Helena Chlepnac from Sushi Fusion from Switzerland was in town studying-up on Kyoto’s incredible culinary culture. We had a chance to spend a few days together which culminated in the most luxurious sushi meal, actually, three sushi meals, that I have ever had or even imagined! This was epic sushi! And all thanks to Chef Tanigawa at Kichisen, who gave Helena a full day lesson on how to make authentic Kyoto-style sushi.
Learning to Make Kyoto-style Sushi from Chef Tanigawa
About Helena Chlepnac and Sushi Fusion
Helena is lives in Switzerland and does Sushi Fusion, a sushi catering company and now offers sushi classes which are very popular. Helena has over 300 students learning to make sushi in Switzerland!
Prelude to Sushi Lesson: Furosen Sake and Funazushi Day Trip
Before learning to make Kyoto-style sushi from the Iron Chef defeater, we went up to Shiga Prefecture for a day to experience a bit of Shiga’s culinary culture.
First we visited Uehara Sake Brewery to see the how they make the world’s greatest sake: Furosen. We were given a tour of the brewery and a generous tasting. Uehara Sake Brewery revived the tradition of using wooden barrels for brewing sake and Helena remarked that her favorite champaign maker is the only one that continued to use wood while everyone else changed to stainless steel. Now, how is that for good taste!
Uehara Sake Brewery and Sixth Generation Owner Mr Uehara
Uehara Sake Brewery Tasting Furosen Sake
This is the greatest sake in the world.
Two Year Old Funazushi
In the afternoon we visited a tsukemono maker called Marucho that has been making tsukemono with Shiga vegetables since the Edo era to see how they make their pickles and Shiga’s meibutsu (famous product): funazushi. Funazishi is made from a special variety of carp from Lake Biwa that has been salted and fermented with rice for 2 years. It is a variety of narazushi (fermented fish ‘sushi’) which is the origin of modern-day sushi. Fermented fish is not popular even among many Japanese foodies for reasons that you can imagine. It is not bad though.
At Marucho they make the real deal; funazushi that has been made with the finest wild carp from Lake Biwa and fermented for 2 years. (The cheaper funazushi is made with aqua-cultured carp and only fermented 1 year.) This proper way of making funazushi is called hon-jikomi (authentic production). This requires frequent washing and changing of the rice. This is what separates the good funazushi from the bad. Additionally, the bones of the carp are quite robust and the two year fermentation process softens them to nearly the same as the meat.
Marucho generously offered us a sample of their best, hon-jikomi funazushi. Helena remarked that if she didn’t know that it was fish, she wouldn’t have known from the taste. Funazushi made the old-fashioned way is not fishy and is surprisingly sour. If you like cheese, you would probably like funazushi. The best funazushi is nearly bursting with eggs. The taste of the eggs really reminded me of mimolette cheese, both in flavor and in texture.
It was a fun and interesting day, but I sensed that Helena was really looking forward to her sushi day!
The Main Event: Sushi Lesson at Kichisen
Helena went to the Kyoto Central Wholesale Market with Chef Tanigawa bright and early and selected fish with him. From mid-day the lesson began in the kitchen. Helena learned how to make most all the summertime Kyoto sushi styles from Chef Tanigawa. Miwa translated and I only joined the party late in the afternoon, just in time to eat.
This is what Helena learned:
1. How to Clean and Prepare Fish
- Ayu (Sweetfish)
- Tai (Sea Bream)
- Saba (Mackerel)
- Hamo (Pike Eel)
- Ika (Squid)
- Akagai (Red Shellfish)
2. How to Make Kyoto-style Sushi
- Sasamaki Zushi
- Isomaki Zushi
- Temarizushi (ball-shaped, similar to nigiri sushi)
- Kikuzushi (chrysanthemum flower-shaped, similar to nigiri sushi)
- Komakizushi (Kinzanji Miso, Shiso and Cucumber)
- Tsukemono Sushi (also nigiri sushi)
- Inarizushi (deep fried tofu pockets stuffed sushi)
Cleaning Fish at Kichisen
Sea bream ‘tai’ for several kinds of sushi.
Cleaning Fish at Kichisen
After cleaning the tai for sushi, the head is split for soup or rice. Nothing is discarded.
Making Sushi Rice
Chef Tanigawa kindly gave Helena his recipe for sushi rice — I got a copy of it too.
Helena Shaping Rice for Hamozushi
Chef Tanigawa Demonstrating Cutting Hamozushi
Chef Tanigawa Demonstrating Cutting Sabazushi
Finishing-up in the Kitchen
Epic Sushi Plate One
From top to bottom; hamozushi, sabazushi, inarizushi, sasamaki.
Epic Sushi Plate Two
From top to bottom, left to right; ayuzushi, kikuzushi, temarizushi, isomaki, komakizushi, tsukemono (nigiri) sushi, ryuhimaki sushi.
Assortment of Kyoto-style Sushi
My fav was the one on the bottom right, it is called ryuhi maki. It is a ‘bozushi’ made with tai on rice with sansho leaves wrapped in soft and chewy kombu and has slices of raw green yuzu between each piece. At the back right is one of Kichisen’s exquisite homemade umeboshi. On the lower left is ayuzushi.
Hamozushi (Pike Eel Sushi) – detail
Hamo is only eaten in Kyoto.
Sabazushi (Mackerel Sushi) – detail
Sabazushi is perhaps Kyoto’s most common and popular sushi.
Sasamaki (Sasa Bamboo Leaf Wrapped Sushi) – Wrapped
Sasamaki (Sasa Bamboo Leaf Wrapped Sushi) – Unwrapped
This is kodai, literally ‘small tai’ (young sea bream).
Temarizushi (Ball-shaped Sushi) – detail
This is squid (ika), notice the sprig of green kinome sansho leaf under the squid.
Q&A with Chef Tanigawa after the Feast
Chef Tanigawa said that he is open to doing such lessons occasionally for chefs from abroad. If you are a chef and going to be in town and want to learn from a Kyoto master chef, feel free to send us an email.
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