Monday, February 02, 2009

If Yellowtail Sushi Fought Katsuo Sushi, Who Would Win?

Came across this blog entry from a Japanese woman who got a fresh whole yellowtail from Hiketa fisheries. (The photo of Hiketa fish boxes is from this blog.)

It makes me hungry.

But when we were in Japan I was kind of disappointed in the yellowtail we got there. In the US, yellowtail sushi is always soft and buttery and delicately flavored. The yellowtail I had in Japan was often bland, and occasionally tough. Do we get better yellowtail here or was it just the wrong season?

Now, to be fair, we didn't always go to the best sushi places. Frequently it was just some restaurant we saw on the street. We did hit one really good place.

The best sushi fish I had in Japan was katsuo. Katsuo is cured and shaved into stinky flakes and used as a flavoring and soup base. (Apparently in English it's called skipjack, and the flakes are also called bonito but I don't know if that's Japanese or not.) I never had the fresh fish before, and it was awesome. A bit like tuna, but very savory and a little sweet. And good. It's dark red.

One thing that I thought was strange, in Japan it's not unusual to have tough bits in your fish. I came across many a tough membrane running through my nigiri fish, even in the good restaurant. Apparently that's not a dealbreaker. In the US that never happens. US sushi and sashimi is always soft and yields easily. (Ika, which is detailed below in the "stuff I don't like" section, is an exception.) Maybe because they think we're so easily grossed out by raw fish we just couldn't take it if it was difficult to eat.

I also made a point of trying things I didn't like in the US. See, I've never liked anago, saltwater eel, which shows up raw on nigiri sushi in a slimy sauce that resembles thickened formaldehyde. (Anago is very different from unagi, freshwater eel, which is served grilled and delicious even when done badly.) Then my beau had anago in Japan (in a very posh company cafeteria) and said it was pretty good. So I figured when I got to a good sushi place I had to order the stuff I avoid. The result:

  • ika (squid)
    Much better than the US, but still kind of gross. Ika typically has a hard ridge along one side that makes it hard to eat, and the consistency is very gluey. The flavor is okay, not very big - but it's the texture that puts me off. In Japan it was less gluey and had a slightly better flavor.

  • ama-ebi (sweet shrimp)
    Almost worth eating. These are tiny shrimp (like 1/2" long) that are marinated in a kind of sweet and sour sauce.

  • toro (tuna belly)
    Now, I don't dislike toro, but I avoid it because it's considered "premium" and it's extra-expensive (the phrase "market price" gets used on menus), and I don't particularly like it. It's wasted on me. I like regular tuna for the meaty flavor, and toro has a fatty, buttery flavor that kind of turns me off. Usually it just tastes greasy. I'm certainly not against grease, but I think that greasy taste goes much better with pork flavor (bacon, pork chop) or a pot roast.

    So I had toro twice in Japan and once I thought it was actually better than the regular tuna. (I also had some tuna that was not that great, but it wasn't the same place where I liked the toro.) I think the one toro I liked was meatier than usual. Also, in Japan there are two kinds of toro, chu-toro and o-toro, with chu- ("middle") being less fatty and less premium than o-. (Sometimes I think o- should be translated as "super-good".) So I didn't even try the o-toro.
I did not manage to get anago. So that's for another trip.

I hear that katsuo turns up occasionally around here. I hope it comes near me!