Tag Archives: Sushi

Maki Making


Cooking classes abound in Paris.  Debbie K, a kawan of mine and fellow food enthusiast orgnized one at her favourite sushi bar, Comme des Poissons.  I was very excited to be included in her mailing list because a cooking class at this prestigious sushi bar is trés difficile to come by.  I was told that there is a long waiting list amongst the Japanese housewives in Paris, dying to learn how to make sushi rolls the right way.  Yes, even Japanese housewives are eager to learn from this sushi chef.  What more honour can there be than for Kino san to welcome gaijins like me to his humble resto?

Apron in hand and eager to start, I head off to the rue de La Tour in the seizieme for a 10 o’clock start.  No sooner had I arrived, I saw Kino san bounding up the road to open his sushi bar ready for today’s lesson.  His sushi bar only sits 10 pax at a go and Mondays are when he does some R and R.  This Monday though, he unlocked his resto/bar for the ladies of the ISP (International School of Paris).

The lesson begins full swing in Japanese with Debbie K san translating.  Kino san says a mouthful in Japanese and Debbie K san says two words in translation and so this goes on until end of class.

The first and  most crucial thing we learnt that morning is that the gohan in any sushi roll is the most important ingredient.  Mais oui, I thought, sushi is rolled rice, n’est ce pas? But what Kino san meant was this:  the rice and the sushi vinegar that goes into the rice has to be made fresh just before the sushi is rolled. He would rather be complimented on his rice than on the ingredients that he puts in the rice – his words.  Of course, the ingredients have to be fresh too especially the fish that goes into the sushi.

The rice has to be Japanese short grain rice and this can be purchased in any Japanese grocery store or at the Chinese supermarket, Tang Fréres in Paris. He recommended this brand:

Premium Japanese Rice

This rice is grown in California, incidentally, where the soil and climate are conducive for rice harvesting.

Rice harvested in the autumnal months are more moist than that harvested in the spring/summer months, Kino san explained and this knowledge is crucial in determining the amount of water to be used when cooking the gohan.  Rice is the staple food in Asia and features predominantly in every meal much like potatoes are in Europe and America.  My mother taught me that the correct amount of water to add to washed rice is up to the first knuckle of your index finger and no more.  So if you divide your index finger into thirds, it is the first third from the base of your finger nail.

The rice kernels have to washed very well. That means that the water has to be clear before the rice can be cooked in the rice cooker. Look at the water at the start of the rice washing process:

Cloudy Water

Stir vigourously whilst washing to release the starch from the kernels.  Then pour out the cloudy water and start all over again.  Some people have a special number that they stop at, like my mother who counts up to 6 times. But really, if you’re not too number obsessed, then wash the kernels til the water runs clear:

Clear Water

This works for any type of rice you’ll be washing in future.  Basmati and Thai Jasmine rice have lesser starch content and do not require that much washing. Rice is ready to be cooked once the water in which it is washed runs clear.  Then measure your water as explained above or if you prefer, 4 cups of rice requires 4.4 cups of water (amount of rice x 1.1).  As you know, I am not one for exact measurements because cooking is all about trial and error.  My family has cooked the aghak-aghak (guess-guess in Malay) for generations and the recipes that my parents have shared with me are mostly based on this way of cooking…and our rice is always cooked just right with the first-knuckle-of-your-index-finger measurement.

The rice cooker:  Kino san advised a Japanese made one but in reality, the one I have that has been manufactured in China works just as fine.

Sushi rice has to be cooled before sushi making. Here, you’ll see Kino san fanning his rice after he has added his secret potion of rice vinegar mix:

Fanning the Rice

Of course, he declined to name the proportions of sugar to mirin to rice vinegar and simply advised us to buy this:

The secret potion

Mixing the rice is very important to ensure that it is thoroughly coated with sushi vinegar.  The Japanese word for this action is cutting.  As I watched Kino san, I realized that he was slicing through the mountain of rice several times.  It is important not to break the cooked rice kernel.  Then he waits:

Waiting by the Rice

I love how patient the Japanese people are.  They understand the beauty of the adage that Rome was not built in a day and that grace and patience achieve results.

When the rice was at the right temperature, maki making begun.  First, it is important to surround wrap your mat.  This prevents any excess rice from sticking to the grooves in the mat and makes for easy washing.  I wish someone had told me that before…. but you learn something new everyday.

Then place a piece of nori at the edge of the mat nearest you and wet your hands in a bowl of water that you should have already prepared next to you along with a wet tea towel.  This is to ensure that the rice does not stick to your hands and that you don’t waste any rice by wiping your hands with the wet tea towel and throwing the excess rice back into the rice bowl or trough.  Kino san explained that much respect and regard have to be shown to the number of days that it takes to grow rice which is 88.  The kanji for rice and also the chinese symbol for rice can be pulled apart to make up the number 88 in Japanese and Chinese characters.

