Sushi sauces

Joined Aug 28, 2010
Hey y'all /img/vbsmilies/smilies//smile.gif OK I love sushi/sashimi. We have some friends that enjoy california rolls and some raw rolls but have never had the "real" stuff as they call it. I found some Bluefin (Toro/Chutoro) so I thought I would have them over and let them have a go at it. One thing I was going to do was tuna with ponzu and a few other things wrapped in butter lettuce leaves. (I think it's Emeril's recipe) For the rest I was just going to do nagiri style or even just sashimi. But I was thinking I should have a few different kinds of sauces they may want to "dip" them in other than the usual soy/wasabi mix. I guess I just want them to have some different flavors to play with. I'm sure I will probably do a spicy roll since I know they like the rolls, so I have the ponzu sauce and the spicy mayo covered. I know that some sauces are best with certain types of fish, I'm just not sure what goes with what. So does anyone have any suggestions or recipes that will go well with the Bluefin, and help me "ease" them into the wonderful world of the "real stuff" /img/vbsmilies/smilies//smile.gif Thanks!
Joined Feb 13, 2008
A bit at a loss figuring out what you truly want.

If by "real stuff," you mean "traditional Japanese," it never includes (mustard) wasabi mixed into "soy sauce," and especially pre mixed by the "chef."  It also doesn't include ponzu with tuna (ever!).  Lovers and preparers of traditonal Japanese style sushi seldom look with approval at "spicy tuna."  More of a sneer actually.

If by "real stuff" you mean Korean "Japanese Food" (actually a very traditional style), there are a lot more choices for not only sauces but garnishes.  In fact, a selection of "panchan" is, along with the fish, at the heart of the experience.  Spicy?  Can't be too spicy! 

Korean style certainly allows for spicy -- you might even want to provide the sweet-spicy sauce called gochuchang as a dipping sauce.  I think most Korean sashimi aficianados would go with straight soy most of the time -- but at least it's an alternative and heaven knows Koreans like variety.  Lots and lots and lots of variety. 

Even Koreans, the original food anarchists and the Kings of Mix-It-Together cuisine, don't do the wasabi/soy blend that Americans and Europeans find so appealing.  The Japanese consider it rude, ignorant and disrespectful (to the fish) -- and in this case, they're pretty much right.

One good trick with wasabi for sashimi is to smear a little on the side of your soy sauce dish so you can touch the fish to it as it comes out of the sauce.  But because few Americans are really slick with sticks or know when to use  fingers instead, and both lead to a likelihood of knocking the shcmear into the sauce; and to seize the opportunity to teach NOT mixing the shoyu and wasabi together, even though it's not traditional service, it's probably a better idea to serve the wasabi in it's own separate dish 

So many Americans learn to dump a ton of wasabi into the soy, but too much is too much.  It's never a good idea to use more than a tiny dab of wasabi.  You certainly don't want to tell your guests who "love spicy food," how to eat, but the wasabi -- which almost certainly won't even be real wasabi -- overwhelms the taste of fish.  See if you can't get them to try it the "traditional" way, before they blaze their own trail.

It seems like most sushi-ya which cater to Americans make "spicy tuna" with sriracha as the principal spicy ingredient.  You might want to try lan-yu with a tiny bit of sesame oil, a few sesame seeds, and some finely minced negi (scallion tops).  

Negi-toro -- Toro tartare with minced onions, a drop or two of sesame oil, and a raw quail egg yolk perced on top.

Maguro tataki -- A tuna loin is blocked into a rectangular shape, seared over very high heat very briefly, and chilled before cutting and serving.  Garnish with grated radish or grated chili and sprinkle with onions.  You could get away with serving ponzu for tataki.  

Your knife MUST be VERY sharp to cut fish for raw service.  Try and cut your pieces with a single stroke -- or at least use as few strokes as possible.  Don't saw.  Sawing with a dull knife stretches the muscle fiber and makes the fish feel furry on the tongue. 

Don't block your fish into "loins" any sooner than a few hours before service.  If you're thinking of having your sushi for a dinner party, block after lunch.  Certainly, don't block a day ahead. 

