Cover of Sushi

Title: The Sushi Experience
Author: Hiroko Shimbo
Colorful Hardcover $40.00 US, $54.00 CAN
Publisher: 2006 Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY
Reviewed by, Rachel Bennett, November 2010

The review--- Sushi encompasses so much more than raw fish on top of rice: it is defined by the quality of the fish, the rice, the rolling techniques, the sauces, and much much more. Shimbo tackles many of these subjects in her cookbook, The Sushi Experience. She starts with a history of sushi and how it has evolved, then plunges extensively into etiquette, essential tools, shopping tips and preparation methods. Her passage on rice alone is extremely helpful to the novice sushi chef.

The recipes range from sushi/sashimi, on to traditional Japanese appetizers, entrees, and desserts, then to a special section for kids. I chose to make the spicy tuna roll, sushi rice packed in golden tofu bag, and the eggplant with yuzu miso sauce. Unfortunately, the stores close to me that Shimbo recommends in the back of her book are now either closed or have moved, but I did find another wonderful Japanese market right down the street (These recipes definitely require that you find one, as a regular supermarket will not suffice). This was a somewhat costly adventure, because I did not have a lot of the ingredients or cooking tools needed, but it was well worth the money.

I thought the tuna roll was incredible. I learned why Japanese spicy sauce is so good: it is because they use a different mayonnaise. The nagaimo yam was also a perfect complement to the dish. I found the stuffed tofu to be very interesting as well. The pistachios and apricots made it more interesting than the inari-zushi I am accustomed to, although the coriander, mixed with the sweet rice, mixed with everything else, was a bit overpowering for the small pockets. Lastly, the eggplant was definitely my favorite of the three. Japanese eggplant is so much more flavorful than the ones in American markets and, as for the yuzu sauce: well, phenomenal is the word that first comes to mind after tasting it! This is a fairly easy dish (especially compared to the other two) that is sure to woo even the most picky dinner guest.

Overall, The Sushi Experience is a wonderful guide to the world of Japanese cuisine. My only complaint is that I wish there were more recipes, since the ones I made were so good.

Recipes tested---!
Spicy Tuna and Nagaimo Yam Roll
Makes 7 Rolls

1/2 pound sushi maguro (tuna) block, cut into strips 1/4 inch by 4 inches long
1 tablespoon spicy sesame shoyu sauce (see below)
1/2 pound peeled nagaimo yam, cut into sticks 1/4 inch by 4 inches long, or jicama shredded
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallion rings

The garnish: 1/2 cup toasted white sesame seeds

6 cups (lightly packed) prepared sushi rice (see below)
7 half-sheets nori (layer); choose the thicker variety

Toss the tuna in a bowl with the spicy sesame shoyu sauce. Line up all the filling ingredients - tuna, nagaimo yam, scallions, and white sesame seeds-on a tray then follow the master recipe (see below).

Spicy Sesame Shoyu Sauce

2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons Sriracha
2 teaspoons shoyu (soy sauce)

Pour the sesame oil into a small skillet and heat it over medium heat until it is fragrant, but don't let It'smoke. Transfer the sesame oil to a jar, add the Sriracha sauce and soy sauce, and mix well. Cool the sauce and store it tightly closed in the refrigerator.

Sushi Rice

6 cups short or medium grain rice
5 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
2 tablespoons sugar

Cook rice in rice cooker. While rice is cooking, put rice vinegar, salt, and sugar in a bowl and stir with a whisk until sugar and salt until almost dissolved. When rice is done put into large flat bowl. Break it up, crisscrossing it with side of a paddle. Pour prepared vinegar evenly over rice. Turn the rice over and push it to one side of the bowl. Holding paddle horizontally, insert it into the rice and rapidly move it back and forth, pushing that portion of the rice to the other side of the bowl. Fan the rice until cool.

Master Sushi Recipe

Bamboo rolling mat
Saran wrap
Sesame seeds
Nori sheets

Line up all the filling ingredients and tools you will need. Place rice ball on the far left side of the nori, leaving 1/2 inch uncovered at the top. Sprinkle sesame seeds over the surface of the rice. Flip the rice-covered nori sheet over onto the mat. Pile up the filling ingredients on the sauce-smeared area. Pick up the bamboo mat and fold it over the fillings. Unroll the mat.

