This book figured into an almost mystical, years-long unfolding story of sushi, secrets, family and friends. I learned after the fact that June 18 is National Sushi Day. Someone once said "if she didn't have bad timing, she'd have none at all." This may be the best timing I've ever had.
So let me take this timely opportunity to visit the book apart from my own story. First, let's address sustainability issues, after all part of how Marisa came to ask me for a jacket blurb was through my sustainable seafood writing.
Tuna or No Tuna or ???
I was contemplating a second post on the tuna we used for the dinner anyway, but I figure now that folks might be searching for sushi at home tips - may as well post it now.
If you love sushi, and whether or not you've tried to make it at home, I highly recommend this book. The author, Marisa Baggett is a pretty interesting character: an African American woman caterer from Mississippi who falls in love with sushi through a catering job, closes up shop, buys a one way ticket west to go to the California Sushi Academy and ends up publishing this book. I mean, who even ate sushi in Starkville, MS back then? On top of it, Marisa in true American fashion has taken sushi in slightly non-traditional directions. She not only encourages folks to riff on the classics, she gives great tips for incorporating local ingredients.
She also focuses on sustainability, bringing us around to the issue of tuna. I stopped eating bluefin a while back. The population is so depleted, the only hope for its survival is careful management and probably a moratorium on them altogether. That's not likely but I personally do not feel it's ethical to keep eating them in light of the overwhelming data about the pressures on the stock.
The good news is that you don't have to forego sushi. Bluefin was not always the most popular sushi choice, you know. In fact, Japanese used to bury it to lessen the bloody taste of it. Only now as demand for it worldwide has grown, and so the market opportunity in fishing it, have we seen such a crazy feeding frenzy for tuna. Read more about this once disparaged sushi choice by expert Trevor Corson. It's a fascinating bit of Sushi history that most people are largely unaware of.
As with most of our food choices, conscious carnivores know that every choice, like our choice of tuna, carries consequences. In addition to the numbers, there's also the ways that tuna are caught (methods typically used now include unconscionable by-catch). If that wasn't enough, there's mercury which accumulates in unsafe amounts in these top-line predators.
So what's the answer, no more tuna? I think there are some options. We found this frozen yellowfin
under the brand "Sushi at Home" which lists it's country of origin at Korea (likely the processor only.) Anyway, it was an interesting option to incorporate and I was pleased with the texture and quality. I've written to the company to see if they will provide more information. Presumably Whole Foods Market has done their homework as well.
The other option now available here in Boston, is locally caught bluefin from Menemsha. I have mixed feelings about it, but I believe they're not using FADs and probably long lining or pole catching and limited in a way that's likely more regulated than the big international vessels. I'll drop an update here when I get more info on either the frozen or the fresh versions.
Sushi Secrets - the Book
Let's take a look at how the book is laid out, we'll use tuna as our example...and also highlight some Southern and some uniquely American items:
In the opening pages Baggett lays out what you need to know about making sushi at home, including a forward by Trevor Corson, Getting Started covers the 8 basic types of sushi. Planning, an overview of the basic types of sushi and tools - each of these include photographs and helpful tips. Buying sushi ingredients includes a suggestion toward local ingredients and a small note about why bluefin tuna is omitted. Great Sauces and Condiments for Sushi, is followed by the first Chapter: Appetizers. Included here are Japanese classics as you might find in a restaurant, Age Dashi Tofu, Chicken Gyoza, Soba Salad, Tempura.
Next is Sashimi including Poké, Oyster San Ten Mori, Tilapia, Tuna and Avocado tartar.
Pressed, Gunkan and Nigiri sushi - includes Tuna Tataki among many others. One I'm dying to try is Avocado and Pomegranate Nigiri. Buttery avo and tart pomegranate sounds fantastic to me.
Thin Rolls is next and includes some of the most interesting combos: Butternut squah rolls, Lamb rolls with mint, Roast Pork Rolls with Sweet Gingered Cherries.
Okra - and Crawfish - Southern staples - makes their appearance in the next chapter, Thick Rolls. (My Mom used to call all my attempts at thin rolls "futomaki" or thick rolls, not necessarily a compliment.)
Catfish and peanuts, two additional Southern favorites - appear in separate Inside Out Rolls.
The Sushi Bowls chapter includes: Egg, Goat Cheese and Green Bean Sushi bowl, Sesame Tuna, Ham and Peach as well as Ratatouille Sushi Bowls (where a tomato is the bowl!)
Next up: Te Maki or Hand Rolls - Crispy Chicken Skin Hand Roll, Glazed Bacon Hand Roll, Coconut Shrimp...Kimchee, Tomato, Anchovy Hand Roll. The Spicy Calamari Te Maki looks divine.
Desserts include plays on themes like chocolate Fudge Wontons and "Eggroll" Cherry Pies, cocktails and mocktails finish the book.
A helpful Resources guide is included as well.
This small book it packed with photos that enable even novice sushi fans to explore sushi at home, to get creative and to focus on local sustainable ingredients. Doing good tastes good.
Sushi Secrets is published by Tuttle Publishing. It is available by clicking on the cover above through Powell's or at your local independent bookstore. You can also order it through Amazon.
Get to know Marisa via her site: In the Kitchen with a Southern Sushi Chef.