Sushi, although a simple dish in theory, is actually difficult to perfect–with sushi chefs spending years training to master it. In many ways, sushi is an art form and not everyone can get the technique down.
Sushi has been around since at least the fourth century, according to a Chinese dictionary that mentions salted fish being placed in cooked rice, causing it to undergo a fermentation process. It was likely introduced to Japan in the ninth century and increased in popularity as Buddhism spread. Because Buddhism encourages abstaining from meat, fish became a common alternative.
The more modern concept of sushi didn’t arrive until around the 1820s, when a man named Hanaya Yohei opened the first sushi stall in the city of Edo in Japan. He is credited as being the creator of modern nigiri sushi thanks to his development of a “fast food” sushi process. This process involved Yohei adding rice vinegar and salt to cooked rice and then topping it with a slice of raw fish, fresh from the bay.
Sushi was finally brought to America in 1966, when a man named Noritoshi Kanai and his Jewish business partner, Harry Wolff, opened Kawafuku Restaurant in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles. Their restaurant was the first to offer traditional nigiri sushi to Americans. It was incredibly successful with Japanese businessmen, who then introduced it to their American colleagues and friends.
Today, sushi takes on many different forms and the thought of eating raw fish is much more normalized than it was decades ago. There are nearly 4,000 sushi restaurants in the U.S., reaping in over $2 billion annually. Here in Miami we have our own famous sushi spots as well like Chotto Matte, Katsuya, Nobu, Makoto, Sushi by Bou, and others. Heading the kitchens are some of the best itamaes, or master sushi chefs around. But what exactly does it take to master the art of sushi?
To become an itamae, it may take 10 years of dedication, learning, and precision. This is because in Japan, an itamae is not just a chef, he is an artist, a craftsman, and a gifted conversationalist. While working behind the sushi bar, the itamae is required to prepare sushi impeccably while also giving each customer his personal attention.
Training to become a master sushi chef begins with an apprenticeship, where the person might spend their first year simply cleaning, gutting fish, and learning through observation. After, they must master the use of the different knives, perfecting slicing the delicate fish and vegetables to proper proportions. Another significant aspect required to understand sushi is knowing which fish are in season and how to store them. Each fish is very different and needs unique processes of cutting, storing, and pairing with other ingredients.
There is much more that goes into becoming the very best at preparing sushi—in fact, once someone becomes an itamae, they can train even further to reach the title of itamae-san, the best of the best, which can take up to 17-20 years!
Easy Homemade Sushi Recipe
• 6 sheets sushi seaweed aka Nori
• 1 batch prepared sushi rice
• 1/2 lb. sushi-grade raw salmon or desired raw fish of choice
• 4 oz. cream cheese sliced into strips
• 1 avocado sliced
• Soy sauce for serving
INSTRUCTIONS: Place the seaweed on a bamboo mat, then cover the sheet of seaweed with an even layer of prepared sushi rice. Smooth gently with the rice paddle. Then, layer salmon, cream cheese, and avocado on the rice, and roll it up tightly. Slice with a sharp knife, and enjoy with soy sauce. fifteenspatulas.com
The Best Sushi Restaurants in Miami
9700 Collins Ave., Miami Beach
661 Brickell Key Dr., Miami
4525 Collins Ave., Miami Beach
270 Biscayne Blvd. Way, Miami
Sushi by Bou
1116 Ocean Dr, Miami Beach