is rich and creamy similar to foie gras (goose liver).
One of the most common questions we get here at Sushi Modern is whether you can make sushi from Costco fish. For many, this is the best, freshest source of fish available to them, which is what we always recommend when buying fish for sushi. Costco has everything you’d expect from a quality fish monger: trustworthy labeling, high volume, movement of product, and fresh fish that never sits for too long.