History of sushi (It didn't start with a California Roll)


#1

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#2

Tangent here, but the original sushi it mentions was mostly made of Carp. Carp as a food fish gets a bad rap in the US, but the various carps have long been food fish in Europe and Asia (being farmed in Roman Aquaculture, in fact).

Early Sushi was made with the Crucian carp specifically, which is a very interesting fish. It was recently discovered that it doesn’t need oxygenated water to live! Rather, it has worked out a trick for fermenting alcohol in the body, which is reprocessed into oxygen:

The common carp, leather or mirror carp are the ones with the bad reputation in the US. Curiously, too, since these are the breeds that were domesticated as food fish by the Romans and European monks (the latter it’s speculated are why mirror and leather carp have few or no scales–they were bred to have fewer scales to be easier to clean).

Asian Carp are also a great bane in the US, but apparently are quite tasty, if bony.

I’m of the opinion that American diners are just picky. Too many bones! Tastes too fishy! I think if we were a little less well fed like our ancestors, dining on all forms of Carp would be quite acceptable.


#3

I’d be worried if it tasted like peanut butter.

Honestly I’m surprised carp hasn’t caught on. Maybe it’s not as easily filleted as tilapia or catfish, but most Thai restaurants I’ve been to have at least one whole fish dish on the menu. I assume carp could be farmed more cheaply and in a more environmentally friendly way than salmon. And I know plenty of diners who’d consider it a special challenge to avoid the bones. Part of the fun of ordering whole lobster is supposed to be getting the meat out of the shell, after all.


#4

Having eaten my share of common carp out of sheer curiosity, I can say that these are hundreds of Y bones in each fish, and they are very fine. It’s not a huge deal, just annoying. I got around it by grinding them up and making patties.

The flavor is also very dependent on how the fish was culled and cleaned, and the purity of water it was swimming around in beforehand. The US has some polluted waters, so it’s no surprise that the fish from them don’t taste great. In Eastern Europe, I read that the traditional Christmas Carp (it’s a thing, apparently) is allowed to swim around in a bathtub for a couple days in clean water to improve the flavor. It’s not documented what the occupants of the house do for bathing in the meantime, but I presume there’s some European sensibilities there with regards to water consumption. (BTW, the key in culling and cleaning is to get it on ice right away, and to cut off the most red cuts of meat.)

The muddy flavor isn’t an issue in Asian carp, just the bones (from what I read). I plan on hooking into some of these this summer, since there’s a lot to be had not far from where I live.


#5

You’d be right, too, that Carp could be farmed much more easily than salmon. They don’t feed on other fish (much), and some species don’t eat at all, preferring to filter plankton from the water with special gills. This is why Asian carp are such a huge problem–because they eat 24/7 and eat the stuff that comprises the base of the foodchain.


#6

“The nigiri and tuna rolls we eat today are a far cry from the pungent, rice-less, barrel-fermented stuff that originated during the 3rd century B.C.”

progress > tradition


#7

A family friend claimed that wild carp tasted like ‘cotton wool filled with pins and soaked with petrol’.


#8

A common, but apocryphal type of claim amongst fishermen. Actually for that matter, there’s some classist (and racist) overtones in the US among those same fishermen as to who consumes them.


#9

Kind of interesting how similar some of the early food preservation methods are similar to those in other far-flung parts of the world.


#10

and? with the carp talk? I cannot believe no one has referenced the invasive nature, the insane jumping into boats, etc… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPeg1tbBt0A

that aside, I love me some nice hamachi! :slight_smile:


#11

Invasiveness was mentioned. I didn’t want to get into the “Redneck Fishing Tournaments” they hold in southern IL.


#12

That’s actually at the heart of it. Growing up in a coastal fishing town we never ate Porgy (also called Sheepshead and Scup). Porgy was for Greeks and Mexicans and Polacks. It was explicitly a gross fish that only X ethnic group that wasn’t you ate. But you know porgy is fucking delicious. Its cheap. And its a fairly sustainable catch. Suddenly its kind of the hot fish around here.

In terms of Americans being picky when it comes to fish. Well I think its comes down to lack of exposure. Outside of certain bits of the coast, and people who actually fish. There’s a fairly limited group of fishes that show up outside of restaurants. Where we’re at its relatively common to eat things from the ocean that most people would avoid. Blowfish, Weakfish roe, smoked eel and bluefish, whelk, calico crabs (supposedly they make you poop your pants!). I just discovered butterfish. Apparently its mostly used as bait, but damned if it didn’t taste just like a grilled, fresh sardine.

Now don’t get me wrong there’s plenty of picky people around here. People who won’t eat fish at all, or limit themselves to frozen Tilapia and Mahi Mahi fillets because its inoffensive and bland. There’s also a lot of people out here who were not raised out here, or near here, and haven’t necessarily been exposed to most of what the fish market is selling. But for the most part if you get enough old heads to tell people its “traditional” and then deep fry it, people will try just about anything.

Except apparently that butter fish. My fish monger can’t sell it to save his life. It goes for less than a dollar a pound, and I really think I was the only person to buy it last time he had it in. Which means I’m unlikely to find it again.


