Undoubtedly, fish is one of the most important ingredients in any sushi dish. But there are other sushi ingredients that provide unique flavours and make it an exciting dish. The following items are part of most sushi dishes prepared in Japan and other countries.
Sushi rice is the most vital ingredient in good sushi after the fish. In Japan and other countries in the West, sushi rice is prepared by cooking top grade Japanese short grain or medium grain white rice. The short grain is the preferred variety. While the rice is still hot, it is mixed with sugar, salt and rice vinegar. Unfortunately, not just any type of rice is suitable for making sushi rice. Locally grown short grain rice, which is called Japonica rice or uruchimai in Japanese, produces excellent results. The most popular variety is called Koshihikari; its sticky texture makes it more convenient to pick it up with chopsticks. Sushi rice is also grown in large quantities in Australia. In the U.S., many sushi chefs use Calrose – a medium grain rice grown in California.
Rice Vinegar (Komezu)
Rice vinegar combines with salt and sugar to give the tart and sweet flavour that we enjoy in sushi rice. Japanese vinegar is made from a blend of maize, wheat and rice and it is less acidic than the fruit based vinegar brands that many people in Western countries have in their homes. Komezu comes as a pale yellow or colourless liquid with about 5% acidity. Vinegar has certain health benefits including blood pressure regulation.
Wasabi is one of the condiments served with sushi in Japanese restaurants. Made from the root of the wasabi plant, it has a strong pungent flavour, which may seem a bit hot because it tends to burn the nostrils. Wasabi grows naturally on strange topography such as the gravel beds of the mountain streams in Japan and this limits its supply. Due to the high demand for wasabi, many chefs have to import it from China, Taiwan and New Zealand.
Soy sauce is another condiment that is served with sushi. Soy sauce is produced from boiled soybean paste and mixed other ingredients such as brine, roasted rice, wheat or barley and aspergillus sojae or aspergillus oryzae moulds and yeast. The last two ingredients speed up the fermentation process. After the mixture has fermented for several months, it is pressed, strained, and packed in bottles. It usually has a dark brown colour and salty flavour. Sushi master chefs often add an optimal amount of soy sauce to your sushi. But if you want more while eating sushi, you may dip the side of fish into a little soy sauce.
Sushi ginger is served with sushi to cleanse the pallet before or in between bites. This prepares the taste buds for another bite of sushi. It is similar to eating a cracker in between wine tasting sessions. Cleansing the taste buds helps to neutralize the pallet and allow you to enjoy the diverse flavours and textures of the food. Sushi chefs prepare ginger by cutting young and tender ginger roots into small slices. The thin slices are then pickled in a solution of sugar and vinegar.
In Japan, nori is a dried seaweed sheet produced from a variety of red algae known as porphyra. Nori is the crispy outer sheet used to hold the rice and other ingredients used in sushi rolls. It is produced in large quantities in Japan and China. After harvesting the algae from the sea, it is washed, shredded, framed, heated and rolled into sheets. The premium quality nori are sold as a black opaque sheet while the lower quality ones are green and transparent. Nori has many health benefits including weight loss and longevity.
Cucumbers are clean, crisp, refreshing and healthy vegetables. They are used in sushi more than any other type of vegetable. Their texture makes them a good addition to virtually all types of sushi. Cucumbers used for sushi can be grouped into two: those that require de-seeding and peeling and those that do not. The second category is preferred by most chefs because they are easier to use and they save preparation time. However, they offer a little less flavour than the first type.
Those are the basic non-fish ingredients that are used in making traditional style sushi. You should note that some chefs can substitute some of them or add other ingredients to bring in more flavours and cater to the needs of people who want sushi with a different taste or with a lower calorie count.