Monday, May 28, 2012



NIGIRI is "piece" sushi, and it's quickly becoming as popular as sushi rolls ("maki sushi") outside of Japan. Small "fingers" of seasoned sushi rice are served with various toppings, usually raw seafood, but other items as well. This is a quick and dirty guide to some of the most popular nigiri sushi in Canada...

MAGURO refers generally to tuna. Tuna may be "red" (pictured below) as with bigeye, ahi or bluefin tuna. Bluefin is considered the "King of Tuna" but has been fished to the brink of extinction. Albacore tuna is a white tuna with a mild flavour and melt in your mouth texture.
                                               "Red" tuna served nigiri style
TORO is the fatty belly part of the tuna. It's sometimes served as NEGITORO with finely chopped green onion. Ordering TORO means paying a premium price! In Japan, there are several different "grades" of TORO depending on how much fat is present and the degree of marbling. 
                                                      Various cuts of TORO
SAKE. The pronounciation is almost the same as the alcoholic drink, but refers in sushi terms to raw salmon. Not a traditional "NETA" (topping) in Japan, salmon is usually served salted and grilled. Salmon served raw must be frozen to kill potential parasites. Fresh and seasonal fish is always preferred in Japan for sushi and sashimi, which is why salmon was not traditionally served raw. 
            Sockeye salmon nigiri is here cut "Tokyo" style, long thin slices of fish draped on the rice
EBI are cooked large prawns. AMAEBI are raw "sweet" prawns. EBI are very popular in western countries; AMAEBI are a Japanese favourite.
                               EBI are cooked prawns, AMAEBI are different species served raw
UNAGI is a BBQ freshwater eel served warm with a sweet and savoury "kabayaki" sauce (below left)
ANAGO is sea eel prepared in a similar fashion (below right) Both are rich and fatty and also popular served over steamed rice as DONBURI (rice bowls).
IKA is squid, usually just the "tube" is used at Canadain sushi bars but in Japan, "fairy" squid are small and served whole.

                                                       Fairy squid served whole

TAKO is octopus, usually blanched, to provide a crunchy and chewy texture at the same time. It has a mild flavour; similar to squid and cuttlefish. Depending on the Chef, it may be garnished with a hint of sauce.

TAI that is sold outside of Japan is rarely the red snapper that is held in high esteem at Japanese sushi bars. Instead, tilapia or other generally tasteless fish are sold as TAI or "white fish". Japanese Chefs will often "cure" true snapper in konbu (seaweed) overnight to infuse it with a subtle taste of the sea. When it is very fresh, a little of the skin is left on the fish.

                   Japanese TAI has a delicate flavour that is overwhelmed with too much soy/wasabi

HIRAME is flounder, fluke, or other kind of flatfish. Halibut is usually called OHYO. The meat taken from the edge of the flat fin is particularly prized and goes by the name ENGAWA.

HIRAME served garnished with herbs to accentuate the mild, slightly sweet taste

IKURA are salmon eggs, TOBIKO are flying fish roe and MASAGO the roe of capelin. They are all usually served "gunkan style". GUNKAN means battleship and alludes to the shape of the nigiri. UNI are sea urchin "gonads" (ovaries and/or testes!) and are also served gunkan style.

                      UNI served "gunkan" style. To add soy sauce, dip a piece of ginger in soy and then dab on the top of the nigiri. Don't dip gunkan sushi directly in soy sauce as it falls apart!

Scallops are HOTATE, served whole and they may be garnished with tiny TOBIKO (fish roe) to add a hint of saltiness to the sweet scallops. Chopped scallop is popular too, mixed with mayonaisse and tobiko.

                                                     Whole scallop sushi with TOBIKO
There are many hundreds, perhaps thousands of different types of NIGIRI! Even veggies, omelette and meats may be served as NIGIRI.

SOBA (buckwheat) sprouts served as NIGIRI


Soy sauce and wasabi are to be used sparingly. At a high end sushi bar in Japan the Chef may "instruct" you on how to eat his creations. He will likely add the necessary wasabi between the fish and the rice.

When dipping in soy sauce and wasabi, dip fish side down and just the edge of the fish (not rice first as the nigiri disintegrates!)

NIGIRI should go into your mouth fish side down this way the flavour and texture of the sushi can be fully appreciated.

Don't be afraid to ask your sushi Chef to recommend what he feels are the best available NIGIRI choices. OMAKASE means "the choice is yours" and in this case a Chef will decide your meal for you. OMAKASE is generally only available at true Japanese restaurants with professional Chefs. The budget for an OMAKASE meal usually starts around $50, but can go to hundreds more!

NIGIRI is usually ordered a few pieces at a time. A proper Japanese Chef may be offended if you order a large plate full and then leave it to dry out before eating! Also order lighter, delicate white fish first and then progress to more fatty/oily fish and/or strongly flavoured foods. TAMAGO is a sweet and savoury omelette that is sometimes ordered first in Japan to see how skilled the Chef is at preparing his dishes.

GARI is the pickled ginger that is served as a palate cleanser between different kinds of fish. It is not intented to be a "topping" for the sushi.

Use your hands! It is acceptable to eat nigiri and sushi rolls with one's hands. Sashimi (seafood or other items without rice) is always eaten with chopsticks. If you like to enjoy your NIGIRI in smaller bites, you can ask the Chef to cut the pieces in half.

More next time, until then eat and enjoy your NIGIRI!

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