Exploring the Sea with Nobu Sushi Chefs – Discovering Underrated Fish

By Nobu Style Staff

If you've ever fantasized about sitting down with a seasoned sushi chef for a one-on-one conversation about what you should be ordering--we have the next best thing. We asked a few of our Executive Sushi Chefs about some of the fish you may not be ordering. It's time to step our of your salmon comfort zone and try one of the underrated fishes our chefs recommend in their own words.

Ryo Hasegawa – Executive Sushi Chef Nobu New York

Fish recommendation: Anago

In America, unagi (fresh-water eel) is more popular than anago (salt-water eel), however it is rarely seen at sushi restaurants in Japan.  Anago sushi follows in the tradition of Edo-style sushi and involves a meticulous and laborious preparation process.  When prepared right, anago is fluffy, sweet, and subtly warm.  I encourage guests to try it the next time they find themselves at a Nobu sushi bar.    

Aji Tiradito, photo by Liz Cho

Aji Tiradito, photo by Liz Cho

Taku Sato – Executive Sushi Chef Nobu Fifty Seven

Fish recommendation: Mackerel, such as Aji and Saba (also collectively known as “hikarimono” or shiny fish due to the color of their skin)

Where I come from in Japan – Fukuoka prefecture – mackerel is caught early in the morning around 4:00am and three hours later it’s not uncommon for a local granny to go around pushing a cart selling that day’s catch. The freshness of mackerel fish is determined by the firmness and resistance of the meat when cut into and the ease of removing the thin transparent outer skin of the fish. 

The freshness of mackerel fish is determined by the firmness and resistance of the meat when cut into and the ease of removing the thin transparent outer skin of the fish. — Taku Sato, Executive Sushi Chef of Nobu Fifty Seven

At Nobu, we prepare aji in various ways; sometimes as sushi paired with rice and garnished very simply with just a touch of grated ginger and scallion, other times as a tiradito sprinkled with dried miso. Squeezing lemon or yuzu juice atop aji also very pleasantly cures the meat of the fish. 

Saba is best enjoyed when not completely cooked through with vinegar and left slightly raw at the center, resulting in a harmonious balance between the acidity of the vinegar and the fattiness of the fish. Of course, how long the fish is left to cure is based on personal preference; however, Fukuoka is known for “goma saba” which is the mackerel served completely raw, so my preference leans toward preserving the fishy taste mackerel is known for. Similar to aji preparation, saba can also be served with dried miso as well as made into “bo-zushi” or sushi formed into a long rectangle and cut into smaller pieces. Torching the fish for this type of sushi preparation is especially tasty.  

Shinichiro Kondo – Executive Sushi Chef Nobu Las Vegas 

Fish recommendation: Squid

There are numerous varieties to choose from, making the world of squid surprisingly vast and abundant in various textures. From the tentacles to the intestinal bits, squid is a versatile fish that can be enjoyed in many ways.  Fermented squid liver known as ika no shiokara is albeit an acquired taste, but quite the delicacy and pairs very well with Japanese sake.  Squid is popularly eaten among Japanese, however less so among Westerners.  I’ve noticed that squid (and octopus) tends to be off-putting due to its grotesque appearance, rubbery texture, and sometimes even for religious reasons.  While there is nothing I can do about the last reason, texture resistance can be overcome by chopping it up, slicing into thin strips, or even slightly cooking it by pouring over hot water; all ways that squid sushi can be better enjoyed.  When guests express an aversion to the hard texture of squid, I often prepare it tataki-style until it is slightly slimy and reform it atop rice.  This type of squid sushi can be prepared at Nobu tiradito-style, with jalapeno, dried miso, a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice, or even topping it with uni.  There is a style of squid sushi to please any palate.  

Squid Pasta, photo by Henry Hargreaves

Squid Pasta, photo by Henry Hargreaves

Toshiyuki Shiramizu – Executive Sushi Chef Nobu Malibu 

Fish recommendation: Mirugai

Mirugai, also known as the giant clam, is popular among Asians and sushi aficionados, however my feeling is that it is still considered unapproachable by many Americans.  There are mainly two parts of the clam that are eaten – the trunk-like meat and the chewy outer bit that borders it.  The bordering bits are tough and inedible raw and can therefore be prepared skewered with shichimi spice or cooked with a light garlic sauce Nobu-style.  The main part of the clam is the part that is prepared as sushi or sashimi.  My personal preference is to enjoy it as sushi with shiso leaf, thinly sliced lemon, and a pinch of salt.  Of all the varieties of sushi, mirugai sushi is by far my favorite.  Mirugai can be enjoyed Nobu tiradito-style or new-style as well.