BY DANNY MOGLE | PHOTOS BY SARAH A MILLER | Nov/Dec 2016
Ignacio “Nacho” Rodriguez, the head chef at Juls restaurant in Tyler, serves sushi that is almost too beautiful to eat. He lays smooth pieces of orange salmon and red tuna on beds of white rice and garnishes them with micro greens or shredded radish.
The contrasting colors and textures are a feast for the eyes. Think of it as edible art.
“You can get as creative (with the presentation) as you want,” Chef Nacho says.
On this day, the chefs at Juls are creating showstoppers. One plate holds a red rose with delicate petals spiraling from a center. The “rose” is a piece of glistening ahi tuna that has been carefully cut into thin layers. The green “leaves” are slices of fresh avocado.
“We take a lot of pride in our knife cuts,” Chef Nacho says. “Obviously it took a little time and practice to be able to achieve this.”
Good knife skills are essential when preparing sashimi, thin slices of raw fish served without rice on a bed of greens or thinly sliced radishes; nigiri, sliced fish and other ingredients served on a mound of rice; and maki, sliced fish and other ingredients served as a roll.
In some circles, sushi is a revered as a culinary art. Top sushi chefs famous for signature dishes are held in high esteem.
MAKING A SUSHI ROLL
Chef Nacho knows that not done properly, rolling sushi can be a disaster. Pack the roll too loosely and it falls apart. Pack it too tightly and the ingredients come poking out the ends. And if you don’t keep your fingers damp while making the roll, the rice sticks to them and then you have a big mess.
“You start off by grabbing your nori paper, which is your seaweed, and you go ahead and start by putting rice on it,” Chef Nacho says as he demonstrates how to roll sushi. “You want to cover the entire surface area of the nori with rice.”
He has selected to fill his roll with pre-cut cucumber, crab and avocado.
“You want to make sure that you put it (the fillings) directly in the middle, leaving enough room for you to be able to roll it.”
Chef Nacho uses a bamboo mat to help form the shape.
“As you are rolling, you want to make sure that you are holding your ingredients in the middle of the roll. And as you are rolling, you’re kind of tucking it in with your fingers and pressing down. … You want to make sure that everything stays on the inside.”
Pleased with the shape, he removes the mat.
He cuts the roll into bite-size pieces. “You want to make sure that your knife … is extremely sharp. You don’t want to ruin your sushi roll by cutting it with a dull knife.”
He says it is important to keep the blade of the knife damp so it doesn’t stick to the rice.
“At this point, you can decorate it any way you would like. … You can get as simple as you want or as complicated.”
Originating in Southeast Asia, sushi has been around for thousands of years. Originally it was salted fish that had fermented in rice. The rice was simply used to preserve the fish and was not eaten. By the 1800s, sushi had become vinegar flavored rice served in combination with fish. Both were eaten together.
In Tokyo, fresh fish harvested from the ocean was placed on top of cubes of tightly packed rice and served by street vendors.
Over the last decade, consumption of sushi in the United States has increased by nearly 30 percent, according to food industry statistics.
Thanks to chefs who use rare species of fish and experiment with new combinations of ingredients, “sushi has thrived at the heights of American cuisine,” praises Food & Wine magazine.
Today sushi can include just about anything: cream cheese, flavored mayonnaise, cooked fish and even fruit.
Sushi can be “customized” to meet any taste, Chef Nacho says. “It depends on how traditional or how contemporary you want to go.”