Friday, September 02, 2005

Izakaya Menu #3 - Tosa-Maki (Tosa Roll) -

Tosa-maki (Tosa Roll) Sushi

Tosa is the former name of Kochi prefecture. Until the end of the feudal era (about 200 years ago), this area was called Tosa-han (domain), ruled by the shogunate. Even today, many local cuisines or dishes with our local specialty, bonito (or dried bonito flakes) are still called Tosa-something. For example, Tosa-ni means food simmered with lots of bonito flakes. This Tosa-maki is a rolled sushi with seared bonito strips in, and I assume it was named so because seared bonito is Kochi’s most famous local dish.

Anyway, we serve this Tosa-maki at the izakaya I work at, and that’s the only reason why I got familiarized with this sushi. My mom never made this at home, and I have never ordered one at any of the sushi restaurants I've visited in and outside Kochi. My life could have ended having nothing to do with this local dish at all, if I hadn’t tasted a piece of leftover Tosa-maki in the izakaya kitchen.

Well, when something happens, it just happens, you know. This afternoon I found myself searing a bonito fillet in my kitchen. It was a mere curiosity --- I just wanted to see how close my Tosa-maki could get to what they serve at the izakaya.

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To make Tosa-maki, you need bonito fillet, shiso (green perilla) leaves, garlic cloves, wasabi (Japanese horseradish paste), sushi rice and nori sheets (dried seaweed). I’m not going to post my recipe here because I think there’ll be very few people who would want to try this out. This is one of those dishes that only locals love, I suppose. The raw garlic slices and shiso leaves can be quite strong and I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of people in this world would find this dish unpleasant. Even I cannot eat one if the chef happened to like it strong and put so much garlic and perilla in the roll. But when the amount of all the ingredients is just right for you.... it brings out an unexpected harmony, and that’s what I like about this Tosa-maki sushi.

Here's what I did:

STEP 1 --- Cooking rice. I left the job to the electric rice cooker, of course, but I did adjust the amount of water to cook good sushi rice. They say that you should use just a little less amount of water than usual for cooking sushi rice.

STEP 2 --- Searing bonito. I bought a half-a-quarter fillet at the store, so no cleaning/filleting job was necessary. All I had to do was searing it. Yes, quick and easy ;)

Though some people don’t do this, at our izakaya they sprinkle salt over the bonito fillet before searing, so I did the same.

Then I sliced it into several strips. I hate using my small kitchen knife for slicing fish, but that’s all I have now.

Seared bonito strips

STEP 3 --- Preparing sushi rice. Before the rice was done, I prepared seasoning vinegar, mixing vinegar, sugar and salt together. I’ve read somewhere that the proportion of those ingredients should be basically 5(vinegar) :4(sugar) :1(salt), but it sounded a little too sweet for me. So, for 1 cup of rice cooked, I mixed 5 tsp vinegar, 3 tsp sugar and 1 tsp salt in a bowl and tasted it. Mmm… I would modify the proportion to be 6(vinegar) : 3.5(sugar) : 0.5(salt) next time. It was just too much salt for me.

The vinegar should be mixed into rice while the rice is still hot, but the rice has to be cooled down to body temperature to be used for sushi. While cooling the rice, I sliced the garlic ---- No, sorry, I’ll be honest. At that point I noticed that I forgot to buy green perilla leaves and dried seaweed, so I went for additional shopping. At the same supermarket where I bought the bonito a few hours ago, the casher smiled at me like “Hah, you forgot to buy these?” When I came back, the rice was cooled enough.

STEP 4 --- Rolling, rolling… :D
I placed the dried seaweed over a flame real briefly to lightly roast both sides, then placed it on makisu. Makisu seems to be translated as “sushi rolling mat” or “bamboo mat” etc. on the net and all of them are not wrong. It is what you see under the black, paper-like seaweed in this photo. Then I put rice over the seaweed, placed green perilla leaves, sliced garlic and seared bonito strips on it. Because I don’t like garlic tasting too strong, I left the garlic slices in water for a while beforehand.

Now, the key ingredient of this dish is, though you can’t see it clearly in the photo here, is a little amount of wasabi applied on the bonito strips. I think this is what puts everything together and brings out the subtle sweetness of the fish and rice, honestly. The pungent flavor of raw garlic and smell of shiso could be too strong as they are, but surprisingly, this another pungent seasoning, wasabi, somehow harmonizes everything. I could be wrong, but that's the way I feel. Of course, if you put too much of it, it would ruin everything and you would literally end up in tears. ;)

I rolled the sushi using the makisu, held it tight (but not too tight) for a few seconds to shape it, then sliced it with, again, the small kitchen knife I didn't like. I wish I had a better knife for that...

Of course you can use both hands to roll sushi. I just had to hold my camera with my right hand to take this shot ...

At our izakaya, three cooks work at one time, and each cook's Tosa-maki tastes slightly different. More than anything, the taste of this sushi largely depends on the quality of the bonito --- how fresh and how fatty/tasty it is, and the difference it makes is quite amazing.

