By Leeanne Griffin
“Eat raw fish? You’ve got to be kidding me.”
If you’ve never eaten sushi, chances are you’ve uttered this sentence at some point in your life. For the uninitiated, sushi can be daunting. But it can be a delightful alternative to pizza, burgers or even Chinese food. It’s low-fat, sophisticated and so beautifully crafted that it’s almost edible art.
So what if you absolutely cannot imagine eating raw fish? The most common misconception about sushi is that everything is raw. You’re probably picturing nigiri (raw fish slices over a small bed of rice) or sashimi (slices with no rice.) In fact, there are many sushi rolls (maki) that incorporate no raw fish ~ or any fish at all.
When you dine out at a sushi bar or restaurant, you’re often given a slip of paper with a list of sashimi, nigiri and maki options. This is where you choose your items. Sushi purists often start their meal with sashimi, but no one expects rookies to do that immediately ~ you have to ski the bunny slope before you hit the black diamond trail, right?
A good starter might be a California roll ~ perhaps the most common and recognized roll on the menu. California rolls consist of crabmeat, julienned cucumber and avocado, all rolled with a strip of nori (seaweed) and white sushi rice.
Other non-raw rolls for beginners: Shrimp tempura rolls, which include tempura-fried shrimp and often a little bit of avocado and mayonnaise, Philly rolls, with cream cheese and smoked salmon, or Boston rolls, with cooked shrimp, lettuce and cucumber. And vegetarians and vegans need not feel left out ~ vegetable rolls are always on the menu, often at much cheaper prices than their fish counterparts. These are served with cucumber, avocado, asparagus or oshinko (pickled radish.) Rolls tend to come in five to six pieces; people often order two or three rolls for their meal.
Once your sushi is served, you’ll notice a healthy dollop of green wasabi (Japanese horseradish) and thin slices of pink pickled ginger on the platter. What do you do with these? Well, you’ll also notice that your server has provided a small lacquered dish and a set of wooden chopsticks. These are for your wasabi/soy mixture ~ which is to sushi as ketchup is to French fries. Pour a small amount of the provided soy sauce into the dish. Then, using your chopsticks, mix tiny pieces of the wasabi in with the soy until the paste has completely blended with the liquid. Use your hands or your chopsticks (both are acceptable, though many prefer chopsticks) to pick up each piece of sushi and dip it in your dish. To cleanse your palate between sushi pieces, eat a small amount of the ginger.
Just a tip ~ use the wasabi very sparingly at first. Why? Because just one small chunk of it will clear out your sinuses and send you running for ice water. It’s best to use just a bit to start and then add more as you taste-test for your own tolerance levels.
Once you’ve braved the easy stuff, you can work your way up to more advanced things ~ spicy tuna or salmon rolls (raw tuna or salmon mashed with Japanese spicy mayo), dragon rolls (eel rolls wrapped with avocado and massago, a type of caviar) or even sashimi.
Maybe now you’ll brave a little sushi and consider making it part of your dining repertoire; but if not, you’re at least be a little more Zen for having tried it.