#13

To that effect:


#14

Be careful what you call progress - while modern sushi is certainly safer, I’m not sure it’s better. Not too long ago I was introduced to what I was told was “Kyoto style” sushi, which from this article suggests is the “box pressed” short-fermentation type, which used shiso leaves. It has incredible flavor compared to most sushi I eat these days. I find that most sushi restaurants, even the good ones, have become somewhat homogenized.

I think a lot of sushi chefs and sushi eaters have become complacent or even indoctrinated in to this idea that the raw fish is best in its purest form, with just some soy sauce and maybe wasabi. And there is definitely amazing sushi that is just that. But it’s not the only way to have sushi, nor is it perhaps even the best.


#15

I never quite got that. I grew up in an around a lobster fishery. And here (and other areas like it) lobster was never particularly “a rich man’s food” or a luxury. Its frequently cheaper than beef. We used to get it free by storing a friends lobster pots. Or get them 5 for 20-30 bucks from local lobstermen. Our lobster fishery is effectively dead on Long Island these days, but the Maine fishery is so well managed that prices have only gone up marginally. In season it can be as cheap as $3/lb throughout the coastal north east, and it typically sits between $8/lb and $12/lb. While I’m sure nobody who’s dead poor is going through the trouble, its not exactly unattainable or a rare delicacy for most people.

I think the Lobster as luxury was more a combination of new tech letting it be brought to places it didn’t exist for the first time and marketing. Cause lobster can get pretty expensive once you move away from the coast. I remember being REALLY confused when I saw it at like $20/lb in Philly (and not in a restaurant either). Same deal with most “luxurious” seafood from this area. I can go get top quality farmed oysters from a market around here for $1.50 each and wild caught locals ones (when available) are closer to $1 each. I’ve seen crap Virginia wild caughts for much more than that in land lock places. Those are $.50 each here. Tuna, sword fish, and a handful of other large desirable fish would be the one big exception. Everything we catch here goes through the same system that distributes it elsewhere. So its frequently still about as expensive.


#16

You mention technology, and it reminds me of a touristy thing to do at East Coast airports:

Buy lobsters to take on the plane ride home.

4 ounces of shampoo: Dangerous.

Live animal with big pointy killer claws: Benign.

I’ll let the rest of you envision how this could play out if the Zucker Brothers ever make Airplane! 3.

(spoiler: Hilarious)


#17

Butterfish marinated in teriyaki miso sauce is delectable, tender, and a hot item locally. I highly recommend it. Isn’t butterfish just another name for cod, or one of those larger fish that frequently end up in the bait buckets on Deadliest Catch? Send it to me and we’ll skip the middleman.


#18

Butterfish gets used as a sobriquet for a variety of fish in a variety of areas for a variety of reasons. But the only one I know of that’s properly referred to as butterfish is this one:

Is a quite small, bony, and oily fish. Like a flatter, rounder sardine. Its pretty much exclusively pulled up as bycatch, and sold as bait. But the one market by me that buys direct from fisherman and specializes in classic local fish without much broader market recognition tried selling them last summer. I do them grilled in a fish basket over VERY hot charcoal, dressed either Italian style (salt and olive oil) or Japanese (a light brush of thin tare) It cooks very much like fresh sardine. And it tastes like a slightly richer/stronger fresh sardine.


#19

We may be talking about the same thing, just different terminology. The butterfish slices I have seen seem to be about the same as a salmon steak, crossways across the breadth of a fish and about the size of a deck of cards, not a huge slab of fish. Your tare sounds a great deal like the miso marinade used around here (Hawaii), and probably gets used as often. I don’t know if ‘marinate’ for a restaurant means a 10 minute soak just before grilling, or leaving it in a baggie overnight.

eta: what the restaurants call ‘butterfish’ may or may not be authentic butterfish, too.


#20

Nope gonna say its a totally different fish. The fish I’m mentioning is Atlantic only (I’m on Long Island), but there are related fish world wide. The whole fish with the Atlantic ones is often only a bit larger than a deck of cards, 6-8 inches long, maybe 4-6 from dorsal to ventral, and at best over an inch thick in cross section. A fillet would be be maybe a half inch thick. And its tiny and numerous bones would leave cutting cross section steaks pointless. You wouldn’t be able to bone it.

But your mention of Hawaii reminded me of something. On the mainland Escolar is commonly sold as “Hawaiian Butterfish” which is an important thing to know because Escolar is toxic. There was a bit of a scandal the last couple years with unscrupulous restaurants and distributors pushing it as a new, flashy, and cheap fish.

They call it “Hawaiian Butterfish” because there’s apparently confusion about exactly what Butterfish actually is when its served in Hawaii. Which is apparently any fish cooked the way you mention, but typically Black Cod. I think they were trying to equate the escolar to better fishes (that don’t make you shit yourself for 2 days) that people might have tried as the butterfish preparation in Hawaii.

And the tare I use is basically the same as the marinade you mention, and probably derived from the same place. I use mirin or sake, soy sauce, and dashi or kombu broth. Sometimes garlic or ginger. I don’t like miso, and I usually don’t see it listed in Japanese grilling sauces so I don’t use it. I also prefer sake over mirin, mirin seems to be insanely sweet a lot of the time. I reduce it just enough so it sticks better, which is from what I understand far less than is traditional. But I don’t want to blow out the flavor of the fish by getting too much spread on.