I have to admit that my Tosa-maki was far from what they serve at the izakaya. Well, at least I enjoyed trying this out very much, so I’m satisfied. After all, it's nice to know how to make a local traditional dish. When I eat real good Tosa-maki, I feel lucky to be living here in this rural area close to the Pacific Ocean, and who knows --- one day I might be able to make real good one myself ;)

* Today at work, I told one of the cooks there about my Tosa-maki attempt. He said that garlic slices didn’t have to be washed or left in water beforehand if I did a good job in slicing them paper-thin. Maybe it's about time I should think about getting a bigger, better kitchen knife…


Anonymous said...

Wow, I'd never heard of that either. It looks really delicious though! Thanks for sharing. 

Posted by Amy

Anonymous said...

Looks wonderful....Oh, if only we could smell through the computer!!!! Isn't it unusual for a traditional recipe to include garlic? Is this a modern addition? 

Posted by carlyn

Anonymous said...

That's the first time I've seen garlic used in maki... seems very unusual, but sounds delicious though if the garlic isn't too strong! 

Posted by Jonny

Anonymous said...

You really need to come to the US and open an Itzkaya by a seaside. It would be a hit.
By the way fish and garlic is one of the best combinations in nature. When I make dinner I just sear the fish in a pan, with some garlic, and a squeeze of lemon. Delicious! I usually eat it with rice of course

Posted by Joanna

Anonymous said...

Oh, buy yourself a good knife! It will make you happy.
(When I looked at the picture of your left hand rolling the mat, I knew right away you had the camera in your other hand. Aren't we food bloggers silly?)
Now I'm hungry.

Posted by cookiecrumb

Anonymous said...


Could you send me some tosa-maki. I've never had it nor heard about it until now. It seems like an interesting dish and it looks tasty!
I'll make you a deal, you provide the sushi and I'll bring the beers!! 

Posted by kyle

Anonymous said...

I guess this is a real local dish and even the Tosa-cuisine restaurants in Tokyo may not serve this.
Just something different.

If you see it as a “sushi+garlic” combination, it would look unusual. But it’s more like a “tataki (seared bonito) in sushi” combination, and garlic slices are essential for seared bonito, thus they have to be in Tosa-maki, too. I have no idea when people in Kochi came up with the idea of using seared bonito in rolled sushi. Could be a modern invention, or could be a quite old tradition…

The same here. It’s the special feature of Tosa-maki. It is really wonderful when all the ingredients are in a perfect harmony. Really.

Mmmm, maybe I should think about the izakaya-in-US plan seriously? ;)
I guess most fish taste good when seared with garlic, but when it’s a combination with sliced raw garlic, some kind of fish seem to be better than others. My hunch is that if tried this Tosa-maki with light-tasting white meat fish, it might not be too great, but of course,I could be wrong ;P

Hi ! Thanks for the encouragement. I might decide to buy one in the near future. About food bloggers and camera… maybe we shouldn’t over-generalize, because I know some bloggers use a tripod stand when taking food photos. Then it’s not so much a matter of bloggers being silly or not but whether bloggers can afford a tripod stand or not… :(


Deal!! :D  

Posted by obachan

Anonymous said...

Oh you definitely have to get a good knife, Obachan! It just makes life so much easier. I am very protective of mine, and my husband is banned from using it. He may just chop a tree down with it or use it to pry something :-)

Your tosa maki looks delicious! I have never tasted it either, I hope I get to taste it one of these days. I have been seeing perilla in several recipes lately, I have never come across any here in NC though :-( 

Posted by JMom

Anonymous said...

Oba-chan ... I think you should come to Los Angeles, and I'll make you so rich, 'cos I'll eat at your restaurant THREE times a day - even if I get fat (well, that's what friends are for ...) 

Posted by Christine in Los Angeles

Anonymous said...

Oh Christine, what a nice friend you are!! :D Thank you so much for your support. (Somehow I feel that I get more support abroad than in Japan...) 

Posted by obachan

Anonymous said...

Wait, wait, wait wait a minute, it was my idea that Obachan comes to the US to open an Itzkaya by the seaside--ON THE EAST COAST!!!!!!!
LA has so many japanese places already while here in Washington we have ZERO itzakaya! Z--E--R--O!
We are very pitiful.
Obachan, you'd better start taking investor roll call now for the opening 2015 of your itzkaya!!!!!

Posted by joanna

Anonymous said...

JMom  (Sorry, this wasn't posted successfully)
Mmmm...I'm getting more and more inclined to buy a new knife. Your knife must be really something :D I don't remember if perillas were available in the South, because I never really looked one when I was there. It would be nice if you could find some there.

Easy, easy. Don't worry. My izakaya will be a franchise and open one in Washington and one in LA, too. ;P Hahaha... 

Posted by obachan

Anonymous said...

I'm gonna try it.. obachan..!!
thanks for showing me how. :)


Posted by Big BoK

Anonymous said...

Good Luck, Big Bok! :D Hope you have fun trying this, and don't be too disappointed... This is really "different." 

Posted by obachan

Anonymous said...

hi obachan,
visited your blog a couple of times before too when I followed the links on lynn and keiko's blogs.
Love your blogs, especially the way you write them.
This recipe was as usual way too much fun to read.
I have a question, can you post some vegetarian recipes, which are authentic japanese. Do let me know.
take care 

Posted by bilbo

Anonymous said...

Hi bilbo,
Thanks for visiting. I'm not a vegetarian myself, but I guess I can find some good recipes. Stay tuned! ;) 

Posted by obachan