Don't cut your loins into the smaller blocks from which you'll actually cut slices until dinner.  Wrap blocks you won't use immediately in cling wrap and return them to the refrigerator.

One of the tricks of raw fish is to use fresh cling wrap every time you wrap.  Don't reuse wrap.  If that means leaving a box of cling wrap where your guests can see it, so be it.

Cutting and eating should be concurrent.  Sashimi can't sit around for more than a few minutes without losing a great deal of its appeal.  Try and keep your batches to a size which will last no more than 30 minutes -- then cut again as necessary. 

A beautiful platter is very nice and all, but you don't want it sitting around while your guests have cocktails -- not if you care about food, you don't.

Here endeth the sermon.

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Joined Aug 6, 2010
As usual, BDL has some great points. I'm going to be a bit more concise.

In my opinion, good, properly made sushi doesn't need sauce. Including soy.
Joined May 5, 2010
Long ago I did a lot of research into Sushi.

There are many faux paus that Americans do with Sushi simply because they feel the fish and rice are too bland.

Mixing wasabi into the soy sauce would make a Sushi Chef want to commit Hari- Kari. (sp)

I watch people place a piece of ginger on their Sushi then dip the whole thing in their wasabi/soy mix.

All the rice from the piece falls into the mixture and there they are with their chopsticks gingerly picking up one kernel of rice at a time.

As with all things, Americans have to re-invent everything.

Sushi is a time honored tradition. It is steeped in history.

Did you know that in Japan the Sushi Chefs pray before service?

I certainly can understand how many people will differentiate between what they make and call Sushi and the "real thing."
Joined Aug 28, 2010
Thank Y'all for the replies and great tips.

BDL the "real stuff" is my friend's term. They are california roll sushi eaters. After a few beers, I have seen them try some raw rolls that, in my opinion, really just hide the fact that there is raw fish in there. The other day I asked her if they had ever tried any nagiri sushi. Her reply was, "No, we have never had the real stuff". When I found that I could get this bluefin, I just had to have some.  Unfortunately there is a minimum you have to purchase and there is no way I can eat it all by myself. So I thought I would share and possibly convert some people at the same time.
In my opinion, good, properly made sushi doesn't need sauce. Including soy.
tylerm I couldn't agree with you more. However most of the people I know have had to ease their way into the "real stuff" world of sushi. I jumped right in head first and loved it right away.

So I guess what I was thinking is that they would be more apt to get their toes wet if the rawness of the fish wasn't staring them in the face. Like a very light smear of sauce across the top to diminish the raw color and give it a little extra flavor at the same time. This way they could get used to the wonderful textures and flavors of the fish. Actually my latest idea was to make the first few pieces gunkan style with a small slice of the tuna topped with something like a thin slice of avocado, or maybe some masago and a dollop of sauce. That way they can feel and taste the fish without having to see it. I have had people tell me they expected sushi to feel slimy and taste really "fishy". Once they realize how wrong they were, they become true sushi lovers. I suppose I am looking at it like a mother trying to hide black eyed peas under a mound of ketchup, or broccoli smothered in cheese sauce for her kids. Eventually they realize those peas and broccoli aren't bad. Am I going about this the wrong way?

BDL it's funny you mentioned how people use too mush wasabi. One of the particular friends I am doing this for takes a marble sized piece of wasabi and puts in on top of each piece of her sushi roll. I think I am going to have to hide it when she comes over /img/vbsmilies/smilies//smile.gif Thanks for the very nice tips. I hadn't thought of the tataki, but that sounds perfect.

justin thomas

I think the discussion of the "real thing" needs to be demystified here.

Having spent three years in Japan, I have seen plenty of natives mixing wasabi in with their soy sauce, and nicer restaurants do have house blends for their sushi (mixes of soy sauce and stock or what have you) with a good mound of wasabi on the side.  Although I'd have to agree that I have seen no spicy anything outside of wasabi (and I've seen anything with the mention of capsiacin elicit fits of "OMFG 2 SPICY!!!!!11111".

The "real thing" includes boxes of nigiri and rolls at the convenience store and grocery store.  It also includes creamed corn rolls, hotdog rolls, egg and bacon rolls, crab and tuna salad and yes California rolls all going around the conveyor belt.

