Tuesday, March 13, 2012

International Boston Seafood Show: Japan & Seafood

"Do not overcook this dish. Most seafoods...should be simply threatened with heat and then celebrated with joy."
--Jeff Smith, The Frugal Gourmet

The first day of the 2012 International Boston Seafood Show (IBSS) marked the one-year anniversary of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. That terrible tragedy caused much death and devastation and its repercussions are still being felt. I spent some time talking with the exhibitors in the Japanese Pavilion about how they were affected by the tragedy, and also attended a conference concerning the current status of seafood coming out of Japan. The exhibitors put on a very positive air, acknowledging significant issues during the past year, especially the decreased value of the yen, but noting that recovery had gone well for many. We cannot forget though that this region still needs our support, financial and otherwise.

At the conference Japanese Seafood for the Evolving American Palate, several panelists spoke, including Jiro Morishita, Counsellor of the Fisheries Agency of Japan. Some interesting preliminary comments were made, such as noting that Japan's skill with food processing, drying, and such has allowed Japan to enjoy the bounty of the sea year round. In addition, approximately 80% of the seafood that Japanese consumes derives from 18 different species. This is a much larger variety than a number of other seafood-heavy countries. Iceland relies on six species for 80% of their consumption while Norway relies only on five.

It was also heavily stressed that imported Japanese seafood is perfectly safe to eat, and there is no need to worry about radiation. Prior to last year's disaster, Japan had rigorous inspection procedures on all of their food that was to be exported. Since the disaster, these inspection procedures are become even more strict and frequent. All of their exported seafood undergoes multiple checks. Plus, when the seafood reaches the U.S. border, the FDA does additional examinations. Though the FDA is well known for examining only a tiny percentage of imported food, it can and did pat special attention of Japanese food imports because of potential radiation. So go right ahead and enjoy some Japanese seafood.

The famed Chef David Bouley spoke on this panel, noting his ties to Japan, how he had an opportunity to study culinary techniques there studied in Japan, including how to slice and kill fish (using a spinal cord technique). After his experiences there, Bouley opened Brushstroke, a Japanese restaurant in New York City with a bit of a Kaiseki flair. I was very pleased to hear Bouley state that "Sake momentum is huge." He is an avid fan of Sake and believes it will only become more and more popular. Let us fervently hope that he is correct.

I am pleased to report that I found some of the most unique and interesting items in the Japanese Pavilion and I am going to tell you about them. Though I wrote a Food of Interest post, I omitted the Japanese products so that I could put them all together here.

Hello Kitty is ubiquitous throughout Japan, and the mania has spread to other countries as well. Yamamato Noriten Co, Ltd, which was established in 1849, is a leading producer of nori, a type of dried seaweed which is supposed to be very healthy for you. You are probably most familiar with nori as the wrapper on sushi, especially maki rolls. Well, Yamamato is now selling Hello Kitty Flavored Nori Chips and I tasted their Yuzu & Honey. Sandwiched between nori chips are tiny granules of yuzu and honey, and the taste is very mild with only a hint of sweetness. They are intended to be a snack, especially for children, and something healthier than other snack choices.

S. Marche Co., Ltd has a fish farm in Kagoshima, where they breed Yellowtails. They are not given any antibiotics and curiously, kurozu, black vinegar, is added to their feed and it is supposed to make them healthy. As kurozu ferments for a longer period than regular vinegar, it is believed it contains more healthful nutrients. Thus, they sell Satsuma Black Vinegar Yellowtail and it was very tasty, with a firm consistency, a smooth texture in the mouth and a pleasant, mild taste with a hint of bitter.

Shinmarusyo Co. Ltd.founded in 1935, produces dried bonito, which you can see above. Bonito is a type of fish, and in Japan, it is often smoked and dried to make what they call katsuobushi. Using a special grater, they shaves off paper thin slivers, which are then commonly used to make dashi, kind of a fish stock. Dashi is very important in Japanese cuisine, and is a common base for many dishes. As bonito possesses inosinic acid, it also has a rich umami.

They produce Dashi, which they prepare using dried bonito, kelp, soy sauce, and fermented seasoning. If you add 13 parts water to one part dashi, you can make a savory soup, which is rich in umami. It was quite a delicious soup, with subtle but complex flavors. You could add a few other elements to enrich the soup, such as mushrooms, scallions, hijiki or something else. I would like to experiment with using dashi in Sake cocktails.

A couple of newer products include two different soy sauces. The first is the Shiro Dashi Soy Sauce, which uses a light colored soy sauce, dashi (though this dashi is made from dried tuna) and fermented seasonings. It was a light sauce but with a nice depth of flavor, like soy sauce in some respects but also different, a bit exotic, as well. Very intriguing and highly recommended. The Katuobushiya Dashi Soy Sauce is made from dried bonito and Rishiri seaweed (a type of konbu) from Hokkaido. It has a deeper flavor, more like regular soy sauce, but more intense and with a greater umami. Another excellent choice. It is also good to know that neither contains any MSG. All of the umami comes from its natural ingredients.

Finally, I need to give kudos to Ahjikan Co, Ltd. for their Sushi Tamago. I usually order tamago when I have sushi, as I enjoy its slightly sweet taste but not all tamago is the same. Some is thin and almost too watery, while others are too thick and tough. But this tamago was very pleasing, just the right texture and moistness, and with a rich, eggy flavor and hint of sweetness. Yum.

Love the "hat."

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