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Fine dining Hiroko Shimbo: ‘It takes 20 years of hard work to become a sushi chef’
Fine dining Hiroko Shimbo: ‘It takes 20 years of hard work to become a sushi chef’

Sushi expert Hiroko Shimbo speaks on the Japanese style of eating fish

Fascinated as she is by the way fish is caught at the Chinese nets in Fort Kochi, sushi expert and food consultant Hiroko Shimbo says that fish hauled in nets is not right for sushi, the Japanese style of eating raw fish. A consultant with Japanese restaurants in America and Europe, author of two cookery books, ‘The Sushi Experience’ and ‘The Japanese Kitchen’, Hiroko says, “Japanese food is amazing because of sushi. You can find sushi in Russia too and it is coming to India.”

The reason for the spurt in popularity of Japanese cuisine according to her is, “the Japanese way of cooking is very different from other cuisines. We don’t use much oil. The most popular way of cooking is grilling, boiling, braising or steaming. We don’t start with oil in a wok as for in a curry or as in Italian or Spanish food. So Japanese food is very light.”

And the fish curries in India? “Here you have wonderful spices but we don’t have any. So when we eat fish we get the real taste of the fish, its flavour.”

But the curry is special to Hiroko. Comparing it to a musical orchestra she says, “It’s a very clever way of cooking, almost like an orchestra playing where different notes combine in harmony.”

But it’s the sushi that Hiroko is an authority on. And she explains. “The fish needs to be very fresh in sushi. The fisherman angles and brings the fish aboard gently. The fish is kept alive till middleman sell it to sushi chefs. There is a special way to kill the fish. It is killed in one stroke and another gash is made towards the tail. The fish is then plunged in water and allowed to bleed. After the bleeding is complete it is sent to the restaurant.” And she goes on to explain about the expertise needed by a sushi chef to fillet the fish and serve it at the right point. “It takes 20 years of hard work to become a sushi chef, for he has to know when to fillet and serve the fish.” The trick to it according to Hiroko is: “The flavour of the fish peaks during rigor mortis, after which the fish begins to spoil. Only an expert sushi chef knows the time when the flavour of the fish peaks and serves it then.”

And what goes best with sliced raw fish (sashimi). “Oh, no chilly, no chutney, just Japanese soy sauce and a sweetened, smoky flavoured sauce based on Soy.” And what does she attribute the popularity of sushi or raw fish to? “Eating uncooked fish is a completely different experience and when people started eating it they loved it. Eating raw fish started after the WW II because that is when refrigeration came.

Before that fish was boiled or cured in vinegar and salt.”

The only fried food the Japanese eat is the tempura, close to the Indian pakoda. This, says Hiroko, is a legacy of the Portuguese when they came to Japan for trade. The Tempura dip is made of kelp or seaweed, dried fish flakes and very delicate stock flavoured with mirin (sweet cooking wine) and salt.

Any fast foods in Japan? Not many says Hiroko perplexed and thoughtful at the query.

“No, sushi is definitely not fast food. In fact dining is a slow and elaborate process there. But yes buckwheat noodle, udon and soba are fast foods if you can say so.”

Hiroko who appears as guest chef on television and lectures at food events across America and Europe is married to an Englishman, James Beitchman.

And tell her that sushi is an expensive habit she says, “Any fish, expensive or inexpensive can be used in sushi but it must be of top quality. Beside the expertise required to serve good sushi is not easy to come by and so sushi joints are expensive.”

PRIYADERSHINI S.

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