In a previous article we took a look at some of the most popular fish and seafood used in making sushi. This time around, we’re taking a look at some of the lesser known, but not necessarily uncommon, varieties of fish and seafood.
Gizzard Shad (Kohada)
Kohada is considered by many to be the ultimateEdomae style sushineta, or ingredient, and the best judge of a sushi master’s skill. This is because it takes quite a lot of preparation to make these small, shiny fish ready to be served as anigiri topping. They need to be filleted, deboned, washed with water, salted, rinsed with vinegar, and then marinated in vinegar for an extended period of time, all based on the fish’s size, fat content, and even weather conditions.
When executed successfully,kohadais surprisingly sweet while retaining the richumami from its natural fats and taking on the acidity from the vinegar.
Sea Urchin (Uni)
While not a traditionalEdomae neta,uni is rather common nowadays, standing out from the rest with its distinctive bright yellow color.
This deliciously briny and sweet ingredient comes from the reproductive system of the sea urchin, which grows in the waters throughout the world but is most prized off the coast of Kyūshū and Hokkaidō.
Uni is often served as agunkanmaki, or “battleship roll,” called such because the small strip ofnoriwrapped around thesharibears a close resemblance to a small battleship.
There are various species of mackerel used in traditional sushi. One of the most noteworthy issaba, simply translated as mackerel, which stands withkohadaas one of the most classicEdomae style sushineta. Likekohada, it is salted and marinated to combat the strong oiliness of the fish, which can cause it to spoil very quickly otherwise.
Considered a more toned-down version ofsaba,sanma, known as Pacific saury or mackerel pike, is less oily and has a smoother, lighter flavor that pairs well with grated ginger and finely chopped scallions.
Sawara,or Spanish mackerel, are caught off the coast of Japan in the winter and are thought to fall somewhere between the rich fattiness of other mackerel and the delicacy of a white fish.
One type of mackerel that is served raw as often as cured, isaji, or Japanese horse mackerel. They are lighter and more delicate than the others, with a beautiful sweetness usually accentuated bywasabi, ginger, and scallions.
When thinking of sushi, fish are probably the first to come to mind, but shellfish feature heavily in the range of sushineta.
Hotate, Japanese scallops, are one of the more traditionalEdomae neta. In traditional preparation, the scallops are simmered in sake or soy sauce, but they are also served raw with a bit ofwasabi. Either preparation helps bring out the strong sweetness of thehotate, which are butterflied into thick slices that make for a pleasant texture.
Red Clams (Akagai)
AnotherEdomaeclassic isakagai, known as ark shell clams or red clams. These deliciously sweet clams are washed in vinegar and skillfully butterflied and decoratively sliced lengthwise.Itamae, or sushi chefs, will often pound theakagai on the cutting board before slicing to tighten the flesh of the clam, making for a satisfyingly toothy bite.
One of the less commonneta on the list isnishin, which is more well known for its star role in thenishin soba famous in Kyōto. Similar to other shiny fish used in sushi, also calledhikarimono,nishin has a strong aroma and high fat content, making them bolder in flavor than something likemaguro.
Eel plays a large role in Japanese cuisine, but there are two types of eel with very different flavors and applications.Unagi, freshwater eel, is more well known for its bold, rich flavors, whileanago, saltwater eel, is known for its more delicate texture and natural sweetness.
Of the two,anagois the more traditionalEdomaesushi neta, and is simmered in a mixture of soy sauce and sake that brings out the rich savory flavors of the fatty eel.Unagi has a strong spot in contemporary sushi, however, and is usually prepared using the same traditional methods used to craft delicious, richunagi-don(rice bowl topped with eel).
The list of toppings is almost endless, but this might give you a few more options the next time you travel to Japan and want to try something beyond the more common sushi toppings.
About the author: The spark that lit Kevin Kilcoyne’s interest in Japanese culture began in elementary school through a friendship with his then classmate Keisuke. Since then, that passion has evolved and bloomed to encompass more than just video games and manga, leading Kevin to live in Japan as a participant of the JET program. During his time in Japan, Kevin sought out as many foods as he could, the experiences and taste memories lingering long after they had gone. Now he is forging a path to link his passions for Japanese food, history, and visual culture and is planning for his return to live in Japan once again. For now, you can find Kevin on Instagram (@waruishouten) where he posts his photography and illustration work. Keep an eye out for more posts and updates as Kevin delves more deeply into his passions for writing and food!