The Complete Guide to Sushi & Sashimi
By Jeffrey Elliot & Robby Cook
Suzy Chase: Welcome to The Cookery by the Book podcast with me, Suzy Chase.
Robby Cook: My name's Robby Cook. I have a new cookbook out called The Complete Guide to Sushi and Sashimi.
Suzy Chase: As you write in The Complete Guide to Sushi and Sashimi, making sushi is deceptively simple. After all, it's just rice, vinegar, seaweed, and raw fish. Before we get into how home cooks can do sushi in their own kitchens, give us a little sushi history.
Robby Cook: Sushi started back in the days of Tokyo when people used rice to actually ferment and preserve fish. They then discarded the rice and only ate the fish. As it progressed on, people started eating the rice with the fish on top. Then it moved into quick nigiri pieces in like stalls in Tokyo, and then just gradually it developed on from there.
Suzy Chase: How did they do the nigiri in stalls if they didn't have any refrigeration?
Robby Cook: That was why they used the rice fermented at first, and then they would just use the fish that was caught that day, and then discard the rest of the product. Nobody used the fatty tuna. They thought, "Oh, this is a terrible cut of fish, the fatty belly", because it would go bad so quickly. Then, now, it's one of the most popular pieces of sushi out there.
Suzy Chase: 75% of making sushi is preparation. What does that entail?
Robby Cook: That's true. Having your rice set up, the fish fileted or purchased, the amounts that you want, having all your ingredients, whether it be cucumber, scallion, avocado, just having your meats, your area, your cutting board all set up and ready to go.
Suzy Chase: You have six pages dedicated to knives. If we could only get one knife, what would you recommend?
Robby Cook: It's called a sujihiki, which is a thin slicer or it could also be a chef's knife if you can't find it, a little bit thinner blade chef's knife. It's really the workhorse. You can do pretty much anything with it, filet, slice, cut rolls to chopping scallions, or any of that stuff.
Suzy Chase: Sushi chefs spend years mastering rice, even before they cut fish. Would you say rice is the most important ingredient in making sushi?
Robby Cook: True, it does make it or break it. If you go into a sushi restaurant, the rice is overcooked and mushy, the experience isn't going to be so well. If it's under seasoned, the flavors aren't really going to pop. You really want to have a nice al dente-ish and seasoned properly.
Suzy Chase: Each piece of sushi required a different dipping technique. Can you describe some of those techniques?
Robby Cook: Sushi pieces with the fish on top, you want to flip the fish over into the soy sauce, so you're not setting the rice into the soy, which falls apart and you can't eat it all in one bite. Sashimi, you just want to dip a little bit, adding wasabi to the fish, not directly into the soy sauce and then lightly dip. You don't want to soak the entire piece of fish in there because you're going to overwhelm the flavors of the fish. For rolls like maki sushi, you just want to dip the edge of the corner. Try not to set the whole piece of maki into the soy sauce. Let's see. Hand rolls, you can maybe just pour just a slight touch on the top or dip the corner as you go while you're eating it.
Suzy Chase: When you put on wasabi, should you put it on top of the fish or between the fish and the rice?
Robby Cook: Well, if you're making it at home, you should put a little dab in between iso rice and fish. That's what the sous-chef does at the restaurant, so when we're working fatty tuna or fatty salmon, you're going to add more wasabi to the piece because the wasabi will help balance the fat content. If you're using a lean white fish like fluke or snapper, maybe a little bit less wasabi. If you want to add, taste first, and then add to the top of the fish.
Suzy Chase: You are the executive sushi chef at Morimoto here in New York City, which is off the charts impressive.
Robby Cook: True.
Suzy Chase: Tell us about your inspiration influences and training.
Robby Cook: My training, I went to sushi school in California that used to be California Sushi Academy. I'm not sure if it's still around anymore. I heard it closed and came back. After that, I moved to New York, went to the Institute of Culinary Education, but have always been influenced by Japanese cooking and interested in Japanese cooking, so I always stuck working in sushi bars all around New York, and then finally linked up with Chef Morimoto around 2005.
Suzy Chase: When was the first time you realized that you wanted to work with sushi?
Robby Cook: When I was going to college. I always worked in grocery stores growing up through high school. I worked at an organic co-op, so it was very nice meeting the farmers, and really seeing where your food comes from, and the beauty of it. I just got into making sushi on my own. Iron Chef was getting popular at that time, '99, 2000. I started making sushi on my own and really loved it. I decided to switch from college into the culinary world and I've been at it hard ever since.
Suzy Chase: It seems like you were way ahead of your time, right?
Robby Cook: I don't know. White guy from Iowa, the creativity and artistic expression of sushi and Japanese cuisine really drove me in.
Suzy Chase: What'd your parents think?
Robby Cook: Probably thought I was crazy for a while, but I had this plan. My good friends were here in New York. I was like, "I'm going to go to LA or Venice, go to the school. Then I'm going to go move here to New York Culinary." They're like, "All right. You've got the plan. We're going to help you out." I'm very thankful for that.
Suzy Chase: After watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi, I became interested in how fish is sourced. Can you talk a little bit about the process of sourcing?
Robby Cook: Yeah. Very, very fortunate at Morimoto. We have our own company at the sukimi market, not really our own company, but they work for us directly. They go out and source and buy a couple times a week for us, which is very nice. I can request anything I like and they give me updates of new fish, seasonal fish. We always try to work in season, not to over fish. We switch our menu quite frequently with seasonal fish. As far as local stuff, it's always great. The fluke and all the clams, east coast is great. We have another purveyor here out of Jersey, and they do great stuff as well, so keep me informed of new stuff and what's happening in the fish world.
Suzy Chase: Saturday night for dinner, I made sushi in my tiny New York City kitchen for the very first time thanks to your book.
Robby Cook: I saw that. It looked pretty solid.
Suzy Chase: You know what? Your step by step instructions with the photos helped me out so much. I don't think I could have done it without the instructions and the photos.
Robby Cook: Great. Yeah. Great to hear. We're really liking the book. The mono photos are great that really explain in detail.
Suzy Chase: I actually got my fish at The Lobster Place in Chelsea Market right near you.
Robby Cook: Yeah. Lobster Place is great. They really did that renovation, and expanded, and the place looks great.
Suzy Chase: They were really helpful. I said, "Look. This is the first time I'm doing this." They laughed, so what's the difference between sushi grade and regular fish?
Robby Cook: It's just a term these days. You can pretty much eat anything raw if you want to. Sushi grade, they just try do use more, probably, Japanese terms with hamachi or yellow tail tuna, white fish, and salmon. Salmon, you don't want to eat directly off the shelf. If you're [inaudible 00:08:41] sashimi grade, it should be frozen for at least 48 hours to kill any parasites, but other wild fish you should be pretty much good to go.
Suzy Chase: I can't let you go without talking about one place where you eat on your day off. It happens to be one of my favorite places in New York City. It's Luke's Lobster.
Robby Cook: Yeah. I love those guys.
Suzy Chase: I am obsessed with them. I feel like they have the best lobster roll in the city because it's simple.
Robby Cook: Yeah. Me too, me too. Nothing crazy about it. The lobster, I've never had a fishy or a funky roll there, maybe a shell or two, but it's always solid.
Suzy Chase: Where can we find you on the web?
Robby Cook: Twitter is tunafase, Instagram is tunafase.
Suzy Chase: You have demystified sushi for home cooks. Thanks so much for coming on Cookery by the Book Podcast.
Robby Cook: Thank you very much. Practice and keep practicing.
Suzy Chase: Will do.