Thursday, December 6, 2012

Talking fish, sushi and sashimi at Ocean Room

It would be safe to say that the majority of Sydney-siders are familiar with sushi and sashimi, if not fans of one or both. Lots of young children are even comfortable with maki sushi rolls, with nori seaweed and all.

So with the awareness and popularity boxes ticked, I got to delve a little deeper in a brief sushi and sashimi masterclass with Ocean Room executive chef Raita Noda earlier this year at his waterside contemporary Japanese restaurant.

Executive chef Raita Noda,for sushi and sashimi masterclass at Ocean Room,
Circular Quay
The restaurant interior is about as stunning as the quintessential Sydney view outside, but with a large collection of fresh fish on display for the class, Noda had our complete attention.

Sushi as we know it today, especially the nigiri style where there's a fish or other topping pressed onto an elongated ball of sushi rice, originated from traditional edomae zushi from the Edo period in Japan. The focus is on the neta topping, while the seasoned rice is designed to carry and enhance the flavours of the fish.

There's also a delicacy to edomae style sushi. For example, nigiri sushi pieces are often tailored to be smaller mouthfuls for female eaters, with Noda laughing that he doesn't want to see ladies open their mouths too wide.

Narito Ishii of Wellstone Seafoods
Joining Noda for the masterclass was his seafood supplier, Wellstone Seafoods, represented by general manager - and long-time friend of Noda - Narito Ishii.

Ishii's specialised knowledge of the Japanese approach to fish, and his unwavering demands for quality and freshness, gives Wellstone the impressive claim of supplying pretty much all the high-end Japanese restaurants in Sydney with local and imported seafood.

So trusted is Ishii that Noda's evening fish orders to him could read like the following: "Two white fish, two silver fish, and two of something interesting and unique" - the latter which are normally competitively priced.

Sashimi platter
Imperador is certainly one of the unique for me - it's a species I've not heard of before. The red-skinned fish is surprisingly sweet and delicate done sashimi style, and one of my favourites of the elaborate sashimi platter that Noda presents to us.

The contemporary style of Ocean Room means that sashimi is served with extras on top of soy sauce and wasabi. Indeed, almost every fish featured its own flavour addition - chives with the trevally or minced ginger on the whiting - elevating the experience to much more than a plate of raw fish.

Lightly seared scallops are always a winner, while I've been liking rich mackerel since my Japan trip. There was also john dory formed into a stunning rose, swordfish lightly seared, ocean trout (many Japanese chefs' preference over salmon) and kingfish.

Bluefin tuna
But there's always a star of the show and this time it was a portion of bluefin tuna, caught off Nelson Bay in NSW.

There is serious contention around the threatened status of southern bluefin tuna. It is legal to catch bluefin tuna in Australia but there are conservation measures in place.

Ishii said there were plenty of the impressively large fish about this year, likely because of the reduction in allowable catch numbers in Australia since 2010.

The bulk of tuna fished from Australian waters is exported to Japan, although the rising appreciation of sashimi tuna in Australia means that more high quality tuna are being sold, and valued, in the local market.

Executive chef Raita Noda,with one of his two sashimi knives
This tuna was one of the last of the bluefin tuna of the season (back in August), according to Ishii, and we were very privileged to have it in our class under the trained care of chef Noda.

Noda uses two sashimi knives at Ocean Room: one each of Tokyo and Osaka styles which have slightly different, flexible blades.

Bluefin tuna belly
He divided the tuna into its deep red akami lean flesh from the side of the fish, and the toro belly that's lined with highly desirable streaks of fat.

Noda likened tuna to beef steak that needs time to age after killing for flavours to come out. This portion of tuna had been aged for a few days ahead of our class

O-toro tuna belly nigiri sushi
The plate of o-toro nigiri sushi was an absolute treat featuring the fattiest, most prized part of the belly. This was probably my third experience of o-toro, simply brushed with soy sauce on sushi rice seasoned to Ocean Room's own recipe.

O-toro tuna belly
Sliced and draped across the rice, the o-toro has a vague resemblance to raw wagyu beef. It was definitely rich, fatty and full of luxurious flavour, but I seemed to have scored a piece that, like some of even the best steaks, had some sinewy sections that needed serious chewing.

Chu-toro tuna nigiri sushi
Noda prepared chu-toro tuna belly next - the part of the fish essentially between the o-toro and the lean akami. While still boasting a rich creaminess from the fat, there's a bit more of a sea taste to the chu-toro and a pleasingly soft texture.

Imperador nigiri sushi
Returning to the imperador, which Noda had now blowtorched the skin of, this nigiri style was topped with finely sliced green shiso leaf, which I find to have strong anise flavours and don't always love.

With just a sprinkle of sea salt in place of soy sauce, the "interesting and unique" fish were kicking goals.

Cuttlefish nigiri sushi
Cuttlefish, the lesser known cousin to squid, made an appearance as nigiri sushi too, with each piece finely and artfully scored.

Creamy is probably the last word you'd think to use to describe raw cuttlefish, but it's exactly that, with a bit of bounce to its chew and perhaps more sweetness than raw squid.

Latchet nigiri sushi
One of the funny looking, also red-skinned, fish from the display was latchet which Ishii said was from Bermagui down the southern NSW coast.

The soft white flesh made for an appropriate backdrop to the almost Chinese accompaniments of minced ginger, chives and soy sauce.

Akami tuna nigiri sushi
Finally, a dramatic plate of akami tuna nigiri sushi hit the table. Having been marinated briefly in soy sauce, the already deep red flesh takes on a jewel-like translucency and deeper colouring, contrasting ever so much with white sesame seeds and citrus peel.

The firmer lean tuna flesh is able to stand up to the big soy sauce flavour, making for a completely different eating experience to either of the toro options.

Narito Ishii of Wellstone Seaafoods (left) and Raita Noda, executive chef
at Ocean Room (right)
With ice cold sake and expert fish and sushi advice on stand by, the Ocean Room masterclass was a process of learning and being more conscious of the sushi and sashimi we eat.

The topic of sustainability came up, not only in relation to the bluefin tuna, but overall commerical fishing methods.

Is trawler and net fishing sustainable when small fish or unwanted varieties also make the catch? What does the demand for 'standard' tuna and salmon sashimi do for sustainability of these and other species? And what about the environmental sustainability of wild-caught fish versus farmed fish, and indeed, versus farmed land animals?

It seems there's plenty to talk about when it comes to fish, sushi and sashimi, See more photos from the Ocean Room masterclass on my Facebook page.

Food, booze and shoes attended the sushi and sashimi masterclass as a guest of Ocean Room, with thanks to Wasamedia.

Ocean Room on Urbanspoon


Tina @ bitemeshowme said...

What an awesome masterclass. Not only insightful about the produce itself, but all the behind the scene issues we fail to realise.

Jacq said...

Great photos! They remind me of all the delicious sashimi we ate that day. I loved how each fish had its own condiments as well, apart from the stock standard soy and wasabi combo.

gaby @ lateraleating said...

I haven't tried o-toro yet. All sushi and sashimi look beautiful, you've sparked my interest in visiting Ocean Room soon.

The Asian Pear said...

That looks amazing... O_O;;

Tina said...

Hi Tina - Yeah, fish ain't just fish...

Hi Jacq - So much yummy tuna; wasn't it such a treat!

Hi gaby - O-toro is another world of sashimi. The first time I tried it, I was floored.

Hi The Asian Pear - It sure was!


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