Feast. Blue-toro special, seared scallop sushi, shrimp sushi, Spanish mackerel sushi.
Hands down, a golden find in the raw-fish realm. The seared scallop sushi pretty much threw me a curve ball and knocked me on my ass, because it was surprisingly crispy, soft, melty, and perfectly seasoned. Lightly charred on the outside, soft and succulent on the inside. The rice component was prepared with a streak of sweetness and a slight tartness.
Good stuff, good stuff indeed.
I remember when I was a kid, my sister would always tell me I wasn’t eating “real” sushi (WHILE I was stuffing my face full of fake-crabmeat California rolls…she was right). Being young and ignorant, my conception of sushi was basically “raw fish that may or may not have been shifty, or suitable for consumption.” (Not too shabby a definition). Part of my aversion to sushi was probably due to my incorrect association of raw fish and seafood with the likes of raw meat. I don’t know what the minimum comprehension age is for understanding that raw meat = higher probability for lethal forms of contamination, but I guess I picked up on it when I was young. Nevertheless, I learned later on that raw meat consumption is possible, given properly raised animals, and lots of quality control. My misunderstanding probably put me off from cooking in the early stages of my life, but eventually, the sizzle of pan-moisture evaporating was just too sexy. (holding food down in the pan was just oh-so-satisfying). Sort-of side tangent…or food-power fetish? Okay…let’s stop there.
According to Harold Mcgee, narezushi was the original sushi, whereas nigiri sushi is what we are inclined to nowadays, which means “to grasp”, (hence all the rolling, squeezing, and molding involved in sushi making). Its predecessor, narezushi, was traditionally prepared by gutting and salting fresh fish, replacing the innards with rice bran, and sticking it in an oak-barrel apparatus to ferment. After the initial fermentation of the fish is complete (weeks to months), fresh rice and Kouji (steamed cereal) is usually layered in the fish and the entire thing is fermented again for approximately a fortnight, and then consumed. Sounds and feels sort of pungent, no?
There actually are no government sources of information that detail the proper handling and appropriation of sushi-grade fish. From my experience and research, there are several ways one could go terribly wrong with sushi. One would be that the fish is simply contaminated. Second, the fish is not contaminated, but subsequent handling of the fish contaminates it. Third, the rice and and handling of the rice is contaminated. Any one of these three is a potential risk factor for unclean sushi. There aren’t any macro-standards floating around, but there are certainly micro-standards (you could say “local”). There are sushi restaurants that serve fresh fish, but more often than not, the fish has been frozen to -20 or -35 degrees Celsius (depending on the length of time), in order to kill off parasites. Thus, one could say that the entire “sushi, sashimi” grade fish is just a load of bullshit, as you could easily create the same thing by buying fresh fish and junking it in the back of your freezer for a week. “Fresh” may also be up to debate, since fish are immediately frozen after the catch, in order to preserve their delicate flesh. However, may studies and restaurants always say that there is no difference in taste when it comes to fresh and frozen. I…want to disagree, but do not have the first hand experience to do so.
Sushi rice, according to several information sheets from Japan and Australia, outline that sushi rice needs to be under a pH level of 4.6 in order for the acidification (from vinegar) to be effective for keeping bacterial incubation at bay. Furthermore, rice that has been left out for more than 4-5 hours at temperatures greater than 5 degrees Celsius must be discarded. Do we know if sushi restaurants do such a thing? No idea. Best if you know your fish monger, or make friends with those dexterous guys that yell greetings at you when you walk into the sushi restaurant.
Regardless of the jargon, restaurants still have to comply with FDA health regulations and local health guidelines, so if the restaurant is open and up-to-date with their health inspections, you probably have gotten off to a semi-decent start (the rest is up to what the food tastes like, looks like, server etiquette…parking (just kidding)).
Overall, I wouldn’t let germ-paranoia get in the way of a great sushi experience.