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The golden rules for making a good sushi

The golden rules for making a good sushi

Jean-Patrick Ménard - 2010-08-11

Takashi Saïto is a recognised sushi master. Today, his talents are worth every ounce of the two stars he has been awarded in the Tokyo Michelin Guide. We take a look with him at the essential qualities that all good sushi should have.

We find ourselves in one of the many miniscule sushi bars in the Japanese capital. There is only room for six people along the light-coloured, traditionally designed wooden counter. Despite having to reserve a few days in advance, it’s worth it. Sushi Saïto is one of the best eateries in Tokyo for anyone wishing to inebriate themselves in the sea-scented, sweet, salty and sour flavours of raw fish.
 
When we ask Takashi Saïto about the essential principles that govern the preparation of a sushi worthy of this name, he doesn’t beat about the bush: “You have to find the right inner tension.” Welcome to Japan...
 
Just as judo is the Way of Fluidity, Sushi also has a ‘Way’. If we had to give it a name it would be the Way of Equilibrium. As Takashi Saïto says, “For me, making a sushi is a moment of concentration in which one’s gestures have to be liberated.” In the same spirit as Indian ink calligraphy, the cook unfurls a succession of infinitely precise movements. Fine slices of fish are cut; the chef shapes a mound of vinegar moistened white rice and then, with the tip of his finger, takes a minute portion of freshly grated wasabi which he places on top of the rice; next he adds a strip of fish coated, using a fine brush, with a soy sauce and mirin preparation which he jealously guards as a secret. After less than thirty seconds the sushi is already waiting patiently on a small terracotta plate for a greedy hand to come and take it.
 
“My aim,” explains Takashi Saïto “is to produce a mouthful which is balanced in its proportions and its flavours. The portion of rice should not be too meagre; it should offer the ideal counterpoise to the slice of fish. The actual texture of the rice is, in itself, a balancing exercise between a sensation of soft-stickiness, an elastic density, and the ability to distinguish each grain. The wasabi must be dosed so as to offer its heat, without masking the ensemble of flavours. The soy sauce has to be discreet in accompanying the fish’s flavours. When I manage to produce what I feel is the perfect mouthful it lights up my whole day.”
 
Contrary to popular belief, the quality of a sushi does not depend on the freshness of the produce... “Everything depends on the type of fish you serve,” says Takashi judiciously, “As with meat, you have to find the right level of maturation – the moment in which the texture and flavours are at their best. For sea bream it is best to wait two days, but for a fatty cut of tuna two weeks of maturation are necessary before the meat’s very essence is brought out.”
 
The serving temperature is also vital to appreciate a sushi in the optimum condition. If the fish has just come out of cold storage, it cannot develop its qualities of taste. As with wine, you have to find the right degree at which it can express its flavours.
 
Finally, Takashi Saïto’s last word of advice: “If you walk into a sushi bar and you notice a smell of fish, leave straight away!”
 
Sushi Saïto
Nihon Jitensa Kaikan 1F
1-9-15 Akasaka
Minato-Ku
Tel: 03-3589-4412.

Takashi Saïto is a recognised sushi master. Today, his talents are worth every ounce of the two stars he has been awarded in the Tokyo Michelin Guide. We take a look with him at the essential qualities that all good sushi should have.

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