Sunday, June 26, 2011

Aging sushi like a porterhouse

As Julia Moskin made common knowledge a while back, most of the raw fish we’ve been eating has been frozen to kill parasites — and we don’t know the difference. It’s a bit strange to think that anyone might prefer frozen fish. But many great chefs do. ... Deep-sea-fishing boats are equipped with this crazy technology to freeze just-killed fish. And it’s only after chefs defrost the fish that rigor mortis (the muscle stiffening that happens after we croak) sets in. Creepy. In other words, fish that’s been super-frozen for a year is, in a way, fresher than a lot of fish that’s straight off the boat.

Even stranger, perhaps, is that this level of freshness isn’t always ideal. Marco Canora, of Hearth and Terroir in New York, told me he had gone deep-sea fishing and caught a bonito. His shipmates butchered the fish, and Canora sampled the flesh minutes after the fish had been killed. “You could tell it was a great fish — perfect fat content, clean flavor,” Canora said. “But the texture was like eating rubber bands.” Turns out rigor mortis is not delicious. Okay, fine, you might not want to eat certain fish straight from the ocean, but you wouldn’t want to wait longer than a few days, right? Tell that to the Japanese chefs who age their tuna for up to a few weeks, as if it were porterhouse.

And it’s not just red-meat fish like tuna and bonito that benefit from controlled, uh, de-freshening. Kinch told me that turbot is actually at its gelatinous best four or five days out of the water, when its flesh has had a chance to relax...

Kuniko Yagi, formerly chef de cuisine at Sona, recently returned from Japan, where she did a few stages at kaiseki restaurants in Kyoto. She told me that when the chefs wanted to highlight the almost crunchy texture of raw snapper, they’d serve it the day it died, while the flesh was still pulsing. But when they wanted to flaunt the flavor, they’d wait a day. “When the fish died that morning, I couldn’t tell if it was fluke or blowfish or snapper,” she said. “The next day, you could.”
--JJ Goode, New York, on the myth of super-fresh sushi. I blogged about the Julia Moskin article in my 4/20/04 blog entry, but that article didn't mention that tuna is aged for weeks.