Take it from a pro. Here are four tips from Chef Niki Makayama to consider when preparing otsukuri:
1. Fresh wasabi root tastes best. If you can’t find fresh wasabi root, prepared wasabi paste is available at Japanese markets and select grocery stores. Rather than mixing the wasabi with the soy sauce, dab a little wasabi on your sashimi with your chopsticks, then dip the fish with wasabi into the soy sauce.
2. Add life with your plating technique. The emphasis on the plating of the otsukuri course rests firmly on beauty, but it also conveys a sense of being alive. There should be a movement to it, Niki says. “Yama-tani-kawa!” She heard that phrase repeatedly from one of the chefs she worked with in Japan.It means “mountain valley river,” a reference to the different heights that the components on the plate should create.
3. Use the entire knife blade. In Japanese cooking, you don’t rock the knife back and forth against the cutting board. Slice through the vegetable, using the whole blade from the front of the knife toward the back, pulling it toward you. Then lift the knife to slice again.
4. Refrigerate the tuna until you are ready to use it. “You’ll find with Japanese cooking,” Niki says, “very little is ever served at room temperature. If it’s supposed to be hot, it’s going to be hot. If it’s supposed to be cold, it’s going to be very cold.”
5. The best way to shop for fish is by talking with your local fishmonger. You want fresh, sashimi-grade tuna from a reputable seafood market or fish counter. The best seafood sellers will offer the whole loin, but Japanese markets also carry small fillets or tuna steaks for sashimi. Fresh tuna should be firm with a deep red color.(If this color is too bright and vibrant, Niki warns, it could mean the seller used artificial color. Make sure to ask where and when the supplier caught the tuna.) Albacore tuna also should be firm but with a paler color.
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