And there is no praying, it is not a spiritual country.  Maybe back in the day, after the consumption of pickled fish became the consumption of uncooked fish but before a majority of people could regularly get enough to eat, but not now.  I guarantee the cooks are back there banging out the orders.  Maybe they're doing it like they do at the French Laundry, maybe they're doing it like they do at Denny's, but they're back they're filling orders like anyone else, not pondering the metaphysical implications of cutting fish into nifty shapes.

Oh yeah Chefross the spelling is Hara (belly) kiri (cut).  It's a wonderfully simple language, I like it.
Joined May 20, 2009
Perhaps Justin could correct me if I'm wrong, but I understood from my experience there that you shouldn't get soy sauce on the rice. Thinking of it as seasoning, the rice is already seasoned and that subtlety would be over-powered. In this light we're not thinking of 'sauce' as a flavour component nor indeed the wasabi as spice as much as 'heat' in contrast with a chilled dish.

This also reminds me of a thread I was reading discussing the cooking of game fish in which Amber jack was widely regarded in the U.S. as a rubbish fish. It was coincidental as I had come home that night to a metre long Kingfish in the laundry sink. After a little research it turned out that it was also known as a yellow-tailed Amber jack. Intrigued I cooked it every which way and ate well over a kilo. I concluded it is the most user-friendly sashimi I've ever had (lovely texture with no 'fishy' taste), so much so that my wife and I were munching it straight off the board while prepping it to cook. To the contrary, the more it was cooked the more fishy it got until fully cooked it was downright unpleasant!

I'm wondering now, from these kinds of threads and the hesitancy implied, if the poor Amber jack (Kingfish) has been maligned & cast aside in the States simply 'cos it can't or rather shouldn't   be cooked at all...the fishing forums down here agree.
Joined Aug 6, 2010

The amberjack you are describing is what we call a yellowtail kingfish. It's in the same family as the greater amberjack (what we normally catch), but the greater amberjack is a much more versitile fish. And if anyone says that a greater amberjack is a trash fish, they haven't had it cooked right.   
Joined Oct 9, 2008
I spent a good deal of time in Japan sniffing around questions like this. Justin hits all the high points -- what I have to say is by way of clarification.

1. Wasabi with soy. Okay, real wasabi, ground from a root not more than an hour or so before you eat it, has an extremely subtle floral flavor that goes away very easily. If you mix it into soy sauce, for example, you'll lose it. If you grind it much before service, it goes away. So if you're using real wasabi, mixing it into soy sauce is sort of a faux pas, not because it's rude but because it indicates that you don't really appreciate what you're eating. It's a faux pas the way, let's say, drinking a light white wine with a heavy cassoulet is a faux pas --- it shows you don't have the palate for this. But if you're using the powder, which rarely has any real wasabi in it --- and even when it does, it makes no difference, because you can't really tell --- you can go ahead and mix it together if you like. Most wasabi in Japan, and almost all wasabi outside Japan, is dry horseradish with green food coloring. You can't really get snooty about how to eat fake wasabi, and people who do clearly don't know what they're eating. Go with what tastes right for you.

2. Soy sauce on the rice. Yes, that's bad. We're talking about nigirizushi here, not makizushi. If you're eating fish (or whatever) on a nigiri (rice ball), you shouldn't get soy on the rice, because it acts like a sponge and sucks the stuff up, and then you can't taste anything but soy. Again, it's not a politeness thing, it's just being an oaf.

3. Ponzu with tuna or whatever. The usual rule is that ponzu is best with oilier fish, because it cuts that oil. But there is no absolute here. It mostly depends on where you are in Japan. The thing is, real ponzu is quite different from the c**p in a bottle. If you want to make your own, you can, but you have to plan ahead. Basically what you do (I can give a recipe if you really want it) is you take a bunch of kombu, the thick dry seaweed you make dashi with, break it up into rough squares, and cover them liberally with citrus juice -- yuzu is most traditional, but lemon or grapefruit are good, and lime rather less so. Leave overnight, covered with plastic, then strain. Then you take very good soy sauce and soak a bunch of bonito flakes in it for about 10 minutes, then strain, and you mix this with the kombu-soaked citrus juice. The result should taste principally of soy sauce, with a definite citrus accent, and there should be a peculiar depth of flavor and smokiness that comes from the kombu and bonito flakes. There's a little more to it, but that's the basics. This sauce is especially good in hot weather, and yes, Virginia, you can serve it with tuna if you like. But it is not very usual to serve it with sushi --- it's more a sashimi thing.