Sushi Rice Packed in a Golden Tofu Bag, Inari-zushi
Makes 13 sushi pieces

8 pieces sweet-simmered abura age, cut in half (see below)
1/3 cup cashew nuts, toasted and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/3 cup hulled pistachio nuts, toasted
1/3 cup currants or raisins
6 pieces dried apricots, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
2 tablespoons toasted white sesame seeds
1/3 cup minced shiso (perilla) leaves or coriander
1/4 cup minced gari (sweet pickled ginger)
6 cups sushi rice (see above)

Line up seasoning and tofu bags. Mix all the chopped nuts, currants, apricots, white toasted sesame seeds, shiso, and pickled ginger in a sushi tub or wooden bowl with the rice. Have at hand a small bowl containing 2 cups of cold water and 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar for moistening your hands. Pick up a small handful of rice (about one-sixteenth, or slightly more than 1/3 cup) and form it into an egg-shaped clump that will fill about two-thirds the pouch. Open one half-sheet of the tofu bag so that it forms a pocket and pack the rice ball into it. Fold in the top edges to make a small pillow-shaped container. Fill the remaining fifteen pockets the same way.

Sweet-Simmered Thin Tofu

20 abura-age sheets (fried thin tofu)
(1 sheet is about 3 by 6 inches; one package contains 3 to 5 sheets)
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup mirin (sweet cooking wine)
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons shoyu (soy sauce)

Bring plenty of water to boil in a medium pot and add the tofu sheets. Push them down into the water with a wooden spatula without poking into them and cook for 30 seconds (this removes excess oil). Remove the tofu sheets from the pot, put them in a colander and cool them under cold tap water, then press gently between your hands to remove excess water. Transfer them to a chopping board and cut each tofu sheet in half crosswise in the center, into two 3- by 3-inch pieces.

Carefully open up the cut side of each piece and separate to form a pocket or bag.

Combine 6 cups water, the sugar, and the mirin in a medium pot and bring to boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the tofu bags and simmer for 10 minutes, covered with a drop lid or a parchment paper disk. Add the soy sauce and cook until the liquid is 80 percent absorbed. During the cooking, to get even color and flavor, carefully turn the tofu bags several times with a wooden spatula (do not use steel tongs with sharp teeth, or you might puncture the tofu bags.) Drain the tofu bags in a colander, discarding the cooking liquid, and let them cool. They are now ready to use.

Eggplant with Yozu Miso Sauce
Nasu no dengaku

Makes 4 Side Dishes

4 Japanese eggplants or 1 medium American eggplant
Vegetable oil for frying
1/2 cup brown miso-based yuzo miso sauce (see below)
2 tablespoons white or black poppy seeds

Remove the stems of the eggplants and cut each in half lengthwise. With a small pointed knife, make several shallow cuts in a checkerboard pattern on the cut surfaces of each eggplant. If using the larger American eggplant, cut it into four disks crosswise and make several shallow checkerboard cuts on both cut surfaces.

Heat 1 inch of vegetable oil in skillet and cook eggplant over medium heat until the cut surface is golden. Turn the eggplant over and cook it through, about 3 minutes over medium-low heat. Drain the eggplant on a paper towel.
Serve equal amounts of the eggplant on four serving plates, with the yuzu miso sauce spread over the surface and topped with the poppy seeds in the center.

Brown Miso-Based Yuzu Miso Sauce

Makes 1/2 Cup

2 large yuzu or 1 large lemon
3 1/2 ounces akamiso (brown miso) (about 1/2 cup)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons sake (rice wine)
1/4 cup mirin (sweet cooking wine)
1 egg yolk from large egg

Using a fine grater, grate the rinds of 2 yuzu or 1 lemon into a cup. Squeeze the yuzu or lemon to obtain about 2 tablespoons of juice. Put the brown miso, sugar, sake, mirin, and egg yolk in a saucepan and mix with a whisk until smooth. Set the saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the sauce is no longer watery, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Add the grated yuzu or lemon rind and juice and cook until the liquid is absorbed, about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let it cool. Store the sauce in a clean lidded jar in the refrigerator.