The more you know, the tastier it is! Complete Information on Sushi Ingredients – Shellfish Edition
There are many ingredients used in sushi, including shellfish, fish, fish eggs, vegetables, and more. If you know something about every ingredient, you'll be able to enjoy sushi even more. Here is some information about shellfish used in sushi.
Shellfish used in sushi have a chewy texture and a proper sweetness, and the fragrance that engulfs your mouth when you take a bite is its biggest charm! Shellfish have been loved in Japan as a foodstuff since ancient times, and there are records that it was already being used in sushi during the Nara period (710-794). In the past, sushi was made with ingredients that were pickled in vinegar, but now it's more common to use raw, boiled, or steamed ingredients. There are many types of shellfish used in sushi, including standards like akagai (blood clam), torigai (Japanese egg cockle), tairagai or tairagi (fan mussel), aoyagi or bakagai (trough shell), abalone, and scallop.
Awabi is a luxury ingredient, and in Japan there are four types: kuro awabi, megai awabi, ezo awabi, and madaka awabi. The Boso Peninsula, Izu, and Ise Shima are famous areas for awabi. Among them, kuro awabi is the highest grade type. When it's raw, you can enjoy a crisp texture. When it's boiled or steamed, it's much softer than raw, and you can enjoy the umami and fragrance of awabi in a richer way. The liver is also delicious.
Hamaguri (Common Orient Clam)
In Japan, there are two types of hamaguri, hamaguri (common orient clam) and chousen hamaguri (Korean hard clam). In recent years, thanks to the changes in the environment, large hamaguri have become hard to catch, so the majority of hamaguri in sushi now are either chousen hamaguri or have been imported from other countries. There's a type of nigirizushi called "nihama," in which hamaguri is stewed in a soy sauce-based soup. The soup is boiled down into a sauce that is then brushed on top of the sushi as a finishing touch. If you take a bite, after the soft, springy texture, your mouth will be filled with the juicy umami of the shellfish.
Akagai (Blood Clam)
Akagai, whose orange color draws the eye, has a perfect bitterness and a slight fishy aroma, but its strong umami and sweetness is its biggest charm. It once used to be caught quite often in Tokyo Bay (which borders Tokyo, Chiba, and Kanagawa), but thanks to the changes in the environment, the numbers have reduced. Most of the akagai available now are imported or farm-raised. This shellfish is at its most delicious from winter to spring, and the springy texture is addicting.
Torigai (Japanese Egg Cockle)
Torigai, which is impressive thanks to its black coloring, is easy to chew and has a faint sweetness and chewiness. It's used in sushi both raw and quickly cooked by dipping in boiling water (a technique called yubiki). The biggest producers are Tokyo Bay, Mikawa Bay (Aichi), and Ise Bay (Mie and Aichi). It's in season from April to July, but the flavor doesn't change much even if it's frozen, so it's a sushi ingredient you can enjoy all year.
Tairagai or Tairagi (Fan Mussel)
Tairagai looks similar to scallops, but it has more of a texture and a characteristic sweetness. If it's broiled, the fragrance and umami increases, and it goes well with lemon or kabosu citrus. Only the adductor muscle is used in sushi. It's in season in spring, and the major production areas are Mikawa Bay, Okayama, and Kagawa.
Aoyagi or Bakagai (Trough Shell)
This is a popular ingredient in the Kanto region. It's mostly produced in Hokkaido, Aichi, and Chiba. It's used more often in sushi after lightly cooking it in the yubiki manner more than raw. It's called aoyagi when it's just the meat that is served, and this name is more common as a sushi ingredient. The orange meat is characteristic, and the sweet flavor has a strong impact. The adductor muscle is called "kobashira" and is used in battleship sushi (gunkanmaki) and tempura. While its season is the spring, it can be enjoyed all year round.
Hotate is one of the most popular shellfish used in sushi. It's sweet and soft as-is, but if it's slightly cooked, the sweetness gets even richer. The major production areas are Hokkaido, Aomori, Iwate, and Miyagi, and Hokkaido is the most famous of them all. While the season is from late autumn to early summer, in recent years, scallop farming has become high in quality so you can eat delicious hotate sushi all year round. You can have it raw, broiled, or stewed and topped with sauce, and it's prepared in various ways depending on the restaurant. The non-fishy taste is loved by people of all ages.
Sushi isn't just made with fish, there are plenty of delicious shellfish used in sushi as well. There are many more varieties outside of the ones listed here, so please enjoy looking for your favorite sushi topping!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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