The first thing Jon Yoshimura does with the beautiful slabs of fresh raw fish I bring to his home? He puts them in the freezer.
Unbelievable. Why not just roll them around in the dirt, too?
My buddy tells me to do what the fish is … chill.
A few minutes in the freezer, he explains, firms up the fish, making it much easier to slice properly without damaging its texture, and with no change to the flavor.
Just don’t get distracted by the New Year’s Day football games and forget what you’ve got in the freezer. Ahi definitely is not meant to be served with icicles hanging from it.
Yoshimura, the former newscaster, state senator and city councilman, knows what he’s doing with knives and sashimi. And if there are any pukas in his izakaya IQ, his wife, Yuki, who is from Kobe, Japan, has it covered.
Last year when I asked the Ewa Beach residents to join me at a favorite sushi bar in town, they declined — with reasoning that makes perfect sense.
“Yuki can prepare everything that they do, as good or better,” Jon said. “Why would we go to town?”
And that’s why I figured them to be the perfect people to teach laymen like me the proper way to prepare sashimi for a New Year’s Day platter. As a bonus they can combine some local Hawaii style with the traditions of Japan.
“I grew up (on Maui) eating sashimi on a bed of sliced cabbage,” Jon says. “In Japan, instead of cabbage they use daikon, right, Yuki?”
Yuki nods, while deciding where on the platter to place some shiso leaves. Shiso is one of those izakaya items that is an acquired taste for some. It has a minty flavor that is a nice contrast to fish, but for me took some getting used to.
When they retrieve the fish from the freezer, the Yoshimuras look closer at what they have to work with. In addition to ahi, I had brought kajiki and salmon to provide variety in color and flavor.
There’s at least a pound of each, but instead of rectangles we have triangles. The easier way would be to go to the supermarket and buy perfect rectangles of fish to slice. But that’s not always possible. And where is the artistry in that?
So Jon and Yuki examine the fish intently, like wood carvers or sculptors envisioning a masterpiece — or, like golfers figuring out how to make a putt based on the texture of the green.
As it is with a long putt, where you just hope the ball will stop somewhere near the hole, the key here, before deploying your knife to shape your rectangular blocks, is to set yourself up for the slicing that will follow. Those cuts will be AGAINST, not parallel to, the lines on the fish. So make your first cuts accordingly.
“When you cut it against the grain it holds up better,” Jon says.
It sounds simple. But with the way the lines swirl, it often takes a good eye to figure out exactly where to cut to form blocks so you can ultimately produce slices of sashimi that are about the same dimensions as a domino, and won’t fall apart when picked up by a chopstick.
But Jon says don’t worry if you don’t cut like a pro right away. The fish will still taste good.
Kobe is known more for white fish like tai (snapper) than it is ahi. So Yuki works on the kajiki while Jon slices some of the ahi.
The first thing both do is cut off bits on the ends that are not quite as pretty as the rest and place those pieces off to the side.
“Any time you cut sashimi, you’re going to get some end pieces that are better suited for poke,” Yuki says.
The knife and cutting boards they use were bought in Kobe, and Jon had sharpened the slim, long-bladed knife earlier in the day. His smooth technique rivals that of many chefs I’ve observed across a sushi bar.
Yuki struggles; but I quickly realize it’s because Jon is using the yanagi knife, the one designed for the single, long strokes that produce the best-looking slices of fish that are less likely to fall apart. When they trade blades, Yuki is the one who cuts like a pro.
At some point in the midst of this, Yuki quickly chops up the fish deemed not sashimi-worthy and concocts a Sriracha sauce. I am wary of spicy poke, because “spicy” is sometimes a euphemism for “old,” but since I had picked out this fish myself at Tamashiro Market merely an hour previous, it’s all good — ALL good, as Yuki uses just the right amount of Sriracha so the flavor of the fish is not overwhelmed. Finely chopped green onions (negi in Japanese) add more flavor and color.
As for the sashimi? Success — and whichever Yoshimura happened to be using the “good” knife at the time made it look really easy. One clean slice per piece. No sawing, no chopping.
The platter is completed with gari (pickled ginger), a dollop of wasabi, to be mixed with soy sauce, of course. There’s nothing wrong with wasabi squeezed from a tube. But I brought a chopped variety of the spicy root for a change of pace, and it proves to be good stuff.
“Sashimi is good with salt and lemon, too,” says Yuki, as she cuts some wedges. This is especially so for white fish like the kajiki.
In the end, no one needs a tourniquet, or even a Band-Aid. No fish fall victim to freezer burn. No one mistakes wasabi for green tea ice cream, which would be very unfortunate.
The result is a beautiful platter of glistening, colorful slices of fish.
It seems a shame to ravage it. But of course that’s exactly what we do.
PICK YOUR WEAPON
It doesn’t matter how much you sharpen your knife skills if your blade is dull. But you don’t have to go all the way to Japan to get a great knife for slicing sashimi.
Chris Greywolf of Cutting Edge Sharpening can help, whether you want to buy a custom-designed yanagi (long slicing knife) or sharpen knives you already own.
A customized original by Greywolf will cost at least $350. Various kinds of handles and other personal touches can add to the price tag, he said.
“Every knife’s a little different,” Greywolf said. “But the standard for sashimi is a thin blade that is 10-to-12 inches in length.”
He can be reached at 277-2758.
For smaller budgets and immediate purchases, Greywolf recommends Compleat Kitchen at Kahala Mall and POP Fishing & Marine.
At Compleat Kitchen, only a few sashimi knives were available last week, ranging in price from $165 to $220. Call 737-5827 to check on current stock.
POP Fishing & Marine had a wide variety in stock last week, including Dexrus, Forsch and Victor Mox brands. Prices range from around $25 to $100. Call 537-2905.