Friday, July 30, 2010

Rick Stein and the Japanese Ambassador

This mouthwatering show began with an invitation. His Excellency Yoshiji Nogami — the Japanese Ambassador in London — suggested to Rick that he take himself off to Tokyo in order to absorb some of the deep cultural underpinnings of the Japanese relationship with fish. He should then return and design a suitable banquet at the Ambassador's residence for a handful of special guests.

Stein had already been informed that he'd got his Cornish mackerel sushi all wrong. You don't — as he once did on air — just cut up the freshly caught fish and serve it on a little chunk of rice. 'Raw' it may be, but first it has to coated in salt in order to firm up over a couple of hours before being seasoned in a marinade of water, sugar, mirin and kombu (edible kelp). The same technique is applied to sashimi and helps remove any fishy odours.

Sushi wasn't going to feature at Rick's London banquet anyway as when he visited Tsukiji the chef on the right — below — duly informed him that it takes about ten years to learn how to prepare it. (After joking that he'd been a taxi driver until four days earlier.)

I'm glad Stein went to this particular little sushi joint inside Tsukiji because it was one of the highlights of my trip yet by the time I'd queued up and been shown to my place at the bar my camera's battery was dead and I was unable to take any snaps inside. (Many of the pics I was able to take can be seen here.)

The maguro one finds in Antigua these days tends to come from Florida. Rumour has it that the gringo owner of Nokiate used to import his in an ice box inside his suitcase until he got rumbled at the airport.

My neighbour is a Florida fisherman and has filled me in on some of the deeper anxieties of his trade. In the case of tuna you need to get the fish in the boat within about 30 seconds after it catches on the line because the adrenalin released when it starts to fight will eventually increase the acidity within the flesh.

I tested out this little board of tuna sashimi above (one piece already eaten BTW) when lunching with Rudy at Ubi's this week. It was certainly delicious, but not quite a match for the melt in the mouth stuff they serve at the world's largest wholesale fish market.

Sushi has become a form of globalised, aspirational fast food. A couple of decades ago there were hardly any sushi restaurants in London, but they're all over the place now. Antigua Guatemala has at least three now too. In Britain the miniature conveyor-belt model predominates, but I only once saw one of these in Japan (at the Sony showroom) and this had little plates of cake going around it. (Very artistic they were too.)

Nothing compares really with the Japanese way of preparing and presenting this food, as evidenced by the selection of screen shots I took last night from Rick Stein's programme.

By the end of it we both wanted to get on the next flight to Tokyo and V's long neglected project to acquire a live-in Japanese cook is back on the table, so to speak. The Ambassador surely won't want to part with the pair who did most of the work on the night in the embassy kitchen:

It seems that the colours white, green, yellow, black, green and red predominate in Japanese cuisine. (White and red, the colours of the flag are especially favoured.) Freshness and seasonality is all important. The sashimi in the pic below was made with red bream, sea snail, tuna and prawns amongst other things.

Stein and his researcher Takako were also given a very special banquet in their honour by Japan's former (unpopular) PM Yoshirō Mori.

The sashimi course (one of eight) arrived at the table covered by little igloos...

...a technique Rick Stein borrowed for the London banquet:

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