Rice equals 88

So “waste not and want not” was what he meant.  It was humbling to see this great sushi chef savouring every grain of rice not wanting to waste even a single kernel whilst showing us how to make maki.

Did you know that nori has a dull side and a shiny one?  Well, Japanese people eat with their eyes it has been said.  Presentation and plating is very important in Japanese dining.  So the shiny side is what you see when the sushi is rolled with the seaweed facing you.

Kino san showed us how to make the expert sushi, that is, with the rice enveloping the nori.  First, spread the gohan on the dull side of the seaweed, then nudge it towards you gently with your fingertips until the rice reaches the base of the nori square.

Nudging the rice towards the sushi chef

Then you do a flip of the nori/rice parchment and voilâ, the seaweed side is now facing you.  Spread a thin film of wasabi in the middle of the nori

The Green Stripe

and then begin placing your filling.

The Filling

When that is done, it is time to start rolling.  Place your thumbs at the base of your mat and push both mat and sushi towards the middle of the mat over the ingredients.

Like So desu

Press gently but firmly down to secure the filling and then roll once more to the end of the nori.  Dahdum!  you have your first maki made!

To say that it is difficult would be lying and to say that it is easy would also be fibbing.  Practice makes perfect is what I can say….. Correct practice, that is. Don’t be put off by the stickiness of the gohan, with time, the rice will no longer be sticking to your hands.  Just look at those perfect sushi hands of Kino san in the picture – sans riz!

I’ve purchased my sushi making ingredients and mat and tonnes of surround wrap.  I’ll be trying this out with the kids.  I bet, they’ll appreciate better the sushi that they’ve made themselves and I don’t have to be ordering livraison from the local non-Japanese Japanese anymore….

Japanese Grocery Shops

Kioko, 35 rue des Petits Chaps 75002

Jujiya, 46 rue St Anne 75002

Nanaya, 81 Ave Mozart 75116

Kanae, 118 rue Lecourbe 75015

Akasaka


The day I decided to have Japanese for lunch and was duly turned down by Comme Des Poissons, I walked dazed by the rejection onto Rue Nicolo in the 16th.  There I discovered Akasaka.  Yippee!  I let out a silent ‘Yes!’ with a jab of my fist in the air.  Then I recomposed myself and entered this little Japanese.

The sushi chef, very Japanese was slicing away behind his fish counter. The waitress, another Japanese greeted me politely and warmly in French.  Yes! I thought to myself, what could be more authentic than this? – a real Japanese sushi chef and a real Japanese waitress serving in a Japanese restaurant with a real Japanese name.  I grimaced at the thought that I’d even wanted to eat sushi at a Japanese restaurant with a French name.  You see, kawan kawan, I was hurt, rejected and famished.

I decided on the formule, their set lunch.  I had a choice of pre-starters, starters, main course and dessert – all for the price of 48€.  I was beginning to get very excited.  As soon as I placed my orders, the sweet waitress brought me an amusebouche to titillate my taste buds. Don’t you just love that French word for pre-starters?  I love the metaphor: to amuse one’s mouth.  I nursed my rejection with this palatable dish and immediately felt better:

Go on, Amuse yourself!

I sunk into my seat, sighed with relief to know that the following dishes would hold promise.

I ordered the wakami salad to start with:

La Salade Wakami

to be followed by an assortiment of sashimi:

My Platter of Sashimi

Just look at the slices of fish sitting between the salmon and tuna.  That, kawan kawan is the fatty tuna – the best part of the thon – so fatty that it literally disintegrates in your mouth.  Very bagus!!

For the main course, I ordered the sushi:

Sushi Main Course

Look at the beauty of this platter.  My personal favourite has to be the sushi on the far right garnished with ginger and spring onions/scallions.  Ginger and spring onions go so well together and can be mixed in sun flower or peanut oil with a pinch of salt (or a couple of pinches according to taste) as a dressing or dipping sauce for steamed chicken.

The portions were so generous that I struggled to finish my sushi.  I had to keep a little space for dessert afterall.  This was what I had:

Announcing Mr and Mrs Green Tea/Red Beans

I haven’t had ice cream served with red bean paste like that before.  It was truly, unexpectedly delish!  I would recommend this with green tea ice cream only. Green tea and red beans marry well together.

Kawan kawan, if you ever get turned away by Commes Des Poissions, you’ll know where to go for another truly sedap and authentic Japanese in the 16th.

Akasaka 9 Rue Nicolo 75016, Tél: 01 42 88 77 86

Comme Des Poissons


One hot spring day after doing many errands and answering emails, I suddenly felt a rumble in my tum.  I looked at my watch and sure enough, it was nearly lunch time.  I went through mentally all the options I could have for lunch and decided on Japanese – sushi in particular, it being a hot day and all.