4. Grand tradition and history. Sushi as we know it is a recent invention, from the 19th century somewhere, in what's now Tokyo. It has been hyped endlessly in all kinds of grandiose ways, by Japanese and Westerners alike. You can buy into that or not, as you prefer --- after all, it may be recent, but then again, by that measure so is French cuisine as we know it (think when Escoffier was working, right?). What sushi is not is a Japanese tradition. It's a Kanto tradition, i.e. from the Tokyo region. People in other regions have their own traditions. In Kyoto, for example, you can get very good sushi if you want it, but it's not a big deal. In fact, they have their own types of sushi, which are rather older and taste quite different --- this is the stuff about sushi rice being used as a preservative. Yes, there probably are Tokyo sushi-ya who say prayers before getting really into the work, just as there are Kyoto kaiseki chefs who visit the same temple every day at dawn. But that's not because it's sushi: it's because some culinary traditions in Japan are steeped in an elaborate traditionalism that deliberately sets them crosswise to modernity.

5. Spicy or other mayo. Yes, you see that. It's pretty much low-end cr*p for the kids, but you do see it. Not so much on the spicy, because spicy isn't big in Japan in any form except Korean barbecue, but mayo is huge. If you want to do it, use Miracle Whip, which is sweet and rather more like the stuff you see in Japan. Brits, here is one good place to use "salad cream" -- and there are no others, although I hear it works okay as furniture polish.

In the end, I think the crucial thing to remember about great sushi is that great sushi, in its natural habitat, is bar food. It's a heck of a big step above nachos and peanuts, to be sure, but it's bar food. What you do is, you go to the bar, and you drink and chat with your friends, and as you feel like it you ask for something to eat, and you get it. All that rice helps cushion the blow of the alcohol, and the salt --- well, think peanuts, OK? If that sounds like I'm running it down, think tapas, which is basically bar food too.

My point is that sushi is, or should be, fun. If you're a bunch of gourmets who are really into subtleties, I suggest that you go very light on the fake wasabi, use the very best soy sauce you possibly can, and use as little sauce of any kind as you can. You want to taste the fish. In fact, if I were doing it at home with gourmet friends, I'd skip the rice too --- all sashimi, all the time. Why? Because making sushi rice is a b***h, and it really shows if it's not very good. I'd rather focus on the seafood. Have plain white rice on the side, some homemade Japanese quick-pickles, and a lot of good sake or beer. Get seriously lit, try everything, and roll around groaning after you've eaten way too much protein. If you worry about details, you won't have enough fun, in which case skip it. What's the point of bar food if nobody's having fun?

You really want to do this the fun way, may I suggest a handroll party? Make a bunch of sushi rice, and it doesn't matter much if it's imperfect. Buy a couple packs of the best sushi-nori you can find, and at the last minute toast it gently and quickly over open flame. Lay out plates of seafood, rolled omelet, quick-pickled vegetables, sushi rice, nori, and so on. Put dishes of whatever sauces you feel like nearby. Now announce, "dig in!" What you do is, you pick up a piece of nori, and you mound stuff on it as you like, and you roll it up into a cone. Dip the end into a sauce if you wish, and bite. Dip a different sauce if you like, and bite again. Yes, I know, double-dipping, eek, oh no, we'll all die, get over it and drink some more.

In case you're wondering, nigirizushi is not something most Japanese people would seriously attempt at home. Makizushi, maybe, but probably not in a mode you're much familiar with --- it's more akin to the giant futomaki rolls, and more cut in slices for kids' lunchboxes. Handrolls are where it's at for a home sushi party. Or chirashi-zushi, where you just pack a box with sushi rice and scatter a selection of things on top of that.

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