Sixty Minutes with a Sushi Sensei
It got a bit Mr Miyagi
It takes ten years to become a sushi chef. So we gave it a full hour, and courtesy of Otoro Sushi — which you can now get delivered to your door, desk or Netflix viewing area with Deliveroo — learnt all this. We'd go as far as to say it's worth a read.
As a matter of honour, every sushi chef must have a knife and a sharpening stone. Evolving from an actual samurai sword — Otoro Sushi's Maciej Ruszkowski's 'Yanagi-ba' blade is made from ten layers of steel. The metal, chosen for its resilience, is both easy to sharpen and good at maintaining its razor edge. Keeping it clean and lethal looking is absolutely part of the job for Maciej. Though describing his tool as "an extension of me", that doesn't seem to be too much of an imposition.
The fish is the thing
Though sushi literally means the preparation and serving of cooked vinegared rice, the word has become synonymous with fish in much of the western world. And quality and freshness is king, queen and supreme emperor of the world for Maciej. "Never buy your fish from a supermarket. Ever. Looking just at salmon, it regularly takes a week for the fish to get from the water to the shelf." And if you have no idea which fishmonger to hit when you enter the Bullring indoor market (where you'll find eight-seated Otoro Sushi, by the way) Maciej's got very specific instructions."Go to Clive Ebanks, A J Barlows, or The Fish Shop. They'll tell you when your salmon was caught, whether or not it's sushi grade (you want it to be), and they'll prepare your fish for you — cleaning, descaling and boning."
Once you've got your half side of salmon, or indeed your different fish of choice, it's all about finding the optimum use for each cut. "A good sushi chef doesn't waste anything" asserts Maciej. "Though parts of the fillet — like the tail — are too tough and muscular for use in sushi or as sashimi [those small pieces of raw fish heaven], put them in a slow-cooker, with sake and soy. A couple of hours later, you'll have teriyaki. One of my most popular dishes."
The extras. And what to do with them.
Wasabi, seaweed, ginger and mooli. They find their way near most sushi-related happenings but we're not always clear to what extent we're supposed to be eating them. And when. Cue Maciej. "Wasabi was originally used to kill bacteria, before the prevalence of refrigeration. But latterly, particularly in Europe, it's all about flavour — so quantity is very much a personal thing." Mooli, or daikon radish (the white flower-like substance pictured) is largely about looks, but containing plenty of fibre, Maciej also explains the benefits to digestion if you do eat the root. On the subject of seaweed, the balance of colour it offers is the primary reason to expect it. While ginger is the palate cleanser to take whenever you're changing flavours — and that's acceptable practice even in Japan.
The etiquette bit
Adding soy sauce or wasabi to your sushi is however plain offensive. Not to us, we're with you. But to a sushi master who has crafted multiple, single, perfect bites — with optimum additions — it's just rude. A lot like a cheese board, there's also often a specific order in which sushi should be eaten, with the most delicate flavours coming first. But you won't find any judgment at Otoro Sushi. While Maciej has barrelfuls of respect for this Japanese art form, for him, the important thing is that the food he serves tastes exactly how you want it to. So just like our editor, bathe your sushi in soy sauce unimpinged. Then add a bit more on top. We won't tell.
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