Now, my friend Debbie K has been waxing lyrical about a little Japanese eatery by the name of Comme Des Poissons.  When I first heard its name, I thought to myself, “What a French name for a Japanese restaurant!”  Well, we are in Paris, France, so what’s wrong with that?  you ask.  I guess nothing, I was kinda expecting more of an authentic Japanese name, that’s all, like Sakura or something close to that.

So, I hopped on the bus 22 which will take me directly to the restaurant, only to be turned away.  Kawan kawan, imagine the disappointment.  I was terribly hungry by this point, so I told the lovely waitress that I didn’t mind waiting for my turn.  I was on my own, so how hard can it be to sit one?  Oh, trés dure, my friends, for this Japanese eatery is really a sushi bar that sits a maximum of 10 customers, all very intimately at the bar.  There were already 4 eating at the counter and 6 spots were reserved.  The waitress couldn’t guarantee me that the customers who were still eating would finish in time to sit me, so she politely recommended that I should emporter some food.  I didn’t want to da pau, take away, as I wanted a sit down meal….so I could take pictures and muse over my lunch of sashimi, sushi rolls and cups of ocha.

I had to walk away with my tail between my legs, the wounded hungry puppy.  I had been too smug to make a reservation, thinking that if I turned up at the restaurant at 12 sharp, I would surely get a place.  Well, lesson learnt.  This time I booked for 2 because I had persuaded my kawan and neighbour to lunch with me.

The menu is not greatly extensive but that is a sign of a good restaurant, in my books because the chef then concentrates on the dishes that he is good at.  I ordered a platter of mixed sashimi to share.  This came with a complimentary miso soup so good that I shudder just thinking about it and a side dish of tuna salad:

The Comps - Yumms!

The tuna sauce was formidable.  It must be a secret recipe because I’ve never had this type of sauce before in a Japanese resto.  Actually this tuna sauce reminds me of a dish that the MIL makes – slivers of vitello (veal) surrounded by a tuna sauce. La Famiglia calls this dish vitello tonnato which incidentally is a typical dish from the Piedmont area.  The girls love it and it is usually eaten cold. The Italian likes it garnished with capers and I just like it, always grateful to eat anything the MIL has prepared.

The fish was very very fresh and the tuna was one of the best I’ve had.  The colour of the fish was just as it should be, light brown with a pink hue, not dark brown, its texture is succulent and should almost melt in your mouth, not rubbery and bland, leaving a metallic aftertaste, like many others I’ve seen and tasted at certain pseudo Japanese eateries in Paris.  These, unfortunately are never run by Japanese but the Chinese who are cashing in on the sushi eating trend amongst les parisiens.

Here, my platter of sashimi:

Sashimi Assortiments

The dish standing next to the fish is the Japanese omelette that CB ordered.  It was, suffice to say, delicious.  The plating is simple and minimalist, like all Japanese dishes but still aesthetically pleasing.  I loved the Coquilles de St Jacque which you see here by the salmon, especially the roe which has a slight crunch on chewing.  The white fish were also equally tasty and succulent.  Notice that sashimi is served with wasabi to be mixed in soya sauce and no ginger and is definitely not eaten with teriyaki sauce or sauce de soja sucrée.  It is only here in Paris that I discovered this very novel and strange way of eating sushi and sashimi.  In pseudo Japanese restaurants, no names mentioned here, the sushi platters come with a choice of normal soya sauce and sweet soya sauce which is effectively teriyaki.  French teenagers use the latter as pouring sauce over their bol de riz avec saumon and as dipping sauce for their california rolls.  Go figure!

As an additional dish, CB and I decided on a salade with saumon that had been seared and then sliced thinly and spread over a bed of cucumber and wakami seaweed, garnished with scallions.  This saumon mi-grillé was fabulous.  The dressing for the salad consisted of soya sauce and sesame oil – simple and delicious.

Salmon Salad

Additionally, this dish came accompanied by a pulp which we suspected was made from tomatoes that I mistook for tobiko (salmon roe).  It had the same hue as the salmon pieces and was found tucked in between slivers of fish.  Again, delicious!

The crowning dish for CB had to be the unagi:

Grilled Eel

This was cooked so beautifully that the eel melted upon first contact on our tongues.  The teriyaki sauce (yes, this you eat with the sweet sauce)  was sublime.  Oiishi, kawan kawan.  So bagus, that I will definitely order this the next time for myself, no sharing.

Kawan kawan, this has been a truly wonderful eating experience.  I think I may be able to live in Paris long term afterall, saved by Comme Des Poissons.  And of course, arigato Debbie chan.

Comme Des Poissons

24, rue de la Tour

75016 Paris

01 45 20 70 37